Best Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes

My big girl turned 9 today, which meant yesterday was a flurry of school celebrations, lunch etc… Unfortunately, this has been a crazy week, and I was left Thursday evening finally hitting the grocery store only to discover there was no gluten-free baking mix whatsoever…nothing….nada…..suddenly the gluten free hocolate cupcakes I had promised seemed to be in jeopardy. Bad mommy….*sigh* My daughter fixed me with her evil eye when I told her I would try my best to create something from scratch, but to please not be too upset if I couldn’t get a recipe right…

So, I found myself at 12:30 a.m. referring to The Joy trying to figure out how I was going to come up with a workable chocolate cupcake…. I haven’t attempted cake before. There are plenty of good mixes that easily get the job done, and usually I’m in enough of a hurry around birthday time that it’s just easier to grab a mix. Well, necessity is the mother of invention. I have grown more confident with my baking during the last 6 months, so I set to work. The first batch was astonishingly good, and worked beautifully for the school celebration, but I thought I could do better. With a little tweaking, the second batch was everything I’d ever wanted from a cupcake. A slightly crispy top, a spongy but not too dry middle, light and fluffy, and of course….very chocolate-y….  In fact, I might be so bold to say that these are quite possibly the best gluten free chocolate cupcakes I’ve ever eaten!

I’m so excited! I don’t think I’ll be buying mix again. This was surprisingly easy. The key is the buttermilk. Buttermilk, when reacting with baking soda and the acid from chocolate, undergoes this nice chemical reaction that adds air bubbles to the batter. I’ve also found that setting a hot (400 degrees) oven for the first five minutes, then turning it down for the rest of the baking helps too. The high heat helps encourage the lift and sets the structure so that the cupcakes don’t collapse.

Really, I don’t think you need to wait for a birthday to make these- think of something to celebrate and enjoy these tonight! Oh yeah- and give these to your gluten-full friends and see what they think! I guarantee they’ll be stunned…and happy!

The Best Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes 

makes about 20 cupcakes


4 oz (8 tbs) salted butter (if you have unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp of salt to the dry ingredients)

2 eggs brought up to room temperature (do this by setting them in a bowl of warm water while you’re prepping the other ingredients)

1/2 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar- it’s not pure white, but refined sugar would be ok too)

1 1/2 cups brown sugar (light or dark is fine- just don’t pack it firmly)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1 cup tapioca starch

2/3 cup sorghum flour

1/3 cup sweet rice flour

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp vanilla


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place muffin papers in your muffin tins. Place the butter in your stand mixer (if you don’t have one, a hand mixer will suffice) to warm to room temperature. Place the eggs in a bowl of warm water to bring up to room temperature. In a separate bowl, place the cocoa powder, the white sugar (1/2 cup) and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Mix until the two ingredients are thoroughly combined. Add 3/4 cup of the buttermilk and whisk vigorously. When the ingredients are fully incorporated, set the bowl aside to rest. The chocolate batter will continue to darken. In a different bowl, combine the tapioca starch, sweet rice flour, sorghum, baking soda and xanthan gum.

Turn on the stand mixer to low and allow the paddle to fluff the butter. As soon as the butter has fluffed, add the remaining brown sugar (1 cup). Allow the ingredients to fully mix. Add the first egg to the batter, and when it has been fully incorporated, add the second. You may need to turn up the mixer one notch at this point. Listen to the engine. With the mixer still running, add the chocolate batter. When the batter has turned a lovely brown color and is appearing a little glossy, stop the machine and scrape down the sides. Mix again for about 3 seconds and stop.

Pour 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the batter and turn the mixer back on. When it’s fully mixed, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and add another third of the batter. Turn the mixer back on and when the flour has been incorporated, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides and add the last third of  the batter. When the flour is fully incorporated stop the mixer and scrape down the sides one last time. At this point the batter will be thick, slightly ribbon-y, and sticky. Start the mixer one last time and add the vanilla to the remaining buttermilk (1/2 cup)and then pour it into the mix. When the buttermilk has been absorbed, stop the mixer, scrape the paddle and the sides, and take the bowl to where your muffin tins are waiting.

You will notice that your batter may be expanding. This is the buttermilk reacting with the baking soda. Fill the muffin papers 1/2 to 3/4 full and place in the oven. Bake at 400 for 5 minutes, then turn the oven down to 360 and bake an additional 15 minutes. A toothpick or cake-pin should come out clean. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool before frosting….that is if you can wait that long to eat them!

15 thoughts on “Best Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes”

  1. it is just incredible that you can adapt a recipe by just knowing what is right…..I would have no clue how to start a gluten free recipe…I hope your daughter loved the cupcakes and applauded your effort!

    1. Thanks Dennis! I’ve been adapting for 12 years now, so I don’t really even think about it any more. It’s all in the flour ratios and the chemistry- and there are plenty of times I’ve found myself wishing I hadn’t chickened out of High School Chem.. In general I do okay- sometimes I even surprise myself, like with these cupcakes, which I’m in love with. If you ever want help adapting anything for your GF girls at the school, shoot me an email, I’d be happy to help! BTW- those squash blossoms looked heavenly.. and I loved the LTR reference!

  2. That is an interesting variation on the creaming method of cake batter construction. That gives me some excellent ideas for tweaking the method for whole grain cake baking! Oh, damn, now I have to go bake a cake.

  3. Hey Everyone-
    I realized as I was copying this recipe down for someone today that there was an error in the original post- 1/3 cup sweet brown rice should have read 1/3 cup sweet rice flour! It’s since been corrected. You could try these with brown rice, but it might not produce what you or I intended!
    Sorry for any kitchen confusion this may have caused!

  4. Kudos to you for coming up with this!
    I’ve never used gluten-free flour and need to have an option for when family comes for dinners…does this flour compare to regular flour in terms of flavor and measurements?

    1. Thanks Karen… That’s a great question- you can’t exactly do a 1:1 exchange with gf flours for regular flours. If you’re converting a recipe, you can use the same volume of flour- for instance a recipe that calls for 2 cups of regular flour can be the same. But, to compensate for the lack of gluten, you have to get a little tricksy. First, you must use xanthan gum- it’s a binder and will help give some stretch and lift to the flours. I use 1 tsp for 2 cups of flour or less, and 1 1/2-2 tsp for more than 2’s an intuitive/trial-error thing with me. Second, I use 1/3-1/2 of my required volume in a starch- like tapioca starch (also called tapioca flour) that’s my favorite, but I’ve also used corn starch and potato starch. I keep all on hand. Then I throw in a smattering of sweet rice flour. It’s the stickiest of the rice flours and I’ve had good luck with it. Then, usually I use sorghum or millet. It depends on what I’m cooking. For finer things I tend to gravitate towards sorghum, for bigger crumb things I prefer millet. I use almond flour- a heavy high protein flour for my gf pie crust posted here I also use sorghum to dust souffle cups and when making roux.

      this was probably not the catch-all answer you were looking for, but hopefully it helps. If you’ve got a specific recipe in mind, send me an email, and I’ll do what I can to help you. Also, if you just want a mix- I like Pamela’s. They make great pancakes, and sometimes I’ll use it for a muffin base if I don’t feel like messing with the flours. THey also have a great brownie- although after these cupcakes, I may get bold and try a brownie from scratch!

  5. These look amazing! I can’t believe you were able to just convert a regular recipe to a gluten free one. That is really cool!

  6. Could this be used as a cake recipe? Would 2 9″ round pans work, and what about the temps & time?

    Thanks for your time!

    1. Hi John- thanks for stopping by. I think this could be used as a cake recipe. I would keep the temperatures the same, and increase the cooking time to 30-35 minutes… I would try 10 minutes at 400, and then 20 minutes at 360…. That said- I’d watch it very closely- if it looks like the top is starting to get too crispy, the oven may need to get turned down at 7 or 8 minutes… Also- toothpick test it at the 30 minute mark- if it’s still wet in the middle put it back for another 5 minutes… the other thing you could try would be a thermometer reading in the center of about 180… Good luck- and please let me know how it turns out!

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