Recipe Makeover: Birthday Cupcakes

website bday cupcakes

“Your credit card has been declined.”

My oldest is heading off to college at the end of the summer, and we’re discovering that preparing your child for college is akin to wedding planning: tiny details which you never considered suddenly pop up as huge decisions.

For example, should your child take her clock from her bedroom with her to college which would save you the cost of buying a clock for her dorm room but which would leave her bedroom at home clock-less for when she returns at winter break or when you use it as a guest room for the grandparents? Because, of course, having a clock to tell time is rather important even if the room will be unoccupied for 3/4 of the year from now on!

Or if the college encourages you to bring curtains to keep out sunlight in the early morning and campus lights in the evening but you don’t know your room assignment and the dorms all have differing window sizes, do you a) purchase curtains anyway, hoping you’ll hit the jackpot for correct sizing; b) wait and plan to buy the curtains the day you drop your child off, hoping that you will have both the time and the luck of finding a place close by that sells curtains; c) tell your daughter that she’s just out of luck and won’t have curtains at all; or d) cry because you’ve suddenly realized that your daughter is grown up enough to be leaving the house and you’re having discussions about whether or not to purchase her own curtains. (The answer, of course, is D!)

And with wedding planning, you suddenly discover that you are about to spend a lot more money than you had originally anticipated as a result of all those tiny details you hadn’t considered before.

So, the other day, we headed out, determined to shop for all that our daughter needed in one day-long expedition because unfortunately our time for such matters is rather short in between other summertime obligations. We went from discount store to discount store (to save money) over a course of several hours until….

We were fortunately at the last store of the day when suddenly the cashier tells me that the credit card I had been using was declined. I knew it couldn’t be that we’d reached our limit because, even with all the spending, we hadn’t even reached a thousand dollars, so I was confused but gave the cashier my second credit card.

When I got home, I discovered that our unusual spending pattern (I normally only use the credit cards for gas and groceries about once a week) had triggered a fraud alert on the card. It was nice to know that my credit card company was on top of possible fraudulent charges, but it had still been disconcerting to be told that my credit card was declined.

I find that when I speak to a crowd at one of my baking workshops that people sometimes have a fear that they’ll be called out as a fraud if they serve something that is allergy friendly — that people might think the made-over baked good isn’t as good as the tried and true white, flour, sugar and butter recipes.

I found myself worrying about the same thing when my daughter told me she wanted to make yellow cupcakes for her birthday party sleepover. To date, I hadn’t made yellow cupcakes because my crew always asks for chocolate over other varieties. As I poured over recipes, I finally decided to just bite the bullet and do it. What was the worse that could happen? I had already triggered one fraud alert; what harm could another do?

Original Yellow Cupcake Recipe from Betty Crocker:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 cup shortening, 1 tsp vanilla, and 3 eggs.

The Makeover:

1. The flour: We opted to use Bob’s Red Mill gluten free baking flour which mixes garbanzo bean, fava bean, and sorghum flours with potato starch and tapioca starch. It’s a nice dense flour which would give us the consistency you normally find in a yellow cupcake but which would add protein and fiber. We added xanthan gum and the mix was complete. We increased the flour amount by a quarter cup, though, because we opted to swap out the sugar with liquid agave.

2. The sugar: We decided that Agave would be the better way to go, because my daughter didn’t want to risk any aftertaste with Stevia or texture issues with coconut sugar. This meant decreasing the amount needed to half of the sugar called for. It also meant increasing the flour a bit to compensate for the extra liquid.

3. The milk: We chose to use flax milk because that was what we had in the house at the time. Substituting soy or rice milk would work just as well.

4. The butter and shortening: Since we wanted the cupcakes to come out as close to the original as possible, we decided against decreasing the amount of fats called for, simply opting to substitute a soy free vegan “butter” for the butter and using a vegetable shortening as called for.

5. The eggs: Again, since we didn’t want to mess with the “yellow” in the yellow cupcakes, we went ahead and used the three eggs. If I had been choosing myself, I would have opted to make “white” cupcakes and used only egg whites for a healthier version. This would have meant whipping the egg whites and incorporating them into the batter just before baking. But my daughter insisted on yellow cupcakes so we kept the yolks.

6. The salt: Normally I would decrease the salt by half, but since teenage girls don’t need to worry yet about salt intake, I figured it was okay to just leave it as is.

7. The verdict: I have to say, none of the girls realized that the cupcakes were a made-over version. We got rave reviews — especially since my daughter decorated them with cute monkey and panda bear faces!

Yellow Cupcakes


2 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten free baking flour blend

1 tsp xanthan gum

3 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 cup vegan soy free “butter”

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup Agave

3 eggs at room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/4 cup flax milk

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with cupcake liners. (I like to use “If You Care” brand muffin liners.)**

2. Whisk the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt together well and set aside.

3. Cream the butter and shortening together in a mixer. Scrape down the sides.

4. While the mixer is on low, very slowly pour in the Agave a little bit at a time, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

5. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well before adding the next one. Scrape down the sides.

6. Add the vanilla and blend.

7. Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

8. Evenly divide the batter among the muffin cups, and bake for about 20 minutes.  The cupcakes will be rounded and golden and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out mostly clean. (Note: You’ll still have a few tiny pieces sticking to the toothpick. If you wait for a completely clean toothpick, the cupcakes will be overcooked and dry. As soon as the tops spring back when you lightly touch them instead of being a liquidy center, you should presume they’re done.)

9. Cool the cupcakes in their tins on a wire cooling rack for five to ten minutes before removing them to the wire cooling racks for complete cooling.

10. Frost as desired and enjoy!

** We made 18 regular size cupcakes with this batter, but we fill the tins pretty full, about 3/4 full because I like the cupcakes to rise up over the top.  If you fill them the traditional 2/3 full, you’ll probably get 24 cupcakes out of them.



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