Whole Living Daily

Gluten-Free Cupcakes: Food Allergy Recipe Challenge!

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Do food allergies or sensitivities keep you from eating your favorite foods? Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like converted to allergen-free and/or gluten-free for yourself, your kids, or a friend? I’m ready to meet the challenge!


“Allergy-Friendly” Caramel Cupcakes with Caramel “Buttercream” Frosting - Yum!

As an allergen-free cookbook author, I specialize in creating "free-to-eat" versions of traditional favorites. Just leave me a comment about your most wished for recipe you’d like converted to allergen-free and/or gluten-free, and I’ll tackle turning “off limits" into "go-to."

Each week, I will choose one request, and then blog about my attempts to convert that recipe into something delicious and safe.

The idea for this column sprang out of the hundreds of emails I receive from readers wanting allergen-free versions of their favorite foods. In honor of  Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 9th-15th), I’m opening up the playing field to those of you who don’t have my email address (or who have never heard of me before!).

To get the ball rolling, I started taking requests on my site.

Today, I’m debuting a recipe inspired by an email request from a reader who was dying for allergen-free caramel cupcakes. The challenge on this one: replacing gluten, eggs, and dairy.  The solution?  Read on to find out!

“Allergy-Friendly” Caramel Cupcakes with Caramel “Buttercream” Frosting
With the heavenly aroma of crème caramel, these tender little gems are like flan in a cupcake! Makes 12 Cupcakes.

  • 1/2 cup rice milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups Authentic Foods GF Classical Blend, or my Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 3 Tablespoons rice milk
  • 1/4 cup caramel syrup (recipe follows)
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a muffin pan with 12 liners.
  2. Combine ½ cup rice milk with the cider vinegar and set aside.
  3. Measure out flour mix by spooning flour into a dry measuring cup, then leveling it off with a straightedge, or the back of a knife. (Do not scoop the flour directly with the measuring cup or you’ll wind up with too much flour for the recipe). Combine flour mix with xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk well. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine vegetable shortening and granulated sugar. Mix on medium speed 2 minutes.
  5. Add vanilla extract and egg replacer to bowl of stand mixer. Mix on medium speed 1 minute more. Add caramel syrup, and mix about 30 seconds to combine.
  6. Using a sifter, sift in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with rice milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing until combined, about 30 seconds. Once batter is smooth, spoon about ¼ cup batter into each liner, filling the liners about halfway full. Do not overfill the liners, or they will overflow and stick to the pan!
  7. Bake in the center of the oven 10 minutes until tops have domed slightly, then reduce temperature to 350°F and bake 8-10 minutes more until a lovely rich amber color.  Resist opening the oven door while baking, they need a consistent temp to rise, and set!
  8. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Caramel Buttercream Frosting
A light creamy caramel frosting that can be piped, or spread with a butter knife or frosting spatula, creating pretty swirls. Makes enough for 12 Cupcakes.

  • 1 cup Spectrum Organic Vegetable Shortening
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup caramel syrup (recipe follows)
  • 2 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon rice milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream shortening and pinch of salt on medium speed, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add caramel syrup and mix about 1 minute more.  Add confectioners’ sugar in three batches, beating after each addition. Add rice milk and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Caramel Syrup
This syrup can be made in advance. Just be sure to store it tightly covered.

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups cool water
  1. In a small heavy saucepan, combine granulated sugar with ½ cup of the water.  Stir well to combine, scraping down sugar from sides of pan.
  2. Place on burner, over high heat.  Cook, stirring, with a wooden spoon, melting sugar and bringing up to a rapid boil.  It will foam, turn to liquid, clump, foam again, etc.  After about 14 minutes it should turn a dark amber color.
  3. With caution, add the remaining cup of water to the sugar mixture.  Beware, it will act like a bubbling cauldron, sputtering out all over the place, so wear long sleeves and an apron, and be prepared to jump back. Stir water in, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, at a simmer about 5 minutes more, dissolving any lumps.  Let cool completely before using.  Once cooled, it should be the consistency of corn syrup. If it’s too thin, bring it back up to a boil and cook a couple minutes longer, then cool again. If it’s too thick, add a little warm water and cook over medium heat, until thinned out to proper consistency.

Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix
Makes 6 cups.

The key to the very best gluten-free baked goods is Authentic Foods superfine brown rice flour; it is the Cadillac, or cashmere, of brown rice flours and is worth its weight in gold. It is not grainy like other rice flours, and bakes the most fantastic cookies, cakes, pie crusts, and so on. If you can’t find it at your local natural foods market or Whole Foods, order it online.

Both Ener-G and Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flours will also work in these recipes, but they won’t turn out quite as well. The brands of potato starch and tapioca flour or starch are not as important; I find them all interchangeable. (Please see Resources, page 177, of "The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook" for more information.)

  • 4 cups superfine brown rice flour
  • 1 1⁄3 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
  • 2⁄3 cup tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch)
  1. To measure flour, use a large spoon to scoop flour into the measuring cup, then level it off with the back of a knife or straightedge. Do not use the measuring cup itself to scoop your flour when measuring! It will compact the flour and you will wind up with too much for the recipe.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a gallon-size zipper-top bag. Shake until well blended. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Next Week's Food-Allergy Recipe Challenge:
Gluten-Free Flour Tortillas … check back to see if I meet the challenge!

Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix recipe reprinted with permission from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook: How to Bake Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Sesame. Copyright © 2009 by Cybele Pascal, Celestial Arts, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.

“Allergy-Friendly” Caramel Cupcakes with Caramel “Buttercream” Frosting Copyright © 2010 by Cybele Pascal

(Please note that all my recipes are completely free of all top allergens (wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, and gluten), so as many people as possible can enjoy them.  Additionally, all the ingredients are available at Whole Foods, and online at Amazon.com. If you have trouble finding something, let me know and I’ll help you find it.)

SAFETY NOTE: Because each person's food sensitivity and reaction is unique, ranging from mild intolerance to life-threatening and severe food allergies, it is up to the consumer to monitor ingredients and manufacturing conditions.  If manufacturing conditions, potential cross contact between foods, and ingredient derivatives pose a risk for you, please re-read all food labels and call the manufacturer to confirm potential allergen concerns before consumption. Ingredients and manufacturing practices can change overnight and without warning.

Cybele Pascal is the award-winning author of "The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook" and the "Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook." She lives in Los Angeles with her food-allergic family: husband Adam, sons Lennon and Monte, and their dogs, Izzie and Carly (who also has food allergies). Please visit her website at CybelePascal.com.

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Comments (59)

  • My 5 year old is requesting anything Chinese. We recently ordered Chinese food and I would not let her have any due to all her allergies. I promised I would make her some but I'm stuck. Anything child friendly and Chinese will do. She's allergic to peanut, tree nut, egg, soy, sesame, and all legumes. GOOD LUCK!

  • I would love to have some sort of bread! I am allergic to corn, wheat, dairy, eggs, yeast, soy, peas and peanuts. Which means xanthan gum is out - corn based. As well as any flour that is legume based. Can you help?

  • Poutine! You'll make a lot of Canadians with food allergies exceedingly happy.

    Also, Susan Arcelay, I only have one related idea. Try substituting soy sauce with one part Worcestershire sauce + three parts water. If you don't like, or can't have Worcestershire sauce, try steak sauce.

  • I would love to see what you could do for a Boston Cream Pie!!!!

  • I would love an egg free, dairy free noodle kugel or any kugel would do. I have tried and tried and can not figure out how to do it without the eggs.

  • Cybele–we have enjoyed some of your recipes. I hope that one day you will create a Dairy/Soy/Treenut/Peanut-free/Citrus-Free Cheesecake!

  • I would like allergen-free chocolate chip cookies that do not use sugar but still taste great. In fact, any pie/cookies/cakes without sugar (or fake sugar) would be good.

    Allergen-free pretzels.

    Would also like some Asian meals since so many rely on soy sauce or tamari and sweetener.

    Thank you for all the amazing work you are doing!

  • I make GF flour tortillas all the time. My only problem is that I only make 1 batch and keep running out since they turn out so good. The Living Without Magazine recipe is a good start. I make perogies and they turn out really well but they are just GF.

    I am still working on mozzarella sticks. That’s what I want. Yum.

  • Gluten-free, dairy-free mexican caramel flan!


  • I'd love wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free potato onion pierogis!

  • A really good GF pizza dough without yeast, garlic, peppers, onions.

    Would LOVE to have a good pizza dough but yeast cuts out most.

    Great challenge!

  • Super-allergy request!

    Pretty please, can you create a wheat-free, peanut-free, soy-free, milk-free, egg-free, CORN-free (no usual baking powder or powdered sugar), coconut-free cake-like fudgy brownie recipe? I've been trying for *years*, and still haven't been able to get egg-free brownies to turn out right!


  • I grew up with these cookies, they are a very tender sugar cookies without frosting. I would love to make them for my son (nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, eggs, corn, tomato, milk) and my mother (celiac).

    Marge's Sugar cookies

    1 C powdered sugar
    1 C white sugar
    1 1/2 C vegetable oil
    1 C butter
    2 eggs
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 tsp cream of tarter
    1 tsp vanilla
    4 1/2 C flour

    combine ingreds. make into ball, roll into sugar, press flat on cookie sheet with glass, bake at 350 for 12 -15 minutes.

  • Please help me find a gluten free, egg free, dairy free white bread recipe that works. I also don't want to use any powdered milk substitutes.

  • Gluten/Soy/Dairy free cheese - one that tastes great on pizza or one that can be used for grilled cheese!!!

  • I'd love to have a recipe for sandwhich bread that is milk/soy/PN/TN/bean-flour/wheat/RICE free and low-fructose. Can use table sugar! Boy, we miss bread!

  • I'd love to have a recipe for spring rolls without wheat, eggs and milk. Tried to make, but never turned out good.

  • My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame seeds. I miss pecan pie and am wondering if there is a way to mimic the pecans without using pecans?

    Thank you so much!


  • Dairy /Egg /Soy/ Peanut/ Treenut Free Pizza

  • Wow, thank you all so much for your requests! I want to make them all! I can see this project will have to go beyond this column, because these are such great ideas. I will let you know as soon as I've settled on which challenge to tackle. Next week will be the GF Flour Tortillas (based on the requests from my site), and the following week, will be a brand new recipe to answer a request from this list above. Again, thanks, and keep 'em coming. Because if I don't do you recipe this week, I could do it one of the following.


  • I'd also like an egg free kugel. would be best if it is dairy free too.

  • second (third?) the request for pirogies, though I would be happy with a simple gnocci recipe as well. I’m celiac, plus no dairy, soy, peanuts/cashews/pistachios,buckwheat,err lots of other stuff but that probably isn’t relevant.
    Even if you don’t pick my recipe…..THANKS for everything you do!
    (I also nominate Boston creme pie)

  • Thanks for all the fantastic requests!

    From this list of challenges, I've decided to take on the request for Chinese/Asian Food.

    Get ready for Gluten-free, Soy-free, Peanut-free, Tree nut-free, Egg-free, Shellfish/Fish-free, & Sesame-free

    And don't forget to come back on Monday 5/17 for my next blog and brand new recipe for Gluten-free Flour Tortillas! Allergen-Free GF Chicken Fried Rice will post 5/24!

    Keep the challenges coming! Like I said, I plan to get to them all at some point soon.



    ps, for the person wanting GF Soy-free, Dairy-free cheese DAIYA! check it out at Whole Foods, it's at the deli counter.

  • I would love a chocolate old-fashioned donut!

  • I have two requests: Cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. My daughter is allergic to eggs, milk, and peanuts.

  • Hi and thanks for your great recipes which I'm discovering with great pleasure.
    I would love to bake some bread for my husband but without yeast, corn, rice, buckwheat, wheat, eggs, soy and dairy. I've tried to build a teff sourdough starter but it's not perfect.
    If you could help me, we would love it :-)
    PS: just baked an adaptation of your snickerdoodles : fantastic!!

  • Dear Amy Bennett:

    I have a recipe for such Cinnamon Rolls in my new cookbook The Allergen-Free Baker's Handbook. And obviously I am going to have to work on a donut recipe.

    Amy, who's last name i don't have, there is also a Dairy /Egg /Soy/ Peanut/ Treenut Free Pizza Crust recipe in my new cookbook.

    Again, thanks for all your requests and keep them coming!



  • [...] week, I spared you the frustrating details that went into creating “Allergy Friendly” Caramel Cupcakes with Caramel “Buttercream” Frosting. Now that I’m through the storm that was my kitchen, I’ll spill a little secret: I made that [...]

  • Can you please provide nutritional content for your recipes? Esp the carbohydrate count per serving? thanks!

    EDITOR'S RESPONSE: Hi Tashy, unfortunately we aren't able to do nutritional analyses for our blog posts, but you can try to approximate the counts yourself at the USDA Nutrient Data Lab's site. Unfortunately you have to look up each individual ingredient: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/

  • I am wheat intolerant,do not eat sweets, and like simple meals, what I need is simple basic recipes.
    Please send we the free preview issue to: 1292 Janvier Rd. Williamstown, N.J. 08094

  • I grew up loving oatmeal scotchies (oatmeal cookies with butterscotch chips). Since then I have developed a milk allergy and a gluten intolerance. I'd love to find a way to make these cookies again, but in a way that is safe for me to enjoy!

  • [...] That’s 3 more than last week’s Gluten-Free Chicken Fried Rice , but 5 less than week one’s Gluten-Free Caramel Cupcakes, so I guess I’m doing okay. And these baked cake donuts are undoubtedly yummy, better for us, [...]

  • Hi Cybele-

    How about soy-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free mayonnaise?

    Everything commercially available that I find has either egg or soy (or both) - and I haven't found a good vegan recipe for mayo that doesn't contain soy.

    Thanks so much for all of your wonderful recipes!!

  • Dear Jayne:

    I'm going to move your comment to this weeks challenge so it's in the mix. See here. http://wholelivingdaily.wholeliving.com/2010/05/gluten-free-vegan-donuts-food-allergy-recipe-challenge-4.html


    Also, Jennifer Roeder, I am moving your comment over too.

  • Hi,

    I can manage to make allergy friendly cakes, etc...that's not really a challenge! How about this for you: FRENCH BREAD that is free from: wheat (I'm allergic to wheat, not gluten, but if you make it gluten & wheat free, that's better for more people), milk, soy, sulphites, and is vegetarian.

    I remember what the "real" thing tastes like, as I was 32 when I developed my wheat allergy; if you can match the taste I've missed for the last 6 years (including on a couple of trips to France! torture!!), you will be my hero!

    Amy Davis

  • Dear Amy:

    That's a tough one, but I will give it some thought. Sometimes I have to stew over a recipe for a while, and then come up with it. If nothing else, I'll put it in my next cookbook!

    Thanks again for leaving your comment. ALso, thanks for leaving a comment about being allergic to wheat as opposed to gluten. Many people don't realize that it's not the same thing. I too have a wheat allergy, not a gluten intolerance. However, my husband is gluten intolerant, so in the end it doesn't make much difference in the way I cook.



  • I am searching for a barbecue sauce recipe. I have multiple food allergies (corn, wheat, dairy, egg, yeast, soy, peas, peanuts). I have some tomato paste in the cupboard and the usual spices. thank you for being here!

  • I second the need for a GFCF , corn free, yeast free pizza dough. My son is a pizza addict and what I've produced to date has not even been edible! Thank you! Oh and your Baker's Handbook is wonderful! I love the sugar free muffins for my son!

  • Please, I really miss stuffed pasta. Any kind of stuffed pasta will do, maybe just the pasta recipe and tips on how to seal the pasta without egg? I'm good at making up my own filling, just would like raviolis again.

  • I wonder if my request is impossible, but from what you have been able to do for other people I have hope. My mother is extremely allergic to caffeine. I was not even aware it was a possibility until she was diagnosed about 15 years ago. She can have very limited amounts of "de-caffeinated" beverages such as coffee and cola but has not found a de-caf chocolate. Carob-covered raisins or nut clusters are an acceptable substitute but I want to be able to make her "fudge" brownies or "Hot Fudge" sundays. Any ideas?

  • Dear Katie:

    I have not heard of any such chocolate, but will do a search. Lia, what are your allergies?



  • Hello, Cybele! I stumbled across this page while searching for allergy-free recipes. I think it's amazing that you're willing to do all this work for those of us with food allergies! Food is such a staple in everyday life, and with twenty-odd food allergies, I find myself more and more frustrated in the kitchen and more and more isolated from social events. I've been trying to find baked goods recipes that can be easily converted to "safe." But I don't know much about alternative flours except what I've learned from trial and error - which is expensive and mostly ends up feeding the dogs that scrounge in the the ditch across our country road. Could you share what you've learned about some of the qualities of alternative flours - such as texture and taste and substitution abilities? I'm allergic to wheat (and kamut and spelt), corn, potato, rice, and nuts, so that cuts out many alternatives. I can use oat, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, tapioca, amaranth, teff, garbanzo/fava, arrowroot, quinoa, rye and barley flours (as far as I can tell), but I've only experimented with half of these, and I don't know that I know much more now than when I started. For example, I recently found a recipe for a pie crust that might(!) work, but it called for a high-protein flour blend of bean flour, arrowroot starch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. I can't use the potato starch - would more tapioca starch work? The flour blend is supposed to be more elastic than other flours. How does that change when I change out the potato starch? This may be much more of a challenge than you asked for, but I figured I couldn't gain anything by not asking. Even if you pass this up, I appreciate what you're doing on this site, and I hope you have a blessed day!

  • Hi Anna:

    I haven't checked this post in months, but luckily checked it today! Thanks for your post. In my first cookbook, The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook, I use a combination of half oat flour half barley flour in my recipes, which works very well. Just do 50/50. My most recent cookbook, The Allergen-free Baker's Handbook is also gluten-free, so I don't use that mixture in it, but rather a blend of superfine brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch. However, I came up with the following flour mix for a reader who also can't eat rice. Apparently it works fine with my recipes. Hope this helps! (since you can do the oat/barley, i'd recommend trying that first, as it's higher in fiber, and easier to work with)

    1 1/2 cups Garfava Flour (garbanzo fava bean flour mix, made by bob's red mill)
    1/2 cup Sorghum Flour
    2 cups Tapioca Starch
    2 cups Arrowroot Starch

  • Thanks so much, Cybele! I can't wait to try these tips. And I'm adding your cookbooks to my Christmas wish list, which, December 26th, becomes either my thank-you card list or my shopping list. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Hi Cybele,

    As we are planning our Christmas menu, we're realizing that our tried-and-true breakfast casserole is a total allergy bomb: cheese, eggs, bread, butter, sausage... Is there any way you can create a breakfast casserole that is savory, easy to make before an event, and will fill people up on the morning of a holiday? Many thanks!

  • P.S. Our allergies are: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, and wheat.

  • [...] who asked for dairy-free, egg-free sugar cookies she could roll and cut out with her kids, and Nancy, who requested a corn-free recipe last May (!). I’ve also made it gluten-free, for those avoiding [...]

  • Have a recipe for old fashion lasagna that is gluten and dairy free
    But still yummy?
    Thank you!!

  • I'm not sure if this is still the place to post recipe requests?

    Cybele, ALL of your recipes are fabulous- and you've got the GF flour mix down to perfection... my request is actually about the flour mix itself...

    My recipe request is for a GF flour mix alternative that does not contain potato or corn. I'm not even sure this is possible... but I would be SO happy to find something that works. Right now I'm using a brown rice-white rice-tapioca mixture that is workable, but not great. Maybe I don't have the ratios quite right, or maybe I need to add another type of GF flour. I'm limited in what I can work with (allergy-wise) so I'm just not sure there are many options.

    I've used your mix recipe with the potato and it is awesome, but I don't tolerate potatoes very well at all, so that is a special, once-in-a-very-great-while treat if I use potato starch.

    Thank you for all that you do for the food allergy community! You are my hero :)

  • I just noticed Charlene's request for a GF, corn free, yeast free pizza dough- oh yes, that too would be *wonderful*

    Perhaps even a flat bread or foccacia.

    I have read some things about using club soda/seltzer water in place of yeast, but have not yet tried that...

  • thank's a lot for this great post

    really it's helpful

  • Natasha:

    YOu can use arrowroot starch in place of the potato starch! Hope that helps!


  • [...] been getting requests for gnocchi on my Food Allergy Recipe Challenge since last May when Eliana first asked for a gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free version of the potato dumplings. It’s about time I [...]

  • When my husband and I lived in Hawaii we ate lots of manapua. It is a soft, sweet dough filled with tangy-sweet pork. After we moved I promised him I would make it, but after going gluten-free 11 years ago, I have not been able to bring myself to make a treat like that which I could not enjoy with him, or introduce to our daughter (also GF). Can you help?

  • Hi, I am Grace, and I'm 12 years old. I would like to know if you have a recipe for a gluten-free, dairy-free Fetticune Alfredo. I have always liked that, and it would be great if you could come up with an gluten-dairy free version. Thank you so much.:)

  • Hi, I just left a request for a gluten free, dairy free fetticune alfredo recipe, but another request I would have would be for some kind of gluten free dairy free "Hot Pockets". They are a store-bought product, basically a rectangle bread with a filling, like a pizza or ham and cheese filling. It would be great if you could respond to these requests. Thanks!

  • Hi! My dream is to find a way to make anything chocolate actually taste like it's made from chocolate but using CAROB!! I'm allergic to chocolate, as well as gluten, dairy, soy, corn, potato. I have found GF chocolate cake recipes and I do a straight carob powder substitution but they always taste bleh, bitter, weird. And usually I have to make so many other substitutions to the flour mix because of not being able to use anything corn or potato-related that the texture of the cake is too heavy, too hard, too cardboard, too something besides yummy.

    Don't even get me started on my attempts at dairy-free icing with carob instead of chocolate!!

    If you can help me make a real-tasting, moist, baking-powder-actually-worked, non-chocolate, chocolate cake I would be SOOOOO HAPPY!!!!!!

  • Hi, my 8 yr daughter is very sick with Chronic Lyme Disease. Her Lyme dr put her on a gluten free, yeast free, sugar free, fructose free, white potato free diet. These feed the bacteria and makes it spread and multiply in her body. Her birthday is coming up, and I wanted to make her vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting on them. How in the world would I make something like this for her? Thank you!

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