Cake Mix Hack: Gluten-Free “Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend!  We jumped down to North Carolina for an overnight, to see our friends.  It was great to catch up with all of them and we had breakfast at the Saxapahaw General Store before heading back.  I’ve gushed about my love for this tiny strip of town before, and each year, it gets a little better and a little crunchier–in the best of ways. 😉  Now, in addition to the General Store, the cute industrial apartments, and performing space + Coffee Shop by day/Bar by night venue, Saxapahaw has added a butcher’s shop and a shared-space work studio.  I love this focus on community and local goods!  As for breakfast, M got the usual Coconut-Braised Pork Sandwich (which is still on my list to properly recreate at home!) and I had the brunch special: Eggs Salmon Florentine.  The staff assured me that if was gluten-free, so I was expecting a lighter version of Eggs Benedict Florentine.  You know, some kind of bread, layers of spinach and salmon topped with an egg and their “lemon and caper sauce”.  Instead, in this dish, there wasn’t any bread at all.  The spinach and over-medium eggs were resting on top of a salmon fillet!  It was delicious, and way more protein than I expected.

As for Monday, I had a meeting in the afternoon, so I missed what may have been the highlight of the summer: taking Punc to our community’s “Pool Pawty”.  Each year, the day before they close up the pool, our apartment complex allows the neighborhood to bring their dogs in to swim and play.  Our complex is great at these kind of parties, so M came back with a ton a gift bags full of dog treats, bones, tennis balls, and other swag.  It was pretty awesome!  While she didn’t enjoy the water, Punc did get a doggie massage and a pupcake.  Best of all, she got along with all of the other dogs!

M wasn’t able to take her hiking as often this summer, since it was so hot.  Our area has set a new record for the number of 90+ degree days in July and August.  Ugh.  I am definitely ready for the cooler Fall weather!  So it’s been nice to have this Pool Pawty and playdates with our friends’ dogs to fill in that exercise gap for Punc.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this weekend is our last heatwave, so we can start to settle into Fall.  I know M is itching to hike again, as well.


Today, I am back with another cake mix hack!  They served me so well throughout the summer, being fairly quick and far less fussy than baking a cake from scratch.  I’m still on the search for my “one” cake flour mix.  But, I’m also starting to lean more towards the less sweet pound cake styles.  You know, not quite a quick bread, but not quite a cake.  So maybe I’ll keep my cake mix hacks in my back pocket for occasions that call for frosting and wrappers and all that jazz; and stay content with my simpler options for “everyday” cakes.  These cookies and cream cupcakes have a tasty surprise when you unwrap them: a whole “oreo” cookie at the bottom of each cupcake!  The chocolate cakes are even more fun, because the cake really hides the cookie until you take a bite of the cupcake.


“Oreo” Surprise Cupcakes with Cookies & Cream Frosting

Serves 12

For the Cupcake

  • 1 box Gluten-free yellow or chocolate cake mix + additional ingredients listed on the back of the package*
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 (1/2 of a box) “oreo” style gluten-free chocolate wafer, creme-filled cookies**
  • Optional: the filling from 6 additional cookies (save the chocolate cookies for decoration)

For the Frosting

  • 4 oz (half a package) of cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp (half a stick) of butter, softened
  • 2-3 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 c. crushed “oreo” style cookies (about 10-12 cookies)
  • Optional: 12 individual chocolate cookies leftover from the creme removed for the cupcake batter, for decoration

*I used Aldi’s GFree yellow cake brand, which calls for 3 eggs, 2/3 c. milk, and 1/2 c. oil per box

**I used Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Jo-Jo cookies

Make the cupcakes

Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the Cake Mix box.  Fill a cupcake pan with paper cupcake cups and drop one whole “oreo”-style cookie into the bottom of each paper liner.

Remove the inside filling from six cookies, being careful to keep the chocolate wafers intact.  Heat briefly in the microwave to soften, then mix with the liquids called for on the package–if a liquid fat (like oil or melted butter) is called for, this is the best ingredient to mix with the creme filling.  Mix the dry and wet ingredients as instructed on the packaging.  Be sure to include the extra vanilla extract as you mix in the wet ingredient.  Scoop the prepared batter over the cookies in each cup, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake as directed on the packaging.  Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

Leave the cream cheese and butter on the counter as the cupcakes bake and cool, to allow both to soften.  Whip the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract on low speed until the mixture is uniform and soft.  Slowly add the confectioner’s sugar, one half-cup at a time, whipping until fully incorporated.  After adding 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, add in the crushed cookies and mix well.  If the mixture is still soft, continue to add in the additional confectioner’s sugar in 1/2 cup measures.  When the mixing blade or whisk is removed, the frosting should be almost at a stiff peak–the mixture stands straight up from where the whisk was pulled away (if the very tip of the peak falls, that is okay, but the whole peak shouldn’t slump).  Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.  Favor a higher pile in the middle, which allows you to sink on of the reserved chocolate wafers upright into the frosting as garnish.

Cake Mix Hack: Mocha Cupcakes

cupcake plate 2

Hello Cupcake!  Want a cupcake?

cupcake line 2

They’re gluten-free!  And super simple (and fairly easy to make dairy-free, as well–just swap in a butter substitute!) A moist chocolate cake enriched with a deep coffee flavor, topped with cool coffee icing and a bite of caramel (or a chocolate covered espresso bean). A few simple additions to Betty Crocker Gluten Free Devil’s Food Cake mix is all that it takes!

cupcake pan close

When I started to become interest in baking and cooking (pre-GF, high school years) it was always to make desserts and sweets (except for the occasional pan of Chicken Fajitas).  I think desserts were a bit more special than daily meals, took a little more creativity.  Nowadays, creating gluten-free breakfast, lunch, and dinner is enough to keep me on my toes.  My sweet tooth certainly hasn’t diminished, but I have noticed that I make less sweet treats than before.  Especially this spring, with the move and with both of my jobs at hectic points, quick and simple recipes are a must.  And when I only have the time for cooking the meal or making a special dessert, dinner is going to win out every time.  But when I did have an evening to spare and I wanted something a little bit sweet (and a lot chocolate) I looked back to options with gluten free, store-bought cake mix.  I have yet to try my hand at many homemade gluten-free cakes.  But I have tried several brand of gluten-free cake mix, and most are good enough.  But with a couple of simple twists, these cake mixes go from “Good-For-Gluten-Free” to “Delicious”!  These cupcakes really do provide a lot of bang for your buck.  They’d be perfect to bring along to a birthday, party, or potluck.  I bet no one would guess that they are gluten-free!

cupcake scape

For these cupcakes, I had a box of Betty Crocker gluten free mix that called for water, eggs, and butter to be added to the dry mix.  Substituting the water for strong-brewed coffee and vanilla extract really ups the flavor of the cake.  A simple brushing with coffee and chocolate post-baking soaks into the cake, keeping it moist and giving it a rich, decadent mouthfeel.  Finally, a coffee-flavored buttercream frosting brings the flavor to the forefront and provided the perfect cushion for a cute little bite of chocolate-covered caramel.

cupcake cut close

Mocha Cupcakes (from a cake mix)

Serves: 14-18 

  • 1 package Betty Crocker GF Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake mix
  • Wet ingredient called for on the package (eggs, butter, water*)
  • Ground coffee for brewing the water into coffee
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso granules (optional)
  • 1/4 c. (additional) brewed coffee
  • 1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup or 1 Tbsp cocoa powder + 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 batch coffee buttercream frosting (recipe below)
  • 14-18 mini chocolate-covered caramel bites (or chocolate covered espresso beans)

Preheat oven according to package directions.

Brew a pot of very strong coffee with your preferred coffee blend.  *Measure out the coffee to the amount of water called for on the cake mix box.  Reserve at let cool.  Mix in instant espresso granules, if using.  Empty package of cake mix into a large bowl, add eggs, butter, and water-turned-coffee according to the package directions.  Stir in vanilla extract.  Pour into lined baking cup and bake according to package directions.

Remove cupcakes from oven.  Allow to cool for five minutes. Prick the top of cupcakes with a toothpick or the prongs of a fork.

Mix chocolate syrup or cocoa+sugar mixture into 1/4 c. of brewed coffee until thoroughly dissolved.  Brush mixture onto warm cupcakes.  Allow cupcakes to cool completely while mixing the frosting.

Frost cupcakes and top with single caramel candy/espresso bean.

Refrigerate up to one week.  Return to room temperature or warm slightly before serving.

Coffee Buttercream Frosting

  • 3 Tbsp. brewed coffee (warm)
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso granules
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
  • 2 c. confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Mix warm coffee, espresso granules, and vanilla extract in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Beat softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer for 1-2 minutes at low-medium, until fluffy.  Slowly add confectioner’s sugar, combining thoroughly.  Mix on medium speed for three minutes.  Add coffee mixture, and stir on low speed until incorporated.  Increase to medium speed and beat for 3-4 more minutes, until fluffy.

cupcake alone