How to Make Owl Cupcakes (Gluten Free + Dairy Free!)
How to Make Owl Cupcakes – These adorable little owl cupcakes are perfect for parties or Halloween. Plus, it’s easy to make them gluten-free & dairy-free!
This post has been totally updated and refreshed. Originally posted Oct 2009 (I’m 100 blogging years old!)
Gluten free baking has been such an adventure over the last 5 1/2 years. When we changed our diet, there were very few options in the stores, and VERY few gluten free blogs and cookbooks. These years later, the resources are AMAZING. I can, at my local grocery stores (and even Target!), find LOTS of gluten free options. Online, there are even more options available, from Amazon to places like Thrive Market.
I *love* having more options, especially now that my children are old enough to notice when they’re “missing out” during class parties, birthday parties, church get togethers, etc. I’ve found that any time I’m able to volunteer to bring something, it makes a huge difference to my kids to have something there that they can eat.
These owl cupcakes are a perfect example! Would you know–just by looking–that they’re gluten free and dairy free? I wouldn’t! And, thankfully, but taste, you wouldn’t either. They’re a fun chocolatey sweet treat that friends of all sorts of different diets can enjoy!
Why These Owl Cupcakes Are So Great:
- FIRST OFF, THEY’RE SUPER CUTE. Hello, adorable owls! I love them all clustered together. The big eyes are so cute!!!
- THEY WORK FOR GLUTEN-FREE, DAIRY-FREE + EVEN EGG-FREE OR VEGAN DIETS! You can use any cupcake and frosting recipe you like for these (from traditional to gluten free to vegan, etc.). AND if you’re not used to gluten free baking, I’ve got my favorite shortcut below for doctoring up a gluten free (or regular) cake mix. It makes them even easier.
- NEXT, THEY’RE A FUN TREAT! We’re usually mostly about the healthy recipes and healthier/healthy-ish treats around here on the blog, but I do think it’s a great thing to get to enjoy some foods just for the joy of them now and again. These cupcakes aren’t going to spare you any sugar (they’re *definitely* a treat!), but they ARE going to be delicious and fun.
- YOU DON’Y NEED ANY SPECIAL BAKING SKILLS! Confession: I love watching cake and cookie decorating videos online, but I have basically zero skills when it comes to frosting or decorating. These cupcakes don’t need any special skills. If you can twist open a cookie and place a piece of candy, you can make these! (My 5 and 7 year olds can do it! You can, too!)
Let’s Talk Ingredients For Owl Cupcakes (Dye Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free):
Okay, so as mentioned, these aren’t healthy-fied. In any way. There’s chocolate, sugar, and candy. That said, I do always need to look out for gluten & dairy free products, and prefer to use dye-free options when I can. Here are some brands and products I use to make awesome owl cupcakes:
- I USE A BOXED CAKE MIX MOST OF THE TIME. I haven’t found a gluten free chocolate cake recipe that I’ve *loved* (though it’s been a delicious journey as I’m working on developing my own). So, boxed mix gets the job done in the meantime. My favorite is King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix, since it’s so easy, and the recipe is light and fluffy, while still having plenty of rich, chocolatey flavor.
- I USUALLY DOCTOR IT UP with a pudding mix (did you know many instant pudding mixes are generally gluten-free/dairy-free until you add the milk?) and then use (almond) milk or water, some oil (coconut or avocado), 4 eggs (you can sub egg replacer), and a bit of vanilla extract. I’ve got my full instructions in the recipe card below, but this makes for a really yummy cake! My mom (who’s not GF) says it’s one of the best chocolate cakes she’s had. I use this pudding mix when I can find it since it’s dye/preservative/artificial sweetener free and has an ingredient list I like better.
- FOR THE FROSTING, I often opt for a simple chocolate ganache (recipe below), or my favorite vegan chocolate frosting. Frosting will “stick” better than ganache, but both will work. Use whichever you prefer!
- AS FOR THE COOKIES… I used to use Oreos, but now that we’re gluten-free, I’ve switched to gluten-free cookies. A few good brands are Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Joe-Joe’s, Kinnikinnik K-Toos, Glutino Chocolate Cookies, and Mi-Del Chocolate Cookies.
- AND FOR THE CANDY… I like these Little Secrets dark chocolate candies as they’re vegan & gluten free, and use natural dyes (from plants not dye). This Yum Earth candy corn is the best candy corn I’ve seen. This brand consistently delivers good quality, and they don’t use dyes. If you don’t have any allergies, you can totally use M&Ms, Reeses Pieces, etc.
TIPS FOR THE BEST OWL CUPCAKES:
GO SLOW. These are SUPER easy to make. The “trickiest” part of making them is opening your chocolate sandwich cookies. This isn’t too tricky (see my next tip), but works best if you don’t try to speed through. Also, I always plan to only get to use one half of each cookie, which makes it much easier. You can freeze the leftover cookie halves for another time–chocolate pudding “dirt” cups, mixing into vanilla ice cream, making a chocolate cookie crumb crust, etc.
A TIP FOR OPENING THE CHOCOLATE COOKIES. If you’re having trouble opening your cookies, hold one side completely still and only twist one half. Sometimes, if you twist both halves, the frosting doesn’t split as nicely. If your frosting doesn’t split well, you can usually coax it right back into place with a spatula. And remember: go slow. Don’t try to rush this.
BEST TIP FOR DECORATING OWL CUPCAKES: WORK IN SMALL BATCHES. I actually assemble all my “eyes” (cookie + candy) before frosting any of the cupcakes, so that the candy will best stick to the frosting on the cookie. Similarly, I find it’s best to frost & assemble only a few cupcakes at a time. That way, my frosting is fresh enough that the cookies will easily stick to them. Make sense?
TIPS FOR THE CUTEST EYES: Place your candies in a bottom “corner” of the frosting circle, almost to make them look cross-eyed. If you put the candy dot in the center of the cookie, your owls will look a little “stunned.”
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 24 cupcakes
Owl Cupcakes – These adorable little owl cupcakes are perfect for parties or Halloween. Plus, it’s easy to make them gluten free & dairy free!
You will need:
- Baked cupcakes* (cool completely before decorating)
- Chocolate frosting or ganache (see below)
- Oreo-type chocolate sandwich cookies (use Glutino, Kinnikinnik, Mi-Del, or Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Joe-Joe’s for gluten free)
- M&M’s, Reese’s Pieces, or a gluten free/dairy free chocolate candy (like Little Secrets)
- Candy corn (or orange chocolate candies–like Little Secrets–if vegan)
Prepare Cupcakes & Frosting:
- Use your favorite cupcake recipe or make a boxed cake mix to make 20-24 cupcakes. (See notes for my favorite mix + tricks)
- Allow your cupcakes to cool completely before assembling.
- Prepare your frosting or ganache. Assemble your eyes (see next step) before frosting the cupcakes.
Make the Eyes Before Frosting:
- Twist the chocolate sandwich cookies to open, trying to get as much frosting as you can on one half. I find it works well to hold one half completely still while twisting the other half. (Set aside the frosting-free halves for another use.)
- If you need to smooth the frosting out, use a spatula to do so.
- Quickly place one chocolate candy on each cookie half for the pupils. (I like to place mine in a bottom “corner” for a more cross-eyed look)
- Repeat until you have enough eyes for your cupcakes. Set aside while you frost your cupcakes.
Frost & Assemble Cupcakes:
- Working with 1-2 cupcakes at a time, dip the cupcake in ganache or frost with chocolate frosting.
- Quickly place the cookie eyes on the top of the cupcake in the center. Hold in place for 10-20 seconds to allow them to stick. (If your eyes are having trouble sticking, you can place the cupcake in between two glasses to hold the eyes in place for a few extra seconds).
- Add a candy corn beak below the eyes.
- Repeat with remaining cupcakes, working in batches until all the owls have eyes and beaks.
My favorite gluten free cake mix is King Arthur Flour’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake Mix. I add 1 (3oz) package of dry chocolate pudding mix, 4 eggs, 1 cup almond milk or water, 1/2 cup oil (coconut or avocado), and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, pour into prepared muffin cups and bake according to box directions.
Quick Ganache: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or double boiler, gently melt 1 cup chocolate chips + 3-4 Tbsp coconut milk (or your favorite milk) over low heat. Whisk until completely smooth. Stir in 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly before using on cupcakes.
Go slow. These are SUPER easy to make. The “trickiest” part of making them is opening your chocolate sandwich cookies. This isn’t too tricky (see my next tip), but works best if you don’t try to speed through. Also, I always plan to only get to use one half of each cookie, which makes it much easier. You can freeze the leftover cookie halves for another time–chocolate pudding “dirt” cups, mixing into vanilla ice cream, making a chocolate cookie crumb crust, etc.
If you’re having trouble opening your cookies, hold one side completely still and only twist one half. Sometimes, if you twist both halves, the frosting doesn’t split as nicely. If your frosting doesn’t split well, you can usually coax it right back into place with a spatula. And remember: go slow. Don’t try to rush this.
Best Tip for Decorating: Work in Batches. I actually assemble all my “eyes” (cookie + candy) before frosting any of the cupcakes, so that the candy will best stick to the frosting on the cookie. Similarly, I find it’s best to frost & assemble only a few cupcakes at a time. That way, my frosting is fresh enough that the cookies will easily stick to them. Make sense?
Tip for the Cutest Eyes: Place your candies in a bottom “corner” of the frosting circle, almost to make them look cross-eyed. If you put the candy dot in the center of the cookie, your owls will look a little “stunned.”
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Category: desserts, cake, cupcake
- Method: oven, stovetop
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: gluten free cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, owl cupcakes, halloween cupcakes, dairy free, gluten free, ganache
These were so dang cute. I know the kids loved them. Wish I had one now 😉
I just love love love these adorable owl cupcakes….I have a special spot for anything “owl”….along with anything baked! – a perfect combo you have given me! Thank you sooooo much for sharing!
This is such a great idea! I’m having a bird themed party and this looks so easy I think I’ll try it! 🙂
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I love this recipe, so cute! I was wondering if you could share with me how to make cheaters ganache? Also, is there a way to make the ganache an aqua color?
Janel – Since ganache is chocolate, you probably couldn’t dye it aqua. If you’re going for aqua, you could use candy melts and food coloring instead (I can find candy melts at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby).
I made these for Halloween and they were a huge hit! So easy and I cheated and used boxed cake mix and a can of frosting. The best tip I have for the frosting on the cookies is to microwave the cookies for less than 10 seconds (can do in batches) to soften the frosting a bit, then use a sharp knife to separate the cookies. It worked like a charm!
Oh, that’s a GREAT tip! Thank you so much for sharing!