But it hasn't always been that way. Jules E.D. Shepard was diagnosed with celiac disease in 1999, what she calls "the dark ages of cooking gluten free." At the time of her diagnosis, Shepard was an avid baker, whipping up cupcakes for friends and classmates. But when she tried to create gluten-free cakes that she and her friends could love, there was no joy. Instead of light, moist and fluffy, she got gritty, crumbly and dry.
Amy Ratner, 50, faced similar issues when she found out 17 years ago that her 2-year-old daughter had celiac disease, a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and is marked by an inability to process gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
"In those days, you really did bake things yourself," Ratner said. At that time, there were only two gluten-free cookbooks, she said, so there was lots of trial and error. "I think that up until, let's say, two or three years ago, there was probably a very broad consensus that most gluten-free baked goods weren't very good," she said.
"The idea of a free-standing bakery that would bake gluten-free things," said Ratner, now associate editor of Gluten Free Living, a quarterly magazine, "I can't tell you how unimaginable that was."
According to Pam King of University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research, as many as 1 of every 133 Americans are affected by celiac disease. But awareness, not numbers, has been key to the gluten-free revolution, says Renee D'Souza, 29, co-owner of Sweet Sin Bakery.
"It's an individual little party, it's exciting," said D'Souza. "It's a special little thing for you."
What if you want to make cupcakes on your own?
It's doable, as long as you keep one main ingredient in mind: flour.
In regular recipes, gluten is what gives dough its stretchiness, its elasticity. When converting to gluten-free, you have to compensate for that, as well as the flavors and textures that many gluten-free flours have.
Because of that, many experienced bakers recommend starting with a ready-made, all-purpose flour blend or relying on a tested flour-blend recipe from a trusted cookbook.
Shepard, 38, who published "Nearly Normal Cooking For Gluten-Free Eating," a collection of her recipes -- including her flour blend -- in 2006, says that one mix is key to making gluten-free baking simple again. Her flour blend recipe was so loved, she said, that she started to sell her mix to consumers and bakeries.
Armed with the right flour mix and xanthan or guar gum, which helps with elasticity, the world can be your gluten-free oyster.