Sunday, October 9, 2011

Carrot Cake Cupcakes, with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

I am always a little perplexed when someone says to me, "Oh carrot cake is my favorite!"  I mean, obviously I think carrot cake is awesome... but your favorite? Really?  (Are you sure you aren't fibbing?)  I always want to ask them why, not necessarily because I question their taste, but more out of sheer curiosity.  What is it that holds carrot cake at the forefront of your taste as your favorite?   

I think I feel this way because for me, carrot cake is sort of akin to that old worn out sweatshirt at the bottom of your drawer - you know, the one that you know you love, but that you forget you have.  Then the minute you put it on you immediately chide yourself for not wearing it all the time because it is so comfortable and so warm and just all-around perfect.  Carrot cake is like that old sweatshirt - a love, many times forgotten, but never a quite placed on the 'favorite' shelf.      

But last week my sister (who has recently discovered her love for baking, Yay!) said to me, "Hey I am going to make carrot cake cupcakes!"  And just like that - carrot cake rushed off the dusty shelf in the back of my mind.  I couldn't stop thinking about making these cupcakes.  I was dreaming of fall spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger - and I knew this would be the perfect recipe to make me feel like the season was here.  (Of course, it didn't hurt that my sister told me her co-workers loved them, and highly recommended I make them.)   

Since my sister had already made these cupcakes using a Smitten Kitchen recipe, I asked her if she had included any changes to the ingredients or baking time.  I was super excited to hear that she had read through some of the comments on the original post (as well as some reviews from a similar recipe on Epicurious), and decided to substitute applesauce for most of the oil in the cake batter. Swapping apple sauce for oil is a trick I have long wanted to try, but never really had the occasion.  

(And, lets be honest - I think some folks who say carrot cake is their favorite are just saying that because they think it is 'healthy' since it has carrots.  Using applesauce just amps up the health factor so those people can be even more filled with good-eating-glee.)      

The applesauce in this recipe is perfect since the flavors are already all about fall with just the right amount of sweetness and spice.  But, I also think the applesauce contributes to the texture - these cupcakes have a perfect moist crumb, and I suspect that might be due to the smooth applesauce in the batter.     

But I have to tell you - the very best part of these cupcakes is the cream cheese frosting.  Oh yes.  Pillowy frosting.  A little cloud of heaven.  Soft and smooth, cream cheese frosting has the perfect balance of sweetness and tang.  This frosting has got to be the reason people keep coming back to carrot cake cupcakes.  (Just admit it, you know it is true.)  All in all, these cupcakes were just what I was hoping for and everything my mind reminded me that I loved about carrot cake.  Only better.  Maybe not quite fantastic enough to make it to my favorite list, but reconnecting with a longtime love and a forgotten friend is just as good.  

You might also like: Blood Orange and Pomegranate Cupcakes
One year ago: Making S'mores from Scratch; Homemade Marshmallows and Graham Crackers (One of my most popular posts from last year!)

Carrot Cake Cupcakes, with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, and Bon Appetit

The recipe for the batter is perfect as is, just watch your baking time to make sure they are not over- or under-done.  If you like, you can also include raisins in the batter, or leave out the walnuts.  And lastly, I wish that this 'maple' cream cheese frosting had been just a little more mapley for my taste, so feel free to play around with the amount of syrup and powdered sugar you add to get the right taste and texture for your preference.  The texture is one of the best parts - super soft and light.  

Makes 24 cupcakes.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cups sugar
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
3 cups peeled, grated carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a regular size muffin pan with paper liners. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, applesauce, and canola oil.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until they are incorporated.  Then add the flour mixture, beating just until everything comes together.  Add the grated carrots and chopped walnuts and stir again to evenly distribute all the ingredients.  Add the batter to the prepared muffin pan, filling each 3/4 full.  Bake the cupcakes for 15-18 minutes (mine were done right at 18 minutes), or until a tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.  Cool completely on a cooling rack before frosting them. (Frosting recipe below.)

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting:
Two 8 oz packages of low fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup plus 1-2 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar (or less)

In a stand mixer beat together the cream cheese, unsalted butter and maple syrup until completely smooth.  Then add the powdered sugar in two additions, again beating until smooth and fluffy.  Transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or overnight to set.  Frost the cupcakes by spreading the frosting over the top using a knife or spatula, or use a piping bag to decorate (be sure to make the frosting extra thick in the center - who doesn't love extra frosting?).    


  1. Lovely cupcakes! I bet they taste just divine.



  2. These look great - I'll have to try them. I also have a lot of applesauce to use up so I will definitely be using that!

  3. the maple cream cheese sounds so over-the-top-amazing! i would like 3 for breakfast please :)

  4. I love your sweatshirt comparison, it made me smile, and after reading you used applesauce I know I want to make these, the only thing that actually bothers me about most of the carrot cakes and cupcakes is the oil content, and I like that you made them a bit more healthier. Thank you.

  5. I love the shot of the frosted cupcakes on the cooling rack ;)

  6. Carrot almond orange spice cake is definitely one of my favorite cakes. I don't know why, it is probably because it tastes like childhood and I have always loved the color. My mum was used to make it for me and now I make it for the people I love. It is more of a personal attachment, although I really love the rustic flavor. These cupcakes look delicious and I appreciate the substitution of oil for applesauce, it's a trick I often times use and I have never been disappointed! I am surely going to try them, thanks for sharing!

  7. Maple cream cheese frosting? Are you kidding me? Forget the cupcakes! Just give me a spoon!

  8. Oh, YUM! Gorgeous and delicious (i'm sure).

  9. Howdy!! These look AH-mazing! :)

    I'm a new follower. Come by and sometime so we can be blog buddies.

  10. Just perfect. Who doesn't love a carrot cake cupcake?

  11. Oh, how fabulous!!! I love carrot cake, and that lovely mound of fluffy icing makes these irresistible~

  12. These are gorgeous!!! I definitely like carrot cake but wouldn't call it a top favorite - but these look like they might change that!

  13. Carrot cake is my husband's favorite, he always says the frosting is what makes it. I have a feeling he would LOVE these.

  14. I want to double check - the "1/4 plus 1-2 tbsp pure maple syrup" is that 1/4 cup?

  15. Anonymous: Thanks for catching my missing word! Yes! It is 1/4 cup, I just fixed it. :)

  16. it's my dad's fave too! i love your sweatshirt analogy. i like the maple pairing also. your icing piping looks like a puffy cloud of heaven.

  17. Amanda, these look scrumptious! And might I add, LOVELY photography, as always.

  18. How perfect! I have also swapped the oil for applesauce in my carrot cake before and loved it! :) Your piping skills are amazing btw, i just love how the frosting looks on the cupcakes!

    and yay! so good to have a sister who also likes to bake. All mine does!

  19. I have to admit, I love carrot cake too. I don't have it nearly enough though but when I do, it's like oh man, how could I have been away for so long? :-) There's something so comforting about the way it tastes. And how fun that your sister has taken to baking! My younger sister is quickly becoming a fan of baking as well and it totally is fun to spend time with her in the kitchen. Makes for great new memories!

  20. These look great. More dessert posts!

  21. I love carrot cake but can't tell is my favorite BUT the maple frosting makes everything tastes 10 times better!

  22. Deeeeeelish and then some girlie! You take food photography to a whole new level. Gorgeous!!

  23. Wait just a crazy minute! The foodie blog world is sooo freakin small! Amanda I didn't know you had a food blog! So do I :) (Andrea Cheeseman from Witt here) Its really a great blog too - I think we are friends on FoodBuzz too! Random huh?!

  24. New here :) You have a beautiful blog with great recipe! Have been browsing around for a little bit and love them all!

  25. Lovely cupcakes and healthy too..makes me hungry to have a bite.

  26. Meraviglioso blog!!!
    A presto!!!

  27. This post is so fetish-worthy, I've been inspired to include it in my Friday Food Fetish blog. If you have any objections, please let me know

  28. The first para of your post made be smile all the way..coz I am one of those "people" who will pick a carrot cake over choco..these cupcakes look beautiful, especially the frosting is to die for!

  29. These cupcakes were amazing! I baked them for 14-15 minutes and the consistency was perfect. I also added more maple syrup to taste to my frosting. I had rave reviews from everyone!

  30. wow...sounds scrumptiously tasty...
    happy following u..:)
    love to see you in my space too..
    Tasty Appetite

  31. I'm not super passionate about carrot cake, but I could be about these. I love the sound of adding applesauce - makes me think the flavour would be even more autumnal.

  32. I was wondering when you were going to get to the part where cream cheese icing becomes carrot cake's secret weapon! And then, finally, there it was! I mean, who does carrot cake without it?

  33. Yum! These are beautiful! I too like carrot cake, but you're right - mostly it's because I know I'm getting some cream cheese icing with it. :)

  34. This is too much. It is beautiful and sounds outstanding with the applesauce.

  35. wow. it's really a good contribution to us guys not good at cakes, you know i did some cakes before but the taste it's not good, then i quit, so if you have interesting, you can load to omega watches for sale

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  39. Carrots became a valuable alternative to sugar, and were soon used for cakes, breads and muffins.While some cakes benefit from a butter base, carrot cake is much moister when you use light vegetable oil or canola oil. Canola oil will give those cake layers the right firmness and texture you need.

  40. These look amazing! Yum I absolutely love carrot cake, and Christmas is the perfect season to indulge in these sweet treats.

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