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.
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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?).