Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

What’s better than Carrot Cake? Moist and tender Carrot Cupcakes with vanilla-flecked cream cheese frosting (just because you get one all to yourself). 

Carrot cupcakes are perfect for the Venn diagram of people who like carrot cake and people who like cupcakes … let’s face it, that’s basically everyone, right?

Yesterday, like two slightly terrified mole-rats unused to sunlight and open space, Matt and I ventured out onto our deck and… stood there.

“That’s, um,  great,” says a normal person, “but are you sure it’s a story worth typing up and putting on the internet?”

Yes. Yes it is.

We turned our faces towards the warm sun, each with a steaming cup of coffee clasped in our pale, trembling hands. Our huge pink eyes had grown unused to the light and we blinked, almost afraid to believe it, half convinced that the heat was a practical joke and nature was going to dump a foot of snow on us the moment we let our guard down. So we waited, nervous and twitchy, but nothing happened.

“I think it’s going to be okay,” Matt said quietly. I looked out at the brown, battered garden and noticed tiny little green shoots poking up out of the dirt. The first stems of garlic. Yes, I thought, it will be.

Yup, this winter is Ramsay Bolton and we, my friends, we are Reek. (For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about and who clicked on that first link and think I’ve gone insane, I apologize and assure you that I have not. It’s just that Game of Thrones has started again and I’m a little… distracted). Full disclosure; I spent an entire hour looking for the perfect Ramsay Bolton gif, and boy did it pay off. Click it. Go on. Do it.

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

In the spirit of celebrating Spring and its joyous bounty, we wanted to make something fun and pretty and happy. And since the farmers markets have yet to fill up with vegetables, we went with cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes. Carrot cupcakes. Really, really good ones.

What I like about these cupcakes is that they are filled with carrots. The recipe calls for a full pound which not only makes them taste fantastic but also keeps them extremely moist. These are my all-time favorite “make ahead” cupcakes because they’re even better after a day or two, unlike yellow butter cakes which begin to dry out as soon as they leave the oven.

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Real vanilla seeds have wonderful flavor and look great but extract works just as well.

We all know that even the most delicious cupcake is merely a delivery vehicle for the real star of the show, frosting. I love cream cheese frosting because it’s just plain old tasty but it’s also incredibly easy. The trick with cream cheese frosting is in the balance; enough sugar to give sweetness and structure but not so much that it becomes cloying. Many recipes call for adding more confectioners’ sugar if the frosting is too thin but I’m not fond of that. Instead, I recommend popping the bowl into the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes and letting the cold do the work for you. Adjust the chill time accordingly. This way, you wind up with a frosting that is silky, whipped and exactly as sweet as you want it.

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Nerd Tips:
  • You need a full pound of carrots so get a little extra at the store and weigh them after they’ve been trimmed and peeled.
  • We used little colored candies to decorate ours for Spring but a little sprinkle of crushed walnuts would be lovely.
  • I hate raisins and don’t put them in anything but you could add a cup of them to the batter. Just stir them in with the carrots and nuts.
  • This makes a lot of cupcakes but you could easily cut the recipe in half.
  • Pecans would work well in place of the walnuts.

Carrot Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 24 cupcakes
Ingredients
  • For the Carrot Cupcakes:
  • 2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour (12 1⁄2 oz)
  • 1 1⁄4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound peeled carrots, about 6 to 7 carrots (16 oz)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups granulated sugar (10 1⁄2 oz)
  • 1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar (3 1⁄2 oz)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1⁄2 cups neutral oil (like canola)
  • 1½ cups walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped (6 oz)
  • For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (5 oz)
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar, sift if lumpy (12 oz)
  • ½ scraped vanilla bean or 1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature (16 oz)
Instructions
  1. To make the cake:
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350F/180C.
  3. Line muffin pan with paper liners.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon; set aside.
  5. In food processor fitted with the shredding disk or using the medium holes of a box grater, shred carrots (you
  6. should have about 3 cups); set aside. (make sure you use a full pound of carrots, weigh them after they’ve been trimed and peeled).
  7. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or in large bowl and using hand-held mixer), beat
  8. eggs and both the granulated and brown sugars together on medium-high speed until thoroughly combined,
  9. about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to medium and add oil in slow, steady stream while the mixer is still running. Increase speed to high and mix until mixture becomes lighter in color and almost frothy, about 45 seconds to 1 minute longer. Turn off mixer. Stir in the flour mixture by hand using a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Stir in the carrots and walnuts. Give the batter a final stir to make sure everything is thoroughly combined. Scoop the batter into the lined muffin cups until each is ¾ full.
  10. Bake until a toothpick or a skewer inserted into center of cake comes out mostly clean, 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking time. Remove to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
  11. To make the frosting:
  12. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in large bowl and using hand-held mixer) beat the butter on medium-high speed until it gets creamy and pale, 1-2 minutes.
  13. Add the confectioners sugar, salt and vanilla (seeds or extract) and beat until it gets light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.
  14. Add the sour cream and cream cheese and beat until combined. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the frosting is light, fluffy, and whipped, 3-4 more minutes.
  15. Frost cupcakes with an offset spatula, or fill a pastry bag and pipe a swirl on top.
  16. (Note: if the frosting is too thin, pop it into the fridge for 10-15 minutes and then re-whip).