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Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

March 14, 2012

I have some news, flourchildren!  Mr. Brillantes and I have been in and out visiting graduate schools for the last month or so and, after much completely unnecessary arduous and purposeful discussion, we’ve realized that the choice was so absolutely clear, it was pretty much smacking us in the face.  So look out, Michigan, here we come!

I’ll be honest, I was skeptical about it.  But then we got there and it was like love at first sight.  There are so many things that I loved about the area that I can in no way fit them into one post; suffice it to say that it involved a permanent, year-round farmers’ market, a really astounding overabundance of coffee shops, and several local microbreweries that may or may not claim all my future take-home pay.  But more on that later.

In other news, it’s really spring! Our garden is taking off in leaps and bounds after the long winter wait, and it has been claiming practically all my attention (and muscle strength).  However, I did find a break in the – ahem – back-breaking work to whip up these delicious carrot cupcakes!

For some reason, early spring always reminds me of carrot cake despite the fact that carrots are technically available year-round.  Maybe it’s the association with fluffy-tailed rabbits and pastel colored eggs.  To be really honest, if I had to put this cake into a season based on flavor alone, I might stick it into autumn recipes along with pumpkin bread and apple-cinnamon muffins.  But here it is, in spring, reminding me of Easters gone by.

The one thing I chose to leave off in this version is the bright orange buttercream carrots that often top store-bought carrot cakes.  Without them, the cake seems a little less like a silly childhood relic (though those definitely have their place) and more like the elegant, moist, fluffy cake that it is.  Try it, with or without the frosting carrots, and you’ll see what I mean.


Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: 12-15 cup cakes


For the Cake
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ¼ tsp ground nutmeg)
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ cup buttermilk
1 ¾ cups finely shredded carrot (about 4 large carrots)
¼ cup pecans, chopped
3 Tbsp finely shredded coconut
¼ cup finely chopped dates*

For the Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a standard 12-cup cupcake pan, plus three more in another cupcake pan.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3-4 minutes (do not skimp here or the cake will be dense).  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Add vanilla and ginger.  Beat, scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated.  Add the flour mixture in two doses, alternating with the buttermilk.  Beat on medium-high speed until completely incorporated, but do not over-mix.  Stir in carrots, dates, coconut, and pecans.  Spoon into cupcake pan until each liner is 2/3 – 3/4 full. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting
  3. To make Cream Cheese Frosting, beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add vanilla and salt, and beat until completely incorporated.  Add the powdered sugar a little at a time, tasting as you go until desired sweetness and consistency is reached.  Spread or pipe onto the completely cooled cupcakes.


On buying and storing carrots: there is a vast array of carrot varieties but, for all intents and purposes, there are few differences between them.  Carrots grow spring through fall, and are easy to store through the winter, adding up to year-round availability.  When purchasing carrots, avoid so-called “baby” carrots: these are simply full-grown (adult?) carrots that have been whittled down to their petite size.  You’ll spend a lot less money (and contribute to a lot less waste) by purchasing full-size carrots and cutting them yourself.  Check your carrots before you buy them.  Carrots have a long life-span when stored properly, but split or off-color carrots are often dried-out and flavorless.  Finally, if your carrots come with leafy tops, cut them off as soon as you can.  Intact plants continue to pull sugars out of their roots, causing carrots to lose their sweetness as they sit.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Christie permalink
    March 25, 2012 9:38 pm

    I am very curious to know which tip you used to pipe the frosting. I love the way it looks and would like to try to recreate it!!

    • March 26, 2012 8:10 pm

      I have a limited number of tips, which means I have to get creative sometimes. For this, actually used a leaf tip around the whole cupcake. It does look great if you’re careful to rotate the tip around as you go. Otherwise it will look pretty and ruffly on one side and completely flat on the other. Try it and see!

  2. April 6, 2012 12:02 am

    Hello there, just become aware of your blog via Google, and found that it is truly informative. Lots of other people will likely be benefited out of your writing. Cheers!

  3. Rhonda Peterson permalink
    March 28, 2013 4:59 pm

    Could you tell me if the cupcake recipe can be made with Almond or Soy milk, and some margarine, instead of Buttermilk? I am allergic to milk.

    I am thinking of making these cupcakes for Easter, when my Kids and Grandkids are here. I would like to enjoy a cupcake or two, also…. just without the icing, if I can make them without any real milk.

    • April 1, 2013 2:42 pm

      I know this might be a little late for you, but the cupcakes can be made with almond or soy milk with the addition of 1 tsp distilled white or cider vinegar. Buttermilk has a high acid content, which reacts with the baking soda in the recipe to help the cakes rise to fluffy delicious heights. Regular and non-dairy milks are not as high in acid, so the addition of vinegar will make up for it. Also, there are some great vegan (read: dairy-free) cream cheeses that would work perfectly in the icing.


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