Recipe Road Test: Carrot Cupcakes from "The Perfect Cake"

Seira Wilson on April 06, 2018
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PerfectCake200.jpgThese are THE BEST cupcakes I've ever made.  Not even kidding. The spices (clove, nutmeg, cinnamon) give the cupcake a subtle spice cake flavor that pairs perfectly with the carrot.  They are delicious plain, especially while still warm, but adding the cream cheese frosting takes these cupcakes to another level.  Another great thing about this recipe is it's super easy to make; they require a minimum of ingredients and you mix the batter by hand. I also love that the yield is one dozen--not two--forced moderation, and you'll need it. 

I've tried to describe these cupcakes, but really you won't believe how phenomenal the taste and texture is until you try them yourself.  The recipe is from The Perfect Cake, one of our picks for April's Best Cookbooks and a cookbook that now has a permanent place on my shelf.  I also made the recipe for Strawberry Cupcakes--really good flavor and a honey cream cheese frosting I could eat with a spoon, but they don't touch the ease and deliciousness of the carrot.  

Fair warning: once friends and family get a taste of these cupcakes you'll be asked to make them again and again... Plant carrots this year. 

Here's what my cupcakes looked like: unbaked, baked, and finished.  The batter looks odd, but it works.  Recipe and cookbook photo are below.

CarrotCupcakes_unbaked.jpg CarrotCupcakes_baked.jpg CarrotCupcakes_finished.jpg


CarrotCupcakes_BookPhoto.jpgcarrot cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

why this recipe works The very quality that makes carrot cake so appealing— the moist, dense texture provided by the carrots and oil—makes it an unlikely candidate for reimagining as cupcakes, which tend toward lightness. But carrot cake is ever-popular, and a miniature version would make an ideal bake sale treat or birthday party favorite, so we were determined to make it work. First, a healthy amount of baking soda and baking powder provided the upward push that the little cakes needed to reach a proper height. As for sweetener, many carrot cake recipes call for a good deal of brown sugar, but we found it turned our cupcakes’ crumb into a gooey mess. Blending one part brown sugar with three parts white sugar solved the problem. Most carrot cake recipes use vegetable oil for its neutral flavor and to ensure a moist texture, but we wondered if butter might work better here. Swapping in melted butter for the oil gave us good results; the water in the butter evaporated quickly in the oven to provide a fluffy crumb, yielding cupcakes that were significantly more cakey. Grate the carrots on the small holes of a box grater. Be careful not to overmix the batter or the cupcakes will be dense and tough.

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed (1 3/4 ounces) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (see below)
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

1 - Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.

2 - Whisk melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and eggs in large bowl until combined. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in flour, carrots, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves until mixture just comes together (do not overmix).

3 - Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. Let cupcakes cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour. (Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.) Spread or pipe frosting evenly on cupcakes. Sprinkle with walnuts, if using. Serve. (Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.)

cream cheese frosting
makes about 5 cups, enough for two-layer cake

We enriched our cream cheese frosting with a little sour cream for extra tang as well as some vanilla for depth of flavor. We found that slowly adding the confectioners’ sugar to the other ingredients at a low speed until they were well combined and then turning up the speed gave us more control over the texture, ultimately producing a light, fluffy frosting. Do not use low-fat or fat-free cream cheese or the frosting will have a soupy consistency. This frosting has a softer, looser texture than other frostings; it won’t work with a three-layer cake. If the frosting becomes too soft to work with, let it chill in the refrigerator until firm.

1 1/4 pounds cream cheese, softened
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

1 - Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla, and salt on medium- high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low, slowly add sugar, and beat until incorporated and smooth, about 4 minutes.

2 - Increase speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; let soften at room temperature, about 1 hour, then rewhip on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.)

To make 3 cups; enough for cupcakes or sheet cake:
Reduce cream cheese to 12 ounces, reduce butter to 6 tablespoons, reduce sour cream to 1 1/2 tablespoons, reduce vanilla to 1 teaspoon, and reduce confectioners’ sugar to 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces).

flavor variation vanilla bean cream cheese frosting:
Using paring knife, halve and scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans and add seeds with cream cheese in step 1.


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