Anyone who knows me knows that chocolate is my preferred cake of choice. Variations include chocolate with red wine, chocolate with bourbon, chocolate with coffee, chocolate with caramel, and even a version that can be made in a coffee mug, but they all start in the same place: with chocolate.
So carrot cake was never much on my radar. I mean don’t get me wrong — I’m not going to turn down a slice. But I never gravitated toward it.
But recently, I feel like I’ve been craving fresher, brighter things. Tropics-inspired breakfasts and colorful crunchy slaws and even cheery yellow cocktails, and when inundated with pre-Easter images of cute bunnies holding carrots everywhere, I was swayed. The carrots are so delicious this time of year — why not turn them into cake*? I had dreams of cute piped carrots on top, or perhaps bunny-faced cakes … maybe this was the year my inner Ina revealed itself.
Alas, ’twas not meant to be. It’s been a long time since I’ve destroyed a recipe as badly as I (almost) ruined this one. It’s no fault of the original recipe, which looked lovely and easy and adorably appropriate for spring. But baking on a weeknight, in a post-work / post-gym / post-dinner haze, is not my best look, and it turns out that adding an extra third-cup of oil to cake batter does have adverse effects. My cupcakes were definitely greasy, which is not an adjective I’d ever want to associate with cake. Also, I used olive oil, and … life lesson: if you’re going to mess up the amount of oil you add to a baked good, please don’t make it such a flavorful oil.
HOWEVER. Even despite my best efforts to wreck the recipe, these carrot cake cupcakes are delicious. They’re plush and deeply spiced and filled with tiny bits of carrot in every bite. The crumb can only be described by that word-that-cannot-be-named (hint: it starts with an m and makes me cringe every time), made even more so by my overly generous addition of oil. It’s capped by a tangy-sweet cream cheese frosting, a perfect balance for the sugar and spice in the cake.
These are even better on Day Two, when the spices have had a chance to settle and meld, which means it’s perfect for making ahead and bringing to your Easter (or Mother’s Day or bridal shower or graduation or any other spring-related holiday) feast. I won’t tell you how many I’ve eaten already — you know, for testing purposes — and if you’re even two percent less spazzy in the kitchen tonight, you’ll be rewarded generously.
- 1 cup flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 heaping cups grated carrots (from 4-5 medium carrots)
- 2/3 cup neutral oil (like canola)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, softened
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the grated carrots and oil. Slowly add the flour mixture, stirring until just mixed. Fold in the beaten eggs until just incorporated.
- Scoop the batter into each muffin tin, filling them about 2/3 of the way. Bake for 16 minutes, rotating the muffin tin halfway. The cupcakes should be golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a baking rack to cool completely. (Important: do not frost the cupcakes until they're cool -- otherwise the frosting will melt.)
- While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting: using electric mixers, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and powdered sugar until smooth. Use a frosting spatula to top the cupcakes with the frosting. (Alternately, transfer the frosting to a plastic bag to pipe on the cupcakes.)