I’m not exactly sure when I made the transition from thinking I hated carrot cake to eyeballing it with lust at bakeries. It seems to be one of those desserts with distinct factions: the lovers, the haters, and the folks who are mostly there for the cream cheese icing. I was somewhere in between those last two.
But whatever triggered this change in taste has permanently embedded carrot cake on my list of desserts to make whenever carrots find their way into my fridge.
For some reason I’ve always strongly associated carrots with fall harvests, not spring ones. Perhaps it’s because they are orange and fit oh so nicely into the autumn palette. I’ll be honest, there are lots of “when food grows” ideas that I’ve had to re-address after moving here. We arrived last August, and I kept waiting… and waiting… and waiting for carrots, storage onions, and potatoes to appear. A couple of vendors had carrots for about two weeks in early November, but that was it.
Recently, however, tables at the market have buckled under the weight of carrots so fresh the dirt still clings to them.
There are SO many recipes for carrot cake out there. Some with pineapple, some have apple sauce, some with a wide range of semi-exotic spices. I decided to try a family favorite from one of my dad’s cousins. It’s simple, but according to my mom it’s “soooooooo good!” Direct quote.
And she is absolutely correct. The cake is moist, earthy, not too sweet, and provides a satisfying crunch from the pecans nestled within.
And that’s not even the best part. For really, what is carrot cake without a sizable heap of cream cheese icing on top? I thought about using the icing recipe that was coupled with my cousin’s carrot cake, but I’ve been looking for an excuse to try this maple-sweetened one from Smitten Kitchen for some time now. It’s like heaven in a piping bag.
A tip: I grew up eating room temperature cupcakes, but after a summer job working at a bakery, I discovered that they are even more delicious cold. Don’t know why. They just are. Keep these in the fridge, or if you want a real treat, the freezer. Freezing cupcakes without icing is also a good way to stretch their life so that you don’t have to force yourself to eat two dozen cupcakes in one week. Quite a bother, I’m sure…
So if life is giving you carrots, make carrot cake. No meaningful metaphor intended. Just a Cinderella story of a humble root vegetable transforming into a decadent dessert. Or breakfast. You decide.
Adapted from Frances H.
Makes 12-18 cupcakes
A note on the yield: This recipe is supposed to make 12 cupcakes. I’m not entirely sure why I got 18. Maybe using really fresh carrots brings more moisture (and content) to the batter. Ideas, anyone?
Another note on the yield: This is actually half of the original recipe. But as I mentioned, I didn’t need a daily diet of all carrot cake all the time, so I split it and had plenty. Double it back up if you want.
1 c all-purpose flour
1 c sugar, scant
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 c finely chopped/grated carrots (I used the base of a food processor, but a medium-fine grater should work fine)
1/2 c roughly chopped pecans
3/4 c oil
Prepare 18 cupcake wrappers in your pans. Blend all ingredients together and beat for three minutes on high. Batter will be thinner than you expect. Fill each cupcake wrapper half full if you want a flat cupcake, three quarters full if you want a crown. Bake cupcakes at 350 ºF for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool completely before icing.
Maple Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This will yield a generous topping of icing for your cupcakes and will leave you a little bit extra for… whatever. I’m confident you’ll find a use for it.
If you prefer less icing on your cakes, slice the recipe in half and you should still have enough to ice 18 cupcakes.
two 8 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 unsalted butter, room temperature (equal to 1/2 of a stick)
2 c powdered sugar
1/4 c maple syrup
Tip! Sift your powdered sugar before adding it to your mixer. You can use a standard sifter or a fine mesh strainer. This removes the clumps and will produce a smooth icing with minimal graininess.
Blend all ingredients and beat a medium speed for 5-8 minutes or until fluffy and smooth. Place bowl with icing in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill.
Ice your cupcakes however you want. Be creative! For toppings, I tossed a little coconut in a bowl with a drop each of red and yellow food coloring to tinge the coconut. This technique also works with white sugar, though my co-worker proposed that it looked like fish eggs. Live and learn.