Thursday, March 29, 2012

WANTED: The Perfect Carrot Cupcake (Round 2)

Back in November of last year, I shared with you that P's cousin K had offered me the honor of baking cupcakes for her wedding in October. I decided to start testing recipes almost a year early 'cause I'm sometimes *cough* be a bit *cough* of a procrastinator O=). While I enjoyed the simplicity of the first batch and had a LOT of fun fashioning realistic carrot toppers out of marzipan, the flavor of the cake itself didn't have quite as much OOMPH as I wanted. It was inevitable that there would be a Round 2...I did declare after all that "I [wouldn't] rest until [I'd] found the perfect carrot cupcake for K's wedding day!"

Round 1 had covered the plain and simple end of the Carrot Cake Spectrum, so the goal for Round 2 was to really explore the options when it came to add-ins and alternative prep methods. Early on I was intrigued by a unique recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that called for steamed and pureed carrots rather than raw, shredded ones! But what I wasn't taken with were the copious amounts of sugar, oil, and sweetened coconut in the original. Being the irrepressible tweaker you should know me as, I went directly to the cutting board and I think it's accurate to say I went BIG. By the end of this surgical session, I'd cut 1/3 of the sugar, 1/2 the fat, and 1/2 the coconut along with pinches of salt and baking soda.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes (Round 2!)
Having wrapped up Round 2, I can now declare these to be The Best Carrot Cupcakes I've Ever Eaten =D. A feast of flavors from freshly mashed carrot and crushed pineapple to toasted nuts and (subtly) textured coconut. Dense and moist but absent any oily mouthfeel or excessive calories. I credit the texture in no small part to the pureed carrots, and that's not the only benefit to this unusual way of preparing them. Even if there were no benefit as to taste, I'd pick pureed carrots for my cake anyday for the time it saves me from slaving over the box grater!

It's pretty obvious I'm really taken with this recipe, right? But the funny thing with The Best anything is that there might always be an even better version out there -- and you'll never discover it unless you keep an open mind! So if anyone's convinced their mom/granddad/friend/neighbor's carrot cake is the best thing since the invention of cake, please DO shoot me a message and I may test it out! I certainly have time for Round 3 as K's wedding's not for 6 months 8).

6 Bittersweets' Best Carrot Cake/Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing [Printable Recipe]
Loosely adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Makes about 30 to 34 cupcakes OR one 2-layer 9-inch cake

XIAOLU’S NOTES: If in a rush, you can substitute carrot puree baby food for the mashed carrots. Also feel free to make only a half-batch of this recipe if making cupcakes. For those who like raisins in their carrot cake, you can add 1/2 cup of raisins and reduce the sugar to 1 2/3 cups (if raisins are dry, soak them in warm water or pineapple juice for 1 hour and drain before using). If you want to make a 3-layer cake, simply divide batter among three 9-inch pans and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. For cupcakes, fill wrappers about 3/4 full and bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean (moist crumbs are OK, wet batter is not). Remove cupcakes from pans after 5 minutes and let cool completely on wire racks before frosting. I also used one of my favorite swaps, a little melted butter in place of oil, to up the flavor.

2 cups (9 oz.) all purpose flour
3/4 cup PLUS 2 Tbsp (3.5 oz.) cake flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Large pinch of ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable OR canola oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3/4 cup buttermilk, room temperature [can microwave 20 seconds to warm]
4 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp unsulphured molasses
1 cup walnuts OR pecans, lightly toasted and chopped
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional)
1 1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots (from about 1 lb. 2 oz. raw)
8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained (about 3/4 cup after draining)
***If adding raisins, save the drained off pineapple juice for soaking raisins
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (optional but recommended)
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)

Peel 1 pound of carrots and chop into large pieces. Steam 15 minutes, or until very tender. While the carrots are still warm, process in a food processor or blender or break down with a handheld potato masher until mostly smooth; set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two 9-inch pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper, and dust entire inside of pans lightly with flour. Sift all dry ingredients together into a large mixing bowl. Add oil, melted butter, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, and molasses. Whisk until well combined and no lumps remain. Fold in walnuts, coconut, pureed carrots, pineapple, and ginger. Divide batter evenly between 2 prepared pans. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or just until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove to wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

XIAOLU'S NOTES: If you're using this recipe for cupcakes, I'd recommend using a
double batch of THIS cream cheese frosting recipe instead since it's firmer and thus better for piping. Just add 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice to that frosting recipe at the very end.

12 oz. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
9 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Cream together cream cheese and butter in a mixing bowl. Slowly add in powdered sugar and continue beating until fully incorporated. Mixture should be free of lumps. Stir in vanilla and lemon juice.


  1. These are GORGEOUS!! Love how you've piped the icing.
    I'm a horrendous baker, I rarely follow a recipe exactly and always make some tweaks of my own (the first is usually cutting down the sugar!). :P

  2. These do look gorgeous!! I love the way you've done the frosting! Simple and cute :) And I do like the idea of pureed carrots, it does save a LOT of time and energy. Will definitely try this recipe :)

  3. Given that I am a carrot cake FIEND...these are a need to try. Without a doubt. No questions asked.

  4. Great post! I use a very similar recipe and LOVE it to bits... I made it for my blog anniversary a month ago :) I can imagine how delicious these cupcakes were! :) Thanks for sharing your recipe with us, Xiaolu!

  5. Loved the arrangement and the stand too.. Lovely and inviting click..

  6. So prettily decorated! I bet those cupcakes taste heavenly.



  7. They are beautiful. How did you pipe the frosting like that?

  8. I'm also on the hunt for the best carrot (cup)cake!! Thanks for sharing. I'll need to try this!

  9. Thanks everyone! I used a large French star tip and piped straight down, squeezing the the frosting down and outward onto the cupcake. Then I piped a smaller version using the same method right on top of the first. Hope that helps!

    1. I want to make some cupcakes now so I can try that particular piping technique!

    2. Hehe you should totally do it =D!

  10. This is simply GORGEOUS...!!!!!! Loved the idea of double topping, making it all the way more beautiful. cheers, sonia

  11. Divine. Such an interesting process!! I do like raisins in mine (MY best ones, then hehe). WIll absolutely make these. Perfect for easter know, because bunnies eat carrots :)
    Heidi xo

  12. I always thought that carrot cake should be heavy and dense, so I never questioned using all-purpose flour. But I love the idea of using cake flour instead! (Something I sometimes do in cookie recipes.)
    Thanks for doing all the "research," and honing in on a perfect recipe. These look fantastic! :)

  13. Those look great. I'm gonna try them w/ vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla. I can't wait.

    Rusty from

  14. This looks delicious. I love the piping. And such an interesting technique. I've always used grated carrots

  15. So I haven't tried your version of the Silver Palate carrot cake, which I love, but I want to. BUT I also have this crazy desire to use beets in a carrot cake recipe. Last summer our CSA gave us a recipe for a chocolate cake that included pureed beets. I made it and was not impressed. Chocolate and beets are not a match made in bakers' heaven. However, the beet puree in the cake batter (before the chocolate hid it) was shockingly beautiful. So, my question is: will beets work in place of carrots or is there a good reason carrot cake is common and beet cake is not????

    1. Hi Amanda! It's awesome that you want to try beets. I'm surprised the chocolate beet cake didn't work out as I've read good things about those cakes elsewhere. May I ask if you used canned beets or fresh? I haven't personally tried beets and they do have a much more distinct flavor, but if you like the flavor, I don't see why they wouldn't work in place of carrots here. If you try it please let us know how it goes!


I love hearing from you all! Please leave me a message if you have questions, advice, or just to let me know you stopped by. Your feedback is always very much appreciated. Thanks! <3 Xiaolu