With the days becoming increasingly grayer, colder, and wetter (edit: and windy-er! You're so right Pea, how can I forget, we did have that windstorm tonight!), it's the perfect excuse to stay inside and bake. There's really nothing like curling up on the biggest, comfiest chair in the house with a fleece blanket and a good book as the smell of freshly baked goods fills the house and gives everyone a warm cinnamony hug. The autumnal combination of cranberries, maple syrup, and warm spices in these carrot cupcakes is a perfect example of why maybe this season isn't so bad after all.
This recipe uses a technique I read in the Cook's Illustrated carrot cake recipe and differs from most other recipes because the oil is emulsified with the sugar and egg, much like making a mayonnaise. This technique is pure genius and and creates the perfect texture, a lighter, not too dense or soggy, just overall excellent carrot cake. Next time, I will play around with the spices and try adding 1 teaspoon of orange zest to the mix. I love dried cranberries but you can substitute raisins or other chopped dried fruit or omit them entirely. You can also add nuts to the batter but I think nuts lose too much of their crunch when they are baked in batter so I prefer to add them on top as a garnish. This recipe makes 12 cupcakes but it can be doubled for a 9 x 13 sheet cake or 2 to 3 round cakes for a layer cake. Bake at the same temperature but for a longer time, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
The maple cream cheese frosting is the same one I like to use on my cinnamon buns. It's just cream cheese and a generous amount of maple syrup; no additional sugar and butter. This way it lets the tang of the cream cheese and maple flavor really shine without being too rich or cloyingly sweet. And if you frost with a spoon, it's the perfect cook's treat for all your efforts.
Carrot Cupcake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
With inspiration from Cook's Illustrated
1 C flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C vegetable or canola oil
1 1/2 C lightly packed finely shredded carrots (I used 2 carrots)
1/3 C dried cranberries (or raisins or omit)
(Next time: 1 tsp of orange zest)
Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 bar of cream cheese (4oz)
1/4 C maple syrup
Optional topping: finely chopped toasted pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease them.
Shred your carrots on a box grater (be careful, mind your knuckles) or in a food processor with a shredding disc, set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together.
In a food processor or blender, blend the granulated and brown sugar with the eggs until throughly combined. With the machine running, slowly pour in the oil and continue to mix until the mixture has lightened in color and is somewhat thicker, about 30 seconds. Pour it into the dry ingredients and add the shredded carrots and dried cranberries and mix until no streaks of flour remain.
Divide the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 17 to 23 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake in the center of the pan comes out clean. Rotate the pan halfway into baking time. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and cool on a rack to room temperature.
As the cakes are cooling, take out half a bar of cream cheese and let it soften a little. To make the frosting, simply whisk the cream cheese with the maple syrup until smooth. Frost the cupcakes when they have cooled and top with chopped pecans if preferred.
Makes 12 cupcakes