Carrot Cake Cupcakes ♥

Carrot Cake Cupcakes ♥ A Veggie Venture, a cupcake adaptation of Cook's Illustrated's carrot cake recipe
My cupcake adaptation of a Cook's Illustrated recipe for carrot cake, it has a light cupcake crumb and is lightly spiced with carrot-cake flavors. I especially like the cream cheese frosting! Great carrot cake flavor with perfect cupcake texture! The big surprise? The carrots are grated in a food processor and the cupcake batter is mixed in the food processor too!

A Special Treat, Carrot Cake Except in Cupcakes. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special.

People! As if we need one more reason to share our very best recipes, it's this: should we lose a recipe, we can call to ask, "By chance, did I give you my carrot cake recipe?" and then sigh with relief when hearing, "Yeah! It's our favorite."

My sad story: I've lost my carrot cake recipe. It wasn't even my recipe, it was my grandmother's, the carrot cake recipe she made for my 17th birthday the year it was just the two of us; the carrot cake recipe I made for her 80th birthday when family gathered from all over the country; the carrot cake that I made, after she died a few months later, year after year after year to commemorate her birthday, delivering fat squares to friends, neighbors and in her special memory, elderly acquaintances, often to huge surprise and delight.

I've searched high and low. I've called family and friends. It was hand-written on a smudged-up 3x5 orange (orange!) index card and wrapped in a plastic sleeve. The flipside includes notes on each year's deliveries and details my own secret technique for moist, flavorful carrot cake. I even remember the likely last time I made it: in 2001, when my parents were in St. Louis on my grandmother's birthday.

My sister doesn't have it. My cousins don't have it. For some reason, it didn't make the family cookbooks on either side and it's not in the church cookbooks I've contributed to. I fear it's lost forever – a special shame since as hundreds of thousands of visitors to A Veggie Venture and can attest, I am hardly, what shall we say, stingy? with good recipes.

I'm sad, teary even. Sure, everyone has a decent carrot cake recipe. And the lost recipe may not have been so special except that it was particularly mine, my grandmother's, the one we shared. And I want it back!

Carrot Cake Cupcakes ♥, a cupcake adaptation of Cook's Illustrated's carrot cake recipe. It's made in the food processor!
Instead, I'm sharing Cook's Illustrated's 2003 recipe for Simple Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, adapted for cupcakes. Luckily, it's a great carrot cake recipe – it's just not mine. But you? It can be yours. And if it does become yours, won't you please be sure to share it?

Oh, and the excellent cream cheese icing that comes from Cook's Illustrated recipe? It's now mine, too, the one I'll put on Gramma's carrot cake, should I ever ever ever be lucky enough to find my recipe. (Why? It's slightly lighter, in texture, flavor and calories, than most cream cheese icings, the result of less butter. Be aware, however, that it doesn't harden.) If I do, you'll be the first to know because no matter what, I'm sharing it with the world.

Just updated. First published way back in 2008!


Hands-on time: 25 minutes over about 45 minutes
Time to table: about 2 hours
Makes 12 cupcakes or one 8x8 cake (double ingredients for a 9x13 cake)

1-1/4 cups flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 156g
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/16 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon table salt

1/2 pound carrots, peeled and trimmed

3/4 cups (150g) sugar
1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cups (132g) vegetable oil (or canola or safflower)

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (light aka low-fat aka neufchatel cream cheese works fine)
2-1/2 tablespoons (36g) butter, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon sour cream (I love this addition!)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cups (90g) powdered sugar (also called icing sugar, confectioner's sugar, it's the white powdery stuff)
Carrot bits, for garnish, optional

MAKE THE CUPCAKES Heat oven to 350F/180C. Spray regular-size muffin tins with baking spray, my favorite is Baker's Joy. Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl, one large enough to hold all the cupcake batter.

With a food processor with the grater plate installed, grate the carrots, transfer to another dish.

Switch to the metal blade, add the sugars and eggs and process for 20 seconds. With the food processor running, pour the oil into the food processor in a slow stream, then process for another 20 seconds. Scrape this mixture and the carrots into the dry ingredients and gently turn to mix until no flour streaks remain.

Pour the batter into prepared muffin tins and bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then gently remove from the tins and let finish cooling on a rack.

MAKE THE FROSTING In a medium-size bowl, use an electric mixer (preferably a hand mixer) to mix the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. Spread frosting on cooled cupcakes and top with carrot bits.

Note: Cook's Illustrated washes the food processor bowl, then uses it to make the frosting. This would likely work fine when doubling the recipe for a 9x13 but for 12 cupcakes, was just too little volume for the food processor. I suspect the same size issue would exist with a stand mixer, which is why I switched to a hand mixer.

For a 9X13 pan, spray the pan with cooking spray; line the bottom with parchment, then spray the parchment. (This seems to be able to lift the entire cake out of the pan. To just cut pieces right in the pan, I think you could safely skip this step.) Bake for 35-40 minutes (rotating half-way through) or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, then let cool to room temperature in the pan. Once it's cool, Cook's Illustrated suggests inverting the cake onto a wire rack, peeling off the parchment, then inverting onto a serving plate.
Nearly all my recipes for baked goods read, xx cups flour, "fluffed to aerate before measuring". This is because flour packs down from its own weight, fluffing the flour makes a huge difference in the ultimate lightness of baked goods, pancakes, biscuits, etc. Today I fluffed the flour before measuring it, then weighed it to compare with Cook's Illustrated weight information. The two were 100% in synch. It's one more reason to invest in a kitchen scale (this is my kitchen scale, in red! I've used it for years. But it you don't have access to a kitchen scale, fluffing the flour first is an excellent way to emulate the equivalent of one cup of flour by weight, 125g.
2008: I used the "standard" size muffin tins and the batter came up a little higher than preferred, creating a "cap" that made it harder to remove the muffins. Next time I'll use the next size up or only fill the muffin cups half-full versus 2/3 full. 2018: Eagle-eyed readers will note that the muffins don't look all that tall. When I took pictures again this last time, oops, I forgot the baking soda!
What if you don't have a food processor? A hand grater works just great for carrots. But this recipe uses a food processor to mix the sugars, eggs and oil – and Cook's Illustrated insists that this is a critical step, that emulsifying the sugar, eggs and oil disperses the fat throughout the mixture, so it doesn't sink to the bottom, creating a heavy, soggy, bottom.
I let the cream cheese and butter warm up a bit in the food processor while the cupcakes baked.
Leftovers should be refrigerated.
This recipe was first shared in 2008 with a (now-quiet, in 2020) food blog called Habeas Brulee, a part of what was then a blogger thing called Sugar High Friday.

A Veggie Venture - Printer Friendly Recipe Graphic

Still Hungry?

More Sweets with Vegetables (No Diet Busters)

~ Custard with Rhubarb Sauce ~
~ Honey Pumpkin Pie ~
~ Pumpkin Bars ~
~ more desserts & baking with vegetables ~
from A Veggie Venture

~ Carrot & Zucchini Bread ~
~ Peach Un-Cobbler ~
~ Fruity Gazpacho ~
~ more fruity dessert recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade, my food column

Seasonal Eating: This Same Week Across the Years

Cauliflower-Broccoli Cheddar Horseradish Gratin Roasted Parsnips with Pine Nuts Cream of Celery Soup Fragrant Roasted Beets Beet & Walnut Salad Zucchini Lemon-Honey Salad Zucchini Moons with Mint & Parsley Microwave Green Beans with Tomatillo Salsa Dressing Green Chutney Reuben Casserole (< leftover corned beef?) Carrot Cake Cupcakes Roasted Broccoli with Lemon & Garlic Sushi Salad Crustless Quiche with Roasted Peppers (< this week's healthy favorite!) Cauliflower Hummus Creamy Spinach with Artichokes (< a great choice for Easter!) Falafel Burgers (Lentil Burgers) Weight Watchers Spinach & Tortellini Soup

Looking for healthy new ways to cook vegetables? A Veggie Venture is home to hundreds of super-organized quick, easy and healthful vegetable recipes and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables. Join "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg to explore the exciting world of common and not-so-common vegetables, seasonal to staples, savory to sweet, salads to sides, soups to supper, simple to special.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade
2008, 2018 & 2020 (repub)

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Alanna, SO sad to have lost that recipe, however delicious this one is. And, as you say, you're generous with your recipes, so it shouldn't have happened to you ... in the chaos of my house, there'd always be a glimmer of hope that it would turn up one day - but I expect you're tidier than we are ;)

    Happy Easter

  2. Oh my, that's the saddest thing. I've made such a project of trying to get my grandmother's recipes these last few years as she spends more and more time in the hospital, and I can just imagine how heartbroken I would be if they were lost. I love your explanation of why giving them away helps you keep them. It's why I posted Ima's stuffed cabbage recipe - now I'll always know where to look. I really, really hope you find your carrot cake recipe!

  3. Oh, this breaks my heart -- but I feel that now that it's out in the universe, somehow that recipe will find its way back to you. In the meantime, it's nice that you are making this new recipe your own -- at least for a while.

  4. That's so sad about your recipe, somehow hand written recipes just seem better too.
    I haven't had carrot cake in quite a while, this one might not be 'your' recipe, but it looks pretty good!

  5. I'm so sorry you lost your recipe. Some tings we just hold so near and dear to hearts. I grew up Catholic, and said a prayer to St. Anthony for you--he's the patron saint of lost things. Keeping my fingers crossed!

    Now that I think about it, my grandmother searched for years for a special carrot cake recipe given to her by a friend. A Bob Crosby recipe, I think? She had lost her copy, and I was never able to track it down for her.

    Good luck!

  6. Um, "things," not "tings." oops! :)

  7. Alanna, so sorry about the loss of the recipe. I have to think it will turn up one day, though. A very compelling argument for sharing.

  8. Sorry that you lost the recipe. I do hope you come across it someday.

    But..yay!! You made cupcakes!

  9. Gosh Alanna that is a sorry tale told so well. That one of those reasons I feel so good having a friend I've cooked with for many years because we do share so many recipes. I hope it comes back to you!

  10. Alanna, I am so sorry about the lost recipe! My Mom tells a similar story of recipes my Grandma made which are now lost forever. This is why I'm working on compiling a cookbook of my favorites so that once I'm gone my kids won't have that problem.

    This recipe sounds wonderful, however, a perfect addition to my Easter brunch menu!

  11. Oh, I so hope you find your recipe!!! I know what it's like to have those that you cherish so deeply ... but it'll come back to you. I know it will! (Love the cupcakes ...)

  12. Alanna, with all the times you made that cake, the recipe has GOT to be there, somewhere, hidden in your brain. A little hypnotherapy is in order, perhaps?

    This is also why it is so nice to have the blog for eternal reference (just don't forget to back up!).

  13. The shaved carrots on top, made everyone at work think I was a professional baker (which I'm not!). Happy Easter to you!

  14. well while I was trying to figure out the best recipe you were here posting one! Geesh~ you could have given me a heads up or something and saved me some time ;-)
    I'm sorry to hear about the missing recipe but I have a feeling it might turn up when you least expect it. Maybe Grandma is just having a little fun with you?

  15. I have some carrots that I somehow forgot to cook for Easter. I think the carrot cake will make a much better use for them anyway!

    Stop by for a visit. I'll even save one of my baked apples for you! :D

    Confessions of an Apron Queen:

  16. It would be really handy to know how many cups of grated carrot. I don't have a kitchen scale! Great recipe-- second time making it and we devoured the first batch!

    1. Libby ~ So glad you liked these! Me too! I think I didn’t measure the grated carrot volume because I have the idea that people buy carrots in one-pound (or two-pound) bags and thus pulling out half (or a quarter) would be close enough??? Perhaps not? If you make them again, let me know, okay, I’m working to avoid sugar right now so am not doing much baking. :-(


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna