Bakery Style Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Updated: Feb 11
As soon as I think Spring I think of carrot cake. I love making it during Easter time but honestly it is definitely one of my favorite cakes. It was one of those treats growing up that my dad and I would sneak some home from the grocery store bakery for absolutely no reason other than to eat it. It's a dessert that hold memories for me and I love passing that down to my kids. I have used this recipe for the past 3- 4 years and I just love it. It makes the perfect carrot cake that's super moist and packed with spiced carroty flavor. It also has that iconic cream cheese frosting that everyone could eat on it's own....and we all sometimes do. You know what I'm talking about. ;)
So a stacked pretty little carrot cake is yum and you can definitely use this recipe to make a cake too but I prefer cupcakes. Simply because carrot cake has to stay chilled due to the cream cheese frosting and it's just so much easier to store cupcakes in the fridge than a cake AND easier to transport. Also, I like to think it helps in portion control but who am I kidding? They are also perfect to make with your kids and cause way less anxiety with that. *honest mom talk*
These cuties are so simple to make and look like you picked them up straight from a bakery. They would be perfect for Easter dinner. The carrots on top are easy peasy to make and are made out of royal icing. Royal icing is what is typically used to decorate sugar cookies with and it is a great medium because it dries super hard. You need meringue powder to make royal icing (see pic below). You can use pasteurized raw egg whites with the same results as well but it's not recommended for children or elderly who might easily get sick from it. It's just safer to use meringue powder. You can use royal icing to make any decoration and even your own sprinkles! I think the biggest mistake people forget about royal icing is to flavor it! No one wants blah flavorless candy. I always use my vanilla bean paste and then sometimes I'll add another few drops of a different flavor extract or emulsion. Some examples are berry, coconut, banana, or almond. You can also grate some lime, orange, or lemon zest in it too. But just be aware that it might leave tiny specks of your zest so if you are coloring it or looking for a super smooth finish that might hinder your results.
You can make your small carrot decorations way in advance and store them in an airtight container for up to a month or you can make them day of. They just need about an hour or two to dry on your parchment paper or silicon mat before you can pop them off. For this recipe I am including a small batch sized royal icing recipe since we are just using it for decorations and not decorating cookies with it. You will still have more than enough. I always let my kids play with the rest and make their own decorations too.
Make your batch of royal icing super stiff for this. You want it to hold it's shape when you pipe it out and not "melt" into itself. You accomplish this by adding powdered sugar and you thin it by adding water but be warned to only add water by drops. Yes, drops at a time. A little goes a long way and it will quickly become too thin. Always test your consistency first by piping it out and then wait about 60 seconds to see if it held it's shape or it puddled back into itself. The more you make it the easier it is to figure out what consistency you need for what.
Either tape down a piece of parchment paper or place down a silicon baking mat. Color about 1/4 cup of your icing orange and fill a small (12in) piping bag fitted with a tiny round tip. I used Wilton tip #2 for this. Next, color another 1/4 cup of your icing green. I used Wilton gel colors for this. Fill a small piping bag with your green icing and no tip in this one. You are going to cut your green filled piping bag tip so it makes a tiny leaf shape when you pipe it out for your carrot tops. Get the tip of your green bag nice and flat and then at an angle you are going to cut a tiny slice on one side and then another slice on the opposite side to form a point in your bag (see picture). Try to squeeze your green icing out to test your leaf shape. For piping any leaves you will always have the point facing the middle, not to any one side. If you need to cut more from one side or another go ahead. Just do it small pieces at a time and keep testing till you have what you want it to look like.
Now we are ready to pipe out our carrots! You don't need any guide for this. Grab your orange icing bag and start piping out tiny triangle shapes by zigzagging your way up from the bottom of your skinny triangle to the top. Carrots are all different sizes and shapes so no need to try and make them perfect or uniform. I did try to keep all mine about 1/2 of an inch tall. Don't worry if you mess up, just move on to the next one. You have plenty of icing and the only way to get better with piping is to keep practicing. I piped out about 30 little carrots just so I had extra to play with.
After you are done piping all your orange triangles grab your green piping bag. Start piping out tiny leaves on top of your carrots. Again, there is not a right or wrong way to do this. They are vegetables. They all grow differently. Just have fun with it. It should not be stressful y'all. And this is a perfect introduction into royal icing if you've never used it before.
If you have any extra icing you can let your kids play with the rest to make their own decorations. I painted the inside of a separate piping bag with blue, purple, and pink coloring and then filled it with the remaining white icing I had. I snipped off the end and let my kiddo go to town. We made bunnies, eggs, more carrots, and flowers.
Your little decorations need a couple hours to dry and harden completely. The bigger the decoration, the longer it needs to dry. You will know when it's ready because they pop right off your paper or mat without any work. Set them aside or store them till you're ready for them.
Now, onto the main attraction! The cupcakes!
There are a few tricks that make the perfect carrot cake here. Number one is the size of the carrot shreds you use. It is a CARROT cake so the carrots are pretty important. I'm not a fan of those huge shreds of carrots in a carrot cake. Instead I use a tiny grater plane or a zester. It produces these tiny carrot shreds that still hold up in the cake but also bake all the way through and start to caramelize with the sugars and spices that just make it honestly perfect. I've heard some use a food processor for this but just be careful not to liquefy your carrots. Also, try not to grate your finger tip off. Just eat the small carrot chunk at the end. It's not worth it to try to grate it all and cut your finger. lol Been there, done that.
Next, I use applesauce in my recipe. It brings that superior moisture but also plays so well off of the carrots. It's just a perfect match. Try to use natural unsweetened applesauce. If you get one that is sweetened already then you need to adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe or your cake will be too sweet. Also if you get one that is cinnamon flavor you might need to adjust the cinnamon and the sugar ratio in the recipe. This is why it's just best to get plain ol' applesauce.
Line your cupcake pan with whatever liners you'd like but I like using simple natural brown colored ones. I buy them in "bulk" from Michaels. Fill up each cupcake about 3/4 of the way full with batter. Do not go over that so it doesn't bubble over. These are dense little cupcakes so while they do rise a bit they will still be naturally flatter. Check your cupcakes for done-ness at 15 minutes. I baked mine about 18 minutes in this new oven and they were a tad darker than I like. I should've checked sooner just to see but thank goodness they didn't burn. Now, these do use dark drown sugar which will lead to a darker top than what you're used to so keep that in mind. Just use the trusty toothpick test to see if they're done. Cool your cupcakes on a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.
My cream cheese frosting recipe is pretty standard except I use my vanilla bean paste for flavor and always add about 1/4 teaspoon (or more if you like it) of grated lemon zest. The lemon zest is such a game changer, I'm tellin ya. Try it and thank me later. Make sure your cream cheese and butter are completely room temp in order to get a super creamy frosting. BUT afterwords, keep your frosting nice and chilled for piping consistency. You will know if it's too soft because it you try to pipe it out, it won't hold shape and kinda just melt. If this happens, just put it in the fridge for a bit and try again.
To pipe out my frosting I used a large (16inch) piping bag fitted with a large star tip. I used Wilton tip #8B . If you hadn't noticed yet, it's definitely one of my favorite tips. Start right in the middle of your cupcake and slowly squeeze the bag until you make a large dollop on top. Again, they don't have to be perfect and if you don't like it then wipe it off and try again. Don't handle your frosting too much or it will get too warm. Pop it in the fridge when not using or if you need it to stiffen back up.
After you get all your cupcakes frosted then you can take your cute little carrot candy decorations and place them right on top and wallah! You now have bakery perfect carrot cake cupcakes totally fitted for any Easter table .......or like any time any day cause they are delicious and why not. Just remember to store them in the fridge. I wouldn't leave them sitting out longer than an hour or two just to be on the safe side.
P.S. I colored 1/3 of my cream cheese frosting pastel green and used the same tip and bag to let my son pipe out "grass" on his cupcakes. Then he decorated them with his candy decorations from above. Memories that I hope my babies will always remember. Now go have fun and do some baking! Make some memories! You got this!
BAKERY STYLE CARROT CAKE CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
PREP TIME: 15 mins
BAKE TIME: 15-18 mins
MAKES: 24 cupcakes or 2 8inch cake layers
2 teaspoons meringue powder
2 tablespoons water
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
*1/4 teaspoon any extra flavor you want- optional*
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar (I like using dark but you can use light too)
2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup natural unsweetened applesauce
3 cups grated carrots (tiny pieces, use a zester)
1 package cream cheese (room temperature)
1 stick butter (1/2 cup) softened
4- 4.5 cups powdered sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
a few pinches of fresh lemon zest
TO MAKE YOUR ROYAL ICING DECORATIONS:
1. Mix your meringue powder and water in a bowl with a whisk until combined. Add your vanilla bean paste and any other flavoring.
2. Add powdered sugar cup by cup stirring until fully combined before adding the next cup. You are looking for an extremely thick consistency. It took me almost 3 cups to achieve this. You are making STIFF royal icing so you can pipe it out and it will hold shape. When you mix it with your whisk it should stay exactly the same shape and not melt into itself. If it does, add more powdered sugar tablespoon by tablespoon. If it becomes too thick just add a little more water, drop by drop. A little water goes a long way.
3. Divide your icing and color it to desired colors of green and orange. Fit a small 12 inch piping bag with a Wilton #2 tip and fill with your orange icing. Fill another 12inch piping bag with your green icing with no tip. Cut tip of green piping bag with scissors into small point (as shown above in post) to make your leaf shape for piping.
4. Tape down parchment paper or lay down a silicon baking pat. Pipe out all your carrots first with orange icing and then pipe out the tops of carrots with green icing to make leaves. (see above for pics and how-to). Allow decorations to dry at least 2 hours or overnight. You will know when they are dry because they will easily pop right off the paper and be easy to handle.
TO MAKE CUPCAKES:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Fill cupcake pan with liners of your choice. This recipe makes 24 cupcakes.
3. In a medium sized bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg until combined. Set aside.
4. In mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment combine eggs, white sugar, and brown sugar. Beat on medium for about 30 seconds until mixed together. Stop beating and add vanilla, vegetable oil, and applesauce. Beat again on medium for roughly another 30 -45 seconds until combined.
5. Stop beating and start adding your bowl of flour mix 1/2 at a time until fully combined. Stop and scrape the bowl with spatula to make sure nothing is sticking to the sides. Remove paddle attachment and remove bowl from mixer. Add all your shredded carrots into your batter and fold them in using your spatula.
6. Spoon your batter into cupcake pan until 3/4 of the way full. Bake in preheated oven 15-18 minutes. Check your cupcakes at 15 minutes first and if they need more time set your timer for a few minutes at a time until done. They will be a little darker and should have raised to edge of cupcake liner but they won't be super puffy as it's a pretty dense cake. Allow them to cool on wire rack completely before frosting.
TO MAKE FROSTING:
1. Cream cheese and butter should be at room temperature and softened.
2. Place cream cheese and butter in mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed around 60 seconds until mixture is creamy and smooth. There should be no lumps.
3. Add vanilla and lemon zest. Mix until combined,
4. Start adding your powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it is all mixed in. At this point place mixing bowl in fridge for around 10 minutes to keep chilled so its easier to pipe out. You don't want it warm or it will be runny when you try to frost your cupcakes.
5. Fit a 16 inch piping bag with Wilton large star tip #8B (or whatever tip you want). Once your frosting is chilled, fill your piping bag.
6. Pipe out your frosting on cupcake by starting right in the middle and slowly squeeze bag until a large dollop is formed. Place your little carrot decoration you made right on top and eat! Or you can wait...totally up to you. ;) If you are waiting though, store them in fridge until you're ready for them.
Keep them covered in fridge and they will stay good up to a week. They will start getting too dry after that and taste stale.