February 27, 2011

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

My life should always have a sea of cupcakes in the background.

I know this may be difficult for some of you to hear, but here goes: it's officially springtime in New Orleans. I know, I know, it's February. I think it's weird, too. I'm still half afraid to say it out loud, for fear of scaring it off. But celebrations of spring and all the wonderful things that come with it- sunshine, shirtless boys, nighttime runs, and playing outside- are in order. So, in lieu of the hearty soups you may still need up north, this week I'm cooking picnic fare.

When deciding what to bring to our potluck picnic, I took stock of what was already in the kitchen. Earlier this week, I had been on my way out the door when I realized that Erik's bananas were about to go bad and desperately needed to be cut up and frozen rightthisveryminute to avert banana disaster (side note: no, we do not share bananas. He has a very strict banana-eating schedule for the week, and I get cranky when I run out of fruit unexpectedly.). With a tupperware full of frozen bananas, I remembered Heidi Swanson's carrot cake recipe.

Sweetened with nothing but ripe bananas and dates, and topped with a thick smear of maple-syrup spiked cream cheese, it's a dense, almost rustic loaf cake that's almost as fitting for breakfast as for dessert. It's delicious and substantial as written, I've made it several times. For cupcakes, though, just a few tweaks were in order.

I assumed (correctly) that there would be other desserts at the picnic, and I didn't want to be remembered as the one who brought cupcakes that tasted healthy. So I added just a couple tablespoons of dark brown sugar to the batter (I also probably didn't have quite enough banana left in my tupperware. Frozen banana slices are my absolute favorite summery treat.).

While the simple frosting in the original is perfect for slices of cake, cupcakes call for something a little lighter. Instead of straight cream cheese, I added in some whipped cream for a more cupcake-friendly airiness. Just enough to fluff it up without losing the tang of cream cheese (similar to this frosting but a little less fluffy). A touch a vanilla and additional sweetness made for a perfect afternoon treat. The verdict? Excited exclamations of, "It's like cheesecake whipped cream!" Try it, you'll be excited, too.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Maple Frosting
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

I've made this successfully with all-purpose flour, or a 1:1 mix of all-purpose and regular whole wheat flour. Makes about 18 cupcakes (mine made 20, but a few were pretty shrimpy).
Also, unfrosted, these guys make a mean (and fairly healthful) muffin. That's a breakfast I'd look forward to!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 stick butter, melted (if unsalted, also add 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1/2 cup dried dates, chopped finely into a paste (think the consistency and stickiness of a Clif Bar)
3 very ripe bananas
3 medium carrots, grated
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, beaten
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar (light would be fine)

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.

Sautee bananas with about half the butter, the brown sugar, and the vanilla until bananas are very soft and sugar is completely melted (this step is especially important if you're using frozen or less-ripe bananas)

In a large mixing bowl, sift together first three ingredients (and salt, if using).

Mix the dates the rest of the melted butter, using a fork to combine and break up the dates.

In a separate mixing bowl, stir together carrots and banana mixture. Mix in the date-butter mixture, yogurt, and eggs. Add the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Fold in walnuts.

Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling about 2/3 of the way with batter. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until toothpick (or dry piece of spaghetti) inserted comes out clean and dry.

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package cream cheese, room temperature (or as close as your patience allows)
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream (1 cup)
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat cream cheese with maple syrup until light and fluffy. Set aside.

In chilled metal bowl, beat very cold whipping cream until it holds stiff peaks, adding sugar and vanilla near the end of the process. Fold cream cheese into whipped cream.

Top fully cooled cupcakes, and enjoy!

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