March 29, 2011

Carrot cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut-almond garnish

Easter coconut carrot cupcakes (with chocolate Mini Eggs), with mini strawberry cheesecakes in the background. 

A simple, grown-up (?) version of carrot cupcakes.

For me, there are three cardinal rules of carrot cakes:
  1. Moistness: The cake has to be moist but not dense/heavy/greasy, with a coarse but soft crumb.
  2. Nuts (pecans, walnuts - take your pick): These can go on top as a garnish to add crunch and flavour but never inside the batter. I hate those soft mushy greasy lumps of nuts in some carrot cakes. I might consider adding raisins in the cake if I'm having that kind of a day.
  3. Frosting: It's all about the cream cheese frosting.
  4. The third rule is so important, it's worth repeating: it's all about the frosting.

This carrot cupcake looks melancholy without the frosting.

Here's my recipe for carrot cake (or cupcakes). It's cobbled together from several different sources. This was my first time making carrot cake, so I did quite a bit of online research (thanks Google!) before deciding on a recipe.

Here are a few tips/notes from online & my own experience:
  • You don't really need that much oil. You can replace some of it with pureed pineapple or applesauce.
  • The main problem that people encounter when making carrot cake is adding too much oil or too much liquid (in the form of your carrots or pineapple). Squeeze the grated carrots and gently to drain off excess liquid. Drain canned pineapple to remove the extra liquid/syrup. This stops your cake from becoming dense and soggy.
  • I don't like how sweet most American cake/dessert recipes usually turn out so I almost always reduce the sugar by 1/2 to 2/3 the original amount. For carrot cake, I find the carrots and pineapple are already quite sweet. And then you've got the decadent frosting to consider as well...
  • The amount of spices is quite flexible and you can adjust the amounts to your own personal preference (I like to add extra cinnamon and ginger sometimes). Same goes for nuts and fruit (I've also added raisins and flaked almonds into the batter as well, but add them to the flour mixture first to coat; otherwise they may sink to the bottom of your cake due to their weight.)
Without further ado, here's my take on carrot cake:


Carrot cupcakes with honey lemon cream cheese frosting & toasted coconut-almond garnish (makes about 18 regular-sized cupcakes or 2x 15cm/6 inch round cakes)


  • 2-3 medium carrots, peeled (enough to make 2 cups grated carrots)
  • 1 1/2 cups / 190g plain flour 
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp dry ground ginger (or 2 tsp fresh ground ginger)
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup / 125g (120ml) roughly pureed pineapple
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup / 160g light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Put your muffin pans (with paper liners) [about 18 muffin/cupcake cups] on a baking sheet. Set aside. Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
  2. Grate your peeled carrots using the large holes of your grater. Squeeze them gently to drain off excess liquid before putting them into your measuring cup. Press on them slightly to pack them tightly into the cup (don't overdo it!). Make 2 cups of grated carrots; then set aside.
  3. Drain canned pineapple to remove the syrup/liquid (this is important to avoid a soggy cake). Using a blender or food processor, roughly puree enough of your canned pineapple to make 1/2 cup. It should not look like baby food - leave little bits of pineapple as they will add texture to your cake. Don't over-puree it. Set aside.
  4. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all your spices in one bowl.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, pureed pineapple, eggs, carrots and vanilla.
  6. Add dry (flour) mixture to wet (carrot) mixture. Stir until combined and you don't see any more white streaks of flour.
  7. Divide batter into the lined muffin cups (I got 12 regular sized and 9 mini cupcakes out of this amount). Fill the liners about 2/3 way up.
  8. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Check to see that the cupcakes are golden and a cake tester/toothpick comes out dry when inserted into the middle of a cupcake.
  9. Take out and cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan (I just tipped them out slowly, since they're like little muffins they should not break that easily) and cool completely for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  10. Frost using recipe below or your favourite frosting/icing recipe.


Honey lemon cream cheese frosting

  • 140g/5oz cream cheese
  • 35g/2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
  • 80g icing/powdered/confectioners sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey (I used honey I bought back from Greece but you can also use any other honey or even maple syrup or NOTHING at all if you want your frosting to be firmer and less sweet)
  • Juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Grated lemon zest (1/4 to 1/2 lemon, amount is flexible)


  1. Beat together cream cheese and butter in an electronic mixer (handheld or bowl mixer is fine) until light and fluffy.
  2. Add in lemon zest and juice and mix until combined.
  3. Add icing sugar and mix at low speed until combined (i.e. you should see no streaks of white sugar).
  4. Add in honey and mix until combined.
  5. Chill in fridge until firm enough to spread, at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
  6. Spread over cupcakes with a spatula.*
*I tried piping it using a pastry bag but I've come to the conclusion that cream cheese frosting is not meant to be piped into fancy swirls! (It's too soft.) If you want fancy piping please using a buttercream frosting instead which should hold its shape better.


Toasted coconut - almond garnish

  • Unsweetened dried/dessicated coconut flakes
  • Almond flakes


  1. The easiest method is to sprinkle the coconut flakes and then insert an almond flake into the center of the frosted cupcakes.
  2. I decided to toast the coconut for this recipe to add some colour contrast because otherwise the white coconut would not show up against the white frosting! I liked how the golden-brown coconut & almond complemented the white frosting and the darker brown cake.

How to toast your dessicated coconut flakes:

Another option that is very easy and gives the coconut an extra "je ne sais quoi" factor and delicious fragrance is to gently heat your coconut in an ungreased non-stick frying pan over low heat. Be careful, because the coconut burns easily. After a minute or less, your white coconut flakes should start to turn golden brown. When you have about 50:50 ratio of brown - white coconuts, turn off the heat and remove the pan from the heat to avoid burning the coconut. Let cool before sprinkling over the cupcakes.

These will keep about 3-4 days in the fridge. Unfrosted cupcakes will keep up to one month in the freezer but it's best to use them as soon as possible to avoid freezer burn or the risk of the cakes absorbing other smells/flavours from other freezer items.

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