These carrot cake cupcakes are everything you love about the cake—outstanding spice flavor, super moist crumb, and velvety cream cheese frosting—in a portioned cupcake wrapper! I’ve scaled down my popular carrot cake recipe to bring you a batch of cupcakes that’s easier and quicker, but just as delicious.
I think we can all agree that carrot cake and cream cheese frosting is a flavor duo surpassing time—it’s just never going out of style. I love it as carrot cake loaf and mixed up in this carrot Bundt cake. But nothing can compare to original carrot cake and today’s cupcake version. Just CLASSIC!
Tell Me About These Carrot Cake Cupcakes
- Flavor: These cupcakes are scrumptiously spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. You also have brown sugar, a little applesauce, natural sweetness from carrots, and the tangy-sweet frosting.
- Texture: The crumb of these cupcakes is soft and moist, but not at all greasy. (A difficult balance to achieve, but this recipe nails it!)
- Ease: Bakers of any skill level can handle this recipe. You can mix the cupcake batter by hand, though I recommend using a mixer to make the cream cheese frosting.
- Time: The batch of cupcakes takes about 2 hours start to finish, and that includes cooling. Cupcakes cook faster than cake layers, but they still need to cool completely before frosting.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: carrot cake is only good if it’s spiced and if it’s moist. Under-spiced carrot cake tastes like nothing. Dry carrot cake tastes like you forgot you were baking a cake and frosted a vegetable instead. Ha! I encourage you to stick to my recipe below for best results.
Key Ingredients You Need & Why
You can make carrot cake cupcakes with a handful of staple kitchen ingredients and these are the most important:
- Brown Sugar: Brown sugar not only sweetens the cupcakes, it lends more flavor and moisture than white sugar. I love using dark brown sugar in this recipe.
- Spices: Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger add warmth and depth of flavor without overpowering anything else. I usually add some ground cloves to carrot cake recipes, but it’s quite potent and I don’t like it as much in the cupcakes.
- Vegetable Oil: When preparing cupcakes without strong flavors, like vanilla cupcakes, I prefer to use butter as the fat, because it adds flavor. But when I’m making a cupcake recipe with flavorful ingredients like these spiced cupcakes, I find using flavorless oil lets all those spice flavors shine. (Also, oil keeps the cupcakes SO VERY moist!)
- Carrots: Obviously, you need carrots. But actually, this recipe would be tasty if you substituted shredded apple or zucchini instead!
- Unsweetened applesauce: Applesauce adds even more moisture to these cupcakes, without making them oily. I love the subtle flavor that it adds, but you could also use sour cream or plain yogurt. Another popular swap for the applesauce is crushed canned pineapple, an addition many bakers love in pineapple carrot cake!
You may be surprised to see there’s only 1 and 1/3 cups of flour, which isn’t much considering all of the wet ingredients. Keep in mind that shredded carrots, while not necessarily a dry ingredient, bulk up the batter. Any more flour created a denser muffin-like texture. Trust this recipe because it works for cupcakes!
Success Tip: Shredding the Carrots
The bags of pre-shredded carrots you can find at the grocery store are not worth the extra couple of minutes it saves you to peel and shred whole carrots yourself. Store-bought carrot shreds are dry and tough, and that will translate into your carrot cake cupcakes. Grab whole carrots, a peeler, and a box grater, and flex your grating muscles!
And beyond that: After you’ve finished shredding, give the carrots a rough chop, so the pieces are finer and can distribute evenly in each cupcake, like this:
In this photo, you can see the difference. You want more carrots (moisture! flavor!) in each bite, so chop those shreds:
Photos: How to Make Carrot Cake Cupcakes
The full printable recipe is below, but let’s see a few photos of the process.
Expect a semi-thick cupcake batter:
We’re using my favorite cool and creamy cream cheese frosting recipe, which flawlessly pairs with warmly spiced desserts like carrot cake, spice cake, and pumpkin cake. One question we usually see with cream cheese frosting:
How Can I Keep My Cream Cheese Frosting Thick?
Cream cheese frosting is thinner than buttercream. Putting the frosting in the refrigerator for a bit—while you’re waiting for the cupcakes to cool—helps thicken it. This means your silky cream cheese frosting will hold its shape better when piped. Stick with basic piping tips and nothing intricate; even when chilled, the frosting will not hold shape as well as a sturdy buttercream.
And don’t fret, you don’t have to pipe this frosting; it’s just as tasty swiped on with a knife.
Which Other Frostings Could I Use? These carrot cake cupcakes would also taste great with whipped frosting, Swiss meringue buttercream, the cinnamon cream cheese frosting from these banana cupcakes, or simply unfrosted as carrot cake muffins (like morning glory muffins!).
What About a Dairy-Free Frosting Option?
Today’s cupcakes are dairy free when made with applesauce, so if you’re looking for a dairy free frosting, try this creamy marshmallow meringue.
I topped this batch of cream cheese-frosted cupcakes with chopped nuts and a white chocolate carrot topper, but both are completely optional. See Notes for instructions on making the white chocolate topper!
These carrot cake cupcakes are a scaled down version of my popular carrot cake recipe. You can mix this easy cupcake batter by hand, though I recommend using a mixer to make the cream cheese frosting. The white chocolate carrot topper is optional!
- 1 and 1/3 cups (166g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil
- 1 cup (200g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup (80g) unsweetened applesauce, sour cream, or plain yogurt, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 and 1/2 cups (200g) peeled and shredded carrots* (about 3 large carrots)
- optional add-in: 3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans; raisins
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces (224g) full-fat block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- optional garnish: white chocolate carrot topper (see Notes) and/or finely chopped walnuts or pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C). Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the oil, brown sugar, eggs, applesauce, and vanilla extract together until combined, and then whisk in the carrots. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold or whisk together until completely combined. Batter will be slightly thick.
- Pour/spoon the batter into the liners, filling only about 3/4 full to avoid spilling over the sides. Bake for 21–23 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For around 30 mini cupcakes, bake for about 12–13 minutes, same oven temperature. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Meanwhile, make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on high speed until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds and then switch to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the frosting as the cupcakes finish cooling—this is helpful if you plan to pipe the frosting with a piping bag + tip. Cold cream cheese frosting holds its shape better.
- Frost cooled cupcakes and top with optional garnish, if desired. I used an Ateco 808 piping tip and then swirled the center with a small icing spatula (you can see me do that in the video– totally optional way of decorating). Cover and store leftover cupcakes in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: Plain cupcakes can be made ahead 1 day in advance, covered, and stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Frosting can also be made 1 day in advance, covered, and stored in the refrigerator. If frosting is thick/stiff after refrigerating, beat it with your mixer for a minute to help loosen it up. Frosted or unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen up to 2–3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
- Special Tools: Hand Mixer, Box Grater, Cupcake Pan, Disposable Piping Bags or these Reusable Piping Bags, Ateco #808 Piping Tip
- Vegetable Oil: You can use melted and slightly cooled coconut oil instead of vegetable oil. If doing so, it’s imperative all other ingredients in the cupcake batter are room temperature so the oil does not solidify.
- Applesauce/Sour Cream/Yogurt: You can use any of these options, but applesauce is my favorite because it adds a little extra flavor. Or you could use the same amount of canned crushed pineapple instead (no need to drain).
- Carrot: Don’t use pre-shredded carrots found in the produce aisle because they’re quite dry. Rather, freshly shred large carrots to yield approximately 1 and 1/2 cups (200g) of moist carrot shreds. Before measuring, give the shreds a rough chop so the pieces are finer and distributed nicely in each cupcake. And instead of carrots, you could even use shredded apple or zucchini.
- How to Make White Chocolate Carrots Garnish: In a microwave-safe bowl, melt 4 ounces (113g, usually 1 bar) of white chocolate in 20-second increments, stirring after each until perfectly smooth. Separate into two bowls (don’t worry about making them perfectly equal). Tint one bowl with orange gel food coloring, and the other with green gel food coloring. (Use gel food coloring because liquid food coloring can change the consistency. I like the brand AmeriColor—you can find their gel colors in the baking aisle of craft stores or give it a quick search online. I use and recommend this set of 6 colors or this set of 12 colors.) Pour into two squeeze bottles. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, wax paper, or a silicone mat, drizzle the orange melted chocolate into a carrot shape, then drizzle the green melted chocolate onto the tops to make the carrot stems. Refrigerate the pan until the chocolate carrots are set, at least 15 minutes. The white chocolate carrots do soften up when they come back to room temperature, so if making these cupcakes in advance, make sure to keep them in the refrigerator until it’s nearly time to serve them.
- Adapted from Carrot Cake Cupcakes in Sally’s Baking Addiction cookbook. This version yields fewer and the cupcakes aren’t as dense.
Keywords: carrot cake cupcakes