It is pretty simple. I adore carrot cake, carrot muffins, pretty much any baked good covered in yummy cream cheese frosting. Growing up, the birthday cake of choice for me and my sisters was almost exclusively- carrot cake.
Looking back, I laugh about the contradictions and charm of my family. I am a native Newport Beach girl raised by what I now christen- “country club hippies.” My Brooks Brother clad parents grew alfalfa sprouts in jars on the kitchen counter. We thought plain yogurt with trail mix was a special treat on our way to Cardinal and Gold seating at USC football games…and I admit, we wore sweaters smartly knotted around our shoulders. My mom was one of the original organic chic, garden girls. Always a woman ahead of the trend – and she still maintains a single digit handicap on the golf course.
This week I had extra carrots in the garden. What a wonderful, easy excuse for some carrot cake. This time of year we are all feeling the overindulgence fatigue of the holidays. I begin my search for a healthier option- how about carrot muffins? I want to bake something that would both satisfy my carrot cake craving and be suitable (low-sugar) addition to the girls lunch boxes.
I am a big fan of Heidi Swanson’s site. It is a great resource for vegetarian and healthy food choices. Many of her recipes are reminiscent of the way I grew up eating- when it wasn’t surf and turf night at the country club! You will need to look over her recipes and accumulate the pantry items she often uses, but once your shelves are stocked, cooking from this site is a snap.
Using one of Heidi’s recipes as inspiration, I concocted the following remedy to cure my carrot cake craving. Following Heidi’s philosophy of using natural sugars to sweeten (here, ripe bananas and dates) I also added ½ cup of maple syrup to her recipe, but did not use the walnuts…I have a no-nut girl here at the house – not that she is allergic, just that she is 3 years old! The frosting with agave nectar is delicious and a nice alternative to the powder sugar variety.
Such a great recipe to pop in the little lunch box, low-sugar and yummy!
Now I can have my cake and eat it too!
Carrot Cake/ Cupcakes
Makes 22 cupcakes or one carrot cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
4 ounces or 1 stick unsalted butter, heated until just melted
1/2 cup dried dates, seeded and finely chopped into a paste
3 ripe bananas (should equal around 1 1/4 cups), mashed well
1/2 cup maple syrup-then note when to add it in (*My addition to the recipe)
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% or lowfat is fine)
2 eggs, lightly whisked
6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons agave nectar or maple syrup (or to taste)
Using parchment paper wrappers fill your cup cake tins or butter an 8-cup loaf pan (or 8×8 cake pan) and line it with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the walnuts and set aside.
Stir the dates into the melted butter, breaking up the dates a bit. In a separate bowl combine the bananas and carrots. Stir in the date-butter mixture, breaking up any date clumps as you go. Whisk in the yogurt and the eggs. Add the flour mixture and stir until everything just comes together. Using an ice cream scooper spoon into the prepared lined muffin tins, I like the parchment ones and then I can put them in my compost.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean in the center of the cupcake – if you are making a cake in a loaf pan it will cook for 50 – 60 minutes (it’ll be less if you are using a standard cake pan, check after about 30 minutes). Remove from oven and let cool.
While the cake is baking whip together the cream cheese and agave nectar. Taste. If you like frosting sweeter, adjust to your liking. When the cake has completely cooled frost the top of the cupcakes with an offset spatula.
Note: Heidi mentioned if you have a hard time finding whole wheat pastry flour, feel free to substitute unbleached all-purpose flour or for a wheat-free option one of her readers suggested substituting one cup oat flour and one cup gluten-free baking mix.