These vegan carrot cake cupcakes have all of the goodness of traditional carrot cake, in an adorable, single-serve package! They’re the perfect treat for springtime, and they’re also great for birthdays and other celebrations.
With Easter Sunday rolling around this weekend, I thought it might be a good time for vegan carrot cake.
There’s no shortage of carrot cake on this blog. I have a pumpkin carrot cake, which I love to make in the fall. And then there’s my favorite vegan carrot cake, which is a traditional version that has some special touches (I like to grate my carrots on a microplane for a lighter cake).
Much as I adore carrot cake—it’s probably my favorite type of cake, if I had to choose—making and frosting a layer cake can feel like a lot of work.
That’s where these vegan carrot cake cupcakes come in! All of the goodness of carrot cake, but with a little less fuss over decoration. They’re adorable, delicious, and perfect for springtime celebrations or birthdays.
The formula for a perfect vegan carrot cake (& carrot cake cupcakes)
My obsession with carrot cake has encouraged me to discover methods for getting it just right—without dairy or eggs. Here are some of the tips I’ve accumulated through many carrot cake bakes:
Grate your carrots finely
There’s certainly something to be said for a very dense carrot cake. But Coral Lee’s tip to grate the carrots for carrot cake on a microplane (or the fine side of a box grater) has been a complete game changer for me. The result is a carrot cake that is, in Coral’s words, spared “the salad-y texture.”
Since reading Coral’s recipe and adapting it for my own favorite carrot cake, I’ve fallen in love with fine grating tip. I always grate my carrots on the smaller side of my box grater now. You could also use a microplane zester.
If you don’t have the patience for the fine grating, that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with bigger pieces of carrot in carrot cake! But the finely grated carrot is really worth a try. It makes carrot cake—and these vegan carrot cake cupcakes—moist and rich, but with just enough fluffy, cake-like texture.
Don’t go overboard with mix-ins
Another tip that Coral Lee gives in her article, which I’ve now taken to heart, is not to overload carrot cake with nuts and dried fruit. I like my carrot cake to have raisins and walnuts. However, I think less is more when it comes to the amount. Too many mix-ins, and the cake texture gets lost.
For these carrot cake cupcakes, I skip the raisins and use only 1/4 cup of chopped walnuts. I think this amount is just right! Feel free to use chopped pecans in place of walnut, or you can skip the nuts altogether.
Use a mix of brown and cane sugar
Brown sugar adds moisture to baked goods. I think it’s perfect for carrot cake, but I like to use some cane sugar, too. The cane sugar helps to (once again) preserve the cake’s lightness, while the brown sugar gives it a lovely, moist interior.
I’m often asked about reducing sugar in my recipes. Reducing is OK in a small amount (about 1/4 cup), but sugar adds moisture to baking. So if you omit a significant portion, be aware that your cake might be dry, dense, or both.
Keep it traditional
Carrot cake is pretty glorious as it is. So, no need to change it too much. I keep things traditional with a vegan cream cheese frosting and cake ingredients. There’s nothing like a classic.
Can the carrot cake cupcakes be gluten free?
Most definitely. I’ve made both my favorite carrot cake and these cupcakes with gluten-free, all-purpose flour (King Arthur’s is my go-to), and they turn out beautifully. You can definitely modify the recipe with your own favorite AP, GF flour blend.
Vegan cream cheese frosting
The cream cheese frosting that adorns the carrot cake cupcakes is my favorite dairy-free frosting ever. I like it even more than traditional buttercream frosting. The cream cheese gives it just the right amount of tanginess to offset all of the sweet richness of butter and sugar.
I’ve tried this frosting with a few different vegan butter sticks and cream cheeses. My default is Earth Balance sticks and Tofutti cream cheese. They work well, and they’re relatively affordable. (I like to use Tofutti in baking—like my classic vegan cheesecake—and save fancier, more expensive vegan cream cheese for toast or bagels.)
That said, I’ve also used Miyoko’s butter, Kite Hill Cream cheese, and a host of other butter/cream cheese combos in the carrot cake cupcake frosting. I haven’t had any big flops yet. Use the butter and cream cheese options that you like and have access to.
Preparing and storing vegan carrot cake cupcakes
Whenever I make either cupcakes or cake, I tend to work over the course of two days. I make the cake portion on the first day, give it the night to cool, and make the frosting/decorate on the second day.
You certainly don’t have to devote two days to these cupcakes if you’d rather work all at once. Just be sure to let the carrot cake cupcakes cool completely before you frost them. It’ll take at least two hours.
The cream cheese frosting can be prepared a day in advance of decorating. However, it needs cold storage and will stiffen up as it cools in the fridge. So, if you make the frosting in advance, be sure to warm it to room temperature and then rewhip it a bit to help make it fluffy again.
The decorated cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. If you’d like to store them longer, I’d recommend freezing them—cake, frosting, and all!
Vegan cupcakes for the win
If this recipe has you craving vegan cupcakes, here are some more recipes to explore:
Yields: 10 servings
For the cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (180 g)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup avocado oil (or another neutral cooking oil, such as safflower or grapeseed)
- 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar (substitute coconut sugar) (110 g)
- 1/4 cup cane sugar (50 g)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup applesauce (125 g)
- 1/4 cup oat, soy, almond, or cashew milk
- 2 medium/large carrots, peeled and grated on the fine side of a box grater (1 packed cup, or 115 grams after preparation)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (35 g)
For the cream cheese frosting
- 1/4 cup vegan cream cheese (60 g; make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature)
- 8 tablespoons vegan butter (112 g, or 1 stick; make sure the butter is at room temperature)
- 2 cups confectioners sugar (227 g)
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Preheat your oven to 350F and spray or line a cupcake baking sheet with liners.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
In another mixing bowl, combine the oil, brown and cane sugars, vanilla, applesauce, and the non-dairy milk. Whisk these wet ingredients well, then add them to your dry ingredients. Use a spatula to fold the batter together. When the batter is almost mixed (a few streaks of flour are OK at this point), add the grated carrot and walnuts. Continue folding the batter until it’s just combined and the carrots are distributed evenly. Try not to over-mix.
Use a muffin scoop or a 1/3 cup measuring cup to transfer the batter into the cupcake liners or prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops of the cupcakes are domed and set and they’re just starting to turn golden at the sides. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting, about 2 hours.
To prepare the frosting, place the butter and cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Alternatively, you can use a handheld mixer to prepare the frosting. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes, or until the butter and cream cheese are very fluffy. Stop the mixer, then add the sugar. Mix the frosting on low speed for 2 minutes. Then, beat on medium speed for another 2-3 minutes, or until the frosting is very, very fluffy. Beat in the white vinegar, then stop the mixer.
Transfer the frosting to a piping bag and pipe over the cupcakes to decorate. You can also use a small, offset spatula to decorate by hand. Serve or store the cupcakes till you’re ready to enjoy.
Though it was always a favorite, carrot cake has taken on a new meaning for me during the pandemic. I made it in Instagram stories during the first spring of lockdown, hoping it would comfort others as much as it was comforting me.
When my mom celebrated her birthday last May, she requested carrot cake. I made it and then walked it fifteen blocks to her apartment, worrying that I’d drop it the entire time. I handed it off to her outside her building—we were still too cautious to see each other indoors at the time—and then sang her happy birthday and watched her enjoy a slice over Zoom that night.
Carrot cake was one of those recipes that gave a sense of familiarity and joy to an otherwise scary, unsettled time. I assign it a special kind of love and fondness as a result. These vegan carrot cake cupcakes are my latest favorite way to savor it. And I’ll bet they’re a little easier to carry and deliver to friends than a giant layer cake!