These vegan apple cider cupcakes are the perfect autumn treat! They’re sweetened with apple cider, spiced with cinnamon, and topped with rich swirls of vegan cream cheese frosting.
For all my love of cake, I don’t make cupcakes nearly enough. I associate them with birthdays and special occasions, rather than everyday dessert cravings or snacking.
But why? Cupcakes are just a different presentation of cake, and cake is something I make all of the time. From banana cake to peanut butter and jelly snack cake to chocolate bundt cake, cake is my number one dessert. No reason why it shouldn’t make appearances in a single-serving form.
Last week, after an uncharacteristic month or so without any new cake baking, I set about making these apple cider cupcakes. I wanted to see what it would be like to use apple cider, now everywhere at farmers markets near me, in the batter. Would the cupcakes taste like the cider that I so strongly associate with fall?
They do. In fact, it’s even better than that: the cupcakes taste like a cross between apple cider donuts and carrot cake. I use the same cream cheese frosting that I use for my favorite carrot cake, just half the amount, since there’s less frosting to do.
Why apple cider in cupcakes?
I’ve made plenty of apple-laden baked goods—Italian apple cake (torta di mele), applesauce spice cake, apple ginger oat cakes, apple bran muffins. All of these used either chopped or sliced apples or applesauce.
Using cider is a little different. You won’t taste fresh apple in the finished muffins so much as the sweet, bright flavor of cider. The muffins will be faintly apple-y without actually being packed with apples or applesauce. They’ll have a light, cake-like texture—appropriate for muffins—and they’ll taste like fall. Cinnamon and cloves help to strengthen that effect.
Can I use apple juice instead of apple cider?
In a pinch, yes. Apple juice isn’t quite the same as cider. I think it has a richer, less tart flavor than juice. The filtration process used to make cider involves less filtration than juice making, which may explain the differences in taste.
Even so, juice will work well in the recipe if you need to make a substitute. But if there’s any way for you to get your hands on fresh cider for the cupcakes, I recommend trying it. The cupcakes will be even more of a seasonal treat!
Vegan apple cider cupcake ingredients
Fresh and local is best, if you can find it. The recipe calls for a cup of cider, so no need to purchase a huge amount. Unless you’d like some to warm up on the stovetop, which is always a cozy idea at this time of year.
Unbleached, all-purpose flour
Unbleached, all-purpose flour is my go-to for most baking. This is especially true of cake and cupcakes, since they have a lighter and more delicate texture than some other baked goods. If you need to make the apple cider cupcakes gluten free, you can use a gluten free, all-purpose baking blend of choice. I love the King Arthur Measure for Measure flour.
You can also make these cupcakes with cake flour. Not an ingredient that I happen to have lying around all the time, but the more I fall in love with cake making, the more often I use it. Again, my favorite is from the King Arthur brand.
I sometimes use a mix of both brown sugar and cane sugar in my baked goods. Case in point: these cupcakes and my pumpkin chocolate marble loaf. The reason is that brown sugar adds a little more moisture and chewiness to baked goods than cane sugar. I find that cane sugar creates a little more airiness and lightness.
You can use all light brown sugar or all cane sugar in the cupcakes if you only have one or the other. If you happen to have both in your pantry, it’s worth using a mix for the perfect finished texture. And of course, the cider adds some sweetness of its own, which is why I used slightly less sugar than I usually do in a recipe like this.
Cream cheese frosting and cupcake decoration
The vegan cream cheese frosting I use in this recipe is my favorite cupcake frosting. I prefer it to a straight up buttercream frosting. I love the rich texture and the fact that the cream cheese adds just a slight tanginess that undercuts all of the sweetness of confectioners sugar.
I’ve tested this frosting recipe with numerous vegan butters and cream cheese brands. I’ve tried Earth Balance, Miyoko’s butter (salted and unsalted), Fora foods butter, Kite Hill cream cheese, Toffuti cream cheese, and probably a half dozen more.
I usually use Tofutti and Earth Balance for frosting because they’re the least expensive options at my local grocers. I like to save the fancier brands for spreading on toast. You can use the brands that are affordable, accessible, and appropriate for your own diet.
Once your frosting is made, it’s time to decorate the vegan apple cider cupcakes. I use this reusable pastry bag and these piping tips. If you don’t want to purchase a whole set, you can make use of the Ziploc pastry bag hack I described when I made my chocolate peanut butter cupcakes.
And if you don’t feel like piping at all, that’s perfectly OK! You can use a small spatula or even a butter knife to frost the cupcakes simply. Have fun with the recipe, and allow decorating to feel playful, rather than burdensome.
Yields: 12 servings
For the cupcakes
- 1 3/4 cups (210 g) unbleached, all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (237 mL) apple cider
- 1/3 cup (79 mL) vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup (96 g) light or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (48 g) cane sugar
For the frosting
- 4 ounces (113 g, or 1 stick) room temperature vegan butter
- 2 ounces (57 g, or 1/4 cup) room temperature vegan cream cheese
- 2 cups (227 g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350F and oil or line a muffin baking pan.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.
In another bowl, combine the cider, oil, vinegar, and sugars. Pour these wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until you have an evenly mixed batter (a few small lumps are OK).
Use an ice cream scoop or a 1/3 cup measuring spoon to fill the muffin pan (each individual muffin tin should be about three quarters of the way full). Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are gently domed, set on top, and golden brown. Let the cupcakes cool for 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely (about 2 hours) before frosting.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium low speed until they’re very light and creamy. Add the confectioners sugar. Cover the stand mixer with a tea towel and beat the ingredients on low speed for 1 minute. Uncover, add the white vinegar, and continue mixing the frosting on medium low speed for another 2-3 minutes, or until the frosting is very light and fluffy.
Transfer the frosting to a piping bag and use it to decorate the cupcakes, or simply frost the cupcakes with an inverted spatula or knife. Enjoy!
Storing and freezing your cupcakes
I sometimes find that when I store cake, cupcakes, and muffins in the fridge they seem to dry out and get stale quickly. Apparently it’s not just me. Storing extra baked goods always comes down to how much room is in my freezer and how quickly I’ll actually eat things. Most cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for up to two days.
If you need to store them longer, it’s best to keep them cold, but the freezer will preserve their freshness better than the fridge. My rule of thumb is to keep things at room temperature for a day or two and pop them in the fridge for another day or two if I need to. But I’ll almost always immediately freeze half of what I make as soon as it’s baked. If you freeze your cupcakes, don’t forget to pop the liners off of them before putting them into containers or silicone bags for freezing!
I think it’s easier to store baked cupcakes and frosting separately. That way, you can keep the frosting cold in the fridge and the cupcakes at room temperature. The frosting for this recipe will keep for up to five days in an airtight container in the fridge.
There’s so much going on right now. There’s the stress and uncertainty of 2020 in general, plus the looming election next week. With everything that weighs on our collective hearts and minds right now, it’s natural to seek out whatever little bits of sweetness we can.
Baking doesn’t solve any of my problems, but vegan treats do help to keep my spirits light. They do this in a small, yet meaningful way. They add pockets of pleasure to the days when I happen to have a few treats lying around. One small, pleasurable thing to experience.
These cupcakes brightened last week a lot, and they were well timed, as October has brought a real taste of fall to New York City. Hope you’ll give them a try and that they’ll bring you (and whomever you decide to share them with) some pleasure, too.