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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
If this recipe has you craving vegan cupcakes, here are some more recipes to explore:
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!