High Altitude Baking: Carrot-pecan cupcakes with cream cheese frosting (recipe)
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Like carrot cake? You’re not alone: It’s one of America’s favorite desserts. And this pretty thing is its little sister. The smaller version echoes the warm spices, delicious cream cheese frosting and, of course, the carrots of its better-known sibling but is lighter in texture, less sweet and more refined.
The cupcake batter is a breeze to make: Mix wet ingredients, combine dry ingredients and then blend the two. The carrots can be prepared quickly in a food processor with a metal blade; just cut them into 2-inch chunks, dump them in the bowl, and process until they’re in fine flakes. Purchasing pecan pieces, which are already chopped, will also save time. Don’t have any? Simply coarsely chop whole pecans.
Though optional, I brush the cupcakes with simple syrup before frosting them. It adds more flavor and moisture … always a plus. The unfrosted cupcakes can be frozen for up to a month.
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Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above. Make in a muffin tin.
5 ounces peeled and trimmed carrots, finely grated
1 large egg
2 tablespoons buttermilk
2/3 cup minus 1 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
½ cup canola oil
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ scant teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ scant teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup pecan pieces, toasted
Vanilla simple syrup, optional
¼ cup superfine granulated sugar
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract or to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 tablespoon cream cheese
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 1 ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
Whole pecans, for decoration, optional
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the muffin tin with paper liners, and grease them with a vegetable oil-flour spray.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the carrots, egg, buttermilk, sugar, oil and vanilla until well combined. Use a second bowl to whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger until thoroughly mixed. Add the pecans, and stir until all are coated with the flour mixture.
Pour the flour-pecan mixture into the carrot mixture, and stir until completely blended. Spoon into the lined cups, filling them to about ½ inch from the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the centers of the cakes comes out clean, 23 to 28 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Remove cakes from the pan, and return them to the rack to cool completely.
While the cupcakes bake, make the simple syrup, if using: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a low boil, and simmer until the sugar dissolves and the mixture thickens slightly (3 to 4 minutes; it should remain thin enough to penetrate the cupcakes rather than sit on the tops like a frosting). Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla extract. Let cool.
Make the frosting: Cut the butter and cream cheese into four pieces; add them, with the vanilla, to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined and smooth. (Or, beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth.) Add 1 cup of the sugar, pulse (beat, if using a mixer) to blend, and continue to add sugar, a little at a time, until a consistency that is pipe-able/spreadable is reached. Brush the tops of the cupcakes with simple syrup, if using. Spread or pipe the frosting decoratively on each cupcake. Top with whole pecans, if using. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to two days.
These cupcakes are a variation of a Martha Stewart recipe. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.