These Vegan Carrot Cupcakes have a delightfully fine, super-tender crumb, a gently spiced flavor, and a super-fluffy, orange-infused frosting. Your guests won’t believe they’re vegan!
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I first made these cupcakes in the spring of last year, when I had a niece over who had recently adopted a vegan diet. I wanted to make a vegan dessert that she would thoroughly enjoy, but that everyone else would gladly share with her, too. I didn’t want to impose a failed vegan experiment on everyone—and I didn’t want to offer a short-order option to my niece, either. I know firsthand how disappointing it is when you’re offered a fruit salad while everyone else is eating cake! I had to find that perfect vegan treat—or rather, one that is covertly vegan.
While I’m not vegan, I’m lactose intolerant, so I’ve been experimenting with vegan dessert recipes for years. I believe you can turn many classic desserts vegan without sacrificing taste, texture, or flavor. One of my favorite desserts is carrot cake, so when I spotted a recipe for vegan carrot cupcakes, I knew I had to tweak it to perfection. On the day I served the vegan carrot cupcakes, my niece was the only one who was in on the vegan secret. I let everyone else enjoy their dessert and asked them to guess what was different about the cupcakes afterward. You guessed it: Nobody could tell the cupcakes were vegan.
In vegan baking, it’s easy to find ways to replace milk and butter by using plant-based products, but eggs are much more difficult to substitute. Not only are eggs a quintessential ingredient in baking, but they play a key role in the structure, stability, texture, and moisture of baked goods. I’ve tried many egg substitutes over the years, and I believe there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Flax or chia eggs, applesauce, mashed silken tofu, or banana can all work in specific recipes, but none has leavening power, so you can’t simply swap in one of these for an egg and expect a fluffy cake to come out of the oven. Increasing the amount of baking powder and baking soda can help, but using too much can alter the flavor of the cake.
Cakes require the leavening, emulsifying, moistening, and binding powers of eggs. Without eggs, a cake will turn out dense and dry. So, what’s the best egg substitute to make beautifully fluffy and moist vegan cakes?
Today I’m letting you in on the secret ingredient that makes these vegan carrot cupcakes so incredibly close in texture and flavor to classic carrot cupcakes: egg replacer.
What Is Egg Replacer?
Egg replacer is a commercial powder product that was created specifically to use as a substitute for eggs in baked goods. The product is meant to replicate the action of eggs in recipes: leaven, emulsify, moisten, and bind. Several brands make egg replacers, such as Ener-G, Bob’s Red Mill, Orgran, and many more. What constitutes the egg replacer depends on the brand, but in general, egg replacer is made of starches (to bind), gum (to emulsify), and leaveners (to help with the rise). The egg replacer powder needs to be mixed into a liquid, such as water, before you add it to the recipe.
The dietary advantages of egg replacers are numerous: They allow you to make vegan cakes, yes, but the products are also suitable for people who are allergic to eggs and lactose intolerant, as well as those who are on a reduced-cholesterol diet. (Egg replacers contain no cholesterol.) Most products are also kosher and gluten-free. (Take note that Bob’s Red Mill has two varieties of egg replacer: one made with soy and wheat and another that is gluten-free.)
You can find egg replacer products online, as well as in natural foods stores or in the natural foods sections of large grocery stores.
I tested egg replacer in different cakes, cupcakes, and muffins to figure out the product’s limits, and what I find is that egg replacer works best in cake, cupcake, and muffin recipes that use 1 to 3 eggs. In fact, in such scenarios, egg replacer works wonders. You’d never guess no eggs were used in the recipes I made with egg replacer—including these addictive vegan carrot cupcakes. The texture is super light and moist: every bit what a classic carrot cupcake should be.
Helpful Tips for Making Vegan Carrot Cupcakes
Add flavor along with your egg replacer: Egg replacer is a powder that needs to be mixed into a liquid before you add it to a recipe. Why use water when you can choose a liquid that will actually enhance the flavor of the cake instead? In this vegan carrot cupcake recipe, I used orange juice and added orange zest for an additional flavor kick.
Grate those carrots really fine: Grating carrots extra-fine produces the best texture in these vegan carrot cupcakes. The carrots fully blend into the cupcakes upon baking, which means you won’t find any carrot strings in your baked treats. I recommend grating carrots using either a coarse Microplane grater or the smaller holes of a box grater.
When it comes to frosting, go the (vegan) butter or (vegan) cream cheese way: The frosting I topped these vegan carrot cupcakes with is a versatile one. I find that each and every vegan butter and vegan cream cheese has a specific flavor—and of course, none tastes exactly like dairy butter and cream cheese. I encourage you to test them out and find which one you like best, flavor-wise. Use your favorite and you’ll be sure to produce a frosting you’ll love!
Never tried vegan butters and cream cheese products? Follow my lead:
My personal favorite vegetable shortening—or vegan butter, if you prefer the marketing-friendly name—is Earth Balance’s Original Buttery Sticks. This product has a nice, soft flavor and it holds well in frostings. The sticks contain less water than the spread does, which means it’s firmer and produces a frosting that pipes perfectly. If you can’t find the sticks, you can use the widely available Original Buttery Spread The frosting will be a bit softer, but it will still pipe well.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Fora’s Faba Butter, which is made—incredibly—from chickpea water (aquafaba). People are raving about how similar to butter it tastes and behaves. According to Fora’s website, Faba Butter is only sold at Eataly in the US for now. If you’ve tried it, please comment with your feedback—I’d love to read it! I’ll get back with my review as soon as I get to work with it myself.
Most vegan cream cheese products are made to be easily spreadable, which makes them too soft to produce a pipeable frosting. If you’re looking for that cream cheese flavor (I wouldn’t blame you!) I would advise combining half Daiya’s Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread (for flavor) with half vegan butter (for texture). Make sure to refrigerate the frosting thoroughly before piping. This still produces a frosting that’s pretty soft, so the frosting you pipe will soften and spread slightly, but it won’t drip to the sides of the cupcakes.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, ginger, and salt. Set aside.
In a second mixing bowl, whisk together the orange juice, plant milk, egg replacer, and vanilla extract. Whisk in the sugar, olive oil, and orange zest. Add the grated carrots and stir to incorporate, making sure the carrot distributes evenly throughout the mixture.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and fold, using a spatula, right up until no streaks of flour remain. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
Bake for about 22 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.
For the vegan frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer, beat the vegan butter or vegan cream cheese until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed.
Sift in a third of the powdered sugar, then mix at low speed to incorporate. Repeat twice to incorporate all the sugar. Add the orange zest and salt. Beat on medium speed, until the vegan frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Pipe or spread the frosting over the cooled vegan carrot cupcakes.
SERVING: Always serve the vegan carrot cupcakes at room temperature. If the cupcakes are refrigerated, bring them back to room temperature 25 minutes before serving.
STORAGE: Store the frosted vegan carrot cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can also freeze the frosted cupcakes in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Bring frozen cupcakes back to room temperature40 minutes before serving.
NOTE: Not vegan? Here’s how to make these cupcakes using eggs and dairy products:
In the cupcakes, replace the egg replacer and orange juice with 2 large eggs
In the frosting, replace the vegan butter and cream cheese with dairy butter and cream cheese. Use only butter, or only cream cheese, or half butter/half cream cheese
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