I often daydream about food, mulling over what I am craving, homing in on every detail of how I want it to be, and then plotting a way to satisfy my desire. This recipe was born from that place, a revelry over carrot cake – a moist crumb with shreds of tender carrot peeking through, a homey vanilla-cinnamon fragrance, an occasional nutty crunch, and a sweet, subtly tangy, cream cheese frosting.

But I wanted that carrot cake experience in a way that didn’t send me into sugar shock after two bites or overwhelm me with a two inch-thick slab of frosting. I envisioned an uplifting treat to savor with my afternoon coffee, and these carrot cake muffins answer that call.

They are muffins with a cupcake vibe, bringing all the carrot cake flavors I craved without the stuff I didn’t. Sweet enough to feel like a special treat, they boast a modest amount of added sugar and are made with healthier oil rather than butter. Applesauce added to the batter provides a naturally sweet boost, and makes the muffins extra-moist, and their delightful little dollop of frosting is sweetened with just a touch of maple syrup.

These muffins are not only a better-for-you way to hit that carrot-cake spot, they would also (hint to my daughter) make for a splendid Mother’s Day treat.

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Active: 40 minutes | Total: 1 hour

12 servings

Storage Notes: The muffins will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 4 days.


1/3 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, plus more for brushing the pan

1/2 cup (60 grams) pecan or walnut pieces

1 3/4 cups (222 grams) whole grain pastry flour , or 1 cup (125 grams) regular whole-wheat flour and 3/4 cup (94 grams) all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for optional dusting

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 cup (165 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup (250 grams) unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups (220 grams) coarsely grated carrots

1/4 cup (60 grams) whipped cream cheese

1 tablespoon maple syrup


Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Brush the wells of a muffin tin with oil.

Spread the nuts on a small, rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven about 3 minutes, until toasted and fragrant. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board, let cool slightly, then finely chop.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil and eggs until well combined. Whisk in the applesauce and the vanilla, then stir in the carrots. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two or three batches, mixing each addition until just combined. Stir in the nuts until just incorporated.

Scoop the batter into the muffin tin and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the muffins in their tin to a wire rack to cool completely, then remove the muffins from the tin.

While the muffins are cooling, in a small bowl combine the cream cheese and maple syrup, beating until smooth. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a small plastic bag, pushing the mixture into one corner of the bag. Snip about 1/2 inch off the corner off the bag to create a piping bag and squeeze a dollop of frosting onto each muffin. Dust the muffins with additional cinnamon, if desired.

Nutrition | Calories: 247; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 34 mg; Sodium: 204 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 16 g; Protein: 4 g.

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