Carrot Cake Madness: Applesauce Instead of Butter

Since this time last week, I’ve made at least 180 mini-cupcakes. I’m finished with grad school, finished with my internship and can’t think of a better way to celebrate all of the free time I have now than to bake… a TON.

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I’ve been wanting to make carrot cake for ages. Not saying I want to have carrot cake at my wedding, but for someone who bakes as much as I do, I’m not really sure how I made it this far without ever having made a carrot cake. Also, I’m a huge fan of cream cheese frosting. The depth of flavor packed into a pretty simple frosting never fails to impress me. And carrot cake pairs perfectly with cream cheese frosting. Seems like a win-win situation.

So let’s get down to it. Whenever I’m making a recipe for the first time, I usually head to Sally at Sally’s Baking Addiction to see if she’s got anything. Her posts are detailed, and because she comes up with the recipes herself, she is able to explain every aspect of the baking process. She tells you when it’s okay to skimp, when you need to be super precise, and exactly what brand she thinks works best. I was in luck, she had a recipe for carrot cake cupcakes.

What I didn’t even realize when I got started? Her cake recipe doesn’t include any dairy. I had taken the butter out of the fridge to come to room temperature and everything before I realized that. Instead of butter, she uses a combination of canola oil and applesauce. This isn’t the first time this week, even, that I’ve made a cake recipe that was incredible that uses canola oil – something I had previously written off as being too simple to ever make a good cake. I’d heard of using applesauce instead of butter before, but had never tried it for a few reasons: one being that I’ve heard it makes denser cakes, and is ultimately, not really a substitute. It seems like Sally’s combination of applesauce with canola oil might be the trick.

These cupcakes are so good. Spices are essential to carrot cake, but sometimes I find that carrot cake is overly spiced and becomes more about the spice than about the moistness of the cake, the delicateness of the crumble, or the crispness of the outside. This was perfect. The spices were a strong and exciting hit of flavor at the front, but tastefully gave way to the textural experience of eating carrot cake after a moment.

Looking forward, I’d love to think more about how to use applesauce and canola oil in non-carrot cake recipes. I imagine this’ll be tough, because apple flavor just matches so well with the spices in carrot cake, but I have heard of applesauce in brownies and other baked goods before, so perhaps there’s a balance that can be found. Stay tuned as I try it out in the near future. It seems I have some experimenting to do.

In the meantime, check out this recipe if you’re looking for a good, approachable carrot cake recipe to try.If you make cupcakes or mini-cupcakes like I did, just make sure you chop your pecans and grate your carrots extra small so that no one eating your cupcakes gets stuck with a giant pecan or giant piece of carrot in their small cupcake. Texture is such a big part of carrot cake and it would be such a shame not to be able to replicate the complexity of that texture on a smaller scale.

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