Ease into the baking season with gluten free pumpkin carrot cupcakes, packed with tons of shredded carrots, a cup of pumpkin puree, and plenty of warm spices.
When the mums are for sale at the grocery store, you know fall is actually around the corner. You certainly can’t go by the wax pumpkins at the hobby store or the Halloween candy for sale. Those can come in the middle of summer. But the mums are the real deal. 🌼
I’ve been seeing mums for weeks now, so I figure I have the green light to start pushing the pumpkin baking. Besides, soon enough you’ll start hearing that there’s a canned pumpkin shortage coming. Don’t they seem to say that nearly every single year?
These might be the moistest cupcakes I’ve ever made. There’s something about the combination of pumpkin puree, shredded carrots, and oil that just makes for a super tender and moist cake. It’s the sort of cake where the crumbs are so moist they’ll stick to the tines of a fork.
Are these pumpkin carrot cupcakes … healthy?
I first started making these cupcakes back in 2011. It’s so long ago that my children don’t even remember them.
My oldest asked if they were cupcakes or muffins, which really means she’s asking if she can have them for breakfast. They really are cupcakes, since the batter is relatively thick but the texture is so tender and cake-like.
I’m more likely to call something a muffin if it’s a bit drier and denser. A good muffin is never actually dry, but the crumb is typically a bit drier than a cupcake. A cupcake is, well, a mini cake.
These cupcakes are, in fact, made with 2 cups shredded carrots. Then again, our gluten free carrot cake has plenty of carrots, too, and no one would call that health food.
The batter also has half a can of pure pumpkin puree, which has a single ingredient: pumpkin. There is no denying that these cupcakes are filled with beta-carotene.
But their health benefits, if any, are purely accidental. They’re not a multivitamin, and you wouldn’t really serve them for breakfast (except for a very special occasion?).
Like most of my cake recipes, these gluten free pumpkin carrot cupcakes are made in one bowl. One notable exception is the very best gluten free vanilla cake recipe, which calls for sifting the flour.
That vanilla cake is a true exception and demands that the butter is beaten with the sugar. The flour must be sifted into the wet ingredients. This cake can be made entirely in one bowl, easily.
All of the ingredients must at room temperature, as is the case for all baking other than pastry-making. If your eggs aren’t already at room temperature, just float them in a warm water bath for about 10 minutes.
Simply whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, spices, granulated sugar, brown sugar), and break up any lumps in the brown sugar. Most of the sugar in this recipe is brown sugar, and it does have a tendency to clump.
Be sure to break up all of those clumps or you’ll have pockets of undissolved sugar in your cupcakes. They’ll bake differently and won’t really become part of the cupcake.
Next, use a large spoon to create a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients. This will allow the wet ingredients to reach the bottom of the bowl of dry ingredients right away. It makes mixing the batter much easier.
Gluten free cupcakes might not have wheat gluten in them, but tender gluten free baked goods still shouldn’t be overmixed. That’s part of the reason to use melted butter and oil, which allows for faster mixing of the cupcake batter.
Be sure to fill each well of the muffin tin fully with batter. The size of the wells of any muffin tin varies, so if the wells of your muffin tin aren’t quite as large as mine, you’ll end up with some extra batter. Just use it to bake an extra cupcake or two in another pan.
I prefer to line my muffin tins with greaseproof liners (they don’t stick to the baked goods like typical grocery store liners tend to). I find that the batter rises straight up more evenly. But of course you can bake these cupcakes in a greased muffin tin.
Ingredients and substitutions
Recipe testing isn’t for the faint-of-heart (wasting ingredients is no joke!), and I hate to ask you to do any of it at all. But if I haven’t tried a recipe with certain substitutions, I’m afraid an educated guess is all I can offer. Here goes:
Dairy-free: These cupcakes are really just 1 tablespoon of butter away from being naturally dairy-free. The butter does give the cupcakes some richness, but it’s easily replaced by one extra tablespoon of neutral oil. Just be sure you use dairy-free chocolate chips, and you’re all set!
Egg-free: I’ve never tried these cupcakes with an egg substitute, but I’m tempted to recommend that you try making it with 1 “chia egg” (1 tablespoon ground white chia seeds + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, mixed and allowed to gel) and replacing the second egg with another ounce of pumpkin puree.
I’m afraid I’m just shooting in the dark with that suggestion, though. If you do try it, I’d also try adding 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder to the dry ingredients.
Sugars: The brown sugar in this recipe really gives the cupcakes a richness and depth of flavor that you can’t get from just granulated sugar alone. You can’t replace a granulated sweetener with a liquid one like maple syrup or honey, but you should be able to replace both of the sugars with coconut palm sugar.
Palm sugar is a flavorful, rich unrefined sugar, and can be a great, somewhat healthier alternative to brown sugar. But it doesn’t dissolve quite as well in baking as refined sugars, so I recommend grinding it in a blender or food processor before adding it to the batter. That will help it dissolve.
If you’d like to try an alternative sweetener like monkfruit, I’d recommend trying Swerve brand brown sugar alternative or Lankato monkfruit. Both tend to be drying, though, so you might want to add a bit more pumpkin puree. I’m afraid you’ll have to experiment!
Chocolate chips: When I first started making this recipe years ago, I used to make it with equal amounts white chocolate chips and raisins. But I just love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate so much that I really prefer semi-sweet chocolate chips here now.
If you’d like to replace the chips, though, you can use any small mix-in that holds its shape and doesn’t add moisture. Small bits of dried fruit like raisins are always a solid choice. Chopped nuts would also work really well.