Carrot Cupcakes with Marzipan Carrots and Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream

From 6 Bittersweets
Adapted from 
Sunset Magazine
Makes 12 to 13 cupcakes

XIAOLU'S NOTES: Lightly squeeze excess juice out of the grated carrots and apple before measuring. This frosting only has a subtle cream cheese flavor, so if you like a stronger tangier cream cheese frosting with your carrot cake, you should use this recipe instead OR if you're feeling adventurous, you gotta go for the goat cheese cream cheese frosting that accompanied the original recipe. Carrot greens and parsley are edible but not really tasty with this cupcake, so I recommend telling your taste-tasters not to eat the leafy part of the "carrots."

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup PLUS 1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp baking powder
Scant 3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves [use only a pinch if freshly ground]
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1/3 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp coconut oil OR unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp unsulphured molasses
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp mayonnaise [NOT fat-free] (optional)
1 1/4 rounded cups packed coarsely grated carrots (about 3 to 4 medium)
1/4 cup packed coarsely grated apple (about 1/2 medium)
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, optional

Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream (Recipe below)
Marzipan Carrots (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the top of a standard muffin tin lightly with butter, then line with 12 paper liners and set aside. Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, pepper, and salt together into a large bowl. Whisk to ensure they are combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the oil, melted coconut oil, molasses, vanilla, eggs, and mayonnaise. Add the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until almost combined. Stir the carrots, apple, and walnuts into the batter.

Fill each cupcake liner about 3/4 full with batter. If there is batter remaining, use it to fill standalone baking cups about 1/2 full or line a second pan with more regular cupcake liners and fill those. Bake until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean, about 18 to 22 minutes. Let cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer them to wire racks and let cool completely before frosting. Pipe or spread frosting onto cupcakes (I used Specialty Ruffle Tip #070 to achieve the ruffled effect seen in the photo); enjoy!

Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cool room temperature and cut into medium chunks
10 Tbsp full-fat cream cheese, cool room temperature and cut into medium chunks

Combine the sugar and egg whites in the clean stand mixer bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water making sure the bottom does not actually touch the water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer (I just whisked by hand and cooked it until the sugar was completely dissolved and the top became foamy). Be careful not to curdle the egg whites, remove from heat if this starts happening.

Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed with the whisk attachment for at least 7 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallow-esque peaks and the bowl is completely cool (very important - the frosting's consistency will be off otherwise). Add in vanilla and mix until incorporated.

With mixer on medium-low, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (about 10 seconds between each addition). Now add cream cheese 1 chunk at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, at least 3 minutes (this may take up to 15 minutes, so be patient!). (You'll hear a distinct slapping sound and visibly see the buttercream go from soupy to a cohesive, pipeable consistency.) Use immediately.

Marzipan Carrots
Slightly adapted from Munchkin Munchies and Recipe Girl (step-by-step photos)

About 1 oz. marzipan (found on the baking aisle in most grocery stores)
Toothpick
Orange gel or powder food coloring
Powdered sugar, as needed
Paring knife
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for decorating
Real carrot greens, dill, OR parsley leaves (washed and dried)

With a toothpick, add a dash of food coloring to the marzipan and knead with fingers to combine, continue until desired shade is achieved. If marzipan gets too sticky to work with, knead in powdered sugar, a little at a time, until it's no longer sticky to the touch.

Shape marzipan into 12 balls about 1/2-inch wide each, and place on a clean work surface. Use your index finger to elongate and roll out one end of each ball against the palm of your other hand until you've formed a carrot shape (about 1 1/4 inches long total).

Dip a paring knife into cocoa powder. Make tiny indentations in each carrot with cocoa-dusted knife to evoke the vegetable's texture. Carrots can be kept at room temperature, in an airtight container, for up to one week.

When ready to serve, use a toothpick to make holes at the top of each "carrot," then insert carrot, dill, or parsley greens into the holes.