whole food ~ well made


No-Fail, Healthier Baking Hacks and a Dozen Carrot Cupcakes

I have to confess that I’ve been slipping lately. As the girls have gotten older I’ve been less vigilant about processed snacks and treats in general.

Store-bought sandwich cookies, granola bars and chips never would have made it through the door two or three years ago.

But now… {sheepish grin}…

Granted, these kids both know that snacks are generally “growing food”: apple slices, nuts, homemade fruit leather and rice crackers. Treats–from cookies and lollipops to ice cream and soda are a different category reserved for special occasions.

Still sugar and processed snacks are pretty sneaky. They slip in after soccer games and birthday parties, summer vacations and weekend TV nights. And once they’re in, they make themselves very unnoticeable and sometimes even undetectable.

That’s why as we enter what I call High Sugar Season from Halloween to Christmas, it’s time to get sneaky back.

No-Fail Healthier Baking Hack

For years, I’ve made two simple changes to oodles of muffin, quick bread, scone, pancake and waffle recipes to increase nutrition and reduce sugar. It works like a charm every time with no detectable difference in the texture or taste.

What is this all-purpose baking hack?

Replace half of the refined white flour with whole wheat pastry flour.

Reduce the sugar by half.

Note that you can, through trail and error, increase the whole wheat flour and reduce the sugar even more to suit your taste in many baking recipes, but this is the standard foolproof formula I swear by.*

Mind you, I’m not claiming that this suddenly turns baked treats into health food.

This is the ideal.


But if more fiber and less sugar is better nutritionally speaking, then I’m all for it–and for this Sneaky Carrot Cupcakes recipe.

Everything in moderation is what my Dad told me, and I live by this easy-to-follow dictum.

[*The caveat to the cutting sugar in half baking trick is when you have a recipe where you cream together butter with sugar. In this instance, the sugar is not only a sweetener, but plays a roll in the structure and texture as well. Cookies are a primary example. Here’s a primer on how sugar affects baked goods–yummy food science.]

Carrot Cupcakes for Halloween

With Halloween parties coming up this week, I decided to put this trick to use for a few batches of cupcakes.

Typically, I’d be pretty cautious about messing with a cake recipe, but carrot cake is a pretty unfussy cake. It’s a one-bowl wonder made with oil and leavened with baking powder and baking soda. So, I trusted that reducing the sugar would not impact the baking properties.

I also knew that the whole wheat pastry flour would not even be noticeable with the spices and carrots.


I love vegetable cakes. The idea that you can get some veggies in your dessert delights me. (This chocolate beet cake is one of my all-time most popular recipes.)

Naturally, I like to push the envelope on how much carrot you can stuff into a cupcake. I was a bit worried when my first batch went into the oven that 2 cups of grated carrot for just 1 1/2 cups of flour was perhaps a tad overboard.


I remembered how when I was first learning to bake in my teens I once used carrot ribbons in a carrot cake, you know, to make it more carrot-y. As you can probably imagine, those ribbons did not soften in the oven and pulled right out of the cake slices when you took a bite.

Grated, this amount of carrot in this recipe is definitely not too much of a good thing. The cupcake is moist, tender and just sweet enough–nevermind the brown butter cream cheese frosting.

I even snuck in a whole unpeeled and grated apple just because.

Take that, Halloween! Boo.


and become a forager

Carrot Cupcakes with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

These moist and tender cupcakes contain whole wheat flour, half the sugar and lots of grated carrot and apple for sweetness. Serve them without the frosting as an after-school snack or coffee break treat. The frosting, flavored with brown butter and vanilla, makes them great alternative cupcakes to serve for birthdays or other celebrations.
Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 12 cupcakes


  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour organic
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour organic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 3 large eggs pasture-raised
  • 2 cups grated peeled carrots organic
  • 1 cup grated unpeeled apple organic


  • 4 ounces unsalted butter cut into tablespoons
  • 8 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  • Whisk the two flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk the oil and sugar together until the sugar starts to dissolve. Whisk in the eggs until well blended. 
  • Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry mixture and stir just until they are moistened. Stir in the carrot and apple until the mixture is uniform.
  • Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tins filling them to the rim. Bake until the centers of the cupcakes are springy and a wooden skewer comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  • While the cupcakes are baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Let the butter simmer until the butter solids separate and brown and the butterfat darkens in color and smells nutty.
  • Transfer the browned butter to a bowl or ramekin leaving the darkened butter solids behind. (That's why if you look closely you'll see dark specks in my frosting because I didn't do this step the first time.) Place in the refrigerator to speed cooling until it is firm.
  • When the browned butter is solidified, beat it with the cream cheese in a stand mixer until very smooth. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth and light. Add the vanilla and beat until it is combined.
  • When the muffins have cooled spread or pipe on the frosting and decorate as desired.

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