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These gluten free carrot cake cupcakes are super moist, lightly spiced and topped with a generous swirl of lemony cream cheese frosting.
If you’d asked me as a kid what I thought of carrot cake, I’d have said “no thank you to any vegetables in cakes”. Luckily, we all grow up (well, kinda) and now I’m very much on board with carrot cake and cupcakes.
These gluten free carrot cake cupcakes have been one of my favourite cupcake recipes for years, and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to share them.
Carrot cupcakes make a great gluten free dessert, morning tea, afternoon tea… heck, they’ve got carrots in them so I’m not going to pretend I haven’t eaten one for dinner in my chequered past. (And breakfast, too 🐰)
For the Gluten Free Carrot Cake Cupcakes
Gluten Free Flour – I use my favourite homemade gluten free flour blend, which is a combination of tapioca starch, potato starch and brown rice flour, however you can use your own favourite homemade or store bought gluten-free flour blend. Keep in mind that the texture of the cupcakes will vary from mine if you use a different flour blend, as all blends use different flours and starches.
Xanthan Gum – This helps to hold the cupcakes together and stop them from crumbling. If you use a gluten free flour blend that contains a gum ingredient (check the ingredients list), then you can omit the xanthan gum from the recipe.
Spices – I use mixed spice, which is a common spice blend used in baking in New Zealand, however, you can use a bought or homemade pumpkin pie spice instead as they are so similar. And if you don’t have either? Just use ground cinnamon instead.
Vegetable Oil – You can use any neutral-flavoured vegetable oil. I used rice bran oil but grapeseed, canola or even a very light olive oil will also work.
Carrots – You’ll need around 3-4 medium carrots for this recipe. We’re weighing the grated carrot to make sure we have the right amount. Make sure you use fresh carrots for the moistest cupcakes.
Walnuts – These are optional, but I’m definitely Team Walnut when it comes to carrot cupcakes. If you’re not a walnut fan, you can leave them out, or if you prefer you can use pecans or raisins instead.
Lemon – I love lemon in these cupcakes, however if you don’t have any on hand then you can leave it out.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
Unsalted Butter – Unsalted butter is best for frosting, so you can control the added salt and prevent it from being too salty.
Cream Cheese – You need to use a block cream cheese for this – tub cream cheese and spreadable cream cheese do not work in frosting. Low fat cream cheese also won’t work, so make sure you grab one that’s in a block. I use good old Philadelphia cream cheese blocks.
Icing Sugar – Also known as confectioner’s sugar or powdered sugar.
Lemon – I love lemon in cream cheese frosting, but if you don’t, you can use a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead.
Salt – We’re just adding a little pinch of salt to the frosting, to help cut the sweetness.
To Make Them Dairy Free
To make gluten free dairy free carrot cake cupcakes, you only need to alter the frosting, as the gf carrot cupcakes themselves are naturally dairy free.
You will need to replace the butter in the frosting with a dairy free or vegan butter alternative. Then you can either replace the cream cheese with a dairy-free cream cheese alternative (I haven’t tested this, and you may need to adjust the icing sugar amount to get the right consistency in the icing) or just increase the dairy free butter amount to 350g, and add a little bit of extra lemon juice to get the correct consistency and tanginess.
Along with the usual suspects such as bowls, spatulas and a sieve (sifter), you’ll need an electric mixer to make these, either a stand mixer or a handheld electric mixer and a large mixing bowl. You’ll also need a grater for the carrots, two 12 hole muffin pans and a set of kitchen scales.
How to Make Gluten Free Carrot Cupcakes
For the full, printable recipe, see the recipe card below.
Start by prepping the carrots and walnuts. The carrots get peeled and grated, either using a standard box grater, or a food processor (or stand mixer) with a shredder attachment. I like to use both the coarse and finer side of the grater so there’s a combination of textures, but you can do whatever you like.
The walnuts need to be chopped, again the size is up to you.
The cake batter is straightforward to make. The eggs, brown sugar, oil and lemon zest are beaten together until thick and creamy. Then the sifted dry ingredients are mixed in.
The shredded carrots get stirred in, followed by the chopped walnuts.
Then the batter gets spooned into cupcake papers. This recipe makes 18 cupcakes, so you’ll need two (well, one and a half) muffin pans.
Once they’re cool, you can top them with a generous swirl of cream cheese frosting. This is a simple lemon cream cheese frosting, but you can flavour the frosting with vanilla, a few spoonfuls of caramel sauce or maple syrup instead if you prefer.
Gluten Free Carrot Cake Cupcakes
For the Cupcakes
- 450 g gluten free flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum see notes
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice
- 400 g grated carrot approx. 3-4 medium-sized carrots
- 100 g walnuts optional
- 4 large eggs
- 350 g brown sugar
- 1 ¼ cups vegetable oil (310 ml or 260g) use any neutral flavoured oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- 250 g unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon table salt
- 160 g full-fat cream cheese at room temperature
- 550 g icing sugar aka. powdered sugar or confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Make the cupcakes
- Heat oven to 160°C (320°F). Line one and a half standard muffin pans with paper cupcake liners (18 holes). If you don't have two muffin pans, bake the first 12 cupcakes, let them cool slightly and remove them from the pans, then repeat for the remaining batter.
- Sift together the gluten free flour, baking soda, xanthan gum and mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice into a bowl and whisk to combine, set aside.
- Peel and grate the carrots, and weigh out 400g.
- Chop the walnuts.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using a large bowl and a handheld electric mixer, beat together the eggs, brown sugar, oil and lemon zest until thick and creamy – around 3-4 minutes.
- Add in the dry ingredients in 2-3 additions, mixing well and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the grated carrots and chopped walnuts.
- Spoon the mixture into the cupcake papers. They should be around ¾ full, be careful not to overfill or they will overflow.
- Bake the cupcakes for 20-25 minutes. They should be lightly golden on top, and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
- Allow to cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
Make the Frosting
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat the butter together with the lemon zest and salt until pale and creamy, around 4-5 minutes.
- Add the cream cheese, and beat for another 2-3 minutes until well combined and creamy.
- On low speed, add in the icing sugar in 2-3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Add the lemon juice and beat on low speed for 1-2 minutes until creamy and smooth.
- Chill the frosting for 10-15 minutes to firm up slightly. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a large star or round tip and pipe swirls of frosting onto each cupcake.Don't want to pipe? Just spread the frosting onto the cupcakes using a spoon or palette knife.
Storing the Cupcakes
- Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days, or frozen for 2-3 months. Wrap the cooled cupcakes in plastic wrap and place into an airtight container or resealable plastic bag before freezing.Frosted cupcakes should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for 3-4 days. Bring to room temperature before eating, to soften the frosting.
Ingredient NotesGluten Free Flour – I use my favourite homemade gluten free flour blend in this recipe, however you can use your own favourite homemade or store bought gluten free flour blend.
*Xanthan Gum – If using a gluten free flour blend that contains a gum ingredient, you can omit the xanthan gum from the recipe.
Spice – I use mixed spice, which is a common spice blend used in baking in New Zealand, however, you can use a bought or homemade pumpkin pie spice or plain cinnamon instead.
Walnuts – These are optional, you can leave them out or replace them with pecans or raisins instead.
Cream Cheese – You need to use a block cream cheese for this – tub cream cheese and spreadable cream cheese do not work in frosting. Low-fat cream cheese also won’t work.
Nutritional Disclaimer: Any nutritional info provided is a computer generated estimate and is intended as a guide only.
Most regular carrot cake is not gluten free. However, it’s not difficult to make a gluten-free carrot cake, and these gluten free carrot cupcakes are even easier than making a whole cake.
No, you need to use a gluten free all purpose flour blend for this recipe. Almond flour or coconut flour on their own won’t work.
As above, oat flour is not a suitable substitute for gluten free flour in these cupcakes. Also, in some countries, including Australia and New Zealand, oats are not considered suitable for people with Coeliac disease to consume as part of a gluten free diet. You can read more about that in this post.
Spreadable and low-fat cream cheese both become thin and watery when beaten and mixed with powdered sugar, making it very difficult to get a firm icing that won’t slide off the cupcakes. The best cream cheese to use is full-fat block cream cheese, such as Philadelphia.