Summer Saraf’s “Kitchen Sink” Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Back in March, the Covid-19 pandemic led to a statewide shutdown and I work at a business that was deemed essential. We’re a small group of twelve (and some of us were even working from home) and within that first month there was a birthday. While we would normally order a cake from Wegmans, their bakery was closed for orders. I’ve always enjoyed baking, and I offered to make some cupcakes so that the first quarantine birthday wouldn’t have to be quite so sad.

Having only been to the grocery store once since shutdown, and not anticipating a lot of “fun” baking projects at the time, I ended up making a lot of substitutions for those chocolate cupcakes. They turned out very chocolatey and excellent, and there were no complaints besides the chilly weather while we ate cupcakes ten feet apart and bundled up outside in late March.

Here we are now, half a year later, and while the Wegmans bakery is open again, I’ve been enjoying the “excuse” to bake cupcakes. We celebrated another coworker’s birthday today (October 16), and he had raved about the carrot cake I had previously made. With that in mind, and a lot of carrots in the fridge, I decided to turn the cake recipe into cupcakes.

I made the batter with my usual adjustments and then baked four test cupcakes all half-filled and with a standard cupcake liner, no liner, no-stick spray and no liner, and a parchment paper muffin-esque liner. The cake bakes for 40-50 minutes, so I let the cupcakes go for 15, but they were still a little underdone. They were fully baked after 20 minutes, but the half-filled tins didn’t rise enough to look good. With this in mind, the final cupcakes were filled 2/3 of the way and baked for 22 minutes to accommodate the extra batter volume.

Knowing that I would likely also enter these for the competition, I decided to make some candied carrot curls to give the cupcakes a little extra flair. It was a success, but now I have to contend with accusations of favoritism among the coworkers. It’s fine now though, I told them about the contest and they think the solution is for you to hold a monthly cupcake competition—I’m sure you all won’t mind.

Thank you for holding your annual (it’s fine, they’ll get over it) cupcake contest to support mental health in the community. Mental health initiatives are so important, especially in college towns, and everything is better with cupcakes.

—By Summer Saraf

Pamela Crossno’s “Fall” Into Nostalgia Cupcakes

What can I say? The flavors of fall are upon us and what better way to enjoy them than with the perfect amount of autumn spice and apples from our beautiful local orchards. These cupcakes are moist and because the apples are grated you get the perfect amount in every bite. Combined with the sweetness of comforting flavors like nutmeg, brown sugar, and cinnamon. The texture is moist like the texture is moist and like banana bread but still maintaining its fluffy cupcake appeal.

Combine this with the sweet/salty balance from the caramel frosting and the buttery, sticky caramel sauce. It is sure to hit every note. I topped it with chopped nuts and a chopped milk chocolate caramel Ghirardelli bar for good measure. The pretzel was added as a final touch. Can you taste them?

—By Pamela Crossno

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s “It’s Fall Ya’ All” Apple Crisp Cupcakes

My cupcake creation is an ode to the Ithaca Applefest. Oh, how I missed that annual event so very much this year but these are indeed unprecedented times. I wanted to incorporate all the flavors of the Applefest; fresh local apples, warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and pure maple syrup. How I wish you could smell and taste these luscious cupcakes! They would surely take you back to simpler times. 

—By Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

Della Keahna’s Maple and Blueberry Cupcakes

I made these today for my big sister’s 23rd birthday. In our Ojibwe culture, maple syrup and blueberries are very important foods. With quarantine, we have been in the same house and have not been able to return in a very long time and have missed many things about our family and our homelands. I wanted to be able to give her a taste of home while also keeping us alive given that we are both gluten free.

They were experimental, especially the filling. Even though I have been gluten free for 11 years I still wind up finding some things I bake come out drier than is ideal. I decided a filling and a buttercream could help balance it out. The pureeing process was also done on a pretty cheap blender, and everything came out more liquidy than I wanted, and after adding inordinate amounts of sugar and starch (I’m not even sure if I listed the quantities right on my recipe), I thought about my chia seed puddings.

I added a few tablespoons of chia seeds to let them gather the juices. That balance offered something very interesting when eating the cupcakes later and prevented the filling from soaking through the cupcakes. I wanted to take on a more minimalist approach to decorating, especially given how it was inspired by tradition and family. I realized as we sat outside, the three siblings and my sister’s girlfriend, cupcakes are a total win for pandemic times too. We gave her a single candle and she could blow it out without worrying about the cake others were going to eat!

—By Della Keahna