This was my first time playing with Marzipan. Yes, playing. Shaping the soft almond paste into tiny little carrots was fun (even though some of my carrots looked like chillies!). So there you have it, the real reason I made these Carrot and Ginger cupcakes, courtesy of Miss Martha Stewart, was because it gave me an excuse to make the tiny carrot garnish: Martha's were a lot more 'real' as she dunked them briefly in a bowl of chocolate cookie crumbs to give them the gritty texture and look of real carrots, fresh from the soil.
But, as great as an idea that was, I wasn't too keen on adding soil on these beauties, even if the soil was really cookies. Delicious cookies. Nah. I thought it a better idea to eat the cookies while I shaped the marzipan.
Marzipan can be bought in cake supply stores or your regular grocer. It comes in a 500g packet and is unchilled (but once you open the pack, it's best to keep it in the refrigerator. It can keep for up to a month).
The paste has to be kneaded slightly to make it pliable enough to be shaped (like play-doh); add the colour while kneading so it's evenly spread. I didn't have orange food colouring so I mixed a drop of red into the yellow colouring. And a small batch of green for the leaves. Once the colour has been added, pinch bits of the marzipan and roll into balls and then shape into carrots. Score the carrots with a knife if you want to replicate the slight cuts that appear on the carrot.
And then, there's that other ingredient she slips in: grated ginger. Fresh ginger, thank you very much. Not the crystallised pieces I often dump in cakes. Nope, grated FRESH ginger.
The addition of fresh ginger into the cake batter gives the cake a very welcome zing which I really liked.
A note on ginger: I usually buy more ginger than I use and so I store them for up to five or six months in my freezer. Just cut the ginger into 3cm pieces (that's about the amount I use each time), skin them and freeze them. This recipe calls for just 1 tablespoon of grated ginger so I took out just one piece and grated it while frozen — it's actually easier to grate ginger when it's fresh!
And then there are the nuts. I usually use walnuts but Martha uses pecans. A cupful of pecans. I only had about a handful of pecans at home — not even close to 1/4 cup and so I added to the meagre portion the only other kind of nut I had: pistachios. Sightly roasted and chopped.
The topping is your regular cream cheese topping (butter, cream cheese and icing sugar). Martha adds some grated orange zest into hers but I substituted this with lemon zest as that was all I had. You can also add finely grated ginger (again fresh) as well though just a tiny bit.
If you're not a fan of cream cheese topping (or any topping), the cakes are delicious enough to be eaten naked, fresh from the oven. But, forgoing the frosting would mean forgoing the cute carrots on top! What a shame that would be!
Martha Stewart's Carrot and Ginger Cupcakes
(My substitutions are in red)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar (I used 1.5 cups)
1 cup vegetable oil
450g carrots, finely grated
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup roasted and chopped pecan halves (I used pistachios and pecans)
Preheat the oven to 180C. Line your cupcake trays with liners.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.
Whisk the eggs, oil, sugar, carrots and vanilla till incorporated. Fold in the flour in batches. Add the nuts.
Fill the cupcake liners with batter (3/4 full). Bake for 20-23 mins or till a tester comes out clean.
Cream Cheese Frosting (You can get Martha's recipe for Orange-Ginger Frosting here)
60g butter, unsalted, at room temperature
250g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
Beat the butter in a mixer till fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat till pale and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3-5 mins. Chill for about 15 mins.