Light, moist carrot cake muffins. Easy, healthy recipe with a low sugar cream cheese frosting with orange and vanilla. Great for parties, picnics and school bake sales.

moist fluffy muffins with two topped with a spiral of cream cheese frosting with orange zest

Carrot Cakes for a School Bake Sale

These individual carrot cakes were the practical answer for a school bake sale but just mention them and I’m still cringing. Have you had an embarrassing instant of saying something without thinking it through, then spent the following hours wishing you could hit replay?

It could have been straight from a Desperate Housewives’ scene; Bree standing in frilly apron, smiling proudly behind the school baking stall at the Lycée’s Summer Fête looking at her carrot cakes. Just perfectly stacked on the stall, with cream cheese frosting and a little price tag for the school’s charity fund.

Just as the director of the school chose a cake for his offspring and was about to continue the rounds, my mouth somehow opened on my behalf. It just blurted out, “I baked these.” No big deal, I know but it was just one of those wincing-induced moments.

However, they were great for a school bake sale and a lot easier to handle than having to cut into one big layered carrot cake!

Taking muffins out of paper cases with carrot and oranges

Moist Carrot Cake Muffins

I don’t think I’ve met anyone yet who doesn’t love a good carrot cake. Even my French husband, who is sceptical of any kind of big wedge of ‘cake’ was asking for more of these muffins.

It’s because they’re moist, light and fluffy and not too sweet. The cream cheese frosting just makes them. As the slightly tart topping doesn’t contain that much sugar, it’s a perfect balance with the orange, spice and carrot flavours in the carrot cake muffins.

It’s my best recipe as individual carrot cakes, although you can make the same quantity to make one big cake. What’s more it’s healthy.

As you know by my mantra by now, too much sugar kills flavour.  As a result, the balance of sugar ratios between cake and frosting in this recipe are well and truly tested over and over with a firm thumbs up.

cream cheese frosting with orange zest and walnuts on muffins

Are Carrot Cakes Healthier?

These carrot cakes are so much healthier than cakes that are overloaded with far too much unnecessary sugar. You know the ones I mean. How can you taste the flavours if it’s too sweet?

I originally adapted Sarah Cook’s cupcake recipe in the BBC Good Food Magazine (May 2010 issue). The recipe is healthy in that there is not as much sugar as other recipes I’ve tried. I also love the high proportion of carrots, making the cakes very light and moist with 3 eggs.

So I increased the quantities from 12 to 18 muffins and I lowered the sugar quantity even more (as much as I dare for the balance of flavours), plus added vanilla powder. The addition of orange zest to the frosting just gives the whole taste more zing.

Makes 18 carrot cakes using muffin tins lined with paper cases (@ 7cm diameter) or one large cake.

Making carrot cakes with frosting, orange zest and walnuts

How to Make Carrot Cake Muffins

  • First prepare all your ingredients and weigh them out using a digital kitchen scale.
    If you don’t yet use one, I can’t recommend enough you do. It will change your life in baking, taking the math out of preparation plus guarantees the same, successful results. See why we need digital scales;
  • Grate the carrots – the best way to grate them is using a good quality grater (Terraillon, Cuispro, etc. with sharp blades);
  • Ensure that the cream cheese and butter are taken out of the fridge so that they are at room temperature when you’re ready to make the frosting.

orange zest on spice, flour and other ingredients for carrot cake

  • Measure out all the dry ingredients in a bowl then add most of the orange zest from an unwaxed/organic orange (keep a teaspoon worth aside for the frosting). Add the grated carrots.
  • In a separate container (I like to use a jug), prepare the wet ingredients: the neutral oil (sunflower or rapeseed) and eggs beaten together.
  • Then gradually mix in to the dry ingredients. This method ensures there are no lumps in the batter.

Making carrot cake muffins

  • When mixed together and smooth, spoon into paper cases placed in muffin moulds.  This recipe makes 18 muffins. The uncooked batter and frosting can easily keep sealed in the fridge for 2-3 days so it’s easy to make half of the recipe first and the rest later.
  • Fill the muffin cases up to 3/4 of the way to the top and bake for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the frosting.

batter in papercases in muffin moulds and beating cream cheese with butter

Cream Cheese Frosting for Carrot Cake

This is my best recipe for cream cheese frosting as it contains less sugar than classic recipes.
The result is a slightly sweet and sour combination with the cake and topping – with added orange zest and vanilla.
It’s also delicious for purple carrot cake.

Did you know that carrots were not always orange?
Purple carrots were the norm before the Dutch changed them to make orange fashionable!
More on the Market Produce page on Carrots.

Carrot cake icing is primarily made of good quality cream cheese, unsalted butter and icing or powdered sugar. I like to add orange zest and vanilla to compensate for less sugar.
The combination together with the muffins means a more balanced amount of sugar and the ability to taste all the ingredients.

  • What cream cheese is best for icing? It’s easy. It all depends what kind of consistency you prefer but for a thicker texture, go for one that has at least 30% fat like Philadelphia.
    If using lower fat cream cheese, the result is a more runny consistency but the taste is the same. It’s perhaps healthier but not as pretty. So if you prefer yours piped for a more elegant look, go for the original version rather than lower fat;
  • Is the frosting better with butter or cream? I personally prefer butter. There’s half the amount compared with cream cheese which is a good balance. Ensure it’s unsalted and good quality (French butter if possible);
  • How can I make it even better? I like to add a little vanilla powder (or extract) and orange zest to the frosting to echo the flavours in the muffins. Be healthy and simply decorate carrot cake muffins with extra orange zest plus walnuts;
stack of muffins in paper cases with one topped with icing, vanilla flecks and a walnut

Topped with lower fat cream cheese frosting – the result is runnier but tastes just as good


biting into a muffin with cone shaped piped frosting topped with orange zest

Thicker cream cheese frosting piped on to carrot cakes and topped with orange zest

More healthy, low-sugar muffins:

moist fluffy muffins with two topped with a spiral of cream cheese frosting with orange zest
5 from 1 vote

Carrot Cake Muffins

Author: Jill Colonna
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course : teatime
Cuisine : British
Keyword : Carrot cakes, carrot cupcakes, healthy carrot cake recipe, carrot cake muffins
Servings : 18 cakes
Calories : 300kcal


Scared to make a big carrot cake in case you eat too much? Instead make these individual moist and fluffy muffins with an orange cream cheese frosting. Healthy recipe with reduced sugar.


Carrot Cake Muffins:

  • 300 g (10.5oz/ 3¼ cups) organic carrots finely grated (weight after peeled)
  • 1 unwaxed/organic orange - zest only (keep 1 tsp aside for the frosting)
  • 300 g (10.5oz/ 2½ cups) plain (all purpose) flour or ½ each of plain and wholemeal flour
  • 200 g (7oz/ scant cup) cane/light brown sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt (fleur de sel)
  • 3 tsp mixed ground spice (pain d'épices/gingerbread spices or pumpkin spice)
  • 3 eggs organic
  • 210 g (7.5oz/1 cup) sunflower oil or other neutral oil

Cream Cheese Frosting:

  • 75 g (3oz/¼ cup) unsalted butter softened
  • 210 g (7.5oz/1 cup) soft cream cheese (33% fat) at room temperature (e.g. Philadelphia)*
  • 75 g (3oz/ 1/3 cup) icing/confectioner's sugar sifted
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ¼ tsp vanilla powder or extract
  • broken walnuts or pecans to decorate (optional)


For the muffins:

  • Heat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F (Gas 4) and prepare all cake ingredients first - plus ensure butter and cream cheese are out of the fridge.
  • In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, spice and orange zest.  Whisk together the eggs and oil, then stir into the dry ingredients with the grated carrot.
  • Prepare muffin tins lined with 18 paper cases. Divide the mixture between cases, filling ¾ of the way up. Bake for 20-22 minutes until a skewer poked in comes out clean.
    (If making a large cake, then bake for 40-45 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack).
  • Remove the muffins from the tins as soon as they are out of the oven and transfer to cool on a wire rack.

To make the frosting:

  • Beat the softened butter until light creamy, then beat in the softened cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla and orange zest.  Either by hand or using beaters of a mixer.
    Either swirl the icing on top of the cakes using a palette knife or use a piping bag with a star tip to pipe out spiral toppings.
    Sprinkle with broken or crushed nuts, a little vanilla powder or extra grated orange zest.


*Note on cream cheese: after making the same frosting using French St Moret cheese (it's a healthy low fat cheese), the frosting was runny as it doesn't contain enough fat.
The result tastes just as good but if you wish to pipe out your frosting to make it pretty, choose a cream cheese with at least 33% fat to reach perfect piping consistency.
For recipes and more on healthy carrots, read the market produce carrot page.
Measures: Please note that all my recipes are best made using digital kitchen scales in precise metric grams. Both ounces (and cups) are given as an approximate guide. 

This recipe was first published 31 May 2015 but is now completely updated.

From the market

From the kitchen

11 responses to “Carrot Cake Muffins”

  1. 5 stars
    They came out perfect! Really easy to follow. Particularly enjoyed the frosting, perfect mix of slightly tart undertones to cut the sweetness

  2. I think you were right to say that you baked the cakes. Mass produced cakes are far too sweet these days especially if they have icing on top. More hygienic to offer individual cakes.

    • Thanks, Thomasina, but all the other lovely cakes were home-baked too. Hence the cringing part. Never mind, in any case I want to repost this recipe since have a groovy idea…

  3. *I* would care if you made them. Then I would buy the whole lot for myself 😉

    • Hehe, Mardi. In fact, one lovely woman did end up cleaning them out – tin included!

  4. Oh, I feel your pain! I say all sorts of ridiculous things. I wouldn’t have blinked an eye had you told me you baked those gorgeous cupcakes! It would make me want them even more 🙂

    • Thanks, Liz. I just need to learn to shut up at times. Who cares who made them? As long as everyone is happy.

      • I believe people care about who makes their food, what wholesome ingredients are in it, where the ingredients came from and what is special about the food item you are offering. When they can put a face on the item, they know it wasn’t made by a huge, impersonal Willy Wonka machine. That there is human love in every bite.

        • You’re so sweet, William – although somehow a Willy Wonka machine brings out the Charlie in me 😉

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