5-spice coconut carrot babycakes
My birthday was almost three weeks ago, and in the weeks before, I had wholeheartedly intended to spend the days before baking myself a carrot cake–classic, with raisins and nuts and coconut and swirl upon swirl of cream cheese icing enrobing the moist and crumbly layers. But time is a perplexing thing, and the closer it got to the actual date, the more I felt pressured by the days passing by in a whirlwind, filled with work and work and work and life and laundry. So I took a long hot bath instead. Spent time with some dear friends. Made a nordic feast in a snowstorm. Slept in a wee bit longer. And shoveled snow in a sweatshirt bathed in sunshine. The cake never got made. And that's okay.
Flash forward to last week, when on a whim, I took one whiff of the Chinese 5-spice powder in the bulk spice aisle at my crazy co-op and was transported immediately back to Carrot Cake Land. Don't ask me how or why, but in the moment, these little coconut carrot bites appeared before my eyes. A grocery aisle miracle. They are slightly sweet and spicy and perfect with a mid-afternoon cup of tea–or late-night La Croix, if that's your thing.
For the cakes:
• Heaping 1/2 cup soft dried apricots
• Heaping 1/2 cup soft medjool dates
• 2 tbsp. lemon juice
• 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
• 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
• 1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
• 1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. maple syrup
• 1 tbsp. melted coconut oil
• 1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
• 1 cup almond flour/meal
• 1 cup finely shredded carrots
For the frosting:
• 8 oz. full fat cream cheese, at room temperature
• 3 tbsp. maple syrup
• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
• pinch of sea salt
• toasted coconut flakes, chopped nuts, and bee pollen for garnish
Grease a mini muffin tin with neutral oil, and line with strips of parchment paper for easy removal. Set aside.
In a food processor, combine the apricots, dates, lemon juice, and vanilla, and pulse until fruit is finely chopped and starting to form a paste. Add remaining cake ingredients (EXCEPT the carrots), and continue to pulse until mixture sticks together when pressed between your fingers. Add the carrots, and pulse a couple times just until carrots are incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Scrap down the sides of the processor bowl frequently to help ensure dough is evenly mixed.
Divide carrot cake "dough" evenly into your prepared mini muffin tin (my dough made 16 total). Using your fingers and the back of a small metal spoon, press dough firmly and evenly into the muffin tins, packing it down to ensure it's sticking together. Pop the cakes in the freezer while you make the frosting.
In a medium sized bowl, beat all ingredients for the frosting using a hand mixer until thick and fluffy. Remove cakes from the freezer and pop out from mini muffin tins (you may need to use a small butter knife to loosen them a bit). Pipe (or spoon or swirl) frosting onto the chilled cakes, then adorn with toasted coconut flakes, chopped nuts, or bee pollen for crunch and prettiness. Refrigerate cakes until ready to serve.