Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

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Fall is one of my favorite seasons, for a number of reasons – pumpkin lattes, apple fritters, roasted butternut squash, cute boots. But one big one…FOOTBALL!!!

The NFL ushered in week 1 with the usual pomp and circumstance, complete with surprise endings, underdog teams showing some promise, and Carrie Underwood taking the place of Faith with the Sunday Night theme song (sorry girl looked like your time was up).

For those like-minded football fans, Sundays are basically when you don’t have to think about anything. Your day is already booked from 1 pm onward and forget about clothing decisions, because you are sporting your respective team’s jersey all day long.

Walking down the street to the bar to meet up with friends, you are used to the occasional glares from opposing fans, but you march right on. Because after all, your team needs you rooting for them! (Or at least we all would like to think so…)

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Only I would bring a piping bag to the tailgate…

Before hitting up the NFL games, on Saturday I went to the Maryland vs Old Dominion University football game over at College Park, MD. Now for starters, I’m from Connecticut and a UCONN fan (go huskies) but, as a sports enthusiast I do enjoy just going and watching sports in general. On top of which, my friend who is a HUGE Maryland fan (Alyson) has family members who throw a massively awesome tailgate.

And this year was no exception, with a Mexican fiesta of fajitas, all the fixings, chips and dip, and a table full of desserts. We were assigned to help out with desserts and in honor of one of the tailgating hosts birthdays, I whipped up her favorite dessert – carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

And for an extra flair of spirit, I put red food coloring in the cream cheese frosting to give her some ‘Maryland’ cupcake pride. The cupcakes were a hit and thankfully for the group I was with, Maryland was victorious that day (47-10). I wish I could say the same for my NFL team, who has some work to do ahead of their next game. Oh vay!

At least there are 15 more weeks of the regular season left for them to play catch up …

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Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Recipe from Real Simple
Makes 12 Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 large egg
3/4 pound carrots, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)

For the frosting:
8 ounces bar cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch table salt or fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

To make the cupcakes: Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven, tossing once, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg in a large bowl; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, oil, and egg; fold in the carrots and ½ cup of the pecans. Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and mix until just combined and evenly moistened (do not over mix).

Divide the batter among the muffin cups and bake, rotating once, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, beating until smooth. Refrigerate the frosting until slightly stiffened, 20 to 30 minutes.

Frost the cupcakes, dividing the frosting evenly (I used a piping bag to make some decorative swirling on top, but feel free to spread with a knife too), and top with the remaining ½ cup of pecans. (I forgot the pecans on the way to the field so you will notice mine do not have them on top, but do put them on there !)

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