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Recipe: Spring-themed carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting -- and Peeps!

We've got a roster of gatherings this weekend that includes baby showers, birthday parties and Easter. Charged with bringing something to each, we contemplated just phoning in a beverage pairing -- until an urge to get into the kitchen overcame us.

So instead, we baked carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and since we have a guilty fetish for Peeps, we adorned our treats with a full-blown Easter scene. If you're not into the accoutrements, though, this was still probably the best carrot cake we've ever pulled out of the oven. Moist, bursting with cinnamon and textured with carrots, it played well with the tart bite of cream cheese frosting on top.

We adapted our recipe from a Martha Stewart recipe, adding spices, subtracting walnuts and reducing the quantity of carrots. And after the first batch, we adjusted our preparation and baking temperatures to prevent the cakes from falling in the center. We also used our own cream cheese frosting recipe, cut with butter to reduce the density and sour note.

Here's the recipe: Ingredients Cakes 1 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup vegetable oil 2 tablespoons orange juice 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 cup shredded carrots 1/3 cup shredded coconut

Cream cheese frosting 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 cup of whole milk (plus more to adjust consistency) 1 pound bag powdered sugar (plus more to adjust consistency)

Decorations Bunny Peeps Speckled jelly beans Shredded coconut, dyed green by combining with a couple of drops of food coloring in a zip lock bag and shaking thoroughly

Directions Cakes 1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a bowl, combine sugar, vegetable oil, orange juice, vanilla extract and eggs.

3. Sift together baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, salt and flour. Add to bowl in three parts, mixing each part until combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl after each mix.

4. Stir in carrots and coconut.

5. Spoon batter into cups until each cup is 2/3 full (don't overfill).

6. Bake until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 12 minutes.

7. Remove from tins immediately to prevent sticking; cool before icing.

Cream cheese frosting 1. Place cream cheese and butter in electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and whip on high for a minute or two. Make sure to scrape down sides of bowl a few times during this process.

2. Add vanilla and milk and mix to incorporate.

3. Slowly add powdered sugar until you've reached desired consistency. It should be thick enough to pipe and hold decorations. When you turn off the mixer, the frosting should remain in place and shouldn't fall. If you make the frosting too thick, adjust by adding more milk.

We dyed the frosting green and piped it onto the cupcakes, stuck a Peep bunny (because it's carrot cake, get it?) in the center, sprinkled the things with coconut and added a couple of jelly beans.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

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