Favorite Carrot CupcakesCupcakes?  For Easter?  Have I lost my mind?

I know.  We’re all in the midst of some sort of moral dilemma at this time of year — much like Halloween, and Valentine’s Day, and all the other holidays and special occasions that appear to be sprinkled rather liberally throughout our lives, Easter brings up one of those “Do I do the candy, or do I not do the candy?” quandaries.  Certainly you don’t HAVE to do the candy, and many people don’t.

I’ve disclosed before that we happily do the candy, and if I’m honest, I really look forward to it.  Easter feels different to me than other candy holidays, for a few reasons: 1) I’m in control of the candy for my kids, not left to the mercy of trick-or-treating, class parties, and so on; 2) The candy’s a fun little tradition, but not the main focus of the day; and 3) Easter is a low-expectation event for the kids — they are happy with a few sweets that they’ll enjoy over the course of a couple of days, and then they move on.  It’s sort of straightforward and old-fashioned in its simplicity, the way I imagine most candy holidays started, before they grew well out of proportion.

So on Easter, we fill baskets with a nice little chocolate bunny or two, a book for each kid, and some other fun little trinket, and that’s it.  The day’s real highlights lie in the services we share with our church community and the big, fancy meal we eat together at a table that’s nicely laid (for a change).  While we could end that meal with candy from the Easter baskets, we tend not to; the kids are happy to let the candy wait for another day, in favor of enjoying a beautiful dessert that’s a notch or two more special than anything I’d offer up on the usual weekend.

Since my boys are still on the young side, nothing — truly, nothing — feels more like a special dessert than a cupcake.  And being that we’re talking about Easter time, the idea of a carrot cupcake amuses them.  I’m finicky about carrot cake; usually I find it too dense, too greasy, and not quite balanced in its flavors.  But we’ve come up with a sweet, satisfying, not-too-cloying version that hits all the right notes.  Our version uses plenty of raisins and substitutes chopped pecans for the standard walnuts.  Maple syrup gives sweetness and depth, while helping to reduce the overall sugar — because make no mistake about it, once you’ve iced these cupcakes, they’re a pretty sugary confection.   The real winning touch for me, though, is the addition of orange zest to the cream cheese icing; the orange, played against the nuts, raisins, carrots, and spice of the cake, makes these carrot cupcakes fresher and more special than their run-of-the-mill counterparts.  Light, moist, fluffy, and full of the flavors of citrus and spice, these cupcakes are the perfect way to celebrate Easter — but if Easter’s not your thing, then they’re the perfect way to celebrate Spring.