Catching everyone by surprise, the wild raspberries are early bloomers this year, springing forth in clusters of ruby red jewels, dripping from vines heavy with their bounty. There’s not a moment to lose when it’s first come, first serve, and the birds tend to have a more flexible schedule for picking. Ready or not, here I come, but this year has already been somewhat of a disappointment. With my dad overseas on work, it’s not nearly such a joyous event to trudge out into the thorns and mosquitoes in search of a few small berries. Needless to say, yields have suffered tremendously as well, and there’s no chance that I’ll even come close to our record.
But, as they say, the show must go on, and it would be a shame to let all of that edible plunder out there go to waste. Doing my best to reach the farthest branches the treasure deeply buried within the wilderness of suburban Connecticut, I donned long sleeves and pants, braving the oppressive heat, and gave it my all. Before long, a neat little pile of still-warm raspberries sat heaped in my basket. Mother nature waits for no one, so it was a relief to have made it to my favorite picking spot seemingly just in time. All was right with the world again.
Lulled into a false sense of safety, despite being temporarily jolted into high alert after shaking a tennis ball-sized beetle off my hand, I was feeling pretty good about this first solo venture. Moving a bit further into the woods, I was now venturing into unknown territory… And that’s when the ground went out beneath me.
Suddenly I was falling, down, down, down, shockingly far into the earth. When I finally got my footing again, my painstakingly gathered berries were scattered and smashed all over the moldy forest floor, and I was literally knee-deep in some mysterious hole! Completely covered with vines, like some fiendish trap, I hadn’t seen any hint or warning of what I was stepping into, despite having checked my footing beforehand. Unhurt but as crushed as those wasted berries, the fruits of my labor sent to rot, I quickly pulled myself up and high-tailed it out of there. There’s no telling what sort of creature (or monster, perhaps) created a trench of such a size, but let’s just say it was a rabbit, for comfort’s sake. Yes, a cute, fuzzy rabbit that certainly would not have eaten me. I feel much better about that.
Returning on a separate occasion to gather a conservative punnet of raspberries, carefully staying far away from the booby-trap hidden within the woods, I still couldn’t stop thinking about that bizarre rabbit hole. Even after finally securing my berries and returning home, the image of perhaps a giant rabbit the size of an SUV danced through my mind… Or maybe they had mistaken me for Alice, perhaps. So I did the only logical thing I could think of, as an offering of sorts to this mystical and mysterious rabbit: Make carrot cake.
That would be raspberry carrot cake, of course! Dotted with tiny, crunchy clusters of wild berries, it’s more or less a standard carrot cake, but I felt compelled to share the recipe. After bringing a batch to both friends and family, at different events, I’ve been blown away by the rave reviews they received. My perpetually skeptical aunt was amazed that they were vegan, and even my grandma, a seasoned baker, seemed curious about the recipe. What really makes them special, however, is the frosting. Though I was planning to go the traditional cream cheese route, there was none at the grocery store to be found. Reaching instead for the sour cream, it was a happy accident that lead to perhaps the best frosting I’ve ever made, and a new personal favorite.
Light and fluffy, less heavy than a standard buttercream and yet more substantial than airy whipped cream, it’s the Goldilocks of frostings; Just right. Flecked with real vanilla bean, it’s delicately flavored and a treat for the eyes as well. Even if you don’t care for carrot cake, or have fears of a demonic bunny looming in your mind that must be assuaged, I insist that you still try the frosting. You don’t even have to go foraging in the woods for it.
Raspberry Carrot Cake
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Shredded Carrot
1 Cup Fresh Raspberries
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
Sour Cream Frosting
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature.
1/2 Cup Vegan “Sour Cream”
1/2 Vanilla Bean, Seeds Scraped
3 – 4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, spices, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed. Add in the shredded carrot and raspberries, and toss to coat in flour. Set aside.
Separately, whisk together the oil, non-dairy milk of choice, vinegar, and brown sugar. Once the sugar is more or less dissolved, pour the whole mixture into your bowl of dry ingredients. Stir gently with a wide spatula so as not to smash the berries, just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are just fine, as long as you don’t over-mix.
Evenly dose out the batter between your prepared muffin tins. These bake up to be fairly large cupcakes, so don’t be afraid to mound that batter up in the center. Bake for 26 – 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cupcake comes out dry. Let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting, first soften the margarine in the stand mixer by briefly beating it alone. Add in the “sour cream,” scrapped vanilla bean, and 2 cups of the confectioner’s sugar. Start the mixer on a low speed until the sugar is mostly incorporated, and then pause, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add in another cup of sugar. Start slowly again, and then once everything is assimilated, turn up the mixer to high and whip the frosting for about 4 minutes. Pause, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and if it is too loose for your liking, add the remaining cup of sugar. Get that final addition mixed in as well, and whip for another 4 – 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. The key to the texture is patience; You must allow a good amount of time for the mixer to work its magic. Once it’s at the consistency you desire, frost away!
Makes 12 Cupcakes