2cupspacked coarsely grated carrotsfrom about 9 ounces or 4 medium carrots
1/4cupcreamy almond butter or cashew butterthe drippy, natural kind**
1/2cup plus 2 tablespoonsunsweetened almond milk or milk of choice
1teaspoonpure vanilla extract
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
4ouncesreduced-fat cream cheesesoftened to room temperature
3/4cuppowdered sugarsifted if lumpy
1/2teaspoonpure vanilla extract
1/2teaspoonfinely grated lemon or orange zestoptional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Toast them in the oven until crisp and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Set a timer and do not walk away from the nuts during the last few minutes of baking (this is when nuts love to burn). Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop. Set aside 1/4 cup for the muffin batter. Finely chop the remaining nuts and save for sprinkling on top.
Increase the oven heat to 400 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Add the carrots, golden raisins, and reserved 1/4 cup chopped nuts. With a spoon or flexible spatula, gently fold to combine.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the almond butter, applesauce, and honey until smooth. Whisk in the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Add to the carrot and flour mixture. With a wooden spoon or spatula, fold and stir very gently by hand, stopping as soon as the flour disappears.
Coat a standard 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. Fill each about three-quarters of the way with batter. (If you have some extra batter, resist the urge to overfill the muffin cups; you can bake the extra as soon as the first batch is out). Bake the muffins for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the muffins are domed, light golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then gently remove them from the pan and place them on the rack to cool completely (do not leave the muffins in the pan for longer or they can become too soggy as they start to steam).
For the cream cheese frosting: In a medium mixing bowl, place the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest (if using). With an electric mixer on low speed, beat until the powdered sugar begins to incorporate, then increase the heat to medium and continue to beat until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled muffins and sprinkle with the remaining finely chopped walnuts.
*You can use regular whole wheat flour, but the wheat will have a more pronounced taste than white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour.
**You can use peanut butter as well, though the flavor will be different. I recommend this recipe with a drippy, natural-style nut butter, as that will give the muffins the right consistency, though a shelf-stable almond butter I tested still yielded good results.