When my niece, Laney, was a baby, one of the first things I bought for her was a little apron. I had this fantasy that someday in the near future, we’d spend an idyllic afternoon together, with her standing on the little red chair at the kitchen counter, keeping me company while “we” baked together. I’d give her a whisk and an empty mixing bowl. Maybe we’d sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” together.

Last week, my sister mentioned that Laney was big enough to wear her apron now. She’s two.

“Why don’t we make some cupcakes together the next time I come up?” I asked. “I’ve got this carrot cupcake recipe that’s really, really good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’ll be fun.”

“Laney will love it, but don’t forget what a 2-year old is, Bec.”

“What’s that?”

“A 2-year old is a dictator without an army.”

Everything started out fine.

I’d had enough sense to measure and pack up most of the ingredients at home, so I figured we’d skate through the process. I’d already combined the dry ingredients, grated the carrots and fresh ginger, and poured the oil and buttermilk into separate containers. I’d even remembered the cupcake wrappers.

I called my sister on the way there and said, “I really think we’ll have these cupcakes in, out and decorated in less than an hour.”

She laughed at me.

If you ever decide to bake cupcakes with a 2-year-old, you should know that you can never, never, never turn your back. Not for a second.

Don’t even blink.

It’s easy to be optimistic when you see your adorable niece in her little apron, with her hair pulled back in a clippy. And that sunshine smile she gives you when you hand her a big empty bowl and a wooden spoon can lull you into thinking there’s nothing to fear and that your sister is stretching it with this “dictator” business. How dare she.

But once I moved Laney’s little red chair into the kitchen and started unloading the ingredients for our cupcakes, things started getting real.

I turned my back to turn on the oven. She poured a few cups of the flour onto the stove.

I ran to the refrigerator to grab the eggs. She pressed her fingers into the softened butter and started wriggling them in the buttermilk.

I tossed the eggshells in the trash. She’d decided to add salt to the batter.

A lot of salt.

My first instinct was to snatch the bowl away, which earned me a rage-filled “NoooooOOOooooo!” that’s still echoing through the halls of Hell. Screamed with the passion of someone who doesn’t know any good cuss words yet.

I turned to face my accuser, and that’s when I noticed she was standing on that little red chair, mad as hell, wearing just a t-shirt and that apron. Sometime while we were cooking, she’d ditched her diaper.

The Little Dictator had become The Bare-Assed Contessa.

I laughed, and she laughed because I was laughing.

“Twinkle Star, Bec?”

“You want to sing, Laney? Are we done making cupcakes?”

“Yes, Twinkle Star.”

When I got home, I made a second batch of Carrot-Ginger Cupcakes with Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting. They’re cute and delicious – and they actually made it into the oven. But they aren’t nearly as perfect as that first batch.

Sometimes, the best times in the kitchen happen when you don’t cook anything at all.

Carrot-Ginger Cupcakes 

These cupcakes can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Adapted from “Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook”

Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup (3 ounces) pecan halves
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pound large carrots, peeled
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. Spread pecans on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  4. Using the smallest holes of a box grater, grate carrots.
  5. Place grated carrots, eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, sugar, vegetable oil and ginger in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
  6. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the carrot mixture until combined.
  7. Chop pecans finely, and fold them into the batter.
  8. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
  9. Transfer pans to a wire rack. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans, and place them back on the wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Spread tops with Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting.

Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough for 2 dozen cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • Pinch of salt
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add cream cheese, and beat until combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, and beat 5 minutes.