Fluffy and moist Banana Cupcakes topped with a simple vanilla buttercream and mouthwatering (and optional) caramel pecans! These dairy-free cupcakes can easily be made vegan or gluten-free, and if you like banana bread then you will love these!
Banana Cupcakes with Dairy-Free Vanilla Frosting
Who doesn’t love a fresh piece of banana bread? Top that with a delicious buttercream frosting and portion it into individual little cakes? Yes, please! These banana cupcakes are the perfect way to utilize your browning bananas, and they’re made extra special with the frosting and caramel pecans.
If you’ve made banana bread before, then you’ll find this recipe to be very similar. The dairy-free frosting comes together like any other American buttercream – you’ll beat the plant butter with vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and plant milk. I promise it’s very simple!
How to make the caramel pecans:
For the caramel pecans, you’ll whip up a simple dairy-free caramel by boiling water and sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. You’ll want to use a medium heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and once the water and sugar are in your pot, you don’t want to stir it or touch it at all (this prevents unwanted crystals from forming).
Once the water and sugar caramelize to a deep amber color, you’ll remove your pot from the heat and immediately (and slowly) pour in the coconut cream. I like to shake my can of coconut cream and have it all measured out and ready to go.
Then you’ll put the caramel back on the heat and bring the temperature up to between 235°F and 245°F (soft ball stage) – this will make the caramel set to a chewy texture. Immediately toss your pecans in the caramel and then lay them out on a parchment lined baking sheet to set. Do your best to separate the individual pecans while the caramel is still hot, so separate them right away – I like to use a fork (don’t touch the hot caramel!). The caramel will cool/set quickly, so your pecans will be set by the time you’re ready to frost your cupcakes.
Some of the ingredients + substitutions for these Banana Cupcakes:
All-purpose flour can be replaced with a GF all-purpose blend. For extra fluffy cupcakes, you can use 3/4 cup AP flour + 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (one of my faves!).
Cinnamon adds depth to these cupcakes and I don’t recommend skipping it! I like to use Saigon cinnamon.
Sugar adds necessary sweetness. You can use coconut sugar, raw cane sugar, or white granulated (cane) sugar.
Eggs add fluff to these cupcakes. For vegan or eggless cupcakes, you can use 2 flax eggs instead. Mix 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal with 6 Tbsp warm water; mix and allow to thicken for 5 minutes.
Coconut cream (for the caramel pecans) is my favorite dairy-free milk for caramel. If you don’t follow a DF diet, you can use regular cream.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or cane sugar)
- 2 large eggs, room temp
- 1/4 cup plant-based milk
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 heaping cup mashed banana (3-4 medium bananas)
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) plant-based butter, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 4-5 Tbsp plant-based milk
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup coconut cream (from a shaken can)
- 1 cup whole pecans
Make the cupcakes:
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and prepare a 12-count muffin pan with cupcake liners. Bring your eggs to room temperature by placing them in a glass of warm water for around 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut sugar and eggs. Whisk in the milk, oil, vanilla, and mashed banana. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and gently mix until no flour pockets remain.
- Fill the cupcake liners/wells 3/4 full with the batter. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out with a few crumbs.
- Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then carefully pull them out and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the caramel pecans (optional):
- Prepare your coconut cream by shaking the can or (if solid) heating it until it's liquid. Measure out the coconut cream and set it up next to a folded dish towel/hot pad holder and wooden spoon (to mix the hot caramel).
- Set up a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside (to cool the caramel pecans later).
- In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar and water, swirling gently until the sugar is soaked. Bring the mixture to a boil and heat until it reaches a deep amber color - this can take up to 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on the sugar because once it begins to darken, it cooks quickly and can easily burn. Do not, at any point, stir or agitate the sugar while it's boiling (this prevents crystals from forming).
- Immediately remove from the heat and place on your folded towel. Slowly pour the coconut cream into the mixture, stirring gently as your pour. Be careful as the hot caramel will bubble up!
- Once the coconut cream is mixed in, place the caramel back on the burner and bring to a boil, using a candy thermometer to monitor the heat. Bring to the soft ball stage, 235°F to 245°F, and then immediately remove from the heat.
- Add the whole pecans and gently toss in the caramel. Spoon them onto your parchment-lined baking sheet and use a fork to separate the pecans. Allow the pecans to set.
Once the cupcakes are cool, make the frosting:
- In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and vanilla extract. Beat in the powdered sugar. Beat in 3 Tbsp of the milk until combined.
- Continue adding milk by the teaspoon until your frosting reaches a smooth, pipe-able, and stiff consistency. I like to take a knife or icing spatula and swirl the frosting in the bowl to test the consistency. If you're able to create swirls that stay in place, then your frosting should be good to go. If your frosting isn't stiff enough, add a little more powdered sugar, or add a little more milk if you can't easily swirl it.
- Pipe or spread the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes and immediately top with the caramel pecans or other toppings. I recommend frosting and decorating these cupcakes the day you plan to serve/eat them.
- Store leftover cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature.
- For a stiffer frosting, replace 2 Tbsp of the butter with vegetable shortening
- For less frosting, cut the recipe by 1/3: 1 stick butter + 3 cups powdered sugar + 1 tsp vanilla extract + 3-4 Tbsp plant-based milk
- For vegan cupcakes, use flax eggs in place of eggs. Mix 2 Tbsp flaxseed meal with 6 Tbsp warm water; mix and allow to thicken for 5 minutes
- For gluten-free cupcakes, replace the all-purpose flour with a GF all-purpose blend