Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nanea's Carrot and Pineapple Muffins

A World War II era favorite with a tropical twist!

Everyone, meet Nanea Mitchell! She’s American Girl’s newest historical character, and comes from 1941 Honolulu, Hawaii. I plowed through her books as soon as I had them out of the box, and can safely say as someone who specializes in Pacific War history, they are pretty darn great. Besides covering the attack on Pearl Harbor and the resulting changes in Hawaii very well as well as age appropriately, Kirby Larson has done an exceptional job showing how 1941 Hawaii was an extremely diverse community where neighbors participated in cultural exchange every single day. 

Often involving food. Lots and lots of food. 

Picking what Nanea’s first recipe on the blog should be was a tough one, but these muffins are a tasty snack for just about any time of day, even if I can’t exactly in good faith call these health foods.

Now, there are a couple challenges in recreating Hawaiian cuisine when you live across an ocean and a continent from the islands. Namely, I don’t exactly have easy access to tropical fruit the same way Nanea and her family would have, and a lot of “Hawaiian” recipes you can find online or even in cookbooks basically mean someone threw pineapple into a fruit salad and now it’s Hawaiian. Although the pineapple has been an important part of Hawaii’s agricultural industry since it was introduced to the islands in 1813, adding pineapple to something doesn’t make a dish authentically Hawaiian. 

Now that we’re clear on that, let me explain how I picked these muffins as the first recipe to spotlight for Nanea. 

I was literally salivating while reading parts of Nanea’s series because it seems like her mom is always baking some delicious treat for her family, neighbors, or disaster relief volunteers. Pineapple cake, coconut cake, even my grandma’s Elevator Lady Spice Cookies got a mention! Originally, I really wanted to try my hand at making guava bread, a treat that comes up a few times in Nanea’s books, but I can’t find any guavas, guava juice, or guava nectar in my grocery store. I did find a baking mix I can order from Hawaii, but that’s going to take a while to get to me, so we’re going to have to wait for a bit. I found a few recipes for pineapple cake, which Mrs. Mitchell brings to help bribe a guard after Nanea’s best friend’s dad is taken away as a potential enemy alien, but I couldn’t find much evidence for those being authentic and decided to move on until I could get a better one. 

Which brings me to the recipe I did choose. I’ve been very lucky to visit Hawaii a few times because my aunt and uncle used to and currently live there, as my uncle is in the Navy and has been stationed there several times. One of my favorite restaurants we ate at served carrot muffins as part of their buffet and salad bar, and I often ate way too many of them before my main course arrived. Carrot cake and muffins is also usually associated with World War II, as carrots became a popular ingredient in many baked goods. Carrot cake or muffins wasn’t invented in or because of World War II, but they became more popular as people tried to stretch their sugar ration and put vegetables from their victory gardens to good use. 

This recipe uses canned pineapple and macadamia nuts as well, and comes from a realty group in Hawaii with a passion for local recipes. Sort of an odd combination, but who am I to judge? 

You can find the recipe on, and although it’s pretty time consuming, I think the end product was totally worth the effort. 

To start, combine your dry ingredients in a bowl: 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Next, wet ingredients: 2 1/2 cups of grated carrots, 1 8 oz can of crushed pineapple (make sure the juice is all drained out!), 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar, 1 cup of canola oil, 3 eggs, and 1/2 cup of chopped mac nuts. 

I have two pieces of bad news here: grating the carrots definitely slows you down a bit, so make sure to factor that in for time, and the grocery stores near me either were all out of or straight up don’t carry macadamia nuts. Now I’m not sure if this is something they’d consider a seasonal item, since people do associate mac nuts with Hawaii and therefore summer, which is winding down, or if I’m really living in a macadamia nut desert. Either way, I checked five different stores in my neighborhood, so I think my next stop is going to be Amazon and see what they can do for me. 

All your wet ingredients get mixed together as you’d expect.

The dry ingredients can be dumped in all at once, and you’re left with a pretty watery batter. I decided to use cupcake liners to bake these because I was planning on bringing in the results into work, and I’ve had some bad experience with my silicone pan tearing more delicate cupcakes or muffins before.

Now, technically the recipe I was working with gives baking instructions for a cake, not cupcakes or muffins, so I baked my muffins for about fifteen minutes at 325 degrees just to make sure they didn’t burn. They were still pretty wet in the center, so I upped the temperature to 350 degrees and let them bake for another 5 to 8 minutes to make sure they were cooked all the way through.

They didn’t dome up the way other cupcakes or muffins do, but that’s pretty much to be expected with carrot cake, and they still looked (and smelled!) really nice.

The batter made just enough for two dozen muffins, just the right amount for bringing in to share with your coworkers… or for a fun Nanea inspired brunch!

The muffins – which I’m really calling muffins only because of my affection for the muffins I ate in Hawaii – were extremely delicate, so I probably should start calling them cupcakes. I have to admit, I didn’t really taste the pineapple at all in them, although the chunks were definitely visible in the finished product. Still, they were extremely flavorful and just the right size to be inhaled before you’ve really realized what you’ve done. If you’re looking for a good intro recipe to Hawaiian baked goods, you could definitely consider this a solid contender! 

Nanea will be available online and at American Girl Place on or around August 21, as will her books. I would really recommend giving her stories a read even if you’re not planning on buying the doll herself. They do a great job of showing how coming together as a community and supporting our friends and neighbors, no matter what they look like or where they’re from, is the best way to confront change and tragedy. That feels like a lesson a lot of people need a reminder of, and Nanea is a great heroine for young girls who want to make a difference in their own communities. 

Plus, the discussion of food really will leave your mouth watering. I promise I’ll do my best to highlight some of those stand out dishes here whenever I get a chance to!

Until then, I hope you enjoyed these cupcakes!


  1. Yay, Hawaiian recipes! While I can think of a few dishes that should be easy to do on the US mainland, I doubt Nanea ate them during her books. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

    1. The problem is with my grocery stores, not necessarily being on the mainland. Anything that's remotely "exotic" is really difficult to find in my neighborhood, and the grocery store closest to me was out of cornmeal for a month. :\ Since I don't have a car and am on a fixed budget, it's a lot harder to hunt down specific ingredients.

      For example, I'd love to do spam musubi because that's a dish that might or might not have gotten its start during World War II, but I'd like to make it with sushi rice because that's as its intended and generally works better than regular white rice. None of the stores near me seem to carry sushi rice and until my free metro pass kicks back in, I don't really have the budget to hunt around downtown looking for it. I'm hoping once that happens I'll have more flexibility in where I can look for stuff, although with school starting up I'll also be running into problems with timing... Can you tell I'm excited for grad school to be over?

  2. Check the nut section at your nearest Walgreens, they have Macadamias.

    1. We don't have a Walgreens in my neighborhood unfortunately. :( Again, once my metro pass comes back on it'll be easier to travel around. I just really don't have the funds to go on a potential goose chase for ingredients right now.

  3. Welcome Nanea! It's great to have a new AG doll from that part of the world and that era.

    Perhaps a trip to a proper grocery store should be part of our visit when your brother moves to town.