Everyone has their own idea about what makes a good cake. Some like theirs light and airy, others like it dense and heavy. Some like it super-moist and tender, and others may like it drier and course. Some like chocolate cake, vanilla cake, bundt cake, or funfetti cake. Others don’t care about the cake and it’s all about the frosting.
My dad’s favorite cake is carrot cake and it has been my mission to make the BEST carrot cake in the entire world for him. And well, for me too.
Confession: I like carrot cake more than I like funfetti!
My personal preference is to have a cake that is as moist as possible. A carrot cake that is full of flavor and will melt in your mouth, without being mushy. And PS: the word “moist” should not send you running for the hills. It’s just a word!
So how can you achieve a moist cake? Baking science ahead. #nerdalert
There are four main ingredients in cake recipes: sugar, flour, eggs, and fat (in the form of oil, shortening, or butter). These four ingredients have different purposes and effects on how your cake will bake, its texture, and how it will taste.
The structure of your cake is held together with the eggs and flour. The flavor of your cake comes from the sugar and the fat. The more sugar and fat you have in your cake, the more moist the cake will be. However, do not go assuming that simply adding more sugar and more fat to your batter will produce a moist cake. You have to maintain an equal amount of structure to hold up to the extra moisture you’re adding in. Adding too much moisture and too little structure and you’ll end up with a cake that won’t set.
Baking a cake surely is a science – and also a mathematical equation of sorts. Thankfully, I’ve found the perfectly balanced ratio of moisture and structure to produce one HECK of a moist carrot cake.
Be warned: you’re going to fall in love with this cake.
You’re going to start with 1 cup of light brown sugar (or dark) and 3/4 cup of vegetable oil. This carrot cake, my friends, is not a health food. Although, sometimes I like to convince myself otherwise since I am eating my veggies.
I tried this carrot cake once before a few weeks ago using white sugar. There was nothing wrong using white sugar, but in my cookie baking experiences, I have learned that brown sugar yields a much softer and more moist product than white sugar does. It provides the baked good with more body of flavor as well. Plus, I love the taste of brown sugar/molasses. Brown sugar is a winner today – light brown or dark brown will do. I used light brown because that is what I had on hand.
The fat used in this recipe is oil, not butter. I have learned that oil produces a much softer, more moist cake crumb than butter would. However, I adore the taste of butter so I still like to use it in my cake/cupcake recipes (depending on the other ingredients in said recipe). With so much flavor from the spices, frosting, brown sugar, and sweet carrots – I knew I wouldn’t miss the taste of butter.
Along with the oil, I added some greek yogurt. Yogurt is a fantastic addition to cakes or cupcakes because it adds even MORE moisture to your finished baked product. You may use regular or greek yogurt here – vanilla or plain – nonfat or lowfat. Whichever is most convenient for you.
So we have 3 moisture-inducing ingredients so far (1) brown sugar, (2) oil, and (3) yogurt. Beat these all together with 3 eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. This cake uses as many eggs as my ultra-fudgy brownies. You can imagine how dense and perfect this cake is!
What’s next? The dry ingredients: 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 2 heaping teaspoons of cinnamon (LOVE the stuff), 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. The first time I made this cake, I used more flour. I decided to try the cake again using as little flour as possible that I could get away with and still have the cake’s structure set in the oven. 2 cups is the magic number. You may use a mixture of whole wheat and all-purpose flour, but the cake’s texture may not be as soft as mine. I suggest using strictly all-purpose.
The cinnamon and nutmeg are crucial to the cake’s taste. Without an overpowering flavor like chocolate or pumpkin, for example, you really need those spices to give the cake that trademark “spice” taste that carrot cake has.
Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients with a whisk or spatula, trying hard not to overmix the batter. Let’s see, what’s next? Ahhh the carrots. Let’s not forget those babies. Literally. I used baby carrots here. I grated my own baby carrots – I used a little less than one 14 oz package to get the 2 cups of shredded baby carrots. I used baby carrots only because they are more wet than regular carrots. Feel free to use regular carrots since grating such small baby carrots may not be tolerated by many! It wasn’t so bad though, I promise.
While grating, make sure the carrot shreds/pieces are extra fine. You don’t want huge chunks of carrots in your soft piece of cake. The finely shredded carrots soften inside the batter as the cake bakes, making the cake even more soft and moist. So that is 4 moistening agents so far in this recipe! Have I convinced you yet?
A good thing to know about my recipe: the cake does not taste like carrots. Carrots, a sweeter vegetable, act more as a sweetener in this recipe than a flavoring agent. The brown sugar and spices mask the flavor of an actual carrot.
Fold the carrot shreds into the batter with a large spatula – no electric mixer is needed for this addition. I added pecans to the cake batter because I cannot imagine carrot cake without them! I used 3/4 cup of pecan pieces. You could even add raisins as well, another traditional addition to carrot cake. I was all out of raisins, so I only used pecans. The pecans do not stay crunchy inside the baked cake – they soften up, but still provide a nice texture against the cake’s crumb.
Pour the cake into a round 9 or 10 inch springform pan. I found baking the cake in a springform pan, rather than a regular circle of square baking pan was much easier. I highly recommend a spring form pan for this recipe. Bake the cake at 350F for 32-38 minutes.
Wasn’t that easy? Trust me, this cake is SUCH a breeze to make!
Now what would carrot cake be without the iconic cream cheese frosting swirled on top?
I went a little heavy handed on the cream cheese frosting because I love it so much paired with the spice carrot cake. Even though I adore frosting so much, this is the kind of cake that probably wouldn’t even need it. I can’t believe I’m saying that! But honestly, this cake is so flavorful and moist on its own that it doesn’t even need frosting.
But let’s be serious. Frosting and I are two peas in a pod. It’s actually quite easy to make: 8 ounces of softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup of softened butter, 2-2.5 cups of powdered sugar, 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. I strongly urge you to use heavy cream here instead of milk or half-and-half – it will produce the thickest and creamiest frosting ever!
Simply beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy, slowly add 2 cups of powdered sugar, then the heavy cream, and vanilla. If you’d like a thicker frosting, add more powdered sugar. Be sure to add some salt if you use more sugar, to cut the added sweetness. I always sprinkle a bit of salt into my frosting recipes.
Frosting the cake is a… piece of cake. Just plop it onto the center of the cake and swirl it around. There is a lot of frosting, so don’t be shy about layering it on nice and thick. I opted out of frosting the sides of the cake because it is SO much easier to just frost the top. Save yourself the time! I decorated mine with some pecans, but feel free to use coconut, raisins, or even more shredded carrots. Decorating the cake is almost as fun as eating it. *Almost.
Carrot cake, like banana bread, tastes best the next day after the flavors have settled and have gotten friendly with one another. It is also more moist on the 2nd day as well. Sorry for saying moist so much in this post, but I truly am trying to get a point across!
This is truly the best carrot cake that I’ve ever had. The frosting doesn’t taste fake like I’ve had in bakeries before. The cake doesn’t necessarily taste heavy either; it is just very dense, like the best piece of banana bread you’ve ever had. The sweet spice cake combined with the tangy cream cheese frosting is out of this world.
Each bite will melt in your mouth and I was sad to see the cake end!
And again… don’t worry! You will not feel like you’re eating vegetables.
Now if someone could make carrots taste like cake, life would be perfect.
Makes 8-10 slices. Carrot cake tastes best the next day after the flavors have settled and have gotten friendly with one another. It is also more moist on the 2nd day as well. Cake remains fresh and moist at room temperature, covered, for up to 6 days.
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed (or dark brown sugar)
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil (or melted coconut oil, or canola oil)
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt (or regular yogurt, plain or vanilla)
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups very finey grated baby carrots (or regular carrots)
- 3/4 cup pecan pieces
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2-2.5 cups powdered (confectioners') sugar
- 2 Tablespoons heavy cream (see note for substitutions)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoons salt, or as needed
- Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Spray 9 or 10inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. I do not recommend a regular circle or square pan, as the cake may rise above. Set aside.
- Set out the cream cheese for the frosting so it may soften as you make the cake batter.
- Make the carrot cake: In a large bowl with a handheld or stand mixer on medium speed, combine the brown sugar and oil. Beat in the yogurt until fully combined - about 60 seconds. Mixture will be gritty and thick. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. With a spatula, manually stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and all flour pockets are gone - do not overmix. Fold in the finely shredded carrots and pecan pieces. Pour into prepared springform pan.
- Bake cake for 32-38 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overbake, which will dry out cake. Check the cake at 30 minutes, then again at 32. My cake took exactly 34 minutes. Allow cake to cool completely before frosting.
- Make the frosting: beat the softened cream cheese and butter together on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until soft, creamy, and combined thoroughly. Add 2 cups of powdered sugar and beat until thick and combined. Add 2 Tablespoons heavy cream and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for 2 more minutes. Add more powdered sugar until desired thickness is reached. Add salt to taste. I used 1/8 teaspoon to cut the sweetness.
*I strongly suggest using heavy cream in the cream cheese frosting recipe. Using milk or half-and-half will produce a less creamy and thinner frosting.
*If you'd like to add raisins to the batter, I suggest using 2/3 cup of raisins and 2/3 cup of chopped pecans. If you'd like to only use raisins, I suggest 3/4 cup of raisins.
Recipe source: sallysbakingaddiction.com
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