My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe.

Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting.

Sally's Baking Addiction | Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting!

Apple pie is my favorite dessert. This you already know. Coming in a very, very close second are other classic non-chocolate (I know) desserts like pineapple upside-down cake, oatmeal raisin cookies, key lime pie, and carrot cake. But in reality, they’re all my favorite. I can have, like, 10 favorites right? I know you understand the difficulty choosing a favorite dessert. Fellow bakeaholics, you just get me.

Today’s focus is carrot cake. Or should I say this weekend’s focus was carrot cake. In between a much needed wine tasting girls day (Chaddsford Winery if you’re in the Philly area– go to their wine & fondue tasting!) and a visit to NJ to see my friend’s new baby girl, I spent time in the kitchen perfecting this two layer beauty.

My Favorite Carrot Cake! Sally's Baking Addiction | Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting.

 I get my love for this cake from my dad. Our birthdays are 1 day apart and every year we have carrot cake instead of traditional birthday cake. Speaking of, I’m going to be 30 in about 2 months…

……..!

I can’t process that. Let’s change the subject.

I’ve been making this super-moist carrot cake for years and it wasn’t until this weekend that I decided to turn it into an even taller, even greater two layer phenomenon. Today’s layered carrot cake cake is, you guessed it, just as moist as my original. It’s loaded with that comforting spice flavor we all know and love. It’s soft, yet dense. Tender, yet mighty. Bursting with shredded carrots, toasted pecans, and luscious cream cheese frosting. It’s a total classic and spring isn’t complete without it.

Carrot Cake | Pecans

There are two greats when it comes to carrot cake: (1) Flavor and (2) Moisture. Let me go over each with you so you know what makes this carrot cake my favorite. Time for…

Food Science // Nerd Alert !

My carrot cake is a soft and dense cake whose flavor comes from brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and carrots. Brown sugar is key. I’ve come across a lot of carrot cake recipes that are sweetened with mostly granulated sugar. To me, that doesn’t do much for the cake at all besides sweeten it. Brown sugar not only sweetens the cake– it gives so much flavor and moisture. More bang for your buck, right? Ginger is a recent addition to my carrot cakes. I enjoyed a carrot cake a year or two ago that had a hint of ginger flavor and ever since then, I’ve loved the little ginger “zing!” in my homemade carrot cakes.

I add a little applesauce to enhance the warm flavors of brown sugar and cinnamon. Fresh and flavorful Diamond of California pecans round the whole cake out, making every bite of this sensational classic bursting with not only flavor, but texture as well. Plus, they’re the perfect decor! For a little extra jazz, I recommend toasting them. Yum. Soft cake, toasted pecans, smooooooth cream cheese frosting. Sometimes I add raisins to the cake– I’ll note that in the recipe below. Also in the notes is my suggestion for adding pineapple. I know a lot of you love that.

As far as moisture goes? This cake has a lot of it! I couldn’t eat carrot cake any other way. I prefer to use oil. When preparing cakes without other strong flavors such as yellow cake or vanilla cake, I like to use butter. But for cakes like chocolate and carrot cake that have so much flavor from other ingredients, I find flavorless oil is the right choice when it comes to fat. To prevent the cake from being too moist and tasting oily, I add some applesauce (also for flavor!). And the carrots. So much moisture there! Make sure you are using freshly grated carrots, not the pre-grated carrots from the store. Those are usually very dry in comparison. You’ll need about 4 large carrots for this recipe. And when you grate them, you’ll notice how wet they are. That is PRIME moisture for your baked cake.

My Favorite Carrot Cake! Sally's Baking Addiction | Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting.

The frosting? Well, that’s easy. It’s the same cream cheese frosting recipe I use for just about everything from red velvet cake to lemon cake. It’s like smooth, silky spreadable cheesecake. And there’s a ton of it on this cake.

One of the BEST parts about carrot cake is that it gets better and better over the hours, even after a day or two. The flavors have a chance to mingle, the moisture prevails, and the cream cheese frosting sets into the layers. This is the kind of moist cake crumb that sticks to the bottom of your fork as you take each bite.

And the slice that you never, ever want to end!

Carrot Cake Recipe from sallysbakingaddiction.com | Simple, moist, packed with flavor!

Wine, fondue, friends, babies, and my favorite carrot cake. Weekends don’t get much better than that right now. Happy spring baking!

Follow me on Instagram and tag #sallysbakingaddiction so I can see all the SBA recipes you make. 

My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe

Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting. Carrot cake's flavors develop after a day or two, making this the perfect make-ahead recipe.

Ingredients:

Cake

  • 3 cups (390g) Diamond of California chopped pecans or pecan pieces (1 cup for cake, 2 cups for garnish)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) packed light or dark brown sugar (I prefer dark)
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) vegetable or canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (133g) smooth unsweetened applesauce1
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (312g) all-purpose flour (measured correctly)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups (260g) grated carrots (about 4 large)

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 16 ounces (450g) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature2
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups (480g) confectioners' sugar
  • 2-3 Tablespoons (30-45ml) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F (149°C) degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the chopped pecans on the sheet and toast for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  2. Turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C). Spray two 9-inch cake pans* with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, eggs, applesauce, and vanilla together until combined and no brown sugar lumps remain. Set aside. In another large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves together until combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold the ingredients together until just combined. Then, fold in the carrots and 1 cup of the toasted pecans. The rest of the pecans are used in step 6.
  4. Pour/spoon the batter evenly into the two cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar and 2 Tablespoons of cream. Beat for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and 1 more Tablespoon cream if needed to thin out. Beat on high for 2 full minutes. Taste the frosting and add a pinch of salt if it is too sweet.
  6. Assemble and frost: First, using a large serrated knife, layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with frosting. Top with 2nd layer and spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Decorate the sides of the cake with the remaining toasted pecans. Slice and serve.
  7. Cover extras up tightly and store at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Unfrosted cake remains fresh covered tightly at room temperature for 3-4 days. Store frosted cake in the refrigerator for up to 7 days and allow to come to room temperature before serving.
  8. Make ahead tip: Prepare cakes and frosting 1 day in advance. Keep cakes at room temperature, covered tightly. Refrigerate prepared frosting in an airtight container until ready to use. Frosted or unfrosted cakes may be frozen up to 2 months, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature if desired before serving.

Recipe Notes:

  1. Instead of applesauce, use 3/4 cup crushed pineapple.
  2. Use brick-style cream cheese. Not cream cheese spread.
  3. If you'd like to make a 3 layer cake, pour the batter evenly into 3 pans and bake for around 20-24 minutes, give or take.

If you'd like to add raisins or coconut, reduce the pecans (or leave them out) to 1/2 cup. Then, add 1 cup of raisins or shredded coconut. Or you can leave the cake plain without any add-ins. Stick to around 1 - 1.5 cups total add-ins.

Try this recipe as cupcakes! You'll get around 2 dozen cupcakes. 18 minutes bake time at 350°F (177°C).

Did you make a recipe?

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© Sally’s Baking Addiction. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without prior permission. If you want to republish this recipe, please re-write the recipe in your own words, or link back to this post for the recipe.

Try my favorite Pineapple Upside-Down Cake next!

My absolute favorite Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe! Super-moist and loaded with flavor.

I’m working with Diamond of California to bring you this recipe.

Simple and moist two-layer carrot cake with pecans and cream cheese frosting! I love this recipe!

434 Comments

Comments

  1. Nancyg553 on October 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    Once again a perfect recipe. I have never made a carrot cake so this was my first. It was fantastic. The whole family loved it. I am so glad you suggested toasting the pecans. It made the cake extra special. Thanks again Sally for a perfect recipe. Your daughter is beautiful!

  2. Johanna on November 4, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Hello Sally,
    my frosting was super liquid. it was not a firm and frosting like texture. i dont know what i did wrong. even when i added more sugar the consistency didnt change. its the first time, that one of your recipes didnt work out and i’m really desperate.

    • Sally on November 4, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Are you using a block of cream cheese or the spread?

      • Johanna on November 6, 2017 at 9:54 am

        a block.



    • Michael on July 11, 2018 at 4:58 pm

      Buddy Valastro was on Rachel Ray and gave great advice on how he makes his cream cheese frosting. COLD butter and cream cheese is the key. Start with the butter, cold, mix a bit while slowly adding a little bit of powdered sugar to make a paste. You will eventually end up with all of your powdered sugar mixed with the butter. Then add the cream cheese, cold, and mix only until it is incorporated. Buddy equated it to stirring sugar into lemonade…you just want it combined. I can’t believe how easy it is compared to the way I used to make my cream cheese frosting. Good luck! 🙂

  3. Sarah on November 8, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Looking forward to making this cake for a baby shower! What’s the best/easiest way to grate the carrots? Can I use my food processor or do I need to do it by hand with a box grater? Thanks!

    • Sally on November 8, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Sarah! A food processor will just chop it up into small chunks, so I recommend a box grater.

      • Sarah on November 20, 2017 at 10:52 am

        This came out so great, thanks! I ended up using my bundt pan, and it took about an hour in the oven for a toothpick to come out clean.



  4. Kiran on December 8, 2017 at 3:29 am

    Hi….i have two questions…
    1… Can i half the recipe for smaller version of this cake???
    2…. Can i substitute honey for apple sauce???

    Planning to make it for cake testing session…

    Thanks alot…

    • Angie on May 11, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Kiran! This is super delayed and also, I’m not Sally, but applesauce is there for moisture, not sweetness, so it and honey aren’t interchangeable here.

  5. D. Zimmerman on April 30, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Hey Sally, can i double this recipe?
    I have to make a large batch (sheet pan) of carrot cake.

    greeting
    ditiana

    • Sally on April 30, 2018 at 12:31 pm

      Yes, you can double it!

    • Bubborina on June 19, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      What was baking time for the sheet cake?

  6. Cheryl Robinson on May 1, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    I have to make carrot cake cupcakes for a graduation. But I need to leave out the nuts. Can I still use this recipe, or can I substitute something to make up the difference?

    • Sally on May 2, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      You can leave them out! See my recipe notes for suggestions if you want to replace them.

  7. Kirst on May 20, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    I made this cake for a (late) Mother’s Day get together and it was fantastic!! I ended up transferring a layer before it was cooled and it broke into pieces so I just made cake pops out of it! I used your brown butter cream cheese icing on it and everyone can’t stop raving about it.

  8. Bubborina on June 19, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Sally,

    Does baking time increase on replacing pecans with raisins and coconut?

    • Sally on June 21, 2018 at 6:34 am

      Usually the same bake time when you add different add-ins. 🙂

  9. Ta Ma on June 27, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    First time making a carrot cake. Absolutely yummy!!!! Hubby gave it 9.2/10 because he doesnt like icing in general. Everyone else gave it 11/10. Amazing!!!!!

  10. Jacenta on July 11, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Hi Sally!
    Can you substitute coconut oil for the vegetable oil?
    Thanks!

    • Sally on July 12, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Melted coconut oil works, yes!

  11. Teressa on July 12, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Hi sally !
    Can i leave the applesauce out ?
    Thankyou

  12. Jv on July 13, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    What changes do I need to make if I’m using 6″ round baking pan? Do I bake longer or shorter? Thanks!

  13. Erika on July 18, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    This cake was such a hit that I wish I liked carrot cake enough to eat some! I 1.5x it to make three full layers, as it needed to be as grand as the 85 year old matriarch I made it for 🙂 I made more cake, but didn’t change the frosting ratio and it was plenty to cover the cake and layers. Unless you’re decorating with it, this is more than enough frosting. Left out the coconut because of an allergy and did 1/2 cup pecans and 1/2 cup raisins. Worked great. I will use this recipe again if I’m asked for another carrot cake

Reviews

  1. Kirst on May 20, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    I made this cake for a (late) Mother’s Day get together and it was fantastic!! I ended up transferring a layer before it was cooled and it broke into pieces so I just made cake pops out of it! I used your brown butter cream cheese icing on it and everyone can’t stop raving about it.

  2. Erika on July 18, 2018 at 10:18 pm

    This cake was such a hit that I wish I liked carrot cake enough to eat some! I 1.5x it to make three full layers, as it needed to be as grand as the 85 year old matriarch I made it for 🙂 I made more cake, but didn’t change the frosting ratio and it was plenty to cover the cake and layers. Unless you’re decorating with it, this is more than enough frosting. Left out the coconut because of an allergy and did 1/2 cup pecans and 1/2 cup raisins. Worked great. I will use this recipe again if I’m asked for another carrot cake

Questions

  1. Cheryl Robinson on May 1, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    I have to make carrot cake cupcakes for a graduation. But I need to leave out the nuts. Can I still use this recipe, or can I substitute something to make up the difference?

    • Sally on May 2, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      You can leave them out! See my recipe notes for suggestions if you want to replace them.

  2. Bubborina on June 19, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Hi Sally,

    Does baking time increase on replacing pecans with raisins and coconut?

    • Sally on June 21, 2018 at 6:34 am

      Usually the same bake time when you add different add-ins. 🙂

  3. Jacenta on July 11, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Hi Sally!
    Can you substitute coconut oil for the vegetable oil?
    Thanks!

    • Sally on July 12, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Melted coconut oil works, yes!

  4. Teressa on July 12, 2018 at 11:42 pm

    Hi sally !
    Can i leave the applesauce out ?
    Thankyou

  5. Jv on July 13, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    What changes do I need to make if I’m using 6″ round baking pan? Do I bake longer or shorter? Thanks!

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