Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

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.

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

408 comments

  1. Hello Sally,
    The first time I made this cake, I used applesauce. This time I’d like to try the pineapple suggestion. Would I drain the crushed pineapple of its juices or do I measure the crushed fruit, juice and all?
    Thank you so much for your reply!

  2. I was looking for a carrot cupcake recipe and this looks like a winner.

    If I wanted to make this in a mini-cupcake tin, do you know about how long I should bake them for?

    Thank you!

  3. Hi. Is it okay not to add ground cloves,ground ginger & applesauce in carrot cake? Or it will change the taste? Thank you so much for your reply

  4. Hi, I’d like to make this for my daughter’s first birthday party. Is it possible to leave out the nuts? She doesn’t have teeth yet

  5. Thanks for a great carrot cake recipe. I know this post is old but I’ve already made this cake and it was the best thing out of Detroit since Smoky Robinson! I doubled the recipe and used three layers; the fourth layer is in the freezer, awaiting its’ turn in the future. Keep up the good work. Every time I make one of your recipes, I’m looking like the rockstar of desserts!

  6. Hi Sally,

    Can you make any recommendations for which type of cake pan to use? I’m seeing non-stick, aluminum, etc. I’m assuming the type of cake pan could interfere with cook-time.

  7. The ginger powder we have to use or we have to grind it yo a fine paste?

  8. Can I half this recipe to make a mini cake? I wanna make it for easter my sister and I are the only ones that like carrot cake and I don’t wanna make a huge cake.

  9. What is the difference between this recipe and the Super Moist Carrot Cake recipe you made as well?

  10. Could I use coconut oil instead of vegetable/canola oil?

  11. Hi Sally!!

    I would love to do them as cupcakes, is there any secret or recommendation I shall fallow? should I cut the recipe in 1/4?

    • no special instructions, but I would cut the recipe down depending how many cupcakes you’d like to make. I’d say 20-22 minutes bake time.

  12. Hey Sally! I absolutely LOVE all of your recipes!

    If I wanted to make this cake in a 9 x 13 inch pan, what would the baking time be?

    • Hi Courtney, in a 9×13– bake for 45-55 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

  13. This a great moist cake! I made with all three add-ins, pecans, raisins, and coconut.  Made into 3 layers and froze. Thawed in frig overnight and then frosted with your wonderful cream cheese frosting. Turned out beautiful.  Makes a big cake.Did keep in frig. Everyone loved it! This is a keeper!

  14. I have made your other carrot cake a few times and it is absolutely delicious. I’m making it again for Easter so I was looking into this layered cake and wanted to know if I could use yogurt like the other recipe and omit the applesauce?

  15. I don’t have apple sauce. We don’t have it in this part of the world. Any idea what to do. Yogurt as replacement?

    Happy Easter!

  16. Just made this for Easter and it tastes and looks amazing!! It was my first EVER frosted and layered cake so thanks for the recipe!!

  17. Thumbs up! We really enjoy this carrot cake. Thanks for a great recipe. Happy Easter!

  18. I just wanted to say thank you for the delicious recipe! I’ve had many carrot cakes but this one is my favorite. I made it for a large Easter lunch and my entire family raved about it!! I always trust your recipes – you have become my go-to if I’m looking for something special!

  19. Do you recommend finely shredded carrots or coarsely shredded carrots for this recipe?

    Also, are there any issues with the chopped nuts sinking to the bottom of the pan?

    I’m making this cake for a birthday this weekend – I’ve got all my pans, parchment, and ingredients ready to go. 🙂 Thanks for delicious-sounding recipe.

  20. Hi there! I just wanted to say I tried this recipe for Easter Sunday. I did change the applesauce for pineapple and added coconut. It was a hit! I had a guy that his favorite cake is carrot cake and he said hands down the best carrot cake he has ever had!!! Thank you again for sharing this recipe. 🙂

  21. I’m planning to make this cake for my sons 5th Birthday. I’m using an edible image on top of a 13x9x4 inch pan and I want the cake to be that thick so that I can cut it into 2 layers.
    Do I need to double the batter recipe to fill the pan since it is deeper than a standard 13x9x2.

  22. i used 1/2cup pecans ,1/2cup coconut, 1/2 cup apple sauce and 1/2cup of pinapple and it was the best carrot cake i have ever had ,really moist but not too moist that it lost structure. thank u for the recipe your awesome

  23. This was my first go at Carrot cake ever, and I made them into both regular and mini-cupcakes. I didn’t add walnuts but did add raisins. They were so delicious, Sally EVERY recipe of yours that I make is a huge hit! Thank you for sharing your gift with us x

  24. Hi Sally,

    This cake is absolutely delicious! I’ve made it several times now including for my sister’s birthday and everyone was asking to take some home!

    Just one issue I always though – it never comes out of the pan as smoothly as all your (now my haha) cakes come out. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong – I use non-stick spray and have even tried going in with a little butter over and above the spray but it just always has bits that stick 🙁 Please please help!

  25. Made this for my daughter’s 25th birthday party. I love that it isn’t oily-sugary like my old recipe. Made it with crushed pineapple and I heated the drained juice and plumped about a half cup of raisins in it. WOW – I racked up the compliments on this cake. Thank you for a wonderful recipe!

  26. Hi Mrs. Sally!
    If I wanted to use walnuts instead of pecans, could I? Would it change anything in the recipe?
    Thanks so much!

  27. Hi Sally,
    You mention the option of adding shredded coconut. Would you suggest using sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut?

  28. Hi Sally,  I’d like to use a bunt pan instead of cake pans. What would you recommend for cook time?

    • Hi Kelly. This recipe definitely works in a bundt pan at the same oven temperature though I’m unsure of the exact bake time. One reader said she tried it and it took 50ish minutes.

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