My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe

With its outstanding spice flavor, super moist crumb, and velvety cream cheese frosting, this is truly the best carrot cake. Use brown sugar and toasted pecans for deeper flavor.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on marble and wood cake stand

I don’t call it carrot cake.

I call it “birthday cake.”

Carrot cake is my #1 favorite cake. Growing up, my mom made it for my birthday every year and the ONLY thing that competed was a batch of carrot cake cupcakes on the side. I’ve adopted this tradition and make my own carrot birthday cake each year. And, of course, we never limit it to only once per year. This cake graces our Easter table and I love making it for spring brunches, baby showers, and our community’s new bake sale.

In fact, this carrot cake recipe is so popular around here that I stopped asking what everyone wants for dessert! Because it’s always this!

slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on silver plate

What Does This Carrot Cake Taste Like?

This carrot cake sets the standard for carrot cakes everywhere. It’s deeply moist and filled with toasted pecans. Most of its flavor comes from brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and carrots. Ginger adds the most delicious zing, but it isn’t overpowering at all. The cake is dense, but each forkful tastes super soft and extra lush. If made ahead, the flavor intensifies and the cream cheese frosting seeps into the layers, creating an even more tender bite.

So if you’re looking for a make-ahead cake whose taste and texture won’t be compromised, make this! It’s a total classic and 1 taste converts everyone, even those silly people who “don’t like carrot cake”. Who ARE you people?! 😉

Carrot cake batter in a glass bowl

Let’s Make It!

This carrot cake is pretty easy, but let’s walk through the process together.

Begin by toasting pecans in the oven. Spread them on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes. Toasting the nuts is optional, but you won’t regret doing it. Toasting pecans creates an unparalleled deep nutty flavor. Let the nuts cool down for a couple minutes, then start the carrot cake batter. Begin with 2 mixing bowls. Whisk the dry ingredients together in 1 bowl, then the wet ingredients in another bowl. Combine the two, along with shredded carrots and the toasted nuts. You don’t need a mixer for the cake batter!

Instead of a layer cake, you can bake this recipe in a 9×13 inch pan. It’s also perfect as the bottom tier for a homemade wedding cake!

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on marble and wood cake stand

How to Make Carrot Cake Moist

If it isn’t stick-to-the-back-of-your-fork moist, it’s just not worth it. So I worked to create an EXTRA moist carrot cake. Don’t skip these ingredients:

  1. Brown Sugar: I’ve come across a lot of carrot cake recipes that are sweetened with mostly granulated sugar. That’s great, but granulated sugar doesn’t do much for the cake besides sweeten it. Brown sugar not only sweetens cake, it produces so much flavor and moisture. It’s just… the best!
  2. Oil: Cakes need fat to make them soft and tender. When preparing cakes without super strong flavors such as vanilla cake and white cake, I prefer to use butter as the fat. Butter also gives them flavor. But for cakes like chocolate cake and carrot cake that have flavor from other ingredients, I find flavorless oil is the best choice.
  3. Applesauce: To prevent the cake from tasting too moist (wet) and oily, I add some applesauce. You could even use crushed pineapple, too! These flavors pair beautifully with brown sugar and spices.
  4. Freshly Shredded Carrots: My #1 tip for carrot cakes is to shred whole carrots at home. Do not use packaged pre-shredded carrots because they are hard and dry. You 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 and you don’t want to skip it!

Cream cheese frosting in glass bowl

Cream Cheese Frosting

The carrot cake frosting? Well, that’s easy too. It’s so smooth, tangy, and glides on the cake seamlessly. I call it spreadable cheesecake and it tastes unbelievable with this cake’s deep spice flavor.

Ingredients: You need block-style cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. The salt helps offset the sweetness.

If you’re looking to pipe decoration with this cream cheese frosting, chill it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes first. This guarantees the creamy frosting will hold its shape.

slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on a plate

There’s no emotion quite like sadness you’ll experience when that last slice is gone!

Carrot Cake Success Tips

  1. Line your cake pans with parchment. Place your cake pans on a large sheet of parchment paper. Trace the bottom of the cake pan with a pencil, then cut the circles. Grease the pan and the parchment paper. Parchment paper rounds guarantee the cakes won’t stick!
  2. Make it ahead. One of the BEST parts about carrot cake is that it gets better with time, even after 1 full day. The flavors mingle, the moisture prevails, and the cream cheese frosting sets into the layers. It’s ridiculously good! You can make and frost the cake 1 day in advance. Keep it covered in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature, if desired, before serving.
  3. Use freshly grated carrots. Grate them yourself.
Print
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slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting on a plate

My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 10-12
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

With its outstanding spice flavor, super moist crumb, and velvety cream cheese frosting, this is truly the best carrot cake. Use brown sugar and toasted pecans for deeper flavor.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups (260g) chopped pecans (1 cup for cake, 1 cup for garnish. Nuts are optional. )*
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) vegetable oil or canola oil (or melted coconut oil)*
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (133g) smooth unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (312g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 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 block cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 300°F (149°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Spread the chopped pecans on the sheet and toast for 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C). Grease two or three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  3. Whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, eggs, applesauce, and vanilla together in a large bowl until combined and no brown sugar lumps remain. In another large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and, using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, fold the ingredients together until just combined. Fold in the carrots and 1 cup of the toasted pecans. (The rest of the pecans are for garnish.)
  4. Pour/spoon the batter evenly into the cake pans. If using three cake pans, bake for 20-24 minutes. If using two cake pans, bake for 30-35 minutes. Test the center with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. If not, continue to bake until cooked through. Do not over-bake. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  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-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes until completely combined and creamy. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet. Frosting should be soft, but not runny.
  6. Assemble and frost: First, using a large serrated knife or cake leveler, 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, more frosting, and then top with the 3rd layer. Spread remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Decorate the sides and top of the cake with the remaining toasted pecans. Refrigerate cake for at least 15-20 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting.
  7. Cover leftover frosted cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. When ready to decorate, let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 15 minutes, then give it one more mix with the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute before frosting cake. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Nuts: If desired, you can substitute the pecans with walnuts. Or feel free to skip the nuts if you want a nut-free carrot cake. No other changes to the recipe required.
  3. Applesauce: Instead of applesauce, you can use 3/4 cup crushed pineapple if desired. Slightly drain the canned crushed pineapple first. You want it the consistency of applesauce– not too watery. You could also use 3/4 cup mashed bananas, sour cream, plain yogurt, or canned pumpkin puree.
  4. Carrots: My #1 tip for carrot cakes is to grate whole carrots at home. Do not use packaged pre-shredded carrots because they are hard and dry.
  5. Oil: If using melted coconut oil, make sure all of the other cake batter ingredients (carrots included) are room temperature. Otherwise, the melted coconut oil will begin to solidify before the batter goes into the oven.
  6. Cream Cheese: Use blocks of real cream cheese. Not cream cheese spread.
  7. 9×13 Inch Cake: Simply pour the batter into a greased and lightly floured 9×13 inch pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. Carrot Bundt Cake: Use a 10-12 cup generously greased bundt pan. Bake for 55-75 minutes. All ovens and bundt pans are different, so that’s why the bake time varies. Keep a close eye on it.
  9. Add-Ins: 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. Stick to around 1 – 1.5 cups total add-ins. Or you can leave the cake plain without any add-ins.
  10. Carrot Cake Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 20-22 minutes. Yields about 3 dozen. Or try my carrot cake cupcakes recipe.

Keywords: carrot cake, cake

519 Comments

  1. Can i make this without cinnamon?

  2. I love this recipe because of the spices it reminds me of the Caribbean and I’m West Indian so it’s perfect, but I use coconut sugar and honey instead of brown and white sugar and I substitute applesauce for overripe banana also I use 1/2 cup coconut oil and 1/2 butter along with coconut extract. I normally use coconut milk powder but I ran out and used extract instead, also I use 1 tsp mixed essence, 1 tsp lemon/orange extract and .5 tsp of all spice. I love the taste of the Caribbean in my cake, I do not add liquid other than the juicy bananas.

  3. Do you think it would work to just add in some pineapple to this recipe?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Chris! Absolutely, see the Applesauce recipe note for details on adding pineapple instead.

  4. Can you tell me what adjustments would need to be made for high altitude (above 4000 ft)? I’ve made some notes based on an internet search, but am nervous about trying adjustments since I don’t have time to dabble.
    Thank you,

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa! We wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. We know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

    2. Natalie Martin says:

      I’ve made this recipe multiple times and I live at 5200 ft. Decrease white sugar about by 1/2 T., increase oil by about 1 T., decrease baking powder by 1/4 tsp. per tsp. (this recipe would be 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder instead of 2), increase your oven temp by 25 degrees. Cooking time varies so check with toothpick until done. Hope that helps!

  5. WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE GROUND NUTMEG?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Zel, you can try increasing the cinnamon and other spices a bit to make up for the missing nutmeg or try adding some allspice if you have that.

  6. Can you please tell me why the measurement of cups doesn’t measure the same in grams all the time in these recipes.
    I.e. 5 cups confectioners sugar = 120g
    But 1/2 cup granulated sugar = 100g
    2 and 1/2 cups of APF is 312g how do they not convert to the same

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Joanne, each of those ingredients has a different individual weight, which is why they can weigh more or less than the same volume of a different ingredient. For example, granulated sugar is much heavier than confectioners’ sugar. Hope this helps!

  7. José alves says:

    Olá Sally!
    Farei ele agora de tarde e me deseje sorte.
    Obs.: Usarei um queijo cremoso caseiro e irei substituir a maçã por creme de leite. Oh Deus!
    Um abraço

  8. Nan Munn-Fess says:

    Are you making this cake with white flour rather than wheat flour?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nan! Yes, this recipe calls for all purpose flour (not whole wheat).

  9. Can this be made in 6” cake pans?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bev! You can use this recipe for carrot cake cupcakes (leave out the coconut if desired) and follow the directions in the post on 6 inch cakes to make a three layer 6-inch cake!

  10. Made this for an adult birthday party in a 13×9 pan. I received many compliments and someone told me it was so good they wondered if I was a professional baker. Easy to follow instructions and delicious.

  11. What is the best way to make it gluten free? I tried coconut flour but it was too dry.
    Thanks!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Suzanne! We haven’t tested a gluten-free version of this cake. Some readers have reported success using a 1:1 all-purpose gluten-free flour such as Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup. If you give anything else a try, we’d love to know how it goes for you.

    2. Hi Suzanne. I use King Arthur’s Flour Gluten Free All Purpose Flour Mix. It’s perfection! Use the same amount the recipe calls for and keep everything else the same. You will be pleased!
      Pam

  12. I followed this recipe exactly – even followed the tips and tricks. I used canola oil and the only thing I could taste when it was done was the oil. I had to throw the whole cake away. 1 cup seems excessive. What did I do wrong here?

    1. Mate I dunno what you did but something went wrong. Did you measure everything else cause conola oil barely has a taste. Are you sure you didnt use olive oil

  13. How long will this cake stay fresh in refrigerator?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lisa, you can cover leftover frosted cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

  14. I’m yet to try this recipe outcan’t wait.

  15. Hello, I was wondering how to incorporate raisins into this cake/if possible. Carrot cake + raisins = <3

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Absolutely! See the “Add-Ins” recipe note for details.

      1. Oh yes! I see it now. Thanks!

  16. Hi Sally, by “brown sugar” do you mean light brown soft sugar, caster sugar or Demerara sugar?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jay, use light or dark brown sugar for best results!

  17. I generally fail at cake making but this was clear instructions and recipe and a really good cake. Thanks!

  18. How can I adapt it to a glass baking dish?

  19. So yummy! Made as stated, I did finely shred the carrots, and it was so good. I had to give some away or I would have eaten all of it, my neighbors and MIL also said they loved it. There was plenty of frosting, but the cake was so good I could have eaten it without frosting. There is a fancy restaurant near us that makes a delicious carrot cake, but I’m too cheap to pay $9 for a slice of cake. This tasted better than their version. The spices were spot on. This is a keeper!

  20. Would you be able to substitute zucchini for carrot? I made a zucchini spice cake last summer and I could’ve sworn I used your recipe but I can’t find it anywhere!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Aubrey, We haven’t tried adding zucchini to our carrot cake recipe. Because zucchini has so much added moisture (to an already very moist cake), it would take a bit of recipe testing to ensure results. You may love our zucchini crumb cake recipe!

  21. Love this recipe! The cake turned out o moist! I did however cut the sugar in the cake and icing by half

  22. I’ve made this recipe twice (no nuts, added 2 Tbl raisins and small handful coconut). Delicious both times. However, both times it sunk in the middle after removing from oven.. It was baked through (tooth pick clean, started to slightly pull from sides, and done when cut). Anyone else have this problem? Can I fix by adding a bit more flour?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melissa, a sinking cake usually means it is just slightly under baked. An additional minute or two in the oven should help for next time. (We don’t recommend adding more flour, as it could dry out the cake). Thank you for giving this recipe a try!

      1. Thank you for your reply. I get that and initially thought that was the problem, but both times, the cake was thoroughly baked through. They were pulling away from the sides of the pans (9” round), had been in the oven for over 39 minutes, toothpick in center was clean, and we’re baked through when I cut into them I think a few more minutes in the oven would have dried them out, particularly around the outside diameter. Could there be another reason that they sink in the middle?

      2. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Melissa, for next time, you can try tenting the sides of the pan with foil towards the end of bake time, which will allow the center to continue baking without burning or over baking the edges.

  23. Howdy! Can I add food coloring to the cream cheese frosting recipe? Making my boy’s 1st birthday cake and would love to use your recipe!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Yes, definitely! We add food coloring all the time!

  24. Hi! I’m really looking forward to making this recipe. However I don’t have applesauce or pineapples 🙁 is there anything else you would suggest using? Or just leave it out entirely? Thank you!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tayler, you could also use 3/4 cup mashed bananas, sour cream, plain yogurt, or canned pumpkin puree in place of the applesauce / pineapples.

  25. Made this for a housewarming potluck. Received so many compliments. I had to substitute a few ingredients, such as sugar for honey or adding olive oil instead of vegetable oil. We all popped open a cheeky Fanta and enjoyed it for dessert. Everyone was raving about it at the potluck and begged on their knees for the recipe. Might have done a better job than sally herself! 10/10 recommend !!

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