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 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 the same cream cheese frosting recipe I use for my red velvet cake. 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, a splash of milk, 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.
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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 and 1/2 cups (540g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) heavy cream or milk
  • 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, cream/milk, 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

981 Comments

  1. Made this as pie break during Thanksgiving dinner this year and the cake was a massive hit! Highly recommend.

    What I did:
    – Got fresh carrots from supermarket and freshly grated them as Sally suggested
    – Reduced the sugar by 15-20% in frosting and cake
    – Oiled the pan and the parchment paper and the cakes slid out perfectly

  2. Hi Ms. sally, im such a huge fan! Im from the Philippines. I made your banoffe pie, SkyhighnChocolate Mousse pie, Hummingbird Cake and this Carrot cake recipe.

    I had a lot of success baking your super yummy recipes. I baked this carrot cake recipe many times. And everybody absolutely loved it! But these past few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out how it became too moist and wet. I checked using a toothpick and it bounces back when I press down so I know I baked it right.
    I baked this recipe 6x already but the other 3x was such a fail.

    I dont know if I should add more carrots or flour? Can you help me out? This really left me heartbroken.

    Hoping you’ll reply. Thank you Ms. Sally!

    1. Hi Chai! I’m just seeing your question/comment now, so my apologies on the delay responding to you. I’m glad you usually love this carrot cake recipe. I wonder if the shredded carrots you’re using these past few times are a little wetter? Or perhaps you’re not using quite as much flour. If they keep turning out a little too moist, I would increase the bake time by a few minutes or add another 2-4 Tablespoons of flour. Let me know.

  3. Are the 10 to 12 servings large slices? I need it to feed 14

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Laura, Yes those would be pretty large slices – you can get 14 slices from this cake 🙂

  4. Hi! How long would you bake the cake for in a 6″ cake tin? I wanted to have two cake layers.. Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alina, Most 6 inch cake layers take about 18-21 minutes at 350°F (177°C). You can read all about this size in our post on 6 Inch Cakes.

  5. This cooked up BEAUTIFULLY! I am not typically a huge fan of cream cheese frosting. But this frosting is perfect, not too sweet not too tart and a great texture.

  6. I made this cake just yesterday and it’s absolutely delicious. I cut down on the sugar (used about 2/3 of the amounts of both brown sugar and granulated sugar in the recipe) and decided against frosting as we are trying to eat less sweet at home. I also used fresh carrots, which I grated myself, and I made my own applesauce. Instead of pecans, I used a mix of walnuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts, and used 0.4 olive oil rather than canola. The result was fantastic. It’s so moist! It’s the first carrot cake I make that doesn’t inevitably become drier than it should. The taste is amazing. I will be making it again very soon. Lovely recipe. Thank you so much!

  7. I’m very excited to try this recipe, but I have a question: I just have one 9 inch springform pan that I want to use. Can I just bake it in there and put the frosting only on top? Or maybe slicing it in the middle after its baked to make a layer of frosting in between? Its just for 6 people so I dont necessarily aim at several layers I guess.

    1. Hi Zuzu! This will be too much batter for a 9 inch springform pan. I would use this smaller carrot cake recipe instead! https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/super-moist-carrot-cake/

      1. Oh nice! Exactly what i needed. Thanks so much!!

      2. Baked for the 1st time ever in my life (without frosting). Turned out perfectly moist, dense and full of deep flavour even though I didnt use brown sugar. Used a 5 inch deep pan at 150 deg c but it took a very long time to cook thoroughly. Dont think my wife has been happier.

  8. Eddie Cotillon says:

    I made it in a 9 x 13 Glass Pan. I cut the Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe in half for the 9×13 Cake.
    Baked for 30mins. Perfection! I did add 1/2 Cup of Shredded Coconut and 1/2 Cup of Raisin and cut the Pecans to 3/4 Cup. Super Moist and Full of Flavor!!! My New Go-To Carrot Cake Recipe!

  9. Hey Sally, whenever I search a recipe and you’re site comes up it’s the first I go to. Thank you. Wondering if you’ve tried this cake with fresh ginger and how you think that would taste?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Aveh, You should be able to use finely grated fresh ginger but keep in mind that ground ginger is much stronger in flavor than fresh ginger.

  10. I made this Carrot Cake for my wife’s birthday. It came out so delicious. She loved it. Just amazing. All the flavors come together very well.

    Better than any we have ever tasted.

  11. I’ve made this as a cake before and it was AMAZING. I’m pretty much exclusively baking desserts from your website now! Your frostings in particular blow all others out of the water. Quick question – I know you have notes on here about cupcakes, but would I be able to make mini cupcakes instead? Or should I use your Super Moist recipe instead? How does making a mini cupcake change the baking time or oven temp? Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kristen, so happy you love this cake! For mini cupcakes, we suggest using this Carrot Cake Cupcakes recipe (a smaller batch) and following the mini cupcake directions included in step 3. See recipe notes for flavor changes and optional add ins!

  12. Alera Harrison says:

    This recipe was amazing!! I turned it into mini cakelets and they were perfectly moist with a bit of a caramelized crust on the outside. Absolutely scrumptious! I did not have applesauce so I replaced it with sweet potato puree. It worked perfectly and even added to the carrot orange color! I will be using this recipe for years to come, thank you for sharing!

  13. I made this carrot cake and added 1/2 c of raisins that I soaked in water to plump them up and cut the pecans to 1/2 c. I made the 3 layers and it came out so delicious. This recipe has been added to my favorites. Great recipe.

  14. This cake is amazing! For anyone omitting sugar, I used one cup of a maple syrup and honey mix and it was the perfect sweetness. I also just used lactose-free cream cheese, a few tablespoons of oat milk and icing sugar for the topping and inner layer which works really well (one pack of cream cheese + as much icing sugar as was needed to create the right consistency).

  15. Sally, I love your recipes, but now live at 5,280 ft. How would I adjust this to bake a mile high?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Giuliano, I wish we could help, but have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  16. Quick question…. Can I use this recipe for Carrot Cake pops??

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sam,I don’t see why not! It would make a lot of cake pops but you can follow our assembly directions in our post on cake pops.

  17. Hi-this looks deeelish. Can I use 2-8” pans?

  18. Hi there! I made this carrot cake today and used three cups of xylitol sweetener for the frosting and it still came out super duper sweet! Ahh! I just wanted to make sure 4 1/2 cups of sugar in the recipe isn’t a typo.? Thank you.

    1. 1 and 1/2 cups (300g) packed light or dark brown sugar
      1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
      Which would make it 2 cups of sugar all together

      1. Hi,
        Thank you for your reply. But I was referring to the frosting…?

  19. Hi I was wondering how you can insure this cake to be moist should I use just the applesauce or should I add yogurt or sour cream?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Taytum! This is a moist carrot cake – we suggest following the recipe as written. Enjoy!

  20. Is it okay if I substitute the apple sauce? I was thinking maybe with buttermilk or sour cream.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Zoe! Sour cream would work – see recipe notes for more substitutions.

  21. I made this for my husbands birthday. Carrot cake is his request every year. This has been his favorite so far! I made this cake exactly as instructed and it was amazing! I did use walnuts rather than pecans, as it’s his favorite nut. I mixed 2/3 cup of both raisins and walnuts in the batter and garnished the top with 1 cup of walnuts chopped small. I highly recommend using parchment paper in the bottom of the pans, this made it much easier to release the cakes from their pans. I can not say enough about how wonderful this cake is. I will be using this recipe going forward for all of my carrot cake needs!

  22. Can I make it without the applesauce

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Absolutely — see recipe notes for substitution options.

  23. Hi Sally! Can I bake the three cakes at once? Should I put them all on the same rack? I’ve baked two cakes at once but I wonder whether they will all bake evenly if there’s three. Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mariam! We bake cake layers all at once on the same rack and rotate them once during baking. Enjoy!

  24. Sally-
    This carrot cake is SPECTACULAR. My bestie’s birthday is coming and SHE LOVES CARROT CAKE. I would prefer to bake this “mini” in a 6 inch round pan…any chance you can tell me how to reduce down ingredients coupled with baking time please??
    Thank YOU for considering.
    With much appreciation,
    Amy

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Amy! The batter for Carrot Cake Cupcakes fits perfectly into three 6 inch pans. You can follow the baking times from this 6 inch cakes post/. If you’re looking for a one layer 6 inch cake you can use this handy guide to find out how much batter you’ll need.

  25. I come to Sally’s website whenever I want to bake basically anything. Her recipes never fail! And, I recently discovered her carrot cake and I am OBSESSED- I’ve made it 3 times in the past month! The first time was for when we hosted guests and it was a hit by both the adults and kids. My family asked me to make it again the next weekend, and here I am today, making it for another set of friends that are coming over tonight. It is such a fool-proof recipe and you can’t go wrong with this delicious, fluffy, and moist carrot cake.

    Thank you Sally, for sharing it!
    Hannah

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Thank you so much for this sweet review, Hannah!

  26. Merci beaucoup ! Excellente recette – I did the same, cut on the sugars by 2/3 – but kept the frosting . I’m always bringing in my suitcase Carrot cake from Uk but it’s always to oily and too sweet . I’m so happy thanks for that delicious recipe!!! I’m a big fan of the apple sauce tip , I’ll definitely be using it with my French desserts from now on.

  27. Hello, can I make the cake without eggs? Or what should I use to substitute eggs? I have a egg allergy.

    Thanks!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jasmine, we haven’t tested this recipe with any egg substitutes, but let us know what you try!

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