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

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!

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

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

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.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

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 Grated 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. 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 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.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

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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Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

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)
  • 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
  • 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 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. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Cream Cheese: Use blocks of real cream cheese. Not cream cheese spread.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

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

563 Comments

  1. Sally, I love your blog and get many recipes from it – I must say the absolute best recipe is your Carrot Cake made with applesauce. I made it this past weekend for Easter and OOH MY – it was so Delicious!!
    It was moist, tender crumb, perfectly spiced, great frosting.
    The noise coming from my husband and guest when eating this cake – e.g. oooohhhh so good, mmmmmmmm, this is the best. This is the absolute best carrot cake ever!
    I bake a lot and nothing before gave me such pleasure as this carrot care. Just wanted to share with you.

  2. Thanks for a great recipe! This was the most popular dessert at our Easter celebration! I’ve never even had carrot cake before, let alone make it, but this recipe sounded so good I decided to give it a shot! I made it in a 9×13 and should have cut the frosting recipe in half, there was SO much! I’m sure I’ll use it on something else! Yummy!

  3. Hello Sally!

    I love your blog and have had great success and memories thanks to your recipes. I was wondering if the taste would suffer much if I exchange pecans for walnuts. I look forward to your reply!

    1. Sounds like there may have been too much frosting between layers, which would cause the cakes to slide around. Make sure you level the cake layers, use a little less frosting between each layer, and refrigerate the cake before cutting. This will help for next time! 🙂

  4. Hello Sally,

    I made this recipe for Easter and it was amazing. I substituted all purpose flour for white whole wheat. By chance would you know the calories for on piece of cake? Thank you.

    Teresa

  5. Hi Sally, my partner loves carrot cake so I decided to make this for his birthday. I followed the recipe exactly but my cake came out pretty flat using 2 pans. I can’t figure out what’s up. Could my baking powder be bad or my baking soda. I only left the pecans out of the recipe and my eggs were somewhat cold. Any suggestions? This has happened with 2 other cakes as well. Tastes great just kind of dense. Kellie

    1. Hi Kellie, I’m glad you enjoyed the taste! If this is happening with other cakes as well it could be a number of factors. First, definitely check the dates on your leaveners. Also be sure not to over mix your cake batters. Over mixing can over-work the gluten and produce a more dense cake. In addition, make sure you are using the proper pan size. Most cakes recipes the pans should only be 1/2 to 2/3 full. Over-filling your pans can cause the cake to rise up quickly and then fall down creating a flat and dense cake. I hope this helps!

  6. Hi Sally, I don’t have many cake pans. Can I bake this cake in a rectangular pyrex dish? If so how to layer the frosting? Can I serve this cake without frosting?

    1. Hi Yusra! You can bake this carrot cake in a 9×13 inch cake pan. I often bake it in my glass pyrex. You can slice the cake horizontally when it cools to divide in 2 layers or just keep it as a one layer cake. 🙂

  7. I tried this recipe and it was amaaaazzzinnnggg !!! I have a question though, you mentioned to pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones ( usually it’s the opposite , I guess !! ). Does it make any difference?
    Also if I want it less sweet, would it be ok to reduce the sugar quantities to 1/2 cup less each ?!

    1. Doesn’t make a difference at all for this oil-based cake– wet into dry or dry into wet. You can try reducing the sugar in the cake, but the texture and flavor will change.

  8. Great recipe! My dad wanted carrot cake for his birthday last year and requested it again this year. I’m personally not a huge fan of carrot cake, but I make an exception for this one because it’s THAT good. Grating fresh carrots is absolutely worth the time, as is toasting the pecans.

    1. Forgot to add— thank you so much explaining why certain ingredients/steps are necessary in your recipes. I love learning the science behind baking! It makes your blog really stand out. Please keep it up! 🙂

    1. Hi Claudia! You can use plain Greek yogurt instead of applesauce. If you like banana, mashed banana is also a great substitute.

  9. Hi Sally! I was just wondering if you can shred your carrots in a food processor instead of grating them. Thank You!

    1. Hi Jennifer! You can, but they’ll be more like chunks instead of shreds. Make sure the pieces are really tiny!

  10. Hi Sally! I only have sweetened apple sauce and was wondering if I could reduce the sugar a bit instead of gping out to buy some more? If I can by how much and which sugar should I reduce?

    1. Hi Samantha! You can definitely use the sweetened applesauce and slightly reduce the sugar in the cake batter. Try using 1 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup of white granulated sugar.

  11. Hi there. A little confused because the recipe calls for applesauce, but in your notes you say to used crushed pineapple instead. Which do you normally use? Is crushed pineapple just mentioned as an alternative for those who don’t like or who don’t have applesauce handy? Thanks!

    1. Hi Leslie Ann– if you don’t like or don’t have applesauce, you can use the crushed pineapple noted. Sorry for the confusion!

  12. Sally I love your blog and recipes so much. My family and friends often hear, after trying a new recipe, “That Sally, she never steers wrong”. I made this carrot cake for my husbands birthday this weekend. He is so picky about both cream cheese frosting and carrot cake. So moist and flavorful. I toasted walnuts instead of pecans. He and everyone else just adored it. A new favorite for us. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Beth! I’m absolutely thrilled that your picky husband enjoyed it and I hope he had a great birthday! 🙂

  13. Hi Sally,

    Does it make a huge difference if I use sweetened applesauce (with little pieces of apple) and purée it in the processer.
    I can’t seem to find the unsweetened smooth version and I’m baking it for a family gathering today.
    Please reply.

    Thanx in advance

  14. This recipe was amazing! (Like all of your recipes I’ve tried so far) I made these as cupcakes and included coconut and crushed pineapple. I love all of the flavors 🙂

  15. How would you recommend stabilizing this cream cheese frosting recipe for hot/humid weather? Its very hot here (100+ degrees) and I’m making this cake for a party and worried it will melt!

  16. I am concerned about making a 3 layer cake again. I tried with your triple chocolate cake and it was disaster . First and second attempt the batter (cake layers) sunk. What did I do wrong so if I try this carrot cake with three layers they will come out flat or rounded and not sunk.

    1. Hi Charlie! If you find your cakes are sinking, they could be under-baked. Also, make sure you are not assembling the cake when the layers are still warm. Let the cake layers cool completely. You can even refrigerate them, too.

  17. Best carrot cake ever! I followed the recipe exactly and baked it in a 9″ x 13″ pan. So delicious – everyone raved about it. The cream cheese frosting was exquisite.

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed this recipe, Jean! It’s one of my favorites, too 🙂 Thanks for your positive feedback!

  18. Hi Sally, thanks a lot for this recipe. It’s hard to get applesauce in my area. Can I just cut up and crush pineapples in a food processor for this recipe?

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