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 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.
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 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

1192 Comments

  1. Kimberly C Davis says:

    I have never been a fan of carrot cake. My 10 year old grandson wanted me to bake it. Everything about the recipe was so easy, especially since I didn’t have to take out my mixer. The cake came together wonderfully. I made mine 2 layer. Toasted pecan chips not whole nuts but still amazing. The frosting very easy and the best cream cheese frosting I ever made and tasted. It will stay my go to for CC frosting. Cake baked perfectly and the layers were beautiful. Frosted so easy and cut so smoothly my knife glided from top to bottom like silk. I tasted the cake and I was totally mind blown. The flavors so aromatic and deliciously coming together for the most amazing moist flavorful hit to my taste buds. I said in the beginning I didn’t favor carrot cake but I gotta say I would make this again for myself. Gonna do 3 layers or 9×13 next time. Thank Sally, I make a lot of your recipes and you always get it perfectly right!

  2. I’m obsessed with carrot cake but I’m not a baker. I used this recipe and it was my first time baking a cake but I tell you, everyone was in throes of ecstasy about this cake. They couldn’t get enough of it. I have to make more this weekend. Thank you, it’s so brilliant…

  3. HI! I was just asked to make my friend’s daughter a carrot cake for her first communion…. this weekend. I LOVE this carrot cake, but I’m lost for decorating ideas. The cake is too crumbly to cut the 9×13 into pieces to make it into a cross shape, right? She would love a sheet cake-style cake, but will be happy with anything. Any ideas?? Thank you so much, as always!!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Karen, we can’t see why that wouldn’t work! You should be fine to cut out the corners to make a large cross. Let us know what you try!

      1. I was too nervous to mess it up, so I stuck with what I know, and made a round 9” 2 layer cake. It came out beautifully. I was going to add a photo, but it wouldn’t let me. Thank you for your reply!!

      2. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Thanks for reporting back, Karen! We’re glad to hear it was a hit. If you’d like to share a photo of your bake, feel free to email us at [email protected] — we’d love to see it 🙂

  4. Wow these cakes bake up beautifully! So moist and flavorful .. beautiful!

  5. Bridget Cosgrave says:

    Most definitely the BEST carrot cake I’ve ever made . Made it for a Birthday celebration and some friends thought it was professionally bought as so delicious, will definitely be making again

  6. Brenda Voth says:

    I want to make this carrot cake for my husband’s birthday (because CC is his favorite and Sally’s recipes never disappoint!). However, he likes raisins in his CC (I don’t! but since it is for his bday…). If I add raisins to this recipe do I need to do anything differently?
    Thank you!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brenda, If you’d like to add raisins, reduce the pecans (or leave them out) to 1/2 cup. Then, add 1 cup of raisins when you fold in the carrots and pecans. Stick to around 1 – 1.5 cups total add-ins. Happy birthday to your husband!

  7. I have made this cake a few times; it is a big hit with my family and it is now being requested as a birthday cake for every birthday. One complaint we have is that the frosting is too sweet; would it be possible to reduce the amount of powdered sugar and just keep the other frosting ingredients at the same ratio? E.g., maybe I could only use 3.5 cups of sugar? Is that realistic? Thank you so much for the help!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nate, so glad to hear this carrot cake is becoming a family birthday favorite! You can certainly try reducing the confectioners’ sugar in the frosting, but it will change the texture. Be sure to keep enough that the frosting keeps its shape and is not too watery. You also might try adding another pinch of salt to help cut the sweetness instead.

  8. Made this recipe for a birthday cake for my sister using crushed pineapple instead of applesauce. I made it three 8” layers and iced it with the cream cheese icing made from Philadelphia lactose free cream cheese as she is lactose intolerant . I decorated the sides with crushed pecans and the top with dried pineapple flowers that I made. It was happy with the result and I think she loved it
    Thanks the recipe Sally , I’d like to share a picture but don’t see where it possible

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Barbara, we’re so glad this cake was a hit for your sister’s birthday! You can share your photo with us via email at [email protected] — we’d love to see it!

  9. Hi!
    I made this and it was soooo good. I was wondering if I would be able to make this gluten free, as my best friend recently discovered she has an intolerance to gluten. Is there any specific gluten-free flour you recommend? Thank you!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lauren, we haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flours, but some readers have reported success using 1:1 flour substitutes (like Cup4Cup). If you try it, let us know how it goes!

    2. Hi Lauren,
      I just made this recipe gluten free using Red Mill 1 to 1 gluten free baking flour and it came out absolutely perfect. Keep the recipe the same and just replace flour with this specific gluten free flour and you will not be disappointed!

    3. Omg, this was amazing! My mom is really picky when it comes to desserts and carrot cake is one of her absolute favorites. She said it was the best she’s had! I had fun making it and I’m so happy I’ve found your recipes, they’ve been my go to since I’ve started baking this list year.

  10. Very fluffy and moist. Too much for me to the point I taste nothing. Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough even though I followed the instructions. I think the publix carrot cake is 10 times better.

  11. Hi .. I need to make a wedding cake and your recipe is perfect I just wanted to find out is it necessary to use applesauce or yogurt? Also how would I know if my pan is 9×13 inch?

    I know it’s a 13inch pan but how do I determine the 9x13inch?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Leigh, 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. If you have a ruler or measuring tape handy, you can quickly find out if your pan is 9 inches by 13 inches. Some pans even have the size etched in the bottom. Hope this is helpful!

  12. Question!!!
    Can I use 5or 6 egg yolks instead of whole eggs? I need egg whites for another recipe and so t want to waste the yolks.
    Thanks!!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Britt, egg whites are part of the cake’s texture and structure, we don’t recommend using all egg yolks. Here’s all our recipes that use egg yolks if you have extra – lemon curd is a favorite for excess yolks.

  13. Has anyone tried this with gluten free flour?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Debbie, we haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flours, but some readers have reported success using 1:1 flour substitutes (like Cup4Cup). If you try it, let us know how it goes!

  14. Hi! I am planning on using this recipe to make mini cupcakes. How long should I bake them for?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Olivia, you certainly can, but it will make a lot! For mini cupcakes, we suggest using this Carrot Cake Cupcakes recipe (a smaller batch) and following the mini cupcake directions included in step 3. Or, if you want the yield from this recipe, simply use the baking time details from the cupcake recipe. Enjoy!

  15. Hi sally

    Can you use baking belts to cook these sponges? Tray of water in bottom of the oven or will it be totally fine without? Still moist?

    Thanks

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Pam, No need for either here – the cakes are very moist! You can certainly use a baking belt/cake strip around your pan to help it rise more evenly if desired.

      1. That is great thank you.
        Can you skip the apple sauce and crushed pineapple all together? Would the rest of the ingredient quantities just remain the same?
        Can these sponges be frozen to then be made up at a later date?
        Thanks

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Instead of apple sauce or pineapple you could also use 3/4 cup mashed bananas, sour cream, plain yogurt, or canned pumpkin puree. Yes, they can be froze, see recipe note for make ahead directions.

  16. So I had shredded carrots and long diced soaked almonds for an Indian dessert called Gajar Halwa. But I had a change of heart and went for a carrot cake instead.

    It was fantastic! And the almond substitution worked charmingly.

    Thank you Sally, I’m not a baker and your recipes make me feel like a successful one.

    Much love,
    Namaste

    TJ

  17. David Cummings says:

    Sally,
    I need a large carrot cake. If I use 3 -10in. pans, how much more batter would need?
    50% more?
    Thank you,
    Dave

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Dave, our handy Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions guide can help you scale this recipe for your needs. Happy baking!

  18. That was perfect.
    I love this gonna make it more

  19. jefferson says:

    DELICIOSOOOOOOO¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡¡

  20. Just made this today for my Mom for Mother’s Day (tomorrow). If it tastes as good as it looks, it’ll be my favorite go to carrot cake recipe! 🙂 Thanks Sally!

  21. The cake was delicious and your recipes are always my go to! I do have a question about my sponge though. I’ve noticed that on the last few cakes I’ve made, some of the layers are a bit denser or greasier. For example, on this carrot cake I used three eight inch pans and one of the layers came out this way. I do use cake strips… would that effect my cake somehow? I also butter my tins… am I over greasing? I’ve noticed this happening on several different recipes, and that seems to be the common denominator. So, I wondered if you had any experience with this!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rose! It could definitely be an issue of over-greasing. We always use a non-stick baking spray with our cake pans and have never had any issues with that method. Also make sure to rotate your pans once during baking as most ovens have hot spots which can cause the cakes to bake unevenly. Hope this helps!

  22. Linda Spillers says:

    Wonderful! Perfect level of spice. Frosting was great too, not icky sweet, just right! Recipe makes a s# ton of frosting tho. I made a 8″ 2-layer cake and had about 2 cups frosting left over. Loved all the suggestions for modifying size, add-ins, etc. Perfect!

  23. Fred Weidner says:

    Do you need to make any adjustments for high altitude? I live in Salt Lake City at 4,300 feet above sea level.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Fred, 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

      1. Fred Weidner says:

        Thank you for responding to my question and sending the link about high altitude baking. I tried the recommendations and the cake came out a bit dry. Will have to work on the suggested adjustments by King Arthur flour.

  24. Hi! Is it possible to bake this recipe in loaf pans? Do i need to change anything in the recipe? Thank you

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Agnes, You can divide this batter between 2 or 3 9×5 inch loaf pans. We’re unsure of the exact bake time.

  25. This cake is fantastic! Sally’s triple chocolate cake holds the top spot for my favorite cake ever, but this one is pretty close! I live in Denver, so I added 2 tablespoons of flour, decreased the baking soda to 3/4 teaspoon, and decreased the baking powder to 1.5 teaspoons. I did two 9” pans and they baked in 30 minutes with hardly any sinking, which is a win in my book. My family said it tasted amazing! Unfortunately I haven’t recovered my taste after being sick awhile back, so I think that’s just an excuse to make it again once I’m able to taste it too. It was everything a carrot cake should be, and not a dense brick like some other recipes I’ve tried from other sources. Thanks Sally! Hope you had a nice and relaxing Mother’s Day!!

  26. Hi there! Just made this cake for hubby’s birthday! I wanted to know if the center is supposed to be moist? I feel like the toothpick wasn’t coming out clean but the more I baked it still didn’t do much. Now I feel I might have over cooked it?

    So I guess my question is, is it supposed to look wet/moist at all?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Paulina! This is definitely a moist cake, but shouldn’t be wet after baking. The toothpick test should be the best way to test for doneness – let us know how it turned out!

  27. Deb Williams says:

    Made this cake as written for my husbands birthday. After the party everyone was rushing to call dibs on the leftover cake. It was delicious! Will make again and again.

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