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

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

934 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Most amazing recipe! We used golden raisins because that’s what we had. SOOOOO good!!! I’ll never use regular raisins in carrot cake again

  2. Hi!!! Please let me know!!
    I only have one tray, it is the same result if I bake them one by one
    I want to Bake today

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Maria, You have a couple of options. You can bake all of this batter in one 9×13 inch pan, see recipe notes for details. Or you can split the batter in half and bake the first half in one 9 inch round cake pan, bake time will be 30-35 minutes. Leave the remaining batter loosely covered at room temperature until you are ready to bake the second half. Enjoy!

      1. Enormously and huge thank you
        Yes I want to have this in 9” round one
        I wish for 3 layers but I think is not possible to keep that long the batter in the room temp
        Or please let me know if is any chance
        If not, 2 layers is ok too

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        I would suggest two layers as that is less time your batter would need to sit. As soon as you mix your batter together the baking soda and baking powder are activated so the longer your batter sits the less your cake may rise. I hope this helps!

    2. I did a cupcake version of this and they turned out to be fantastic! Your site is a treasure chest of wonderful recipes Sally, thank you soooo much for being so generous, sharing them right here for all of us to run to for our needs for delicious baked foodies!
      Anyway, two things, I notice that a lot of the cake stuck on the liner. Was that expected since the cake is moist and dense? Second, are there any tweaks needed before baking them on loaf pans if I want to make loaf breads instead?

    3. Hi,
      I was wondering if I can use light cream cheese for the cream cheese frosting (because the recipe says to use full-fat cream cheese.) Will this make the frosting turn out bad, or is it ok? Thanks. 🙂

      1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Ashlynn, It depends on what you are using it for. Low fat cream cheese will result in a thinner less creamy frosting. If you are trying to pipe or have it hold up to decorations then I would wait until you can get the full fat.

      2. Thank you, is there anything I can add to the cream cheese to make it thicker?

  3. I bake a lot of cakes, but I’ve always been nervous to make carrot cake. After making this one, though, I have no idea why I was scared! It’s moist (but not dense) and super flavorful! The ginger adds such a nice kick. And toasting the pecans in advance is a must! Thank you for such a great recipe; I will definitely be making it again!

  4. If I want to make a tall, four-layer cake, should I double this recipe? Excited to try it out for my grandmother’s birthday soon!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Georgie, We recommend that you make the recipe twice instead of doubling it for the best texture. You can make each recipe in two pans instead of three – If using two cake pans, the bake time will be 30-35 minutes. We hope your grandmother has a great birthday!

  5. I made the cake and its phenomenal! But I messed up on the frosting. For some reason it keeps melting? I followed the recipe exact I don’t know why its melting when it comes out of the fridge. Can you help me out please?

    1. The frosting mixture might be too thin, in this case you should add more confectioner’s sugar. Hope that helps!

  6. Best. Carrot Cake. Ever! I am not a huge carrot cake person (and even so I really liked this cake!) but my Mom is and asked for one for her birthday. I made the cake per the recipe but left out the clove and cut back on the nutmeg and ginger a smidge. It made a big 3 layer cake! My Dad wanted to send some home with me but I said just freeze it in slices to enjoy later. I asked him about it and he said it never made it to the freezer. It was so good they couldn’t stop eating it! So moist and full of flavor!

    1. How best can I triple the recipe

  7. I have made this recipie before and loved it. If I cut out one cup of sugar how would this effect the cake (other than flavour) would I have to add extra something else?

    1. I use 275 g and I don’t see any issues in lack of moisture or texture. I find you can lower sugar drastically without altering flavour.

  8. I don’t often comment on recipes. But I have to say this carrot cake is tried and true. I make it for most occasions and have made 4 times already this year for celebrations. Thank you !
    I love to keep the cake recipe (I always add a little less sugar to be honest) and I’ve found 275 g of a mix of sugars is good for my taste. I make my own cream cheese frosting with lemon zest, cinnamon, vanilla and salted butter to taste 🙂 . Thank you Sally!- there are not many other recipes online I can say will be in my “lifetime” recipe book.

    1. Sheila Wagner says:

      Would love to see your recipe for your own cream cheese frosting!

  9. Hi Sally,

    Is it possible to make this cake with egg substitutes?
    Sounds crazy I know.

    Thank you.

  10. Priyangi Pujara says:

    Absolutely wonderful recipe…loved the cake !

  11. Great cake! I can’t find blocks of cream cheese where I am, only tubs – what difference does it make? I can imagine the icing maybe being more liquid with the tub stuff, but is there also some different ingredients in the tub cheese?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Dave, Are you outside of the US by any chance? From what we understand, spreadable cream cheese sold in a tub in countries outside of the US is a little different from the spreadable cream cheese in the US. It’s thicker, sturdier, more solid, and other readers have reported success using it.

  12. My son has requested one for his birthday this weekend! 😀 I have two 9″ pans as well as two 8″ pans. Every time I’ve made other cakes with 9″ pans, they’ve been a little “flat”. Is there enough batter for these layers to be taller (with 2) or should I shift to 8″ pans?
    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kim, This is a pretty tall cake – it’s enough to use for three 9 inch layers, so if using two 9 inch pans your layers should be pretty thick 🙂 We hope your son has a great birthday!

      1. Thank you! 🙂

  13. Best carrot cake – hands down. Thank you for sharing. I didn’t have unsweetened applesauce so I used sour cream.

  14. This is a scrumptious carrot cake!! The best I have ever made. Everyone you tasted it was raving about it. I will make it again for Christmas as it is a sure hit. Loved it! Thank you Sally.

  15. Hi Sally! I’d love to try this recipe, but with 6″ round pans. How would you adjust this in terms of number of pans and baking time? Thanks!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Martha, You can fill your pans about 2/3 full and follow the bake times in the post for 6 Inch Cakes and then use the leftover batter for some cupcakes on the side. Or if you don’t want any leftovers, the batter for Carrot Cake Cupcakes fits perfectly into three 6 inch pans.

  16. I measured out 240ml oil, make cake turned out really oily. The next day I measure 1 cup of oil and it was only around 180 ml. It may be worth adjusting the grams in the recipe.

  17. Hi, I so much want to be part of your recipes, by just reading your recipes, I know this is Winner recipes. I don’t have a website. I have my e-mail address but somehow it always get send back, because they ask for more information

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rose, All of our recipes are on this site for your to find! If you are having trouble getting onto our mailing list to receive emails send us an email at [email protected] so we can help!

  18. Hey, I want to make this cake for my girlfriends birthday but I only have one 10″ pan. I’m planning to bake two layers but I’m not sure how much the recipe needs to be changed to accommodate for this. Any help would be great 🙂

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jon, For different pan sizes you can use the post Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to help calculate how much batter you would need.

  19. Loved this recipe!
    I made this cake for my grandpa’s birthday and he loved it!

  20. Oh my gosh! These are the best carrot cake and cream cheese icing recipes I’ve EVER made (and I’ve been baking for 45 years!)

    The cake is so moist and the icing has just the right sweetness/cream cheese combination.

    I baked mine in a 9 x 13 glass pan for 40 minutes. It’s my definite favourite and I’ve passed it on to my adult kids. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Did you have to change the amount of icing made to cover the 9×13 size?

  21. Better than any carrot cake I’ve had! Especially store bought. My new favorite thing to bake.

  22. This carrot cake was a huge hit and I’m definitely making it again! It is sooo moist and it keeps well – in fact it tasted even better 3 days later as the flavour of the spices really infuses into the cake and it didn’t dry out even though it was sliced. Someone thought the cake was store bought and couldn’t believe I baked it …! The only tweaks I made was I used walnuts instead of pecans and I cut down the amount of icing sugar to 100g as I personally found the cake a bit too sweet and I prefer to bake with less sugar if possible. So next time I will try cutting down on sugar in the cake to 275g (as some other comments said they used that amount of sugar and it didn’t affect how their cake turned out).

  23. I’ve tried this one twice, and while it should be good and does eventually come out good, I always have to cook it at least 2x the baking time. I did 2 pans for 30-35 mins at 350 both times. This second time it just *won’t cook*!!!! I don’t get it. It’s freaking *wet* in the middle. I’m really frustrated because I guess now all I can do is throw it out.

  24. Looking to make this for my wife’s birthday coming up very shortly (This week).

    I was wondering if you can add 3 cups of grated carrots? Would that affect the recipe?

    1. Hi Wayne, my apologies– I’m just seeing your comment now. You can try adding another cup of shredded carrots, but the baked cake may taste pretty weighed down.

  25. My comment isn’t here? OK I officially don’t trust ratings for online recipes if it’s “awaiting moderation” and then just disappears.

    1. Hi dd, we don’t see an original comment from you on this post or in the spam filter. Do you have a question or review? Feel free to leave it again. Thank you!

  26. Hi sally I made this cake it was delicious we all loved it but the only thing was my cake had sunk in the middle I don’t know what happened I left it out to cool I came back and it had sunk any idea why? Or how can I make it better next time? But overall great recipe!!!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alyssa, A cake that sinks in the middle is often under-baked. If it still seems a bit raw in the center next time bake it for a minute or two longer.

  27. Anyone tried Swerve for all the various sugars? Also if I only have macadamia
    nuts, would the flavor be weird?

  28. Hi , this recipe is the best,
    i recommend it to anybody who want to bake carrot cake, best for every occasion.

  29. Best carrot cake ever! It was moist and the spices are just right! My coworkers all loved it and asked for the recipe. I love the way the recipe is written and also the notes at the bottom which answer questions you may have. Thank you so much!

  30. Can fresh nutmeg be grated and used instead of ground nutmeg?

    1. Absolutely. I recommend 1/2 teaspoon of fresh.

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