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!

679 Comments

  1. Made his for my son’s 25th birthday. Carrot cake and British Sticky Toffee Pudding cake are his favorites. Aside from always making homemade, any bought cake cannot hold a candle to homemade. I did use both unsweetened applesauce and crushed pineapple for flavor. The even color is gorgeous. It is moist and the flavor bursts in your mouth. I did it in a 9×13 pan for portability and simplicity. It is YUMMY! Thank you for your recipe! How about a Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe? Also, Swiss Brunsli cookies? I always have issues translating ml to cups. Happy Holidays!

      1. I got a little pack of small apple sauce cups and used about 2/3 of one. The crushed pineapple was a small tin and I used about 4 heaping tablespoons. The rest you can eat or put in jello! The cake was delish and moist. The nuts? The pecans really make it!

  2. I really want to try your recipe for your favorite carrot cake, but the website sends me all over the place and I still can’t print it out. If you would please send me this recipe I would be most grateful.
    thanks,

    Erin Day

    1. Hi Erin! If you click Jump to Recipe at the top of this post, the recipe pulls right up! It shouldn’t be bouncing you around.

    1. It should be ok to stack as long as it’s properly supported with cake rounds and dowels. I have never tried carving this particular cake but let me know if you try it!

  3. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for this recipe, have been making carrot cake, but without un sweetened applesauce. How can I make this sauce… Thanks, appreciated.

  4. Hi Sally,
    I would love to try your recipe for a crowd, so I would make 3 or 4 times the recipe and cook it in one of those big stainless steel trays. How much time should it cook for approximately?

  5. Wondering if I could make using gluten free flour like Bobs Red mill 1 for 1 baking flour. Need for a birthday cake….

  6. Hi Sally! This recipe is just amazing, I made the cake today, I haven’t tasted it yet, but it smells amazing and it’s really soft and moist, I can tell.
    Unfortunately I couldn’t find the block of Philadelphia cheese, so I just used the original one in small plastic boxes, but it’s probably not the same. The cream was a bit runny, but I just put it like that and the cake is in the fridge, it will surely be delicious, it’s just not as pretty as I wanted it, you know!?
    Is there any advice you could give me for the cream? I really don’t know where to find that block of cheese in Germany, I haven’t seen it anywhere.

    1. Hi Miruna! It’s hard when products are different in different parts of the world. Skipping the cream/milk in the frosting will keep it a little thicker. You can also try substituting mascarpone for the cream cheese, too. You may have an easier time finding that product!

      1. Thank you so much! I will try it with mascarpone next time, which will be for Christmas. It’s definitely a Christmas cake! Should I use the same amounts of the other ingredients? Or should I just look up a whole new recipe for a mascarpone-based frosting?

  7. Hi sally thanks or the recipe at first! Want to give a try this Sunday but if I left ginger and cloves can the flavor still the same? I dont like both.

    1. I made this recipe for Thanksgiving today. I made yesterday and it is waiting in the fridge for dessert today. I can’t wait to taste and let you know what everyone thought. It is my nephew’s favorite cake!
      Fingers crossed!

  8. Hi Sally, sorry if somebody already asked this. So many comments I couldn’t read all of them. Can I use Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (It says it’s for cakes, pies, cookies….). Thanks

  9. I want to make this for the holiday but have 2 8” pans. How full should I fill them? I’ll use the extra for a little cake for me thanks!

  10. Hi Sally,
    I have a quick question! I am not totally sure you would be able to answer it, but totally worth asking!

    I once made a carrot cake that had a buttermilk glaze and cream cheese frosting. It got pretty awesome feedback, but I feel since then, after following so many of your recipes, I have become a better baker.

    I want to bake your carrot cake, top it with the buttermilk glaze, and use your cream cheese frosting.

    For reference, the buttermilk glaze recipe:
    – 1 cup sugar
    -1.5 tsp baking soda
    -1/2 cup buttermilk
    -1/2 cup butter or margarine
    -1 T light corn syrup
    – 1 tsp vanilla extract

    Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.

    I hope to hear from you soon, as I plan to make this for Thanksgiving!

    I just love your recipes so much! 🙂

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  11. This cake was moist and soooo delicious!!!! My family loved this recipe- when I asked for a rating out of 5 stars- they said 6 lol. They did not think they were going to like it much but they were surprised at how amazing it was! I was inspired by my mom’s love of the carrot cake from the Macy’s bakery which she would pick up for special occasions, now I’m going to make it for special occasions in her honor 🙂 thank you for this excellent recipe!

  12. I made this incredible cake for my family and they loved it. Ones who love carrot cake raved and ones who didn’t like carrot cake are now converted! My Mom does not like nuts so I ground them so she wouldn’t get chopped pieces and she loved it too! Thanks!!!

  13. I made this recipe exactly as is. Toasted the pecans, used the apple sauce, etc. Only thing I changed was I used one box of confectioners sugar in the frosting which came to a little less than the recipe called for (simply because that’s all i had on hand) and it still turned out perfect. It is hands down the best carrot cake I’ve ever had (bakery bought or homemade!!!!). I can’t wait to share it with my family tomorrow for Thanksgiving. SO excited about how wonderful it turned out. Thanks Sally!!!!!!

  14. Made this for Thanksgiving and it was so delicious!!! Just as you said, it is moist and perfect and easy to make. I used the toasted pecans, the applesauce, and grated the carrots using my food processor. I like the bundt cake presentation so I put it in a bundt pan and cooked for 55min exactly and it was done. Since my Dad does not like frosting on any cake, I gave the cake a dusting of powdered sugar for presentation and it was perfect! But…..I made the frosting and we put it in a bowl next to the cake, like it was a whipped cream! This frosting was so amazing!! Easy to make and it came out perfect! Love this recipe and will definitely make it again! Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. My Dad’s favorite cake is Carrot cake so I made this cake for a family dinner; it was a hit! Dad said It was a winner and hid the remaining cake for himself. It was very moist and had the perfect amount of spice. Parchment paper is a must; the cakes came out so nicely. I will definitely make this cake again, thank you for sharing.

  16. Made this cake twice for birthdays. Second time I made the cake 5 days in advance, cooled it completely and froze them. Took both layers out of freezer day before and defrosted in fridge. They were perfect. Iced them day I needed them. You would never have known the cakes were previously frozen.

    1. Hi Rachel, for best taste, I recommend following the recipe. However, you can try using allspice in place of the ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. I recommend about 1 – 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of allspice. Keep the cinnamon in the batter.

  17. Hi Sally! I plan on making this cake for the holidays, but I would like to leave out the pecans (or any nuts) for some guests’ dietary restrictions. Given this, will the recipe (other ingredients–example: add in more carrots to compensate for the missing pecans, etc.) change?

  18. Hi Sally, I want to make this cake for my niece’s birthday this weekend. She loves carrot cake but my concern is can I put fondant on top of this cake and cream cheese frosting?

    1. HI Claudia, If you are using fondant and cream cheese frosting I would recommend serving this right away. Cream cheese frosting should be refrigerated and fondant shouldn’t be!

  19. This came out delicious! I used a small can of drained crushed pineapple instead of applesauce and added 1/2 cup shredded coconut. Moist and perfect. Spiced nicely . Easy. Everyone loved it!

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