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!

626 Comments

    1. My 4 year old helped her, YaYa, feed her chickens the other day and came home with some fresh eggs. So I asked her what she wanted to make with them, a cheesecake? And she said no, she wanted a carrot cake! I love carrot cakes, but had never made one before so I was searching for a good recipe. And I decided on yours because my daughter’s name is Sally….seemed only fitting! I made this exactly like your recipe said and it was sooooo good! I will definitely be making this again, and again, and again!

  1. Sally, This recipe is out of this world.. So simple and yet so scrumptious !!!
    Carrot cake is my favorite but the ones sold in store are too sweet. OR they have walnuts /pecans/ Cheese frosting which my allergic boy can not eat. I used pineapple instead of applesauce. And this cake was liked by every one ! Even without frosting ! I can’t thank you enough for bringing back the Carrot cake in my (our) life ..

  2. Hi! This sounds delicious and I cant wait to make it. What would be the cooking time for 2 x 8in springform cake tins?

    1. Hi, if adding in coconut flakes, should they be sweetened or unsweetened (and how much should I add)?

      Can the baked carrot cake be frozen?

  3. Looking forward to making your carrot cake. I have been making carrot cake for over 50 years as it is a family favorite and want to compare recipes as mine has pineapple and coconut.

  4. What a grand recipe! The cake was delicious!!! I used less sugar (quite a bit less) and it was still out of this world!

  5. Hi Sally,
    I’m wanting to make carrot cake whoopie pies. Could I use this recipe and bake the same time as your other whoopie pie recipes?

    1. I’m afraid this batter would be too thin to maintain the shape needed for whoopie pies. If you happen to have a whoopie pie pan you could certainly try making it in that. I love this idea though and might need to add this flavor to my recipe testing idea list!

      1. Please do!! There are other recipes online, but I really like the flavor of this cake.
        Let me know how your testing goes!

  6. Sally! So excited to make this but I’m curious, if I only have 2 9in Pans should I just do the longer cooking time or should I cook 2 and then make the last one after the others come out?

    1. If you have deep pans it should be ok to make two layers with this particular recipe. I have made it as a bundt cake and it worked well so I don’t think it would be too much batter in each pan. Without testing it, I’m unsure of the bake time.

  7. Sally, I know you posted this recipe a long time ago so not sure if you’ve changed anything. My question is about the baking soda. My recipe uses 2 tsp soda and no baking powder so I tried the 2 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp baking powder – since I was trying your recipe using brown sugar.

    My cakes fell a bit in the middle but they tasted good.
    Do you think I should use the even amounts of baking soda and baking powder
    Or do you think it could be because I tried using cake flour?

    1. Hi Donna! I do not recommend using cake flour for this recipe. The wet ingredients are simply too heavy and cake flour isn’t strong enough to support them. That’s likely why your cakes sank. Let me know if you try this recipe again with all-purpose flour. Thank you!

  8. This cake is awesome! I made it with the applesauce, as suggested, and it was beautifully moist without being oily. I have also made sally’s strawberry cake. Both got rave reviews. This gal really knows her cakes 🙂

  9. Hi Sally. Is it okay to not add the nuts or the nutmeg? I can’t stand the taste or the smell of nutmeg in anything. Also, I see lots of people use orange juice and/or zest in their recipes, how come you didn’t? or is that where the apple sauce or pineapples come in?

    1. Yes you can skip the nuts and nutmeg. I do use orange in some of my other carrot cake recipes but in this one I kept it to the traditional carrot flavor. Feel free to add some orange zest if you would like!

  10. Cake was incredible – moist, soft, flavorful, everything you want it to be.

    I did the frosting with only one package of cream cheese (because that’s all I had) and another half a stick of butter. It actually came out great, perhaps just a little too wet. If I were to do it again I would use the 8oz of cream cheese and not add as much extra butter. Maybe a couple of tablespoons. I was happy with that amount of cream cheese flavor – definitely noticeable but not overpowering.

  11. Hey!

    Can I sub apple sauce in place of the eggs? Or will this end up being too much apple sauce? What can i use instead of eggs?

  12. Sally, can I bake it with whole wheat flour? Would it be the same amount or should I change any other ingredients if i put the same amount? thank you!!! Congratulations for your blog and your recipes, they never fail!!! 🙂

    1. Hi Cristina! I haven’t tested this carrot cake recipe with whole wheat flour before. You can try it, it would be a 1:1 swap.

      1. Hello Sally! I tried it with whole wheat flour with a 1:1 swap as you said and also swapped the applesauce for squeezed banana And it was perfect! Very juicy!! thanks a lot for your help!

  13. Hi! I would love to learn how to adapt your recipes for various cake pans. I know it’s a matter of math (not my strongest suit). For example, I’m stressing myself out trying to quantify how much of each ingredient I would need to convert this recipe to two 6” pans… thanks!

    1. Hi Melissa, you can simply try cutting this recipe in half for a smaller cake. Many readers have found this chart to be helpful when making different size cakes: https://www.joyofbaking.com/PanSizes.html
      Remember to fill your cake pans no more than 2/3 full and if you have leftover batter you can make a few extra cupcakes with it 🙂

      1. Amazing, thank you! I’m excited to try this recipe today!

        P.S. my dog loves your peanut butter bacon biscuits! I’ve made them four times now. Xo

    1. Hi Brandon, this cake recipe yields a lot of batter. Divide between 2 or 3 9×5 inch loaf pans. I’m unsure of the exact bake time.

  14. I love carrot cake-like you it’s been my birthday go -to for years. My family likes it but no one in my family likes nuts in their baked goods. Can I leave the pecans out of the recipe? Will it change the flavor too much?
    Can’t wait to try it!

  15. Hi Sally!

    Hope you’re well!

    I’m planning on making this for a birthday party (yay!). I had some friends bring me this incredible Apple Butter from Ohio, and thought it might be a neat idea to sub the applesauce for apple butter. Would you happen to know if this would work? I was even considering swapping out 1/4 cup of the apple sauce for just 1/4 cup of apple butter. Let me know your thoughts, please! Thanks a million.

    1. Hi Julian, This recipe calls for unsweetened applesauce and apple butter is usually made with a lot of sugar (which is why it’s so yummy!). I would be afraid it would make the cake too sweet without altering any other ingredients. I do LOVE apple butter so enjoy it as a topping where you can really let it shine 🙂

      1. Ah yes… the sweetness. You’re completely right. I am so glad I asked! Thank you so much for replying. Looking forward to making this cake! Have a SPOOKTACULAR day! 🙂

  16. This was an easy and absolutely scrumptious carrot cake. My husband and I put all the ingredients together and it was a hit at church and office. Very nice!! Thanks for the recipe it is a keeper

  17. Hi Sally!

    I tried this recipe and it was a total hit. I saved the domes for the next few days to have with coffee..yum yum!

    How much more shredded carrots can I add without messing up the texture?

    Thanks in advance

  18. This was the best carrot cake I’ve ever had it was Devoured by everyone who ate itand I used the applesauce in mine it was moist not to sweet actually the perfect cake I’m making this cake again loved it !

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