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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.” It’s my one and only choice on my big day. 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!

And, finally, I firmly believe that the ONLY thing that competes with carrot cake is a batch of carrot cake cupcakes.

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 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, 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 1012 1x
  • 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

Scale
  • 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 cups (480g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 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, 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, a little 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 2 dozen. Or try my carrot cake cupcakes recipe.

Keywords: carrot cake, cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Hi, I’m from Italy and I’m curious to try this recipe… could you please help me understand if I want to use three circular pans which size should I choose for the quantity of ingredients of your recipe? It seems big… could it possibly be a diameter of 24 cm (10 inches)? I’ll wait for your reply, thank you so much in advance.

    1. Hi Giovanna! We’re happy to help. This recipe as written is for either 2 or 3, 9 inch pans. You could use a 10 inch pan as you mention, but they would yield very thin layers. 9 inch pans would be best, if you have access to them. Hope this helps and that you love this cake!

  2. Hi! Could you make the batter a day before baking it? Thank you!

    1. Hi Rebecca, we don’t recommend it. Once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed, the leaveners are activated and it’s best to bake the batter right away. You could bake it one day and serve the next!

  3. This recipe is amazing.

    Seriously, if I hadn’t made it myself I’d think there was some sort of witchcraft that made this cake taste so good.

  4. This cake was really, really good! Used a 9 X 13 pan. I’ll be making this cake a lot!

  5. this is my mums favourite carrot cake! made it for her for mother’s day, thank you!!

  6. This cake is absolutely perfect. I made the cake exactly as written yesterday morning and stored it in the fridge overnight before transporting it to a Mother’s Day party today. The frosting was delicious and a good consistency to decorate with, so I advise people to disregard the other comments about runny frosting and give it a try…immediately!

  7. Can this cake be made into a large sheet cake for 30 guests? What are the measurement conversions please?

  8. Hi…what would be the substitution if you use cake flour please? I am excited to try this recipe. Thank you. JC

    1. Hi JC, we don’t recommend cake flour for this recipe. It’s too light to hold up heavier ingredients in this cake. Best to stick with all purpose flour here!

    1. Yes – see recipe notes for 9×13 baking instructions. Enjoy!

  9. This would be my favourite Carrot cake recipe. I had family recipe tears ago but lost it. This is the closest thus far. My husband loved it. Maybe I’ll cut back a tad on the sugar. Used lemon essence instead. Thank You

    1. Hi Kaolu, we recommend using this batter from our Simply Carrot Cake Cupcakes instead. It yields the perfect amount for 3, 6 inch pans. And it’s adapted from this cake recipe! You can use the baking instructions found in this 6 inch cakes post.

  10. I made a carrot cake for a birthday last week that did not turn out well. Since I still had carrots I made another one today using your recipe. I used walnuts and threw in currants to equal 1 1/4 cups and store bought cream cheese frosting. It is absolutely delicious but will use your recipe for frosting next time. Certainly made up for not-so-good cake last week.

  11. My cake was so moist that it completely fell apart!! I made 3 rounds and they came out of the pans easily but then broke right away. I left them be overnight (covered) hoping they’d recover and it looked like I might have been safe. First two layers went well and then the top later came. Once the frosting was put on top it started splitting and spilling over the edges!

    I have no idea what I did wrong. The only change I made was that I used crushed pineapple instead of applesauce and toothpicks were clean when brought out. Good news is – it is delicious but not sure how to salvage it to serve!?

    1. Hi Lisa, your cakes could have been slightly underbaked. These are moist cake layers but shouldn’t fall apart. You could always crumble them into cups for a cake parfait/layered dessert. So sorry you had trouble with this recipe!

  12. I adore this recipe! I’ve made it 4 times now including a big birthday picnic for a group with…fancy taste buds. It went down so well and I had nothing but compliments. Making it again this weekend for a garden party too

    The only issue is the cream cheese, but the block type isn’t available in the UK so I’ll have to find a way to make the frosting thicker

  13. This is my favorite carrot cake of all time. It’s 100% perfect as written. I make it in two 9 inch pans. It’s always my dad’s birthday cake request and it NEVER fails (except when I am not wearing my glasses – then we might have a problem)! I made it again for his birthday today, but I wasn’t wearing my glasses and I accidentally grabbed the cayenne instead of the cinnamon (my spices are alphabetized and they’re right next to each other in the same type of bottle). And guess what – we actually kind of like it!! As I was transferring the batter to the pans I was trying to figure out why it was spicier than usual. I thought Wow, that freshly grated nutmeg really packs a punch! And then I saw the bottle on the counter which I hadn’t yet returned to the cabinet. I went back and stirred in the required cinnamon, and you know what, it is really kind of interesting!

    Thanks for having such reliably excellent recipes, and especially thanks for including the weights instead of only volume measurements! Baking by weight has changed me from a person that hated to bake to a person that loves to bake!

  14. I made this for the first time yesterday, for a friend having a birthday. It smelled so good while baking, that I decided to made a second cake for my family.

    The flavor is great, but this is the driest carrot cake I’ve ever had. Usually carrot is so moist! Both of my cakes turned out dry and crumbly.

    1. Hi Dawn, is it possible that your cakes were slightly over baked? Even just a minute or so longer than needed can dry out a cake — even very moist ones like this! Be sure to spoon and level or use weight measurement to measure your flour, too. Too much flour can dry out cakes. This post of how to prevent dry and dense cakes might be helpful to review as well. Thanks so much for giving this recipe a try!

  15. Hiya, i’d like to make this (or your cupcake version) but i have seen others with orange zest. Would you recommend adding this and if so, how? Thank you! x

    1. Hi Ana, you can certainly add zest to the cake. Feel free to add your desired amount in with the other wet ingredients. Enjoy!

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