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. It’s also perfect as the bottom tier for a homemade wedding cake!

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.
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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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!


  1. Wow! This cake is gooood! Maybe I might make this soon. As for turning 30, I think you will do just fine. Age is just a number, what matters are the decisions you make in life. Although I admit , it is fun to pretend that we are forever 17!

    1. Agreed age is just a number, but I think wisdom comes with age. I’d never go back to my 20s and as I push 40, I’m glad for the experience I’ve gained. You’re 30 birthday is special though and even more so because it’s just one day difference from your dad!!! And this cake is the perfect way to celebrate. Wegmans, the local grocery store around me (although my D.C. living sister says she now has one by her) had this carrot cake contest and the winer’s recipe was used. This looks so much better!!!

  2. As a vegetable hating child, I always shyed away from carrot cake because I knew the piped-on frosting carrot wasn’t the only carrot in the cake. Needless to say, I love carrot cake now and this may have to be my next weekend baking endeavor!

  3. Carrot cake is my favourite, I’ve yet to find my favourite recipe, but this looks like it could be it! Looks lovely and moist. I’d have to add raisins to mine though

  4. Ok this is a showstopper! This is the 2015 version of your 2014’s Lemon Blueberry Cake 🙂 This is a stunner! I loooove carrot cake and yours looks so moist, fluffy and that frosting! Gotta have lots of it and this cake delivers 🙂

  5. Oh wow, Sally, this looks seriously tasty! Carrot cake is my absolute fave cake. I can’t get enough! And it ALWAYS has to have the cream cheese frosting! Looking forward to trying your version! Honest, I’m so excited.

  6. Favorite desserts are too hard a concept for me to grasp. I love them all! I think I’d rather pick a favorite child.
    I am very grateful that you did not put raisins in this. I like the smoother texture, and raisins interrupt that. This looks seriously perfect!

  7. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has carrot cake for her birthday! This cake look amazing. It is perfectly filled with carrots and pecans. Your weekend sounds like a blast. We also did a wine tasting 😀

  8. We both posted carrot cake recipes today! It’s like Easter is coming or something 😉
    Yours does look SO PERFECT and I LOVE that you added that apple sauce in there to enhance all those yum spices! I could go for 2 slices RIGHT NOW. Pinned!

  9. What a beautiful cake!!! Do you use sweetened or unsweetened applesauce in this recipe?? I can’t wait to make this.

  10. hi..thanx for the scrumptious looking cake…always looking for a carrot cake recipe…difficult..more like impossible to buy carrot cake in Greece! Unfortunately so are pecans impossible to find. Walnuts a good substitute or leave out totally. Thanx .

  11. I love carrot cake. I love it even more when it has chopped walnuts in it. I love walnuts in sweet stuff.
    Age doesn’t matter. I look back now and realize how difficult the 20’s can be. So much to figure out: college is over (what! no more school, but I’ve done that my whole life), starting your career, dating, meeting Mr. Right. Ugh! so much going on.
    You will love being 30.

  12. This cake looks fabulous! I think all the baking nerds out there appreciate your details on making the perfect cake  I know I do! Thanks for the tips! Speaking of visiting friends babies… you and Kevin should be having some babies soon right?!

  13. As a child I always had my Mom’s homemade carrot cake as my birthday cake. I have since transitioned to cheesecake and red velvet cake, but I still do love a good carrot cake! I have a cake to make this week for a co-workers bday and I may just have to try this recipe!

  14. This cake is just calling my name. I always avoid the carrot cupcakes at Costco because I’d basically eat the entire box by myself, but this cake is just so tempting! Don’t think too much about turning 30! My mom advised me that the 30’s were some of her best years (I’m turning 30 next summer), so no need to worry 😀

  15. You can already tell from the photos how dense and moist the whole cake is – yummy! ♥
    As apple pie is also one of my all-time favourite desserts, I can totally imagine that a bit of applesauce adds a nice oomph to the flavour of this carrot cake 🙂

    Also, don’t be afraid of turning 30! Who cares for numbers when you’re still looking so young and bright ?! 😉

  16. Yum! My mother in law’s favorite cake is carrot cake and we’re visiting her in a few weeks…may need to bring this cake along, too! 😉

  17. This carrot cake looks so perfect; those layers of cake seem so flavourful and tasty. I love the contrasting textures of the cake, frosting and pecans, so good!

  18. Ha I had a carrot cake loaded weekend too! I brought 2 test carrot cakes to my in-laws last Friday, and baked another one yesterday. Had a slice of it this morning for breakfast with a tall glass of green juice. It’s all vegetables, right? 🙂

  19. Hi Sally!
    what a wonderful recipe 😀 here in Argentina fall has just began but i’ll have to bake this beautiful cake anyway!
    I LOVE your cream cheese frosting, but i can’t find the brick-style cream cheese, so it turns out to be too liquid. I’ve tried to add more powder sugar and even freeze the frosting before using it but it stays almost the same. If you can give me some advice i’ll be more than thankful!

    1. Are you using cream cheese spread? Definitely avoid that. Do you have Neufchâtel cheese in the stores by chance? You can use that instead. Or try a vanilla frosting.

      1. Yes, i’ve been using that one. I’ll take a look at the store next time, if i can’t find it your vainilla frosting will be a great substitute! Thank you for your quick reply

  20. Carrot cake was my birthday cake of choice this year. I was never a fan until I had my aunt’s birthday cake with raisins and it was SO dense and good. I don’t like “fluffy” carrot cakes. It’s alllll about the “m” word. I got mine from Wegmans. I HIGHLY recommend you get a bottle of wine and split one of the mini cakes with the hubs! 😉 Pinning this FOR SURE.

  21. Sally, this looks AMAZING, and I definitely NEED to try carrot cake something really soon. After over 9 years of baking in the kitchen, I have yet to try something carrot cake flavoured, and it’s about time I do! May I ask what is different about this cake as opposed to your Super Moist Carrot Cake? I don’t know which to try!

    1. Mandie, though the recipes are slightly different, I truly can’t tell a huge taste difference. I added ginger to this particular cake because I had carrot cake with ginger in it a year or two ago and loved it. Besides that, they taste pretty similar.

  22. Have you ever thought about making a Parsnip Cake? Do you think it would be a 1:1 swap out or do you think a blend would be better. I just think it would be an interesting challenge. I’ve never made a carrot cake before–and we are in the midst of a remodel so it would be a bit of time before I’d be able to try doing both, so I thought I’d poke at your experienced brain.

    Thanks in advance!

      1. My husband and I do a root vegetable stew and it calls for parsnips, so we usually have a few on hand. We find they are slightly sweeter and the Great Internet indicates it is more rich in vitamins than the standard orange carrot. (I believe it also said parsnips used to be used for for sweetness before cane sugar became common).

        I thought this could eventually be a way to work veg (or at least more fiber) into a a white cake but didn’t know how it would behave grated.

        I guess I’ll just have to try in a couple months (starting with a blend).

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