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.
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.
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?! 😉
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—I love using them in my pecan pie cheesecake, too. 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!
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
There’s no emotion quite like sadness you’ll experience when that last slice is gone!
Carrot Cake Success Tips
- 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!
- 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.
- Use freshly grated carrots. Grate them yourself.
My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe
- 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 (spooned & 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
- 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.
- Turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C). Grease two or three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 turntable, 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.
- Cover leftover frosted cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Glass Mixing Bowl | Whisk | Wooden Spoon | Spatula | 9-Inch Round Cake Pans | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Cake Turntable | Icing Spatula | Cake Carrier (for storage)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cream Cheese: Use blocks of real cream cheese. Not cream cheese spread.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Comments & Reviews
Sally, I love your blog and get many recipes from it – I must say the absolute best recipe is your Carrot Cake made with applesauce. I made it this past weekend for Easter and OOH MY – it was so Delicious!!
It was moist, tender crumb, perfectly spiced, great frosting.
The noise coming from my husband and guest when eating this cake – e.g. oooohhhh so good, mmmmmmmm, this is the best. This is the absolute best carrot cake ever!
I bake a lot and nothing before gave me such pleasure as this carrot care. Just wanted to share with you.
Definitely my favorite carrot cake, I made it for this Easter again. Really good. I only reduced the sugar amount. I went with 200 grams of brown sugar and 50 grams of white sugar. It didn’t do anything to the structure, it was fine. But other than that, this is definitely the one! Happy Easter everyone!
So fun to make!! Can’t wait to bring it out for Easter dessert. As always, THANK YOU SALLY!!
Have made this cake recipe 4 times and it is by far the best I’ve ever had. I substituted the applesauce for pineapple after making it with applesauce the first go around. The toasted pecans add SO SO SO much flavor. And letting it sit for a day or two is literally magic!!
I’m planning to make this cake tomorrow for Easter. My husband is a carrot cake fanatic so I figured after 10+ years together I should finally attempt to make one for him. 🙂 I do not have any ground cloves. Can I replace it with cinnamon? Or is it crucial for the correct flavor? I could go purchase some if necessary. Lastly, I made your fudgey brownies last weekend (first time making homemade!) and they were SO good! Love your blog.
Hi Lara! You can replace the ground cloves with a little cinnamon. The carrot cake will still taste wonderful. It’s my favorite and I hope your husband enjoys it too!
Hi Sally – I have been looking for a carrot cake recipe and this looks perfect!
There is a nut allergy in the family…would this taste ok without pecans?
Also when making frosting, should the paddle or whisk attachment be used?
Thanks so much!
Hi Stephanie! You can leave out the nuts. Use a paddle or whisk attachment for the cream cheese frosting. I typically reach for the whisk attachment for cream cheese frosting, but either are great!
I love this carrot cake! I have made it a lot of times. The only issue I have is keeping the frosting “firm” enough to stak my cake. I alwys keep the frosting in the refrigerator for at least 30min before piping…any ideas or what to add to stiffen up the frosting?
Kind regards from Germany
Hi Greta! From what we understand, cream cheese outside of the US is usually not as firm, I wonder if this is the issue. Adding more confectioners’ sugar will help the frosting firm up, or letting it sit in the fridge for longer (closer to an hour may help). We’re so glad you love this carrot cake recipe!
Any suggestions for a frosting if making this cake as a bundt cake instead?
Hi Leslie! See recipe note.
Hi, Sally! Do you drain the crushed pineapple? Thanks.
Hi Suz! Slightly drain the canned crushed pineapple first. You want it the consistency of applesauce– not too watery.
Excited to make this! I tried the recipe in muffin form an loved it so in a few days it will become a two layer cake. One question, would it work to switch some of the cream cheese for mascarpone? I really love marscarpone in frosting and was wondering if I coud encorporate it somehow.
Love your recipes Sally! I have been baking your recipes for years now, they really got me into baking.
Hi Sophia! Yes, of course. Swapping out some of the cream cheese for mascarpone would be great!
I’ve never made one and want to try. Would this work in a loaf pan(s)? Does it rise much so I shouldn’t fill the pan all the way? I hope you can answer.
I recommend splitting between 2 loaf pans.
Looking forward to making this cake for a baby shower! What’s the best/easiest way to grate the carrots? Can I use my food processor or do I need to do it by hand with a box grater? Thanks!
Hi Sarah! A food processor will just chop it up into small chunks, so I recommend a box grater.
Once again a perfect recipe. I have never made a carrot cake so this was my first. It was fantastic. The whole family loved it. I am so glad you suggested toasting the pecans. It made the cake extra special. Thanks again Sally for a perfect recipe. Your daughter is beautiful!
Made this for my daughter’s 25th birthday party. I love that it isn’t oily-sugary like my old recipe. Made it with crushed pineapple and I heated the drained juice and plumped about a half cup of raisins in it. WOW – I racked up the compliments on this cake. Thank you for a wonderful recipe!
I just wanted to say thank you for the delicious recipe! I’ve had many carrot cakes but this one is my favorite. I made it for a large Easter lunch and my entire family raved about it!! I always trust your recipes – you have become my go-to if I’m looking for something special!
Just made this for Easter and it tastes and looks amazing!! It was my first EVER frosted and layered cake so thanks for the recipe!!
Hi Sally, this is the third time making your delicious carrot cake. The first time it came out perfect. The second and third were not so great. They are browning to fast and when I take them out to cool the bottom of the cakes smell burned. What should i do??
Hi Sharon– are you changing anything in the recipe from the first time you prepared the cake? I can’t imagine what could be different now. Are you baking in a convection oven? Try lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees. Lower temperature and a slightly longer bake time could help.
Hi Sally- This is by far, the best carrot cake I have ever made, and I’ve made plenty, so thank you for such an amazing recipe. I would like to now make this in a loaf pan, and maybe add some pumpkin puree to it. What changes would you suggest, if any? Would love to hear your ideas. Thanks again 🙂
Dear Sally! Thank you so much for your wonderful recipe!!!!! The instructions are so clear and easy to follow as well~ I made muffins with frosting and decorated with pistcahio according to your recipe and they simply taste perfect!!!! Everyone loves it! 😀
You helped me feel more confident and enjoy baking!
I just wanted you to know that I made this cake for a friend’s party and I have actually received calls from other guest just to tell that it was the best cake they have ever tasted.
I have been asked to make it again.
Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe, it was so delicious so moist. I even halved the recipe for a smaller cake too and it was PERFECT.
Hi Sally! I’ve made several of your recipes (all excellent results!) and I love the addition of heavy cream to your frostings because when whipped, it adds a beautiful light/fluffy quality with rich flavor. I’m looking to make this cake for my birthday but I love a citrusy cream cheese frosting. I typically add some fresh orange or lemon juice but I’m concerned how that might interact with the cream. Would zest be better? Thank you!!
Sounds delicious. I would simply use the zest. Though a couple teaspoons of the juice won’t be much of an issue. You can always add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract as well.
This cake is insanely delicious exactly as written, and the cream cheese frosting is the best I’ve ever had! Definitely a keeper, will be making this again!
Amazing, and so easy! I recently made this cake for my grandmother’s 88th birthday party and everyone loved it. Three people asked me for the recipe. The only thing I changed was using walnuts instead of pecans because my grandmother loves walnuts. Thank you for the recipe!
Made this cake exactly as the recepie indicated with one exception – I used a bundt baking pan and baked it @ 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Turned out excellent and the taste exceptional! I did use apple sauce and pecans on thus first round. The next time I make this cake I will try it with Coconut and Pineapple! This recepie is definitely a keeper!
Great recipe! This was the first cake I ever baked that wasn’t in a box for my wife’s birthday. My wife said it was the best birthday cake she ever had. I used the crushed pineapple instead of the apple sauce. Thank you for sharing the recipe.
After comparing comments for Super Moist Carrot Cake and this one I think I will bake this one because of the size. Do you think this recipe would work for a sheet pan, size 12x17x1? thanks, I have always loved your site!!
Yes, it should work in that size sheet pan. Unsure of the exact bake time though. Enjoy!
I’ve made this cake twice for my family and it disappeared in a matter of a couple of days! I took the pineapple substitution and it was amazing! This cake will definitely be making an appearance at Thanksgiving! Thanka, Sally, for another great recipe!
Made this cake for my husband’s birthday dinner. It was delicious!! Just the right balance in all the ingredients and made a TON of frosting…which is great, because who doesn’t like cream cheese frosting?!
Just made this cake today for a friend’s Birthday, I tasted a bit of it when I was shaving the top off the first layer to make it smooth for the icing and it was delicious! My house smells heavenly. I decided (after I had already cleaned up and washed everything) to make another one for our family. I just know my husband is going to come home and be so happy that I made one for him too! Time for a cappuccino and a nap in that order! Can’t wait to try some of your other recipes 🙂
Hands down THE best carrot cake! I made this for Easter (minus nuts, as we have a nut allergy in our family). Everyone loved it!
Extremely yummy!! I reduce the sugar to 2 cups and add a little extra cinnamon to peace my Indian heritage.. wonderful outcome. Tq