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 on marble and wood cake stand

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!

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
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
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 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. 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 3 dozen. Or try my carrot cake cupcakes recipe.

Keywords: carrot cake, cake

690 Comments

  1. Paul Aronowitz says:

    I made this carrot cake with only one deviation from the recipe for a dinner party Saturday evening. I cut the powdered sugar in the icing from 4 cups to 2.5 cups, which was plenty sweet for everyone. The cake came out great. It was moist and delicious. Will definitely make it again. And will again cut the sugar for the icing.

    1. i cut mine to 1.5cups and it is perfect sweetness!

    2. I highly recommend cutting the sugar down to 1 cup, adding 2/3 cup maple syrup and dissolving 1 tsp of instant coffee in a tablespoon if vanilla and mix that it—makes a flavorful and not-to-sweet icing that really compliments this delicious cake recipe—I also added 1/3 cup of molasses to the batter and that made the cake even moister, if that’s possible!

  2. shelby castaneda says:

    I love this recipe and so does everyone else! This is the best carrot cake I have ever tried and everyone says the same thing. Clear instructions and it turns out the same way each time. Definitely a lot of work, but so worth it!

  3. Sandra Tuttle says:

    Would you alter this recipe for altitude. I live at 7,000’ and have made a number of your wonderful recipes but not a cake. I would so appreciate your insight.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sandra, we wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. We know some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  4. Saamiah Aleem says:

    Can I half this recipe to make a single layer carrot cake?

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Saamiah, You can cut this recipe in half and bake in a 9-inch square baking pan (there may be too much batter for a 9-inch round pan). I’m unsure of the exact bake time. Same oven temperature.

      1. Michelle, Do you know how many cups of batter this recipe makes? I want full 2″ tall rounds so I know how many cups of batter I need. Thanks!

    2. This comment is also for Ann Austin below.

      I halved the recipe and baked it into two 6″ layers, each about 1.5″. I didn’t measure cups but I had around 820 grams of batter total, which I split evenly into the two layers. Took 27 minutes per layer to bake (only one 6″ cake pan here). I also halved the the frosting recipe. Even with a fairly heavily frosted cake, I have a good deal of frosting left over.

  5. I want to make a 101st birthday cake that will set out several hours on display. Will this icing hold up for 2 hours in an air-conditioned room?

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Carol! After decorating anything with buttercream or cream cheese frosting, it’s fine for 1 day at room temperature. After that, it’s best to refrigerate it. As always, use your best judgment and whatever you are comfortable with.

    2. Julie Hartley says:

      Can I make this using almond flour instead of all purpose flour?

      1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Julie! No, we don’t suggest that swap. Almond flour and all purpose flour have very different baking properties – best to stick to the recipe!

  6. Vivianne Adams says:

    I love this recipe, I just made it a 2nd time and it’s still amazing! My husband loves it! Do you know how many calories are in it? Or should I calculate each ingredient and divide it by 12?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Vivianne, we’re so glad your family enjoyed this cake recipe! We don’t usually include nutrition information as it can vary between different brands of the same ingredients. Plus, many recipes have ingredient substitutions or optional ingredients listed. However, there are many handy online calculators where you can plug in and customize your exact ingredients/brands. Readers have found this one especially helpful: https://www.verywellfit.com/recipe-nutrition-analyzer-4157076

  7. Can you use melted butter flavor crisco instead?

  8. Have you ever tried making cupcakes with this recipe? Would the baking time or temp be different if I tried baking it in cupcake tins?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sara, you can definitely make cupcakes with this recipe. See final recipe note for details!

  9. What could I replace the applesauce with?

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Habs, 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.

      1. Thank you I used yogurt and it turned out great

  10. Sally, I am a single senior but I still like to bake/ cook for myself. I enjoy your recipes. Please consider us when you post your recipes. I am going to use this recipe today and will have to adapt it to a loaf style cake because it is just me. Yes , I could use the full recipe and freeze some but my only freezer is the one w/ my frig. That is full most of the time because I freeze my pre-cooked meals and put up veggies in season. Thank you.

  11. Hello I am so looking forward to making this cake. I am looking for some guidence in an adjustment of the amount of salt. I need to know how to adjust the salt and baking soda and baking powder, for a diet that is severe salt restrictions.
    Thank you for your time today!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Minnetta, feel free to try adjusting the salt and leaveners based on the diet restrictions you are following, but keep in mind that we can’t guarantee results. Especially with the leaveners, we find the amount as listed to be just right for the optimal taste, texture, and structure. The salt also plays a key role in balancing the sweetness. If you give anything a try, we’d love to know how it goes for you!

  12. Does the oven temperature refer to a fan assisted oven? I am in the UK

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Naomi! All of the recipes on this site are written for conventional (not fan) settings. If you use convection (fan) settings for baking, lower your temperature by 25 degrees F and keep in mind that things may still take less time to bake. Hope you love this cake!

      1. I used a convection oven and 2 pans. I reduced the temperature to 325 degrees and cooked it for 30 minutes. The first one, slightly smaller, was perfect after 30 minutes. The second with more batter needed the 35 minutes.

  13. aurea gonzales says:

    I followed the recipe as written except I used 3/4 cup crushed pineapple; I used cup unsalted butter and used 1/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup shredded coconuts and 1/3 cup walnuts. I followed everything else as the recipe required. The cake was very hard. What did I do wrong?

    1. Hi Aurea, I recommend following the recipe with oil. I do not recommend butter in this cake batter.

  14. Ms Sally,
    I was never a fan of carrot cake and am one of those people that you said ‘don’t like carrot cake’. But this COMPLETELY changed my opinion. Moist, fluffy, sweet, salty, this cake has it all! One of my favourites! As usual, easy to follow the recipe and clear instructions. Thanks for this fantastic game-changer!
    Leah

  15. Hi Sally! Would this carrot cake recipe be sturdy enough for the bottom tier of a 3 tier wedding cake? (obviously using dowling and boards etc) its looks soooo fluffy in the photo!

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alice, We’d recommend following our Simple Homemade Wedding Cake recipe for the assembly — but you can use our carrot cake recipe for the bottom tier. Enjoy!

  16. Amazing recipe!

  17. Nancy L McLean says:

    Hi there just wanted to tell you I always enjoy reading your recipes. Would like to know if I could use two 9 inch rounds for the carrot cake I just didn’t see them in your add ins.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Nancy! Yes, two 9 inch pans will work perfectly. If using two cake pans, bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes (see step 4). Hope you love this cake!

  18. Nancy L McLean says:

    Hi there just wanted to tell you I always enjoy reading your recipes. I cannot wait to make the carrot cake. It sounds so good.

  19. I will try this recipe some other time and hoping i will successfully doing it. But i have one question. Upon grating the carrots, do i need to drain it or squeeze it out?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jay, no need to blot the carrots.

  20. Hello! Hope you can help me.

    I am planning to make this cake using the measurements mentioned above but I will be using a 7×4 loaf pan. Would you be able to compute how many 7x4s can I make using this recipe? Planning to give them as gifts.

    Thank you so much!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Agnes, you can divide this batter between 2 or 3 9×5 inch loaf pans, so at least 3 with your measurements. You’ll have some leftover batter to make a few cupcakes with. We’re unsure of the exact bake time. Our cake pan sizes and conversions guide will also be helpful. Or, you might enjoy our carrot cake loaf instead!

  21. Dear sally,

    I was wondering if you can make this recipe gluten free? I’ve made it twice already and love it, but I have some gluten free guests coming tomorrow.. thanks in advance!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kiki, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flours, but some readers have reported success using 1:1 flour substitutes (like Cup4Cup). If you try it, let us know how it goes!

  22. Hi,
    Could I use this cake/frosting recipe and make them into carrot cake pops ornwould this be too moist?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Anna, that would be delicious! You likely will not want or need all of the frosting, but just enough to make the cake slightly moistened. See our cake pops recipe for more details on the best consistency for cake pops.

  23. Wendy Mastandrea says:

    I made this cake for my husband’s birthday and shared much of it with my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and my mom. They utterly raved about this recipe to the point that my mother told me I was wasting my life and should go work in a bakery! I can count on Sally’s recipes to be the most delicious recipe for what it is I’m baking. Thank you, Sally!

  24. Can you make this in an 8” round pan instead of 9?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mattina, you can divide this batter between three 8 inch pans. Your layers will be a bit thicker than ours so might take an extra minute or two in the oven.

  25. i replaced the nuts to warnuts and used coconut oil and almond milk. and cooked it for 1hr and 10 mins. it turned out perfectly.

  26. Excellent recipe! As are all the recipes I have used from this site, maybe a tweak here and there for personal taste, but that goes for all recipes! Chef for many years and I have a new go to food blogger 🙂 TYVM.

  27. So far this has been the best Birthday Cake I have made. All the kids loved it so much they want it for their birthday too. Thanks

  28. I have finally found the perfect carrot cake! I just left it as 2 9 inch cakes instead of 3, and when I made the frosting just added the sugar to taste, so I’m not sure how much I put in, but I didn’t make it too sweet. The toasted pecans were worth it, as was grating the big carrots. I have tried multiple carrot cake recipes and this is by far the tastiest-my whole family loved it!

  29. I would like to use GF flour for this cake to suit a gluten intolerant friend – have you made this with other flours before and do you think it will still work? 🙂

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Heidi, We haven’t tested this recipe with gluten free flours, but some readers have reported success using 1:1 flour substitutes (like Cup4Cup). If you try it, let us know how it goes!

  30. Hi Sally! I love all your recipes…. you’re my go-to when it comes to all things baking related! Is there any way I can incorporate orange juice in this recipe? Say instead of applesauce? If I do, how much would you suggest adding?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jeena, We don’t recommend replacing the applesauce with juice as the batter would likely be too wet. You can however add orange zest with no other changes to the cake batter and also to the frosting if desired. Let us know if you give it a try!

1 12 13 14 15 16

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

With kitchen-tested quality recipes and step-by-step tutorials, my goal is to give you the confidence to bake and cook from scratch.

Sally's signature

Recipes You’ll Love

Archives

Categories

Join the community on the 1st of every month as we tackle a new challenge recipe. Review Sally's Baking Challenge FAQ page if you have any questions.

View More

Every December we publish 10 new cookie recipes in a row! The 2021 Sally’s Cookie Palooza begins 11/29. Sign up via email and we’ll send you my most popular recipes and all the new cookie recipes once the palooza begins!

View More

Pie Week is all about baking the BEST pies! Sign up via email and we'll send you my most popular recipes and all the new pie recipes once Pie Week begins!

View More

My Cookbooks

Sally's Cookbooks

About Sally

Welcome to my Kitchen!

I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally

×