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.
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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. 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

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, 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. 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!

998 Comments

  1. I have made this recipe many times now. It’s has become a family favorite. Thanks Sally for yet another great recipe

  2. Such a fantastic recipe! The cake was fluffy and oh so moist! I am used to very dense oily carrot cake and this was NOT that. The icing was also perfect.

  3. Hi there, I Just made this cake ..it’s super delicious and my house smells yummy…

    This is my first ever cake from SCRATCH. Always relied on easy to make cake boxes. It’s really worth all the time and effort.

    The only change I made was I added a little fresh ginger and orange Zest along with the apple purée which was part of the recipe ingredients

    Thank you so much for all the tested tips and tricks. You and your site is super amazing. I’m an old subscriber and your site is my ONE stop for all my baking needs 🙂

  4. Hi Sally – I’m so in debt for all your knowledge, baking tips and of course wonderful recipes! Am wanting to make a carrot cake for a friend’s 60th where there will be 15 people. I note you say servings will stretch to 12 people, but being a 9 inch cake I just wanted to clarify that number please? Also can it be made in 2 x 10 inch pans? Many thanks for any advice and with best wishes from a New Zealand fan 🙂

    1. Hi Bron, Servings really depend on how large or small you cut your slices 🙂 You can easily make this cake in a 9×13 inch pan or a bundt pan (see recipe notes) with out making any changes. You would have to scale up the recipe for 10 inch pans which required some math. You can see exactly how to figure this out in my post on Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions.

    1. I don’t recommend butter– stick with oil for this recipe. 1 cup of melted butter won’t bring the same moisture. If you prefer a butter based cake, most (not all, but most) of my cake recipes are made with butter.

  5. Hi Sally, the recipe looks fabulous and I’m looking forward to making this! I wondered if you prefer to use soft dark brown or soft light brown sugar?

    1. Either works! Dark brown sugar has a little more flavor. But there is SO much flavor already in this cake recipe. Use whichever you’d like.

  6. This cake is currently in the oven so I can’t speak to the cake itself (although I’m sure it will be great), the reason I am commenting is to THANK YOU for posting your recipe with weight measurements in addition to volume. There is no better way to achieve consistent results other than recipes by weight. I have an app on my phone for converting volume to weight; it was so nice not to have to use that for your recipe!

  7. Hi, Sally!
    I’ve been using this recipe for so many times already and it never disappoint. My brother-in-law asked me to make this for their wedding cake next week. Please help with the measurements for 3 6″ layer cake. I will make the 9″ as base and 6″ at the top.

    Hoping for your response. Thanks in advance!

  8. Hi, I love everything I’ve ever made from this website! I’m making a carrot cake for my friends baby shower. She loves carrot cake, but is allergic to all nuts. Will this cake work without the pecans? If not do you have a nut free version? Personally, I think the more nuts the better, but it’s not for me!

  9. I have one word for this cake — OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!! I had to reduce the sugar in both the cake and the frosting due to severe health issues, but the cake has such huge flavor that it didn’t matter. Your instructions were perfect, and the cake IS my favorite carrot cake (although I looked no further than this one, and don’t feel the need to look any more). Your favorite carrot cake recipe is now MY favorite carrot cake recipe! Thank you for sharing.

  10. I made this recipe as a treat for a holiday celebration. It was so moist and full of flavour and got rave reviews. Thank you Sally. You are my go to for the best recipes. They always have lots of flavour and instructions are easy to follow. I have learned much from your baking tips.

  11. Hello Sally,
    Looks amazing though
    However, in cream frosting could the butter be substituted with mascarpone
    Cheers,
    Monica

  12. Hi Sally!
    These raving reviews look very promising!! I just have one question, can I substitute a banana for the applesauce? I love the moistness of carrot cake, and dont want to missing out, but I have no applesauce :(. Is there something else you can recommend?
    Best,
    Rachael

      1. Hi Sally! I am from Vietnam. I have a question about applesauce too. If I use crushed pineapple, will I buy a pineapple, blend it and use both pineapple and juice??

  13. Hi Sally! I made this recipe and I definitely did something wrong!! It was either the baking soda was old, or I didn’t use a hand mixer. I used a bunt pan, the cake rose and over flowed pan then sank like a pancake!! I was really disappointed but plan on trying again today. Any suggestions to correct my mistakes? Thanks. Patti

    1. Hi Patti! Did you follow the batter recipe exactly? No substitutions, right? You bundt pan sounds like it’s a little too small for this amount of batter. It shouldn’t be overflowing like that. I prefer to use a 10-12 cup bundt pan here.

  14. Hi Sally I am making this cake right this minute and wanted time make it GF so key daughter in law and son could enjoy it too…I am afraid since this is already so moist that I will make it too mushy…lol. Have you tried it with GF flour?

  15. Hi! I want to make this recipe for a friend’s birthday and I was wondering if I substitute the ground ginger for orange zest, would it go well with the cake?. I want to do this because I am from Spain and currently we have fresh and super yummy oranges.

    1. Hi Lucía, I suggest keeping the ginger and also adding some orange zest. The fresh orange flavor would be a delicious addition.

  16. I’d give more stars if I could. This was so good!! I didn’t have applesauce or pineapple on hand so I subbed out applesauce for plain Greek yogurt and it’s ! I also didn’t scroll down far enough to read the Bundt pan directions, so I cooked mine about 45 min and it turned out wonderfully. (I snuck a piece and put it back together before I iced it so my company won’t be able to tell ). This will be my go to from now on! Deee-licious.

  17. I made this cake for my daughter and her family it was a hugh hit,I have tried a lot of carrot cake recipes and yours was the Winner, Thank you so much Sally for this wonderful recipe I will looking forward to trying many more thanks so much again.

    1. Hi Debbie, You can divide this batter between three 8-inch pans. Your layers will be a bit thicker than mine so might take an extra minute or two in the oven. I don’t recommend only using two 8-inch pans as this would be too much batter in each pan. You can also bake it as a bundt cake or a 9×13 rectangle, see recipe notes!

  18. I’ve tried this recipe 3 times and it works EVERY time!!!! I love it and so does everyone else! This is THE BEST carrot cake and the frosting is good too, but I suggest cutting back just a bit with the sugar in the frosting and it is perfect. Without the frosting is great too. Try this!

  19. It’s positively true: this is the best homemade carrot cake! We made it last year for Easter and here wasn’t a slice left. I’m looking forward to making it again next week for my son’s birthday/ Hoping I can find flour at the grocery store during all of this madness!

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