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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. I have made this cake three times now and amazingly for me it has been a total success each time . It’s the most delicious cake I have ever made and enjoyed by all my friends . Thank you for sharing this cakes yummy secrets with us .

    1. Hi Bee, you can divide this batter between 2 or 3 9×5 inch loaf pans. We’re unsure of the exact bake time. Or you might like our carrot cake loaf recipe instead!

    2. I’ve made it in a 9×11 pan and baked it for around 55 minutes! Works just fine!

  2. What’s the reason behind cooling the cakes completely while still in the pan? Most cake recipes have you turn out the cake 10-15 minutes after coming out of the oven. Just wondering! Thanks!

  3. I have made this cake with your cinnamon icing (it was a suggestion on the recipe) but I’m not able to find it now. Can you please let me know where to find the recipe?

      1. Yes, the cinnamon icing you sent was what I was looking for. The cake gets better every time I make it! It’s even better than chocolate cake ‍♀️

      2. Does the cinnamon cream cheese frosting make the same amount as the one in this recipe? Do the amounts need to be adjusted to make enough for this carrot cake? Thanks!

      3. Can this be converted to a sheet cake and still get the same flavor and texture?

      4. Hi Kelly, This batter fits perfectly into a 9×13 inch pan. See recipe notes for details.

  4. Please could you advise how thick your layers are when using 2 or 3 9″ round tins so I can convert the recipe for what I need.

    I want a bake 2 x 6″ cakes, approx 2.5″ tall for the top tier of a wedding cake.

    1. Hi Steph! These cake layers are probably about 1.5 inches tall. Our carrot cake cupcakes (see notes to leave out the coconut) will be closer to the amount of batter you’ll need – the cupcake batter makes the perfect amount for a three layer 6 inch cake.

  5. Two words: FLAVOR and MOIST. This recipe is bursting with both. For 15 yrs I’ve either bought or baked carrot cake for my husband’s birthday. They’ve always been OK, but not anything to rave about. This is hands down THE best recipe, I’ll never buy a store made carrot cake again.
    Quick side-note: I didn’t have applesauce, so instead I blended three peeled Honeycrisp apples in my Vitamix. Also, I was lazy and bought matchstick carrots before reading this recipe, but pulsing them in the food processor drew out their moisture. Just in case you’re like me and you need to improvise!

  6. Hello Sally,
    I haven’t made this cake yet but it looks so good I’m going to try it for my husband’s birthday. I was wondering if you ever separate the egg whites, whip them up and fold them in at the end to make the batter lighter? I’ve don’t it with other cakes in the past but never with a carrot cake and had a hard time finding a recipe that did. Just wondering if there is a reason for that? Thank you

    1. Hi Jacquelyn, We do separate the eggs and whip the egg whites for certain recipes that require the extra whipped air to keep them super light and fluffy! However, this cake batter is naturally heavier due to all of the wet ingredients, so that step wouldn’t make a difference here.

    1. Hi Katie, See the first note about make ahead instructions. Enjoy!

  7. Hi Sally,

    I’m planning a pear version of this cake as the water content of carrots and pears is quite similar (87 vs 84%). It will be nut-free, but other than this do you have any further suggestions on anything else I should alter?

    1. Hi Mandy, a pear cake sounds delightful! The spices in this recipe should work well with pears – we would love to hear how it goes.

  8. Can I use crushed pineapple in heavy syrup? If so should I wash the pineapple to reduce some of the sweetness or will it be okay in the cake?

  9. What do you think about using applesausce instead of oil? I almost never use oil for my cakes any more – trying to make it healthier and moister.

    1. Hi Leslie! It’s best to stick with oil for this recipe. With there already being applesauce in the cake, we fear it may be too rubbery without the oil. Let us know if you give this cake a try!

  10. Hi! I’ve used your carrot cakes a few times and I LOVE it! I just had a question, do I have to sift the flour before mixing? Does it make the cake fluffier? I never know and just scoop it out.

  11. Can I use this measurement in a bundt pan? Don’t have time to go shopping again before thanksgiving.

  12. Applesauce is not easily available in India, is there anything else i can replace this with?

    1. Hi Bharathi, Instead of applesauce, you can use 3/4 cup crushed pineapple, mashed bananas, sour cream, plain yogurt, or canned pumpkin puree. See recipe notes for more details.

  13. I gotta say, not adding the nuts really messes with the bake time. The center was still jiggly and the edges overdone after adding ten more minutes. Not sure where I went wrong, maybe not mixed well enough… The pan I did with the pecans on the other hand- came out perfect.

  14. I make this cake several times a year! It is simply the best carrot cake recipe I have ever used. I add both apple sauce and crushed pineapple. I usually spoon it right out of the little can. I also prefer the dark brown sugar for a dark, rich color. It is my youngest son’s favorite cake and I always make it for his birthday or Thanksgiving. It is a Fall treasure! I use your recipes all the time. Thank you!

  15. This is the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted! I use about half the sugar for the frosting and my boyfriend, who has lived in Europe where sweets aren’t as sweet as they seem to be stateside, loves it! Today I included the zest of a whole orange and we can’t wait to eat the cakes!!!

  16. After browsing through countless recipes for carrot cake, I came across this one which caught my attention because of the combination of spices and pineapple used in the recipe. I wanted to make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. This was my first carrot cake and I have to say it could not have turned out better. It definitely exceeded my expectations. So delicious! Everyone loved it and you made me look good! (Thanks) I did use one round pan, not bundt, and cut the cake into three layers. I will say for a moment there I thought I had fowled it. The center of the cake took what seemed like forever to set while the outer portion looked done. The baking time was much longer about 1hr 25 minutes. (Lesson learned, I will be buying more cake pans for sure!)

  17. Sally, I love your recipes, but this cake was really wet. Almost dense, not a crumb cake texture. Any thoughts why? I followed the recipe exactly. Baked in two 9 inch pans. Flavour was good. I added higher amounts of spice.

    1. Hi Michelle, this is definitely a moist, denser cake. It sounds like perhaps yours was slightly under baked if the middle seemed especially wet. For next time, a few more minutes in the oven should help. Thanks for giving this one a try!

  18. Thank you so much for this recipe. I made this last night and It is so delicious, way better than the carrot cake I used to buy from the cafe/bakeshop. The flavor is perfect and its so moist! ❤️ My mom loves it, perfect
    for our Christmas dinner.

  19. this carrot cake is outstanding… great texture (not too dry), great taste (not too sweet and not too heavy with spices), and incredibly easy to make. I baked in loaf pans and did not even need to make an icing, it was so good as a breakfast must have.

  20. Super delicious ! This is my second time making it and it was delicious, my husband and in laws loved it . Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe .

  21. The cake is delicious! I used crushed pinapple instead of applesauce. I never used all the icing for the cake, too much for me but i froze it for a few days and used the same recipe for cupcakes.
    Cape Town, South Africa

  22. You had me at “Birthday Cake”. For the past 2 decades, I’ve been searching for the “perfect” carrot cake for my birthday. I’ve tried numerous bakeries, high end grocery stores, and looked at many recipes, but none turned on my taste buds, UNTIL I TRIED YOUR RECIPE.
    OMG. Firstly, your description was spot on and drew me in. Second, all the comments were very positive and got my taste buds watering. Everyone with whom I shared a piece of cake agreed….IT’S OUTSTANDING. I’m going to get old (and fat) very quickly because I can’t wait for another birthday to make it again! THANKS.

  23. I made this and substituted maple sugar for the white it is even better that way

  24. After making this cake I can confirm that it is the single best thing ever. It is life itself!

  25. Great recipe! I did use 3/4 c oil and 1 cup applesauce to decrease the fat a little and 1 t baking powder as I’m at 6000’. Made it for a birthday cake and got rave reviews.

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