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. Sally, would you recommend the same cream cheese frosting if you make this cake as a bundt or something different? If you would still use it, would you pipe it on or spread it on? Asking because I only have two 9″ cake pans, not 3, so working with what I got. Thanks!

    1. Hi Hilary, For a bundt cake you can either use the same cream cheese frosting (you would need a smaller quantity) and you can either spread it on top or use a piping bag to “drizzle” it over the top. You can’t go wrong either way! If you would like something lighter you can make a simple glaze like I do for my Cheesecake Swirl Carrot Bundt Cake (you can even use milk instead of orange juice).

  2. The cake was very tasty but the ingredients were way too much for a “moist” cake. It came out like a bread rather than a cake. Even when I frosted it and put it in the fridge it was still very stiff. I’m disappointed because I was really looking forward to having a moist carrot cake.

  3. Made this recipe today and loved it. Only had one cake pan so I used a Bundt pan. Turned out more dense than I was expecting and reminded me of a “carrot cake bread”. I was aiming for something more light and fluffy. Could this be because I used a Bundt pan? Still a great recipe and easy to follow. My family loved it!

    1. I’m so glad your family enjoyed it! Yes, it could have been more dense from being baked in the bundt pan. Because the large quantity of batter in the pan it is much heavier and has to be baked longer for it to bake all the way through.

  4. Super cake!
    I grated an apple instead of including applesauce. I also added raisins as I had no pecans.
    I experimented by cooking the cake with steam (I placed my cake tin inside a large pot of simmering water). I’ve never tried this before but I live in Morocco and don’t have an oven. It actually worked great and the cake was amazingly moist with a soft crumb.
    Thanks for another stellar recipe.

  5. Hi Sally,
    I’d like to make this recipe, but I don’t have much experience with bundt cakes. Do you have any suggestions with greasing it or helping it release from the tin?
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Lauren! You can use this recipe for a 10-12 cup bundt pan. I always recommend greasing bundt pans very very generously with nonstick spray. In my experience, it works MUCH better than butter or anything else.

  6. My husband is a huge carrot cake fanatic, but I don’t have a go-to recipe, until now. This cake is fabulous! The spices are so perfect, the cake so moist. I didn’t have applesauce or nuts, so I went with crushed pineapple and coconut. So so so good! I have a different cream cheese frosting I used, but no doubt the one listed would be fabulous. I baked the cake in a bundt pan and the alternative directions were spot on. This recipe will be made again and again in our house.

  7. This is such an amazing recipe. I LOVED it ! The cake turned out superb. I made it for my mother’s birthday and she said she hasn’t tasted a better carrot cake! Thank you so much.
    I used crushed pineapples instead of Applesauce. Could you please share your applesauce recipe too? I was so confused about how to make it

  8. I have all of the spices except ground cloves. However, I DO have a pumpkin pie spice blend that contains all spices (ground cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon) so I was thinking of using that. How much of the pumpkin pie spice blend should I use?

    1. Hi Heather! Feel free to simply add a pinch (1/8 teaspoon of your pumpkin pie spice). I saw your other question too– use the large holes on your box grater. Hope this helps!

      1. First of all, thank you for your quick response. I’m sorry I wasn’t faster with mine. Second, the cake turned out amazing! I was nervous since this was my first time making carrot cake AND a 3 layer cake, but your directions were so detailed and easy to follow and the cake turned out so great. The only thing was I think I may have added too much milk to my frosting cuz it was a bit thin but other than that, it was awesome. Now, I just need to figure out what to do with the tops that I cut off of the layers and the extra frosting that I have. I wish I could post a picture to show you the finished product but it looked pretty similar to yours. The only difference was I added a “ring” of chopped pecans on the outer edge of my cake. Thank you for this wonderful recipe! I am looking forward to making more of your recipes.

  9. I work in a children’s hospital and as we face the daunting threat of , I find my partner and I embracing comfort food as we hunker down at home at the end of the each day. I made this cake last night. And while a bit of a disaster/comedy of errors while baking it, the end result was and is amazing!!! If you want to see my finished product, I posted it on my Instagram account ( ). I shared some this evening with my sister-in-law who was diagnosed with and look forward to making this again – it is good medicine for body and soul!

  10. I made this today for my wife’s birthday. It was a big hit. Carrot cake is her favorite. This was so good.

    1. Hi Tracy, Unfortunately I don’t recommend wholemeal flour for cakes as they would turn out very dense and heavy.

      1. Thanks for your trusty advice…. plan B as I no white plain/ self raising flour. Wish me luck 🙂

    1. Hi Stella, You can try to make this into several loafs. I’m unsure of exactly how many it would make or the bake time.

    1. Hi Brit, This would be too much batter to fit into just one 9 inch Springform pan. Here is all of my information on Cake Pan Sizes and remember to fill your pan no more than 2/3 full!

  11. Hi Sally – do you have a 6-inch version of this cake? I know that 6-inch cakes can be made from your cupcake recipes, but it looks like the carrot cake cupcakes are a bit different (coconut addition). Thank you in advance!

      1. Hey sally! I’ve made your carrot cake for 4 years in a row now for my family on Easter 🙂 However, with current circumstances it will on my be my husband and I, so I am trying to make a smaller version of our favorite cake. Thanks for the tip you left Juliet in terms of making this into the 6inch cake! How long would you recommend baking and at what temperature? Thanks so much!!

  12. This was the most delicious cake I’ve ever baked! No exaggeration, it simply turn out perfectly! I put it all in a 9×13 inch glassware with baking paper only and it came out easily and the perfect density. Oh it really was incredible, thank you for the recipe!

  13. Hi Sally, the substitute to the applessuce, can I use curshed fresh pineapples and will it still come out nice?
    And am I to add the drained water or the pineapple itself? Thank you

    1. You can use crushed fresh pineapple. Drain some of the liquid, but not much. You are looking for the consistency of applesauce.

    1. Hi Robin! I love using Philadelphia cream cheese, but whatever your grocery stores have works great. Just be sure it’s the full fat version, not reduced fat.

  14. Perfection – this carrot cake got all rave reviews. I doubled all the spices and added fresh ginger and it was delicious. Thanks Sally !!!

  15. I made this for my sons birthday. It was a big hit! Moist, delicious, nutty perfection. Thank you Sally!

  16. My favorite carrot cake recipe! I’ve made this so many times. Twice a year, every year – for my Mom’s birthday (her favorite!) and for Easter (our tradition!). Question. I’m going to turn this into a “bunny cake” this year. Can I make this recipe in cake pans instead of 3?

  17. I dont have applesauce and don’t want to run out to the grocery store just for that one item during the pandemic. Can I leave out the applesauce / pineapples?

      1. Thanks, Sally, just baked this cake today for my daughter’s birthday. It was amazing!!! Thank you for sharing this great recipe and all the tips.

  18. Hi Sally! How long should I bake this cake in a 9 x 13 pan? Thanks in advance. Can’t wait to try this recipe for Easter.

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