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!

1028 Comments

  1. Sally,

    How did you decorate it like you did? Did you follow your Naked Cake decorating tips?

    Thank you. 🙂

  2. Tonight is the second time I have made this cake in just over a week! We DEVOURED the first one ( I hoped the walnuts would keep my teenage sons away 😉 NOPE) and I thought, I will make another for Easter and a small one for my mom’s Birthday. Best recipe ever! The first one fell a little but slathered with that icing, it was better than good!
    Definitely a keeper! Thanks for sharing!!!

  3. Hi Sally,
    Love this recipe! I have made it several times in the past with great success. Do you recommend switching out flour for almond flour? Thanks in advance!!

    PS: you are my go to for all my baking needs!

    1. Hi Neeha, I’m so happy you love this cake! I don’t recommend almond flour here, best to stick with all purpose flour.

  4. I made this for my mom’s birthday today and she said it was the BEST carrot cake she has ever had! I mixed the pecans with a very small amount of melted butter before toasting. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! This is the second recipe from your website I’ve used that has been amazing! Keep at it! 🙂

  5. I had a bag of carrots in the fridge. Found your recipe…but due to the pandemic had no cream cheese. We had a large jar of cinnamon applesauce, so we spooned applesauce over the top of each serving of carrot cake. WOW!!! What a fantastic dessert! Thank you so much!

  6. Hi Sally,
    First of all I just love all of your recipes!!! Your my go to baker!!
    Secondly I don’t have applesauce on hand but have bananas and sour cream. Of these substitutions which would you prefer/ recommend.
    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Sarah, Thank you so much! Honestly they both work great as a substitution for the applesauce (see recipe notes for even more options). It just depends on if you want the banana flavor or not.

  7. I have 2 round pans but would like to make a 3 layer cake. Is it okay if some of the batter sits while the 2 pans cook?

    1. We have made this many times with 1:1 gf all purpose flour and it comes out great. The moisture in the cakes helps a lot, our relatives don’t even realize it’s gf 🙂

      1. This cake is wonderful! I made it Saturday for Easter dinner on Sunday. It’s absolutely perfect. Very moist and flavorful. Now I can’t wait to make it again!

    1. Feel free to slightly reduce the sugar, but using sweetened applesauce won’t make a huge difference. (Sometimes I use it if that’s all I have with no changes.)

  8. Hi Sally, I don’t have cloves but I have the other spices. I have pumpkin spice or all spice? Should I sub the cloves with one of those or leave out all together?

  9. 1 made the Carrot Cake, Last night .texted family and friends.One niece is here this morning for a slice .
    PS I shouldn’t have sent a picture of the Cake last night.
    Thank you for a perfect Carrot Cake recipe

  10. Hi, Sally.
    I have a question. What bake time would you suggest for baking this cake in 6inch round cake pans?

  11. Mine was done earlier in the 9 x 13 pan than the 40 minute mark, so you may want to check your cake sooner. Every oven is different, but my recipes from this website are usually on the mark with Sally’s times. It could be my pan, too as it isn’t a heavy grade one. I will definitely make this again.

  12. My wife’s Birthday was yesterday and since we cant go out to celebrate right now I decided to bake her a Carrot Cake. I am so happy that I found your recipe. I am not a confident cook / baker but this turned out PERFECT !
    Thank YOU for your help !

  13. Hi! I’m excited to try this recipe later today (I want an Easter treat for tomorrow!), but I’m feeling a little intimidated because I live at 7,000 ft elevation, and I’ve always had trouble adjusting recipes to deal with the altitude. Apart from decreasing the leavening agents and adding a little extra flour, any tips for success? Thanks!

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

  14. Hi! I just baked this cake (preparing for easter).
    The outside is quite hard, almost like a crust, but the inside is very soft, maybe underbaked. The taste is great though. Do you have any advice? Thanks!

    1. Hi AJ! I’m happy to help. This could easily be fixed for next time with a few adjustments in your oven. First, try baking the cakes on a lower oven rack to help promote more even baking. Second, make sure you’re not using a dark metal pan. Finally, you can try lowering the oven temperature and baking for longer (which ALWAYS helps) so the cake layers can cook a little more evenly all around. Tenting with foil halfway through baking helps as well.

      1. Thank you so much! I’ll definitely try that. Upon re-inspection, the cake is perfectly ok, especially after I cut off some of the outside. It’ll be really nice for easter!

  15. Hi sally I’m looking to make a cake that will really impress my family for tomorrow (Easter) I’m just wondering why it uses apple sauce instead of yogurt like the other carrot cake recipe you have. It looks delicious though I just don’t have apple sauce I have yogurt though.

    1. Hi Hadley! I love the flavor applesauce adds to this layer cake, but feel free to replace with any of my suggestions.

  16. Hey- just in case you were wondering… if you screw up and put double the carrots in, it STILL tastes moist flavourful and delicious!

    Thanks again Sally for yet another outstanding recipe!!

  17. So delicious! I think you can add more nuts and raisins, but both the cake and frosting was SO good.

  18. I will try this recipe tomorrow 🙂 How long can we keep this cake? Is it possible to freeze it? We’re just 2 at home. Thank you

  19. The freshly grated carrots made this cake so moist! This is my first time making a carrot cake and I can’t wait to serve it for Easter dinner!

  20. Thank you for this recipe! First time ever making a cake from scratch and it turned out GREAT! I really appreciate how you say the grams AND ounces :). I had too much batter for the two 8×8 pans I used so I baked two pans, then took the cakes out and used one pan to bake another layer for three layers total. I’ve also tried and failed several other recipes for cream cheese frosting from different places and they never turn out right…followed yours exactly and it was PERFECT! Thank you, Sally!!

  21. Amazing. I made my cake one night and frosted it the next day so it could build in spice and completely cool. It was perfect!

  22. I have never left a review on any recipe I’ve tried in the last 10 years and I cook a lot – this cake is absolutely PERFECT!!! I have terrible luck with cakes (Breads and cookies are my thing generally) and it was so easy And turned out so perfect I am just over the moon! This will be an Easter (and monthly) tradition for many years to come! Thank you!

  23. Hi Sally,
    I accidentally included 3/4 cup greek yogurt! The 2 cakes are in the oven. Is there anything that I can do to compensate? It’s for my husband’s birthday – today!!
    Help!
    Thanks,
    Val

    1. Hi Valerie! On top of all the other ingredients or in place of the applesauce? With the cakes in the oven, I’m not sure there’s much to do if it was an additional ingredient. The cakes will take a bit longer to bake through.

      1. Hi Sally,

        The yogurt was “on top” of the apple sauce! This recipe is so forgiving, it was the perfect birthday cake! Super moist and delicious!!

        We weren’t able to get block cream cheese due to limited supplies right now – but the icing was just fine with soft cream cheese. Thanks so much for inspiring us!!!

        Val

  24. Made these as cupcakes today, they are delicious! Came out perfect at 20 minutes. For personal preference did 1 cup white sugar 1 cup light brown sugar. No cloves, no one here likes it. Tried to eyeball grated carrots and did more th 2 cups but it made no difference. Will definitely make again and will be trying with gluten free flour for my daughter.

  25. Made this for Easter dessert. We loved it. I made it in a 9×13 pan and baked it for 40 minutes. Thanks for the great recipes!

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