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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. Question! If I used 8 inch cake pans for this recipe how long would they go in the oven for?? Also do you fill them about half way?

    1. Hi Britt, 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.

  2. This sounds delicious; may be a stupid question but my oven can be weird. Do you bake all 3 cakes (8″ rounds) at once or separately???

    1. Hi Craig! We bake them all at once on one rack. We usually rotate the pans once while baking because most ovens have hot spots – this helps the cakes bake more evenly.

    1. Hi Sarah! We haven’t tested that but don’t see why not – let us know if you give it a try. Sounds delicious!

      1. I love love the cake, made it three times already. My family is addicted I tell you. Thanks sis for this recipe

    2. I love this recipe. I made it again for my own birthday cake and it was a huge hit. Can I use this recipe to make mini loaves (5”x2.5”x1.5”). Thank you

      1. Hi Dana! We would use our carrot cake loaf recipe to make mini loaves. We’re unsure of the exact bake time, so use a toothpick to test for doneness.

    1. Hi Susan! See recipe notes (Add-Ins) for details on adding raisins!

  3. Hi Sally! I love all of your amazing recipes and am so thankful for each and every one! I was asked to make a carrot cake for a friend’s bday that doesn’t have “chunks” in it. I wondered if you have ever altered this to included pureed carrots or know how to alter the recipe to still get the same structure of the cake without it falling apart from too much moisture. Any advice you have would be so greatly appreciated! Thanks a ton!

    1. Hi Elizabeth, we haven’t tried adding pureed carrots to this recipe. It would take some testing in order to ensure results, since it would add even more moisture than the grated carrots. However, the grated carrots aren’t “chunky” in the end cake, per say. Let us know if you decide to give it a try!

  4. I have an issue sometimes with the cake turning green. I googled why this could happen and read that it could be to much baking soda. Is this true?

    1. Hi Dina, that’s happened to me before when making carrot muffins. It’s never happened with this carrot cake recipe though. If desired, you could play around with reducing the baking soda and adding more baking powder in its place. I haven’t tested this, so let me know if you do.

  5. Hello. I tried this recipe today and it was absolutely AMAZING!!! It was so moist, flavorful and smelled amazing. It was a hit with my family, especially the little ones my toughest critics. I did not and would not substitute a thing, recipe was great as is. I can not wait to try more.

  6. Made this recipe for my MIL’s 70’th birthday cake – she loves carrot cake. WOW – gotta say, this is a perfect recipe. The addition of the roasted nuts makes it all the better. Thank you for this recipe.

  7. Would it be possible to make a smaller cake in 6 inch pans? I looked at the cake pan sizes & conversions post on this website and assume I would have to half the recipe. How would this affect baking time?

      1. Hi there. My frosting has come out runny and even when I add more icing sugar it’s not thick enough. I’ve used the correct measurements for each ingredient. I did use the Philadelphia cream cheese. Would that be why it didn’t thicken enough?

      2. Hi Chantelle! Did you use the Philadelphia cream cheese that is sold in block from? If you use the one sold in a tub it will be too runny.

    1. Hi Omneya, That would take some recipe testing for us to be confident of an answer. Molasses is very thick can can be difficult to add to cake batter without first mixing it with hot water (like we do in our Gingerbread Snack Cake). That may be too much moisture for this already very wet cake batter. Let us know if you try anything!

    1. Hi Melissa, we haven’t tested it so we can’t be sure. We’ve successfully used it for layer cakes, Bundt cakes, thicker sheet cakes, and cupcakes. Let us know if you give it a try!

    1. Hi Drema, See recipe notes (Add-Ins) for details on adding raisins!

  8. The best carrot cake EVER’. This is an easy and most delicious recipe
    Can I sub the flour with almond and the sugar with monk fruit to make it Keto?

  9. Pure perfection! My daughter made this for my husband’s birthday and he was over the moon. Easy recipe that turned out great!

  10. Just baked this cake in three 9” pans and the cakes are less than 1” tall each. Followed recipe exactly. Do they normally rise more than that?

    1. Hi Brandee! These aren’t super thick cake layers (as you can see in the photo above), but 1 inch does seem a bit thin. How was the texture? If the texture seemed too dense, the cake batter could have been over-mixed (a common cause of squat, dense cakes). Also check to make sure that your baking powder and soda are fresh – we find they can lose strength after just a few months. Hope these tips help for next time!

  11. Hi ,what cream cheese to use in UK I cannot see anywhere block cheese only spreadable
    Thank you

    1. Hi Ana, In the U.S. block cream cheese is very different than the tubs and is the only cream cheese that will work. However, we have been told by readers outside the U.S. that cream cheese in a tub is different from ours and can work, but we have not tested it. Please let us know if you try!

    2. I am in the UK and I use Philadelphia cream cheese. Works perfectly every time.

  12. Question! Would you be able to add pineapple to this recipe? If so how would you go about it? Also, is the coconut sweetened or unsweetened 🙂

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Jamie! We use sweetened sweetened coconut for carrot cake. 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 only have sweetened applesauce. Any suggestions for how much to reduce the sugar? Also, I don’t have any ground ginger, can I use fresh grated ginger instead?

    1. Hi Emma, You can use your sweetened applesauce. It’s not much sweeter than unsweetened. (We’ve done so in this recipe with zero changes and it tastes pretty identical.) You should be able to use finely grated fresh ginger but keep in mind that ground ginger is much stronger in flavor than fresh ginger. Happy baking!

    1. Hi Karen! We don’t recommend whole wheat flour in this cake recipe – it will result in a more dense, dry cake. Best to stick with the recipe as written!

  14. Hey! I was wondering if I could use pureed carrot or something instead of applesauce? I don’t have any on hand, and i am not able to go to the grocery store at the moment.

    1. Hi Theresa! See recipe notes for swaps you can make for the applesauce – lots of options listed there!

  15. I will be making this for my husband’s birthday. I can’t wait to try it. I have a question about making a blood orange cream cheese frosting. I did this a few years ago and my family hasn’t stopped talking about it. I can’t find the recipe now, so I was wondering how much freshly squeezed orange juice I should add to Sally’s cream cheese frosting recipe? I don’t want to jeopardize the texture! Thanks for so many deliciously amazing recipes. I love Sally!

    1. Hi Jennie, We have not made this with blood orange juice but that sounds delicious! Any liquid you add will make the frosting thinner, so add only a TBS at a time until you reach your desired balance of texture/flavor. You can also add some zest of the oranges for more flavor without sacrificing the texture. Let us know what you try!

  16. I lost my favorite Carrot Cake recipe, I’m so happy I found yours. It’s amazing. Thank you.

  17. Do i use fresh ginger juice or grated ginger or powder? Thank you, cant wait to try it.

    1. Hi Julie! You want ground ginger (like powder) for this recipe. Happy baking!

    1. Hi Hannah! You should be able to, though the proportion of spices may be a little bit different. We would use 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice. Let us know how it goes!

  18. This is a great recipe, we made it in a 13×9 glass pan, cooked for about 55 minutes til a skewer pulled out clean, delicious, moist, perfectly baked. We could have upped the spices for a little more punch, but thoroughly enjoyed this thank you!!

  19. i have baked this twice and always get asked for the recipe. although it is delicious, both times in a 9×13 pan it has deflated leaving a dip in the middle. any suggestions?

    1. Hi Lisa, We are so happy you enjoy the recipe! A sinking cake usually means it is just slightly under baked. An additional minute or two in the oven should help for next time.

    1. I just made this cake using the recipe above and simply swapping regular flour for gluten free flour. However, when measuring using the 2.5 c and not by weight since the it appeared that gluten free flour might weigh more. It worked perfectly using 2.5 cups. I’m gluten free but my guests aren’t. They absolutely loved it and didn’t notice a difference at all. I love so many of Sally’s recipes, and adapt them for my personal needs.

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