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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. HI THERE. Excited to try this recipe for Easter lunch tomorrow. In a post above you mention notes for baking with Bundt pan instead of 3 round pans. I don’t see those notes. Can you give the time and temperature for baking in bundt pan? Thanks so much

    1. Hi Christine! See the note that says “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.

    2. Tried out this recipe for yesterday’s Easter dessert. I had never been a real fan of carrot cake but now am. This was super moist and delicious. I did cut the vegetable oil by half and added 1 mashed banana (skipped the nuts, added rum soaked golden and regular raisins). Best I’ve ever had. Thank you.

  2. I’m low sugar so I made this with the Splenda sugar blend and WOW! This cake is so moist and just the right amount of sweet. Definitely a must try!

  3. Delicious! Will definitely make it again. Husbands birthday is on Easter this year so this is perfect

  4. Great recipe!! I’d pull back a bit on the ginger a little but fantastic flavour and texture. I also soaked my fresh carrots shreds in buttermilk and slowly added dry to wet but otherwise… Thanks guys☺️

  5. The carrot cake was absolutely delicious, but the cream cheese frosting was runny. I used the carrot cake cupcake and cream cheese frosting recipe earlier in the week to make a three layer 6-inch cake. It turned out beautifully. I compared the frosting recipes for the cupcakes and the cake and the proportions don’t seem right. The cream cheese is doubled in the cake recipe, the butter is the same amount, but the powdered sugar is only increased from 3 cups to 4 cups. I suspect that’s why it was so runny. I had to add almost 2 cups of powdered sugar to make it spreadable–which is much more than a “tweak.” It turned out fine, but I’ll be using a different cream cheese frosting recipe in the future.

  6. Everyone raved about the cake today. Didn’t change a thing, but did add raisins as suggested in the Notes. The frosting was delicious but too runny, definitely needs more confectioners sugar as some others have said. Will make again! Thank you

  7. My first ever carrot cake was made using this recipe and it turned out really good. I made it for Easter for my family and I got lots of positive reviews and compliments. Moist, delicious, flavorful and not to sweet. I was impressed! I’m so thankful I woke up early to attempt this recipe. Thanks!

  8. I made this for Easter dessert. All 3 of us loved it! I made it with lactose free cream cheese, gluten free flour, cage free eggs, and vegan butter. I did however make it with already shredded carrots. I used a 13 x 9 glass pan. I have IBS and wanted to keep myself from being affected by other choices. This recipe is a “keeper” !!

    1. Hi! What gluten-free flour did you use? I have a family member who is gluten sensitive and am trying to modify for them. Thank you!

  9. I made this for our Easter lunch and it was a big hit!! Everyone loved it. Followed the recipe word for word… except I left out the pecans. I will definitely make it again.

  10. I can’t not give this 5 stars when some of the comments I got were, “best ever”, “my husband loves carrot cake and he thinks this is the best one”, etc., etc… FYI, I type this as I eat a piece for breakfast.
    I have made this before but it’s been a little while – apparently overdue.
    I followed the recipe exactly but used raisins and walnuts. I baked this in 3 – 8 inch pans as they are the only size I have 3 of. It took a bit longer as it was probably thicker than if I had used the 9 inch. They turned out great, I froze them for a few days before making the frosting here for the first time. In the past I made a browned butter cream cheese frosting which is to die for, but thought I’d stay traditional this time. As noted by some others, I added more than 4 cups of powdered sugar. In part it seemed just too cream-cheesy which is not my favorite, and I thought the frosting seemed more stable with the addition of more powdered sugar. I also added more salt which I think might balance the sweetness a bit. Personally, I would have liked to add some orange zest or extract but my family taste testers said no. I also would like to add a layer of apricot jam in the middle layer, too, but I had some very “simple tastes” people coming so I didn’t want to shock them too much, but doesn’t that sound good?
    I did use toasted pecans to decorate the outside although I used toasted walnuts in the cake.
    At the end of the day, everyone LOVED it. Of all that ate it, and they all raved, no one mentioned or seemed to be averse to the raisins which I know are just so divisive (I am team raisin).
    Between us, I spent a LOT of time frosting this thing, assembling it so it was perfectly straight, smoothing out the icing so it resembled a bakery store cake and as I was spinning it around and around…..I spun it right off my counter. YES, all 3 layers of frosting perfection slid right off and down to the floor. My cry of dismay brought my husband running and he rescued that thing which seemed to pretty much stay intact maybe because I had used toothpicks to anchor the layers. Can you believe it? It was basically still on the plate and still in 3 layers although quite crooked. I fixed it but it was shy of looking bakery store perfect yet I did have one person ask which bakery I bought it at 🙂
    How on earth did I not notice I was spinning it off the edge of the counter?
    Awesome breakfast (cake!) and I won’t wait so long to make it again. FYI, easier to cut if not completely at room temp.

  11. This was the best Carrot Cake I ever made. My husband Took one to work and the guys are always asking for me to make another one. It’s easy to make so moist and yummy. I always make mine and a 13 x 9 baking pan. Thank you Sally

  12. I made this for our Easter get together and it was a huge hit with both adults and kids. I followed directions exactly, added applesauce for moisture as recommended and the carrot cake turned out perfect. My frosting wasn’t runny at all. Toasted pecans were the right touch on top too. Everyone requested that I bring this every Easter. I am sure though I will make it a few more times throughout the year! Delicious!

  13. I tried this recently and it was absolutely lovely. My only regret is that I did not take a picture before we ate it Thanks for sharing

  14. Absolutely delicious cake!! Recipe is a little messy, lots of crating and chopping– LOL.. I used unsweetened crushed pineapple because that’s what I had on hand. The frosting recipe seemed a little off, even with adding 6+ cups of sugar it was still very loose, delicious, but not sure what happened there. Thanks for another great recipe!!

  15. Great share! Thinking about how great will be if you could put more pics of the step by step process. So we are the newbies can get a better looks of how the dough and ingridients are actually looks like when we hop on to the process, not only with the final product pics tho. But once again, I love your blogs. Great job.

  16. Loved this recipe! I baked it in a 9×13 and cut out egg shapes for mini egg layer cakes. I didn’t have applesauce so I used mashed banana. Turned out great.

  17. I have played with this recipe a few times, including leaving original recipe , and it is spectacular. I made a gluten free version using Bob’s 1 to 1 gluten free flour and it worked well. I ve’ also done the following changes: reduced the sugars by 25% each, added rum, and a tsp of ACV to balance sweetness. No matter how you slice it this cake is a winner!

  18. Carrot cake is my all-time favorite and was thrilled to find a recipe that wasn’t complicated and perfect for a beginner baker. The cake turned out good, but for my taste and my families it needs a bit more spice. Next time I’ll add a bit more of the spices called for and see if that gives it the warm spicey kick I’m looking for. All in all, this is a fantastic recipe! I’m looking forward to trying more of Sally’s recipes!

  19. I did not have luck with this recipe. I used brand new flour, baking soda and baking powder. The cake was not moist and was very heavy, plus it had very little flavor. I’m going to try another carrot cake recipe that has more oil, etc. to see if it is moister.

    1. Hi Barbara, thank you for giving this recipe a try. This should be a very moist cake! How did you measure the flour? Make sure to spoon and level (instead of scooping) to avoid packing in too much flour into your measuring cups – or use a kitchen scale. You can read more about properly measuring baking ingredients in this post.

  20. This recipe was amazing. I don’t normally bake, but this recipe has been sitting in my files for a year. It was so delicious, although I only used half the frosting. I will definitely be making this again. The directions are perfect.

  21. My husband hates carrots but he loved this cake so much that he’s guarding the leftovers. Made exactly as written but used your brown butter cream cheese frosting recipe instead and it was perfection. Your recipes never disappoint!

  22. Question: I wanted to try without eggs, and found a conversion with Applesauce. I am kind of nervous using more applesauce because this cake is already moist. I don’t want it to be more moist, just want to replace the eggs. Do you think adding more applesauce would make it more moist? Should I add more GF flour then? Also,I don’t want it to have too much of an Apple/applesauce taste either. I made the cake and frosting almost vegan (except for the eggs) and wanted to bring a vegan version to work, so everyone can eat it. It is dairy free, nut free, lactose free, but contains soy and eggs from my last cake the next cake I would like to add egg free( or vegan) since no dairy anyway(both frosting and cake). Just was worried about adding too much applesauce, or if you had another suggestion? I would need to add another cup of applesauce in order to replace the 4 eggs, from the conversion I found.

    1. Hi John, We haven’t tested this recipe with egg substitutes, but let us know if you do. There are some substitutes for the applesauce in the recipe notes if you want to try one of those to use less applesauce. Happy baking!

  23. It was my first attempt and it was incredibly delicious and moist.

  24. Novice baker here. Made this today with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1:1 Baking Blend. It turned out AMAZING. Thank you, Sally, for another fabulous easy recipe. The results were professional quality!!!

  25. I just made this for my partner’s birthday and it was delicious!! I used melted coconut for the oil. The only “off” thing was that the frosting needed a lot more icing sugar than the recipe called for to be thick enough. It was my first time making a carrot cake and it sure won’t be my last – will be using this recipe again.

  26. I made both the cake and the muffin recipes. The cake was super and enjoyed by all. Later I wanted carrot muffins and used your separate muffin recipe because I wanted one dozen and the cake recipe makes too much. The muffins were good but not as good as the cake recipe. It’s a mystery to me why this is. Maybe no cloves called for??
    This is my favorite blog for baking and I am going to make your Lemon-Thyme chicken today.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Cathlyn! Did you use our carrot cake quick bread recipe for muffins? It’s a very similar recipe. You can definitely add cloves if you prefer. Thank you for making our recipes!

  27. I HATE carrot cake. But THIS cake is one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tasted. honestly so moist and perfect seasoning. Carrot taste is not at all overpowering.

    Only issue I had was the icing. A little runny, and it made a ton of it so I froze the leftover.

  28. OMG OMG OMG… i made this today and just now had a taste. This is very dangerous…Absolutely delicious. I made it in an 9 x 13 plan and it turned out perfect..The frosting was just the right consistency..absolutely perfect. I think next time i might even use this for giant muffins…I used walnuts in a rough chop because all my friends like them chunky not too small. Wow is all i can say. Thanks for the fantastic recipe.

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