This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

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.
clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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! I am going to use crushed pineapple instead of the applesauce. Do I need to drain the excess juice for do I include the juice in the 3/4 cup? Thanks!

    1. Hi Beth, slightly drain the canned crushed pineapple first. You want it the consistency of applesauce–-not too watery.

  2. hi sally!
    i was wondering if after making and frosting cake should u refrigerate it in an air tight container or can u just leave it in an air tight container on the counter ?

    1. Hi Natalia, we recommend storing this cake in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days.

      1. Hi Sally. My family and friends love it so much that it is always requested whenever there’s a pot-luck!!!

        Thank you so much!!!

  3. I loved this recipe so much! Could I 1.5X this recipe for 3 layer 10 inch pans making sure to only fill the pans half way?


  4. I made this recipe for my birthday a couple of years ago, and everyone in my family was floored by the flavor/ texture of the cake and the deliciousness of the cream cheese frosting. I’ve made it several times since then, and now my teenage daughter wants it for her birthday this weekend. This carrot cake recipe is one of Sally’s best, and that’s a high bar. I can’t recommend it enough.

  5. Hi! Can I check if we can reduce the sugar in this cake? I am thinking to leave out the granulated sugar from the recipe.

    1. Hi JZ, Sugar is used for moisture and texture in baked goods as well as taste. You can certainly try reducing the sugar, but the resulting taste and texture will be different than intended. We do not recommend omitting it entirely.

  6. Made it for my last day at work and it was such a big hit! Everyone loved it! Thanks Sally

  7. Simple and DELISH!! have made it a couple of times and it always impresses! I use some yogurt and add pecans and it is truly heavenly! The frosting is unbelievably delicious.
    I made a few little orange marzipan carrots to decorate the top and the impact is worth the effort! We also absolutely love the cupcake version of this recipe. It’s a must try!

  8. Hi Sally! In the recipe it doesn’t say to use the eggs at room temperature! Why doesn’t it matter for this recipe versus your other recipes? Im making this cake today for my husband’s birthday tomorrow!

    1. Hi Amanda! Because this is an oil-based cake, the temperature of the eggs isn’t imperative to the texture.

  9. Looking to use this recipe for a wedding cake but I notice the suggestion is to use it for the bottom tier. Is this too dense to use for the top tier of a two tier cake?

    1. As long as the bottom tier is sturdy and properly supported, carrot cake can work great as a top tier!

  10. This his has an awesome recipe! love the softness it has! Instead of the applesauce I used plain yogurt and worked well as far as I know. Any thoughts on this?
    Personally I like them a little less oily. Besides this recipe has less oil than others I tried, can I lower the amount of oil? by how much? which will be the result?
    Appreciate all you kindness!

    1. You could try replacing some of the oil with applesauce but it will change the texture of the cake. Let us know what you try!

  11. I was wondering will the cake be ok if I freeze it for a week until I need to use it? Should I thaw it in fridge or the countertop?

  12. Hi Sally,
    First…I love your website. You have the best compilation of dessert recipes ever! I will be 74 years-old in December and although I have done nearly all the cooking since I was married (my wife LOVES that I love to cook), I never did a whole lot of baking, sticking more to entrees, etc. However, after finding your website I HAVE become “addicted”. I just need to be sure I don’t “overdo it” and I make sure to spend enough time on the treadmill and walking the golf course to avoid ending up looking like “The Pillsbury Doughboy”, or “The Michelin Tire Man”. I have become especially enamored of your “Blueberries And Cream Pie”. I have made that 4 times in the last few months…a great summer dessert!
    I have just one comment I would like to share. I have a carrot cake recipe that I have been making for at least 30 years, from “The Proper Bostonian Cookbook”. It it has fewer ingredients than yours but, aside from that, is not enormously different re. the basic ingredients in your cake. One addition I made the second time I made it was to macerate the carrots in a half-cup of Bacardi’s light rum, for 20-30 minutes before adding them to the wet ingredients. The rum provides extra moisture and a wonderful flavor. I mention this only because I thought it might be something worth your consideration, the next time you are in “the laboratory” .

    1. Thank you Roger! So glad you enjoy my recipes and the blueberry cream pie is one of my favorites, too. I love the tip about soaking the carrots, something I’ve never tried before. Thank you for sharing!

  13. I made this recipe last Easter it was so delicious my family and friends are requesting for me to bake it again this weekend since is my husband birthday. I add the crushed pineapple and wow even my daughter that is a picker eater ate a big slice. Thanks for the recipe.

  14. Hello Sally,
    Can I prepare the frosting and the cake in advance and assembly them the day after? Do I have to put the frosting in the refrigerator?

    Thank you.


  15. Another Sally success! I made this recipe as a 9×13″ cake for a fall picnic we were going to. It’s delicious and super easy!!! I did a test bake a week before the event without nuts (I didn’t have any at the time). The result was absolutely perfect. For the event itself, I included the pecans and the resulting cake was more crumbly than I would have liked. I’ll be leaving the nuts out in the future, but the taste is amazing either way. Also, I’m not a huge cream cheese frosting fan myself but this one is spectacular. FYI…I try to minimize sugar when I bake so I used monk fruit sugar alternative for the cake and Truvia powdered sugar blend for the frosting. No one seemed to notice or care. 🙂