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.
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.
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?! 😉
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—I love using them in my pecan pie cheesecake, too. 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!
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.
There’s no emotion quite like sadness you’ll experience when that last slice is gone!
Carrot Cake Success Tips
- 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!
- 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.
- Use freshly grated carrots. Grate them yourself.
My Favorite Carrot Cake Recipe
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
- Yield: serves 10-12
- 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 (spooned & 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
- 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.
- Turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C). Grease two or three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 turntable, 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.
- Cover leftover frosted cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Glass Mixing Bowl | Whisk | Wooden Spoon | Spatula | 9-Inch Round Cake Pans | Electric Mixer (Handheld or Stand) | Cake Turntable | Icing Spatula | Cake Carrier (for storage)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cream Cheese: Use blocks of real cream cheese. Not cream cheese spread.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Comments & Reviews
This was amazing as most people agree. I didn’t really like the nuts in it, but liked them on the top. I am going to make more, in cupcake form, without nuts for school.
I also had trouble with goopy icing, which is strange as I have made Sally’s cream cheese icing before without problems. It was still spreadable but not pipeable. I think the difference is that less expensive cream cheese will have a higher water content. Next time I won’t use that brand of cream cheese! It was still delicious and was fine. If you’re in Canada do not use compliments cream cheese but no name worked fine
I would like to try this recipe and add coconut and keep the nuts. Would that work out? Also I am making this in a Bundt pan. How long should I bake it?
Hi Beth! See recipe notes for bundt cake baking instructions. You can use both shredded coconut and nuts in the batter – keep the total amount of add-ins to 1-1.5 cups.
This was very moist, but not as flavorful as other recipes. I prefer more carrots and spices. The icing is interesting. More light and fluffy than most, but due to less cream cheese to butter and sugar ratio. If you want cream cheese icing to taste like cream cheese, it needs more cream cheese. But this is easy to spread and light.
Great recipe thank you!! With the many reviews suggesting it was too sweet and me not liking overly sweet desserts I changed the recipe slightly and it came out well! If it helps anyone else:
– 205g brown sugar
– 50g white sugar
– subbed yogurt 1:1 for applesauce
– added 1 tsp cardamom
– added golden raisins for little bursts of sweet
In the icing I did:
– 1.5 tsp cinnamon
– 105g powdered sugar
Came out really well, cake baked up almost perfectly level & was a hit at new years party!
I made this cake today for a birthday party and it was amazing! I wish I could include a picture, it looked just like yours! Definitely the best recipe I have ever used! Cake was moist and delicious! Ten stars from me!
Hi, I would love to try and make this lovely cake again but hopefully get the cream cheese frosting just right ..
I live in the uk, we don’t have block cream cheese .. do you have any advice on how I could make the cream cheese frosting so as it doesn’t turn out too runny ..
thanks in advance
Hi Claire, In the U.S. block cream cheese is very different than the tubs and is the only cream cheese that will work for frosting. 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!
Hi Claire, I recently moved to the UK and have finally cracked UK cream cheese for baking after many attempts! The trick is to beat the butter and icing sugar together for 2-3 minutes on high speed before adding the cream cheese. Fold in the cream cheese gently at the end and don’t over mix. You should get a fluffy, pipe-able icing. Essentially, you want to coat the sugar in the fat from the butter so the moisture in the cream cheese can’t melt the sugar and create a gloopy, runny icing.
This recipe is more like a spice cake. The spices are so prevalent that I can’t taste the carrots even though I added an extra cup of them. It also took about 25 minutes longer to cook because the suggested temperature was too high so after about 20 minutes into the cooking time it started to smell burnt. I turned the heat down by 20 degrees and covered it with foil, so it needed a extra 20 minutes. I have a thermometer thing in my oven so I know it’s baking at the correct temperature. I’m really disappointed in this recipe.
What do you suggest to keep the carrots from turning green in the cake? Last time I made this it was delicious but the carrot flecks all turned green which was a little off putting.
Hi Kylee, that’s happened to us 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. We haven’t tested this, so let us know if you do.
What do you suggest to do when the carrots are still crunchy in cupcakes? Is there anyway to salvage this, or do you have any other recipes to suggest to use them in rather than throwing away?
Hi Jessica, for next time, you can try using a smaller plane on your grater to give you smaller pieces of carrot. Be sure to use and shred full sized carrots (not mini carrots or pre-shredded carrots) for the best taste and texture, too.
I loved this cake! It had the perfect sponge-like feel to it and cooked well. The frosting was easy and tasted great! The cake also had the perfect amount of carrots. The ingredeents were simple and it was not messy at all! I loved the cake and hope to make it again!
This cake is nicely spiced but is far, far too sweet. We were only able to eat the smallest piece before sweetness was the overwhelming flavour.
Hi Laura, wondering if you perhaps used sweetened applesauce vs unsweetened? I’m going to make this in a few days and don’t like very sweet cakes; i was thinking of reducing sugar when it dawned on me that perhaps the few people who said it was too sweet used sweetened applesauce? Thanks!
Hi Janet, I actually used plain yogurt in place of the apple sauce to help cut the sweetness. I did make the cake again with a few tweaks that I found made a big difference: I used very very loosely packed dark brown sugar (probably reducing the amount by c.1/8 cup). I did not change the amount of white granulated sugar, but I used a different icing recipe with less sugar and that made a huge difference:
225g unsalted butter
225g icing sugar
375g Cream cheese
1.5tsp vanilla paste
grated orange zest from 1 orange
For anyone in the UK or in countries that don’t have blocks of cream cheese, if you beat the butter, icing sugar and vanilla together for 2 minutes prior to adding the cream cheese, this will create a much better consistency of frosting. Mix in the cream cheese gently at the end.
Hi Sally, Can I leave out the ground cloves ingredient? Thanks
Hi Bina, absolutely, feel free to omit.
This is the BEST carrot cake recipe ever !! I always get compliments when I make it even from people that dont like carrot cake
The recipe came out exactly perfect as it is written, Sally! You are my go to when I need to bake anything. Thank you so much for sharing your recipes.
I would love to know as well, if it is possible to half the recipe
Hi! If we don’t have applesauce from where we live right now, what is the best substitute? Or can we skip it?
Hi AG, 3/4 cup crushed pineapple, mashed bananas, sour cream, plain yogurt, or canned pumpkin puree can be used in place of the apple sauce. See recipe notes for more details!
My co- worker made this carrot- cake and it was wonderful! My question is…Can I use butter instead of oil?
Hi Katherine, We recommend following the recipe with oil. It makes for an ultra moist cake and really lets the spice flavors shine through. We do not recommend butter in this cake batter.
Why do you have this carrot cake and the moist carrot cake recipe? What is the difference? Thank you.
Hi Shay, this is a layered cake the other cake is 1 layer. This one is slightly scaled up. Flavors are quite similar!
This carrot cake really IS the BEST!! We had a 4-cake, carrot cake bake-off this weekend getting ready for Christmas. Even had a blind vote. This cake was the clear winner – so great!
Quick question, can I substitute the dried ginger for freshly minced ginger? How much fresh would you suggest? Thanks
Hi Gesine, yes absolutely. Keep in mind that ground ginger is much stronger in flavor than fresh ginger. I haven’t tested it, but 1.5 – 2 teaspoons should be great for a robust ginger flavor.
I recently made this cake for my son-in-law’s birthday. The cake was delicious and moist. My son-in-law’s review “the best carrot cake I’ve ever had.” Thanks Sally for the recipe and all the baking guidance you provide on your website.
Hi, can in replace sugar with maple syrup ? Thanks
Hi Vicki, We haven’t tested it although other readers have reported success with that substitution. This is already a very very wet/heavy batter so if you are adding more wet ingredients expect an even more dense cake.
I made this beautiful cake form my 60th birthday party. It was so moist and delicious, a keeper for sure! I baked mine in a 10” Bundt pan for 60 minutes, it was perfect.
Can I use 6 inch pans?
Hi Lisa, we’d recommend using the batter from these carrot cake cupcakes instead. It yields the perfect amount for 3, 6 inch layers and you can use this 6 inch cakes post for baking directions. Enjoy!
I need to make two of these. Can I simply double the recipe or do you recommend doing twice/ keeping them separate?
Hi Joanne! We recommend making the cake twice instead of doubling. Happy baking!
I am planning to make this recipe for Thanksgiving, but we live about 8 hours from where we will be spending Thanksgiving. I’d like to make it this weekend and then freeze it. Ideally, it would be fully iced. Any recommendations on icing, freezing and transporting to keep the cake fresh for Thanksgiving?
Hi Carrie, you can find all of our best tips for freezing cakes here!
This recipe is great. The cake is moist and very tasty. One note for anyone who does not like their desserts too sweet, half the amount of sugar in the frosting because the cake is very sweet, the frosting too, and altogether it was a bit much for some of the people that tried the cake when I baked it. When I tried it the second time I just changed the sugar-to-cream ratio and it was perfect. But again amazing recipe will definitely try again 🙂
This cake was so moist everyone loved it. Did not put icing on the cake as I wanted to reduce the sweetness, was great will try with pineapple next time.
I loved this recipe & my second time to bake a cake myself. Actually I enrolled in a training center for basic baking but unfortunately on the first day I was disappointed with the instructor as there is no explanation on the tools of baking to be used & the ingredients of the cake. I decided to back out from that school. I’ve been reading your cake ingredient since 2 years ago & yesterday I try to follow your carrot cake ingredients & it turn out to be amazing, tasty, moist. The only thing I need to adjust is the frosting because on the taste buds its too sweet. Thanks Sally for the Amazing, Great recipe. I will try your other recipe this weekend & I will update you the outcome. I really want to study on how to make a great cake, muffins, cookies etc. i hope you can give me more tips. This will be my journey to become a chef on my own & through your ingredients & instruction.
Thank you for such a delicious carrot cake recipe. I made this in a 9×13 pan and iced it with your “Not So Sweet Whipped Frosting,” adding the toasted pecans. I served it the second day to unexpected guests who loved it. And you are right it was better the second day.
How much carrots? I don’t see carrot in the ingredient list.
Hi Marie, it’s the last item in the Ingredients list (before the Cream Cheese Frosting list) — 2 cups (260g) grated carrots (about 4 large) are needed. Enjoy!
This recipe is incredible! It came out so moist and rich. The icing is tangy and a great complement to the cake. Thanks for the recipe!
If I were to substitute condensed milk for eggs to kake it eggless, is it ok to add 1 cup of condensed milk for 4 eggs?
The cake turned out perfectly but even though I followed the recipes exactly, my frosting is just goop. I cooled everything and even added extra sugar but all the layers have just slid off each other and I’m very frustrated. I used the correct cream cheese and allowed it all to coke to room temperature. But as soon as the sugar went in it pretty much liquified.
Hi Amber, are you by chance outside of the U.S.? Because cream cheese is much different (thinner) in other regions, and can be quite frustrating when making frosting!
May I use avocado oil instead?
Hi Heather, that will work in a pinch. The taste will be slightly different.
This website has become my go-to for recipes! I’m my tennis team’s birthday baker and have found so many phenomenal recipes that whenever I’m searching for something new, your website is the first I turn to and I’ve never been disappointed! This carrot cake recipe is right up there with the rest (despite my personal preference of switching out the nuts for coconut which I didn’t do this time because of the birthday girl’s preferences). LOVE this & your website!!