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 is my favorite carrot cake recipe, and I’m making it for a baby shower this weekend. This is the momma’s favorite kind of cake, and I have a problem. I ran out of normal flour but I have cake flour. Should I just go get normal flour or can I use the cake flour? Please help!
Hi Amanda, we don’t recommend cake flour for this recipe. It’s too light to hold up heavier ingredients in this cake. Best to stick with all purpose flour here!
Sally. Love this recipe. On the frosting I’m having a little issue with tiny lumps of butter remaining. Butter is at room temp and I’m using a kitchen aid stand mixer with the whipping head. Any ideas? Thanks!
Hi Kathleen! Make sure to completely mix the butter and cream cheese together until smooth before adding the other ingredients.
Do you think that putting half the amount of carrot and then some grated beets would change it too much? I’m making a cake for a someone and they like beets and carrots. Thanks!
Hi Celina, we haven’t tested it so we’re unsure how it would work in this recipe. Let us know if you decide to try it!
Sally I made this recipe last weekend. First carrot cake and it was so delicious. I made two cakes and had four layers with the cream cheese icing between each layer and on top. Very yummy. Thank you for the recipe
So glad you loved it, Tessa! This recipe is definitely a favorite.
So excited to try this for Easter! If using crushed pineapple, drain first or no? If adding raisins, do you recommend regular or golden? soaked or unsoaked? If you soak, any other adjustments? Thank you!
Hi Jenna, you’ll want to slightly drain the canned crushed pineapple first. You want it the consistency of applesauce—not too watery. You can use either regular or golden raisins (whichever you prefer!) and no need to soak them first. Hope you love the cake!
Can I use three 8 inch cake pans instead?
Hi Anne, you can divide this batter between your three 8 inch pans. Your layers will be a bit thicker so might take an extra minute or two in the oven. Enjoy!
This recipe is so much like my mother’s and pictures look just like hers. I have never been able to make it like she did. She never had a recipe, but my whole family loved this cake. I’m going to use your recipe for Easter Dinner. That’s when she always cooked it. Thank you so much for sharing
Yum!!! Truly fantastic cake.
I love spice so I added 1/2tsp more cinnamon and included 1/2tsp of cardamom. For the frosting I only used 3C of confectioners sugar as I don’t love sweetness and just refrigerated the frosting a little bit to thicken it up before frosting the cake. Perfection! Oh, and it may just be my oven, but don’t panic if you have to add 10minutes to the cooking time!
I have been trying carrot cake recipes and this one is up next. I have a question: would it work to use the sour cream instead of the applesauce and some pineapple? If so what amounts would you suggest I have already tried the pineapple carrot cake recipe but want to use this one with the sour cream as I always find the sour cream adds a lot of desired moisture for me. I also love the pineapple and added a little to the cream cheese frosting and it was really good!
Hi Donna, 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. We hope you love this one!
Can I halve the recipe if I want a single layer cake?
Hi Saamiah, here’s our recipe for a one layer carrot cake – it’s a favorite!
Hello! if I were to make a larger cake, 26 cm ~ 10 inch do I need to alter the oven time? if so, how?
Hi Deea, This recipe as written is for either 2 or 3, 9 inch pans. You could use a 10 inch pan as you mention, but they would yield very thin layers. 9 inch pans would be best, if you have access to them. Hope this helps and that you love this cake!
What about high altitude?
Hi Jenny, we wish we could help, but we have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html
This cake is fantastic!! I’ve been making it for my husband’s birthday and Easter for the last few years, and cupcakes occasionally. Last year I made it for my dad’s birthday party, and since then have had a few requests from others to make it for them for their special occasions. Thanks for the great recipe, Sally, all others pale in comparison!
I am wanting to try this recipe but need to make it gluten free. I am going to substitute with cup4cup flour, will it work with this flour and should ai use the same amount of flour?
Hi Jeannie, we haven’t tested this recipe with any gluten-free flours, but some readers have reported success using a 1:1 gluten free all purpose flour like Bob’s Red Mill or Cup 4 Cup with our recipes. Let us know if you do give anything a try!
I first made this recipe for a church Bake Sale and now it’s the most requested at every. I have make it 3 times in the past 2 weeks. It’s fantastic.
What are the chances that you could start including the nutritional info with your recipes? This is extremely helpful for diabetics that need to count carbs for everything eaten for insulin calculations.
Many other recipe sites include it now.
Hi C, we have been adding it to more and more, however there is always a concern about incorrect information as the calculations will only be an estimate because it varies by brand, substitutions, different ways of decorating, frosting etc. For now, we usually direct readers to online calculators such as this one: https://www.verywellfit.com/recipe-nutrition-analyzer-4157076
It’s wonderful to have this feedback though!
I love your recipes, i love carrot cake and cookies, yummy! Thank you for sharing
I baked this for my own birthday this year. The big 60. Boy did this cake help that milestone! I didn’t have applesauce so used crushed pineapple. This cake just gets better and better each day! Its moist and also beautiful!!
So glad it was a hit, Lori, and happy birthday to you!
If I was to make this using 3 tins, do the measurements listed still apply or do I need to up the ingredients by 50%?
Thanks in advance ☺️
Hi Shibani, this repine is written for three 9 inch cake pans. No need to alter!
I made cupcakes using this recipie over the weekend and it was so delicious!!
Can you add raisins to this? If so, how much?
Can they be used in place of the pecans?
Absolutely! If you’d like to add raisins, reduce the pecans (or leave them out) to 1/2 cup. Then, add 1 cup of raisins. Stick to around 1 – 1.5 cups total add-ins.
I made this cake for a work potluck. Before Covid I wasn’t much of a baker, so this was my first time I’ve ever made a carrot cake. To say this cake was a hit is an understatement! My friend asked me to make it for her baby shower. Thanks so much for posting this recipe!
Incredible! I used crushed pineapple instead of applesauce-super moist! I also omitted the ginger and substituted more cinnamon for a traditional taste. Simply the best as always Sally
I use this recipe over and over LOVE IT! I sometimes Substitute Crush Pineapple for the applesauce! Winner Winner
You must be joking on the 4 cups of confectioners sugar in the frosting!? Don’t you mean 4 Tbsp? I guess I just can’t stand anything too sweet and that one ‘takes the cake’!!
Yes, it’s correct. This makes quite a lot of frosting for a tall 3 layer cake. 4 Tablespoons wouldn’t really sweeten the mixture, and it will be too thin and runny, but you can certainly try it.
I have made this recipe twice ….so moist and flavorful….my husband said it’s one of the best desserts ever….we are vegan so I used egg replacement…I also used pumpkin instead of applesauce…fresh grated ginger…and I used a bit less sugar the second time.,.fresh mexican pecans….mmmm and it doesn’t need icing.,,just as good and healthier
First cake I’ve ever baked and it was from scratch. Looks and smells delicious. I’m so proud of myself and never knew baking could be so much fun.
My husband loves this carrot cake. I used fresh carrots from my garden. It’s delicious and picture perfect. Also I use extra virgin (clear) olive oil, and only had 1 cup of brown sugar. So I just used a little more granulated. Also I love how easy they came out of the pan with spraying oil on the parchment paper. Sally you’re my “GO TO” from now on.
I made this 2 years ago and didn’t pin the recipe. It was the best carrot cake we had ever tasted. I’m so glad I found this again (through another pinner’s feed.)
This recipe is outstanding! I used coconut oil since I had it, but I’m sure any neutral oil would do fine. I divided the wet mixture in half so I could prepare one regular loaf cake and one Gluten Free loaf cake (for me:). Then divided the dry mixture in 2 other bowls (ie., one with regular flour/spices and other with GF flour/spices) and finished mixing cakes per instructions. I baked each cake in parchment lined loaf pans for around 35-40min. Once cooled, I served with cream cheese frosting on the side. Will try in my elaborate Nordicware bundt pan next time, which should turn out beautifully.. My family said the texture for both cakes was equally good and both were really delicious. Not sure what makes it so satifying – the texture and flavor? moistness? bites of pecans every so often? IDK probably everything, but its perfect! Best of all, the GF version is excellent and impossible to detect, (which rarely is the case with most GF cakes).
Thank you for this recipe.I live in Germany and made this cake today for my sons birthday (he turned 21) and we just couldn’t stop eating this cake tonight, it was so good. My husband asked me to makeit for him as well, so it’s a keeper. Thank you for the inspiration! Julia