The best carrot cake ever — super moist, tender, and perfectly spiced with an incredible and soft cream cheese frosting. The cake is coated in candied pecans giving it an extra delicious (and pretty) touch!
The toddler is OBSESSED with cake. It’s easily his favorite dessert and while he doesn’t have a crazy sweet tooth (he has no problem turning down candy) he can seriously do some damage to a cake.
His little friend celebrated her birthday last weekend and he was most excited about eating a piece of her cake. He even had a few meltdowns at the party waiting to eat the cake. But when he finally got it, all was right in the world. That is, until his piece was gone and he wanted another one…
The next day he told me it was his birthday. When I told him it actually wasn’t, he whined, “why it not my birthday?!” And, “but it IS my birthday.” And my personal favorite, laced with betrayal and mumbled through hysterical tears (?), “Why you forget my birthday is today mom?!”
When I finally convinced him I didn’t forget his birthday I suggested we make a cake together which he was beyond thrilled about. He loves the molten lava cakes from Chili’s so that’s what we decided to re-create.
We made 4 little molten lava cakes and he excitedly helped me every step of the way. And when they made it into the oven he told me, (probably three dozen times) “it’s so hard to wait for my cake mom.” But, good news, he made it!
As soon as I gave him his mini cake on a plate, he asked me for candles on top…and that’s when I realized I’d never actually convinced him it wasn’t his birthday.
That and his following statement, “Thank you for my birthday cake mom.”
Well, you win some and you lose some. ??
We had so much fun making those mini molten lava cakes together that I knew he’d love making some carrot cakes with me. (Which he did). I say some carrot cakes because we made three different variations in one day!
To back-up a little: since I’ve been married, I have always been tasked with bringing the carrot cake to my family’s Easter dinner. So for the past 5 Easters now, I’ve been on a mission to find the absolute BEST carrot cake. I’m SO excited about this post and this cake, because my search has finally ended!
This carrot cake is absolutely perfect — moist, tender, flavorful, and has the most perfect frosting. It is sincerely the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted and I’m so thrilled with this recipe. My husband isn’t a huge fan of carrot cakes, but ended up trying a slice and commented it was the best carrot cake he’s ever had. And since the toddler is a cake aficionado, I’m sure you all want to know his thoughts. Well he said it was his favorite — better even than Chili’s chocolate molten lava cakes!! ?
So if you aren’t convinced by the rave review of a toddler who also currently dips his tortilla chips in ketchup (????????) I don’t know what will convince you. ? But really. This one is the best.
The best carrot cake ever -- super moist, tender, and perfectly spiced with an incredible and soft cream cheese frosting. The cake is coated in candied pecans giving it an extra delicious (and pretty) touch!
- 2 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup regular applesauce (sweetened)
- 1 and 1/2 cups light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs (organic recommended for flavor)
- 3 cup grated carrots
- 2 packages (8 ounces EACH) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature, do not melt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, do not melt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4-5 cups powdered sugar
- Optional: 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 large egg whites, discard or save the yolk for another recipe
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 cups pecan halves*
Start by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F. Grab 2 9-inch round pans and generously spray with cooking spray and dust generously with flour. (Take your time preparing the pans so the cake doesn't stick) Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together (don't skip the sifting!!) all of the dry ingredients starting with the flour (important to spoon and measure the flour so you don't end up with too much), baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Whisk together and set aside.
Grab another large bowl and mix the oil, applesauce, brown sugar, white sugar, and vanilla with a large whisk until completely combined. Add in the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing after each addition.
Peel and then grate the carrots on the small side of a grater to get very fine pieces of carrots. Shred the carrots carefully. Measure to ensure you have 3 cups. Stir into the wet ingredients.
Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts to the wet ingredients mixing after each addition until they are *just* incorporated (do not over-mix to avoid a denser/tougher cake.)
Separate the mixture evenly among the prepared pans and bake for 27-35 minutes or until a toothpick, when inserted into the center, comes out clean. Remove and allow to cool for 5-7 minutes before inverting the cakes onto a cooling rack for them to finish cooling.
Meanwhile, prepare the pecans. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat liner.
In a mixing bowl, whip together the egg whites, water, and vanilla until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
Add pecans to egg whites, stir to coat the nuts evenly. Remove the nuts, and toss them in the sugar mixture until coated. Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring and tossing every 15 minutes. Remove the nuts and spread them on a sheet of parchment paper. Allow them to cool completely and harden and then finely chop the candied pecans.
Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. In a large bowl fitted to a stand mixer, add in the cream cheese and butter. Make sure both are at room temperature and not at all melted or softened.
Beat the two until completely smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and a generous pinch of salt (if desired). Beat until smooth.
Add in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time until you've added 3 and 1/2 cups. Remove 1/4 of the frosting now to go into the center of the cake. Add the remaining 1/2 to 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting until you have a good frosting consistency. If needed add in the heavy cream. The frosting won't be as firm as a buttercream, but firm enough to frost the cake.
To decorate: place a little frosting on the bottom of a cake pan (just to hold the bottom cake in place) and top with 1 completely cooled cake. Add the reserved 1/4 of the frosting into the center and smooth it.
Top the frosting with the other cake.
Use the remaining frosting to generously frost the cake. If the frosting is too soft, either refrigerated it or add an additional 1/2 cup powdered sugar. (You will likely have a bit of extra frosting, so don't feel like you need to use it all on the cake).
Once the cake is frosted, decorate the sides with the chopped candied pecans. Add a few to the top if desired.
*We like pecans just on the outside of the cake, but if you want nuts in the cake, feel free to add 1 cup to the batter.
In case you’re curious, here are the carrot cakes I’ve personally tried (the exact recipes and then messed around with each of these recipes) over the years and have helped to shape the creation of my carrot cake recipe:
- Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen: This cake was super fun and unique (square shape). The frosting was great and the flavor was good on the cake, but the cake was too dry and lacking. The thin layers of cake just didn’t have the moist-ness or the flavor I was looking for. Also, maybe too much frosting (is that even a thing?!)
- AllRecipes: We didn’t love this cake (too much texture), but the frosting was perfect and I adapted it for this recipe.
- Food Network: I wanted to love this cake, but it was just too dense. Also, not a ton of flavor.
- MyRecipes: We did really like this cake, but it didn’t feel like a true carrot cake. If you like all the add-ins like coconut, pineapple, nuts, raisins, etc. THIS is your recipe. I thought the coconut was too overpowering.
- AllRecipes #2: This is a really great cake, but it was definitely missing something. I think using white sugar only was a bit of a downfall for this recipe as brown sugar does a lot more for a carrot cake than white (in my opinion). It also didn’t have a whole lot of spice leaving it a bit bland.
- Inspired Taste: Out of all the carrot cakes I’ve tried, this was my favorite. A super moist cake that has a delicious level of spice. I didn’t love the frosting and thought the cake was maybe a tad bit oily, but seriously you can’t go wrong with this one. This is the cake recipe that most inspired my own recipe.
And the candied pecans? This is purely inspired from my obsession with candied pecans. I always have candied pecans on hand to throw on salads and I thought it would add a fun touch to this cake. Not only did it add a fun touch in the appearance, but it is seriously SO good. It adds an amazing finishing touch to this cake as well as a fun sweetness.