Carrot Cake

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This is our favorite Carrot Cake recipe of all time! It’s incredibly moist and perfectly spiced with a delicious tangy cream cheese frosting. Decorate the cake with candied pecans to give it an extra delicious finish touch!

Love carrot cake? Check out some of these other carrot cake recipes like these Carrot Cake Cookies, this Carrot Pumpkin Cake recipe, or these Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

Carrot Cake on a cake stand

The ULTIMATE BEST EVER carrot cake! Dozens were tested to bring you this amazing recipe! PLUS a fun twist of adding candied pecans to the sides!! via chelseasmessyapron.com

Carrot Cake

This cake has been years and years in the making! Carrot cake is my dad’s favorite cake, so, naturally, I had to get it just right for him. I’m happy to report he has deemed this the best carrot cake he’s ever tried! 

This carrot cake is ultra moist with a tender crumb. It’s soft and luscious — it practically melts in your mouth! This cake is perfectly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves — none of which are overpowering. The spices are subtle and work together to create a deep flavor. This cake emphasizes brown sugar over white, which further intensifies those deep notes of spice (brown sugar has molasses in it, which beautifully complements the spices).

And this cake paired with the tangy and sweet cream cheese frosting is a match made in heaven! The frosting penetrates the cake, making the cake that much more tender. It also helps to balance the sweetness of the cake. And finally, the exterior of the cake is garnished with candied pecans. They add a final touch of sweetness and pizzazz to this already unforgettable cake. So, don’t worry if you don’t have the time to make candied pecans; this cake will still be amazing even without them.

A cake pan with a liner on the bottom

Let’s chat cake pans

This cake is created for 9×2-inch cake pans (here are the exact cake pans I use.) Use the right size cake pans for the best results.

While we’re talking about cake pans, you’ll also want to make sure you line the cake pan with parchment paper. This cake is so moist that if the bottom isn’t lined, the cake won’t come out nicely. (I speak from experience!) There’s nothing more frustrating than spending a good deal of time and money on ingredients for the cake to not come out cleanly!

There’s an easy to way line cake pans; check out this photo slideshow or read the directions below:

  1. Tear off a sheet of parchment paper, slightly larger than the cake pan.
  2. Fold the parchment in half, and in half again–to form a square shape.
  3. Fold the square in half to create a triangle.
  4. Fold the triangle in half again.
  5. Hold the triangle against the bottom of the pan from the center outwards.
  6. Cut the parchment right where it meets the edge of the cake pan along the curve of the cake pan.
  7. Unfold the parchment and press it into the bottom of the cake pan.

QUICK TIP

Generously grease the cake pan and parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray. Then lightly dust the cake pans with flour. Between the spray and the parchment paper liner, you can rest assured the cake will come out nicely and cleanly.

Process shots: combining the ingredients for Carrot Cake

What makes the cake moist?

Using incorrect ingredients, overmixing the batter, using too much flour, baking the cake too long, or at too high of a temperature (incorrectly calibrated oven) can result in a dry cake. Below are a few tips to ensure a moist cake:

  • Shred carrots by hand on the small side of the grater. Grating carrots by hand can be a pain, but you’ll be amazed at how much moisture results from shredding the carrots. Pre-shredded carrots in the grocery store are much too large and dry for this carrot cake.
  • Follow baking directions carefully in a calibrated oven.
  • Spoon and level the flour. If you pack in too much flour, you’ll get dense, dry cake. Here’s a great video showing how to properly measure flour for this recipe.
  • Add oil and applesauce. This cake recipe calls for both oil and applesauce, which both contribute tremendously to the moisture. I don’t recommend substituting these 2 ingredients.

Process shots: adding in eggs, shredded carrots, and dry ingredients

How to get even cake layers

When making a layered cake, it is important to make sure you are dividing the batter equally between the cake pans. It’s important for the cake to look even and pretty, but even more importantly, the layers need to bake evenly. The easiest way to confirm the layers are even is to weigh them!

Eyeball pouring even amounts into each pan and then check the accuracy with a kitchen scale. Simply weigh each pan and then use a spoon to adjust the batter in each cake pan so that each pan contains perfectly even amounts. 

Process shots: baking the Carrot Cake

How to know when this Carrot Cake is done baking

  • Visual cues for doneness: Cake has ever-so-slightly pulled away from the edges of the pan and the top is caramelized in appearance.
  • Physical cue for doneness: A toothpick inserted into the center of the carrot cake comes out clean or with a couple of moist (not wet) crumbs.

How to invert a cake 

Most cakes are best removed from the pan while they are still slightly warm (otherwise they tend to stick to the cake pan). To invert your baked carrot cakes, run a sharp knife around the cake’s edge. Place the cooling rack on top of the cake and then flip the cake on the rack to fully cool. I like to invert these carrot cakes 15 minutes after pulling them out of the oven.

Allow time for the carrot cake to completely cool before frosting.

Process shots: making the cream cheese frosting

Cream Cheese Frosting

This frosting is soft, tangy, and sweet. It’s the perfect pairing for the moist, spiced carrot cake! Below are my top two tips for frosting making success:

  • Set out the butter and cream cheese about an hour before baking to get them to room temperature. If these ingredients aren’t at room temperature, they won’t combine smoothly, and there will be unpleasant cream cheese chunks in the frosting. Here are some tips for how to bring the cream cheese and butter to room temperature quickly.
  • Slowly add in the powdered sugar. Add more or less powdered sugar, according to your personal taste preferences. More sugar will make the frosting sweeter and firmer, and less sugar will leave the frosting tangier and softer.

QUICK TIP

There is a lot of frosting for this cake because we really like a lot of frosting on every bite. If you would like less frosting on the cake, you can use leftover frosting as a fruit dip or spread it over sliced strawberries. You could even add it on top of waffles or pancakes for a cheesecake-type breakfast.

Image of a slice of the Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake FAQs

1Do you peel carrots for Carrot Cake?

If carrots are thoroughly washed and scrubbed, you don’t ever technically need to peel the carrots. That said, some people find carrot skin to have a slightly bitter or unpleasant taste. While I’ll leave carrot peels on for most of my savory recipes, I do recommend peeling carrots first for sweets, including this Carrot Cake.

2What is the best way to grate carrots for Carrot Cake?

  1. Peel the carrot and thoroughly wash and dry.
  2. Cut off the tops and the bottom
  3. Shred the carrots carefully on the smallest holes on a cheese grater.
  4. Carefully measure to ensure you have a leveled 3 cups of shredded carrots.

Yes, this is a process! But I promise you’ll be amazed the moisture finely shredded carrots add to this cake.

 

3Is it better to bake with butter or oil?

In a Carrot Cake, we’ve got such strong flavors (thanks to the carrots and spices), that we don’t really need the flavor of butter. Instead, we use a flavorless oil which will contribute more moisture and the sensation of a moist cake. Oil will also ensure this carrot cake stays moist for days!

Don’t leave out the oil — this cake relies on the fat in oil to make it tender!

4Is Carrot Cake healthy?

It might seem like Carrot Cake is a healthier option since carrot is in the name and in the batter. But don’t be fooled: this cake should still be categorized as a treat. There is a lot of sugar and fat in both the cake and frosting.

5What is the best oil for baking cakes?

When adding oil to cakes, particularly this Carrot Cake, use a neutral flavorless oil, so it doesn’t change the flavor or detract from the spices. I use and recommend vegetable or canola oil.

Slice of carrot cake on a plate

Carrot Cake storage

One of the best things about carrot cake is how well it does being made ahead of time! In fact, we like it even better the next day. This is great news if you’re making this cake for an event and want to get that done ahead of time! 

Make-ahead/Freezing: Carefully wrap the two cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. You could also freeze them wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge for about 8-10 hours before frosting and assembling.

Finished cake: Store Carrot Cake in the fridge, tightly wrapped with plastic wrap, or under a cake dome for up to 4 days. The finished and frosted cake doesn’t freeze and thaw well.

Unfortunately, cream cheese frosting doesn’t freeze and thaw well, but you can prepare it a day in advance. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge and set it out to room temperature about 30-45 minutes before you want to frost the cake.

Image of a slice of the dessert being taken out

Fun flavor variation idea: add lemon curd!

The carrot cake we used to serve at a restaurant I worked at had layers of lemon curd in between the cake and frosting. I recently added a bit of my favorite lemon curd to the center of this carrot cake and it was completely raved over! If you want to add a unique and special touch, I can’t recommend this enough! (If adding lemon curd, add the center cream cheese layer, a layer of lemon curd, and the other cake layer on top).

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Carrot Cake

5 from 4 votes
Our favorite Carrot Cake recipe of all time! This cake is incredibly moist and perfectly spiced with a delicious tangy cream cheese frosting. Decorate the cake with candied pecans to give it an extra delicious finish touch!
Print Recipe

Carrot Cake

5 from 4 votes
Our favorite Carrot Cake recipe of all time! This cake is incredibly moist and perfectly spiced with a delicious tangy cream cheese frosting. Decorate the cake with candied pecans to give it an extra delicious finish touch!
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword carrot cake
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 12 slices
Calories 408kcal
Author Chelsea
Cost $7.73

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients

  • 2 cups (250g) 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

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200g) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (55g) regular applesauce (sweetened)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (276g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (95g) white sugar
  • 3/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups (295g) finely grated carrots (~5-6 large carrots)

Frosting

  • 2 packages (8 oz.; 226g EACH) full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature, do not melt
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter at room temperature, do not melt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (450g) powdered sugar

Candied Pecans (OPTIONAL)

  • 1 large egg whites, (discard or save the yolk for another recipe)
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (100g) white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups (218g) pecan halves

Instructions

Cake

  • PREP CAKE PANS: Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F. Grab two 9-inch round pans and prepare parchment paper liners for the cake pans (See Note 1). Generously spray pans and liners with cooking spray and dust generously with flour. (Take your time preparing the pans so the cake doesn't stick -- it's worth the extra few minutes here!) Set aside. Set cream cheese and butter out for frosting so they can get to room temperature.
  • CARROTS: 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 filled cups. Yes, this is tedious, but definitely the star for making this cake ultra moist and tasty. I don't recommend using a food processor or pre-shredded carrots from the grocery store.
  • DRY INGREDIENTS: In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients EXCEPT FOR THE SALT. Add the flour (important to spoon and measure the flour so you don't end up with too much -- See Note 2), baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Whisk together and set aside.
  • WET INGREDIENTS: In another large bowl, mix the oil, applesauce, brown sugar, white sugar, and vanilla with a large whisk until completely combined and smooth. Whisk vigorously -- the oil should be emulsified -- this takes about 1-2 minutes. Add in the eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition. Add in the grated carrots and salt and stir to combine.
  • SIFT IN DRY INGREDIENTS: Add a sifter on top of the wet ingredients bowl. Sift in all of the dry ingredients into the cake batter. Use a wooden spoon to mix until ingredients are *just* incorporated. (Do not overmix to avoid a dense/tough cake.)
  • BAKE: Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared pans (See Note 3) and bake for 28-35 minutes or until a toothpick, when inserted into the center, comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Remove and allow to cool for 15 minutes before inverting the cakes onto a cooling rack for them to finish cooling.

OPTIONAL: Candied Pecans

  • PREP: While the cakes cool, prepare the pecans. Lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees F and line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.
  • PREPARE 2 MIXTURES: In a mixing bowl, whip together the egg whites, water, and vanilla until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt, and cinnamon.
  • TOSS PECANS: Add pecans to egg whites; stir to coat the nuts evenly. Using a slotted spoon, remove the nuts, and toss them in the sugar mixture until coated. Spread the nuts out on the prepared baking sheet.
  • BAKE: 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.

Frosting

  • COMBINE: 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: Beat the two until completely smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and a generous pinch of salt (if desired). Beat until smooth.
  • POWDERED SUGAR: Gradually add in the powdered sugar, beating until smooth and combined. Taste and adjust adding more vanilla or salt if desired.
  • DECORATE: Place a little frosting on the cake serving plate (just to hold the bottom cake in place) and top with one completely cooled cake layer. Add frosting to the center spreading it in an even layer. Top the frosting with the other cake.
  • FINISH FROSTING: Use the remaining frosting to generously frost the cake. If the frosting is too soft, either refrigerate 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.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Make a parchment paper round liner for the bottom of the cake pans by following these steps:
  1. Tear off a sheet of parchment slightly larger than the cake pan.
  2. Fold the parchment in half and in half again to form a square shape.
  3. Fold the square into a triangle and then fold the triangle in half again.
  4. Hold the triangle against the bottom of the pan from the center outwards.
  5. Cut the parchment right where it meets the edge of the cake pan, along the curve of the cake pan.
  6. Unfold the parchment and press it into the bottom of the cake pan.
Note 2: If you press a measuring cup into a bag of flour and scoop, you will pack in way too much flour, resulting in the wrong texture of cake. To accurately measure the flour, spoon the flour into the measuring cup until its overfilled. Then use the back of a table knife to level the measuring cup at the top. (Video visual here).
Note 3: When making a layered cake, it is important to make sure you are dividing the batter equally between the cake pans so everything bakes evenly. The easiest way to confirm the layers are even is to weigh them! Eyeball pouring even amounts into each pan and then check the accuracy with a kitchen scale. Simply weigh each pan and then use a spoon to adjust the batter in each cake pan so that each pan contains perfectly even amounts. 

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 408kcal | Carbohydrates: 54.5g | Protein: 4.6g | Fat: 20g | Cholesterol: 62mg | Sodium: 54mg | Fiber: 1.5g | Sugar: 36.7g

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16 Comments

  1. carrot cake always reminds me of my dad – this post put a smile on my face! and OMG that frosting looks SOO creamy. i’ll be giving this one a whirl for my dad’s birthday in april!! (& judging by the looks of it, it might even have him pretending that every day is his birthday too…) xx

  2. I have seen carrot cake everywhere…this looks UNBELIEVABLE and it’s a sign that I need to make it now! Beautiful pictures!

  3. Looks fantastic! Carrot cake used to be my dads favorite and it is fun to see these favorite flavors passed down in my boys! I’m thinking right now carrot cake is a must when my mom comes to visit our Easter Table:-)

  4. Love this! I plan to make it for Easter. Do you think it would be okay if I make it Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s dinner?

  5. 5 stars
    I have learnt how to make cake, with the help of this recipe. It’s taste was fantastic!!! I would like to recommend this cake to all my siblings.

    1. I haven’t personally tried that so I can’t give you a solid recommendation, but if adding pineapple you will likely need to increase dry ingredients (flour) to compensate for the extra liquid.

  6. 5 stars
    Hi!
    I want to start by saying that I love this recipe! I’ve made it a few times and it is such a treat and crowd pleaser. Question about baking though- I wanted to either make the cake 3 layers (for presentation purposes only), or have 2 larger, fluffier cake layers…would it be okay to add baking powder to the recipe to achieve fluffier cake layers? If so? How much? Or would you cut the baking soda in half and do both? Just curious and thought you might be able to help.

    Thanks so much!!

  7. 5 stars
    This cake was wonderful. Super moist. The frosting was excellent as well. Everyone enjoyed every bite! Definitely a keeper.

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