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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.
Print
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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

Description

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.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 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

Instructions

  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.

Notes

  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 Rose, for absolute best results we recommend making separate batches instead of doubling. Enjoy!

  1. I used like 100 grams less of sugar and it was still WAY too sweet. I also think it had too much carrot and they didn’t cook so it’s a little crunchy.

  2. My teenaged son told me this was the best cake he’s ever had. Recipe was easy and the tips really help. The icing was a bit thin, but that is expected with cream cheese icing, so I put it in the fridge for 10 minutes before icing the cake and it did fine. Thanks for another great recipe!

  3. I only have 8″ pans – will three be fine or should I make 4 – 8″ layers?

    1. Hi Kayla, 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!

  4. Awesome, love it. Thanks for sharing. Oh, in one of the layers I added pineapple it also came out good.

    1. Hi Kindal! We’re unsure of the exact amount – you want a thin, even layer over each layer.

  5. I tried this recipe today as surprise for my husband. It didn’t turn out well but all my fault. I reduced the he sugar about mount bcos in the past the sugar had been too much. The cake crumbled to pieces when I tried to assemble. It’s too soft. Couldn’t even ice it fell apart to sand… But my fault. The sugar add structure. Bt the flavors, they are so perfect. Next time IL add sugar as is

  6. This tops any carrot cake recipe I have ever had. I made in two 10” pans and baked for 24 minutes. Every recipe I have ever gotten from Sally’s Baking Addiction replaces its predecessor. If the recipe is not here, I probably don’t need to make it. Dad was super happy for his early Father’s Day cake! Note: I normally don’t personally like the pecans, but the toasted pecans are TOTALLY worth it. I’m glad I made extra, or I would not have had enough to sprinkle on the cake!

  7. I made this for Father’s Day and it came out fabulous! Loved the toasted pecans and fresh carrots! I didn’t have applesauce handy so I used sour cream but it still turned out wonderful. I always add 50 grams more white sugar since I like sweeter cake. A must try for carrot cake lovers!

    Short link to pic: https://bit.ly/3b8c8ND

  8. so if you wanted a moister carrot cake would you omit the apple sauce? There is a mom and pop restaurant by me with the worlds best carrot cake ( that’s what Guy Fieri said) and the cake is think and dark and heavy and really moist and I’ve tried every carrot cake recipe out there and cant make anything even remotely close to their cake.

    1. Hi Dawn! Omitting the applesauce would lead to a more dry cake. For a really dark and heavy cake we would try adding more oil and maybe even some molasses – it would take some testing to get right but let us know what you try! We also recommend giving this carrot cake recipe a try as written – it’s a favorite!

  9. Loved this recipe! Only thing I did differently was that I used 3 cups carrots instead of two.

  10. Want to try this with what I have handy and I dont have any applesauce. Have you ever tried to moisten a cake with canned pumpkin?

    1. Hi Kendall, 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!

  11. I want to make this cake two months in advance I’m going to have a large sweet table so I want to freeze it compared done , so I can just pull it out of the freezer, will this work

    1. Hi Toba, Yes! See the notes section for Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions.

  12. Love this recipe have gotten so many request for it since making it! I just have one question can I use this same recipe but make it cupcakes?

    1. Absolutely! See recipe notes for details on making carrot cake cupcakes.

  13. It looks and sounds delicious! I’m thinking of making this. I think this recipe might overfill a 13″ x 18″ x 1″ pan. Would that be correct? Maybe fill the pan 2/3 full?

    1. We’re unsure how much batter you would need for that pan, but filling 2/3 full is a good rule of thumb! You can use any leftover batter for cupcakes. Or you can reference our cake pan sizes and conversions guide to adapt this recipe. Happy baking!

  14. Thank you so much for the info! The “cake pan size and conversion” guide will come in handy! All of your cakes look amazing! Looking forward to baking!
    Also, would this yummy, soft cake hold up well stacking 3, 6” cakes?

  15. Hello! I’ve made this recipe a couple of times and always run into the trouble of the cream cheese frosting,,, it always comes out runny. I tried using cold butter and cream cheese and it still was very runny,, I added more sugar and it got even more runny,, It’s a great recipe and my family loves it but I was wondering if you had an idea as to why ? Love the recipe!

    1. Hi Macho! Are you using full fat brick style cream cheese? That ingredient is key to skinny smooth cream cheese frosting!

  16. Did a trial and the bride loved this recipe! I’m doing 4” cakes to feed 100. Cakes will be 6”,9” and 12”. Am I correct in needing 3.5x the recipe? Thanks – your recipes are always wonderful!

    1. Hi Shelley, I’m so glad you enjoy this carrot cake recipe too! Sorry if I’m misunderstanding your question. Are you making 4 inch cakes or 6, 9, and 12 inch cakes? My cake pan size and conversions page should be helpful with this.

  17. I always thought, carrots in a cake but I used this recipe to try out for a friend.
    now I’m hooked on carrot cake. Tad expensive to make with the cream cheese and the Pecan nuts, but YUMMY best dang carrot cake I’ve eaten.
    Rating goes to a 5 but I would award it a 10/5.

  18. I baked this cake for the first time during lockdown and my mother-in-law absolutely loved it!!! She’s told all of her friends how wonderful it is- and I am not a natural talent in the kitchen. Very happy- thanks for the deliciousness!✨

  19. Thank you so much for this recipe! Instead of the cream cheese frosting i just made one layer of the cake and sprinkled the top with powdered sugar. Everyone loved it! I got so many compliments hahah

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