Best Carrot Cake

My favorite carrot cake recipe! Moist, cinnamon-spiced, and topped in a tangy cream cheese frosting, it's perfect for any celebration.

Best Carrot Cake

It’s carrot cake season! I don’t know about you, but when the weather warms up, my dessert cravings shift away from chocolate towards lighter, fruitier treats. This change works out well for me, because carrot cake is Jack’s all-time favorite dessert, and we make it every year for his April birthday.

You’ll find our go-to carrot cake recipe below. It’s based on my mom’s, and it uses her secret ingredient: applesauce. It makes the cake super moist and tender, and it steps in for some of the oil and sugar that you’d normally find in a carrot cake recipe. As a result, this recipe is on the lighter side, so you can have your cake and eat it too. 🙂 Cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla fill it with warm flavor, and a tangy cream cheese frosting takes it over the top.

If you’re looking for an easy, delicious dessert for Easter, Mother’s Day, or any celebration, I hope you’ll try this carrot cake recipe. We’ve made it and loved it time and time (and time) again, and I think you’ll love it too.

Best Carrot Cake Recipe Ingredients

Carrot Cake Recipe Ingredients

These key ingredients make this warm, cinnamon-spiced cake moist, light, and even a little healthy:

  1. Lots of carrots! This cake is just lightly sweet, so the carrot flavor really shines through.
  2. Whole wheat pastry flour swaps in for traditional all-purpose flour. Ground from soft wheat berries, whole wheat pastry flour has more nutrients than regular white flour, but it still yields light, fluffy baked goods. If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, you can use a 50/50 mix of white and regular whole wheat flour.
  3. Maple syrup takes the place of granulated or brown sugar, making this carrot cake recipe (before the frosting) refined sugar-free.
  4. Applesauce adds moisture and a little sweetness.
  5. Coconut oil steps in as a healthier alternative for butter. You can also use olive oil or vegetable oil if you prefer.

Batter in a cake pan

How to Make the BEST Carrot Cake

Since marrying Jack, I’ve had a lot of practice making carrot cake. Here are my tips & tricks for making the best carrot cake around:

  1. Grate your carrots finely. Finely grated carrots meld seamlessly into the moist, spiced cake, while larger pieces create a less uniform texture. Finely grate your carrots for light, fluffy, and cohesive cake slices!
  2. Don’t overmix. This rule applies to baked goods across the board. Mix your batter until just combined – and not any longer – or your cake will be dense.
  3. Let your cake cool completely before frosting it. Yes, this is an easy recipe, but there is one hard part: waiting for the cake to cool! If you frost it too early, the frosting will melt, so wait until the cake it at room temperature before slathering it on.

Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

Easy Carrot Cake Recipe Variations

Jack is a true carrot cake enthusiast, and if he’s taught me anything, it’s that carrot cake can be a personal thing. If you like yours with chopped walnuts or raisins, feel free to fold ½-1 cup into the cake batter. If you like yours with coconut, fold ½ cup into the batter or sprinkle shredded coconut over the frosted cake. I like mine plain, although I think it’s pretty with a few chopped pecans sprinkled on top.

You can also choose your cake size and shape! The recipe below makes any of these:

  • one 9-inch round cake (pictured)
  • one square 8×8 cake
  • a 2-layer cake using two 6-inch cake pans (also pictured)

Best Carrot Cake Recipe

Finally, choose your favorite frosting. You can make the cream cheese frosting recipe below with regular or dairy-free cream cheese (I used Kite Hill here), though the regular version will be stiffer and better for slathering between layers if you’re making a layer cake. A lighter frosting option would be the cashew maple frosting from this recipe, which is more of a glaze. Of course, this cake is also delicious without frosting!

Let me know what variations you try!

Spreading cream cheese frosting on a cake Carrot Cake slice on a plate

More Favorite Baking Recipes

If this carrot cake recipe earns rave reviews, try one of these treats next:

Or head to this post for more fun baking recipes!

Best Carrot Cake

rate this recipe:
5 from 20 votes
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 3 mins
Serves 10 to 12
My favorite carrot cake recipe! It’s moist, it’s easy, and it’s healthy too, made with applesauce, whole wheat flour, and maple syrup.

Ingredients

  • cups whole wheat pastry flour (or half white, half wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup almond milk, at room temperature
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups finely grated carrots

Frosting

  • 4 ounces cream cheese*
  • tablespoons butter*, slightly softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, more if a stiffer frosting is desired
  • teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9-inch round baking pan, 8x8 square pan, or two 6-inch round cake pans.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and then whisk in the applesauce, maple syrup, almond milk, coconut oil, and vanilla. Stir in the carrots.
  • Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  • Pour the batter into the baking dish and bake for 35 to 38 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely before frosting.
  • Make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and mix until smooth.

Notes

If you're making a layer cake, you may want to chill the frosting and the cakes so that the frosting stays firm while layering.
*To make this cake non-dairy, use Kite Hill vegan cream cheese and vegan butter in place of the regular cream cheese.

 

53 comments

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  1. Monika
    04.19.2019

    This looks so delicious! I have never tried it with apple sauce or cream cheese as frosting.

    Did you know it’s a national dish from Switzerland? 😀
    It’s a bit different from the traditional one I know, but I can totally imagine the benefits of apple sauce in it, I’ll definitely try it!

  2. Hollie
    04.20.2019

    This looks very good….. you didn’t mention, but I am assuming flax eggs would work as a replacement for the eggs???

  3. Natalie from lilcookie.com
    04.21.2019

    5 stars
    I love carrot cake! Looks so deliciosu and festive!

  4. Tawnya
    04.25.2019

    I’m eager to try this! Do you think it could work as cupcakes??

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      06.22.2019

      yes – they won’t puff up very much, but it should taste the same! I’d check them after baking for about 20 minutes.

  5. Annie
    06.16.2019

    5 stars
    This recipe is incredible! I just made this for my husband today for Father’s Day as carrot cake is one of his favorites. His exact words were “The more you eat, the better it gets!” It’s moist, perfectly sweet, and I feel like you can eat a lot of it without feeling guilty considering the ingredients. Bonus…the frosting does this beautiful slow drip down the sides of the cake that make it look like something you bought in a shop! Can not recommend it enough! This is going to be made on repeat in our house from now on :).

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      06.22.2019

      Hi Annie, yay! I’m so glad you both loved it!

  6. Emily Sherwood
    09.13.2019

    5 stars
    Outstanding cake!!! Made it for my birthday. Was looking for a recipe that used maple syrup and a healthier oil. This was perfect…moist, just sweet enough, spiced right. I also subbed in 1/2 cup sprouted whole wheat pastry flour. Two thumbs up from picky mom and teen son.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.23.2019

      Hi Emily! I’m so glad you all loved it! xoxo

  7. Kristine
    11.08.2019

    Hi, maybe can change applesauce into mashed banana? Thank you!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      11.08.2019

      Hi Kristine, I haven’t tried that so I can’t say. It might be a bit dense and/or affect the rise.

  8. Jill
    11.27.2019

    Looks amazing and can’t wait to try this recipe. Do you have a recipe for a frosting with maple syrup as the sweetener?

  9. Jodi Bright
    12.05.2019

    So glad that I found your recipes

  10. Abigail
    12.28.2019

    5 stars
    This is the best carrot cake ever! I’ve made it several times now; it’s delicious and wonderfully moist. Do you think it would be possible to sub puréed pumkin for the apple sauce? I have some in my fridge that I’d like to use up.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      12.28.2019

      I think that could work! I’m so glad you’ve been loving the cake!

  11. Ellen
    01.29.2020

    5 stars
    This is the best! I have been making with Bob’s Red Milk Paleo flour for amazing GF (grain free, too) version that is a bit in my family (I am only one who is GF). Thanks!

    • Ellen
      01.29.2020

      Bob’s Red Mill Paleo flour

  12. Maggie
    03.14.2020

    5 stars
    This has to be hands down the BEST carrot cake! I made it for a friend’s birthday and have been requested to make it for every dinner party since!

  13. Liz
    04.08.2020

    I am going to attempt carrot cake this weekend while quarantining 🙂 I only have all-purpose flour and oat flour. Would it work to sub in the oat flour for the pastry flour? I’m tryyyying to avoid another trip to the grocery store (although I admit I’d love to get out of the house!). Thanks!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.09.2020

      Hi Liz, it’ll work with the all purpose flour. I would skip the oat flour for now because I don’t always have success with it (sometimes baked goods don’t rise). I don’t like to suggest it if I haven’t tested it first.

      Hope you enjoy the cake!

  14. Suzanne
    04.09.2020

    Hi. I don’t have almond milk. Could I substitute regular milk?

  15. Laura
    04.09.2020

    Hello! Do the ingredients yield one single cake, and you’d just double it if you want to layer?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.09.2020

      Hi Laura, the options are in step 1: one 9-inch round baking pan, an 8×8 square pan, or two 6-inch round cake pans.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.14.2020

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  16. CM
    04.11.2020

    Hi—I don’t have applesauce right now. Is there something else I could substitute it with?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.11.2020

      Mashed banana should be a good substitution.

  17. Christine Whittington
    04.11.2020

    Wonderful to find a luscious recipe that does not include coconut. I am not a picky eater and love all foods–except coconut! The two 6″ layers look perfect.

  18. Deena
    04.11.2020

    Hi! Do you have any recommendations for gluten-free flour subs?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.11.2020

      Hi Deena, I haven’t tested a GF recipe but someone in the comments above had success with Bob’s Red Mill Palelo Flour.

  19. Nancy
    04.11.2020

    Help…can you make this carrot cake gf…please advise??
    Nancy

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.11.2020

      Hi Nancy, someone in the comments above had success with Bob’s Red Mill Paleo Flour but I haven’t tried it myself.

  20. mary from thewellfedyogi.com
    04.11.2020

    This looks so delicious! love the flavors, it must be such a great texture with the applesauce and the carrots. Beautiful!

  21. Lauren
    04.12.2020

    Will this still taste okay with only white flour?

    • Lauren
      04.12.2020

      Nevermind I see your comment above!

  22. Juliet
    04.12.2020

    Can I use regular milk instead of almond milk? I have 2 nut allergy suffers in my family.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.12.2020

      yep! Any type of milk will work.

  23. Karen Gladis
    04.13.2020

    5 stars
    This recipe is really incredible. I love all of your recipes and cookbook too- this one is standout. Because we are stuck at home now and low on some ingredients, I subbed almond flour for the whole wheat pastry flour, cloves and cardamom in lieu of nutmeg and added golden raisins and flax seeds. Delicious!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.14.2020

      Hi Karen, I’m so glad you loved it! I’m happy to hear that it worked out with almond flour and I’m a huge fan of cardamom so I might steal your idea and use that next time 🙂

  24. Chamila
    04.13.2020

    How can i make my own applesauce? I so.want to.try it with that.
    Thx
    Chamila

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.14.2020

      I haven’t done it myself (but I should, thank you for the request!). Until then, I’d google for a recipe, it can’t be too hard 🙂

  25. Emily from carvingajourney.com
    04.13.2020

    OHH Apple sauce is such a good idea! Question: I usually make homemade apple sauce. Do you use completely watery apple sauce that you typically buy at the grocery store or apple sauce that is a bit more chunky? Excited to try this/adapt to gluten free!!!!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.14.2020

      Hi Emily, I use the type from the grocery store that’s pretty smooth. Chunky might affect the rise and texture of the cake. I hope that helps!

  26. Shelly
    04.19.2020

    Loved this Carrot Cake. I made it for Easter. Where can I find your nutritional charts for your recipes? I find that so important when using my FitBit. Thank you

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.22.2020

      Hi Shelly, I’m so glad you loved it! I’m sorry, I don’t calculate nutritional information.

  27. Bethany
    04.27.2020

    This looks delicious! I only have sweetened applesauce on hand, should I reduce the amount of maple syrup I add?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.27.2020

      Hi Bethany, I would still make the recipe as-is so that the texture of the cake isn’t affected. It’s not all that much applesauce (and the cake itself isn’t crazy sweet) so I think the difference in sweetness will be negligible. Hope that helps!

      • Bethany
        04.29.2020

        5 stars
        Thanks, it turned out great!

  28. Olivia Stewart
    05.23.2020

    5 stars
    This is my favorite cake at the moment! It also works well with a flax egg as a replacement if anyone was interested 🙂

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.