Best Carrot Cake

Our favorite carrot cake recipe! Moist, warmly spiced, and topped with tangy cream cheese frosting, it's easy to make and perfect for celebrations.

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

Here’s what you’ll need to make this carrot cake recipe:

  • Carrots, of course! They make the cake super moist and tender.
  • Whole wheat pastry flour – A healthier alternative to regular all-purpose. If you don’t have whole wheat pastry flour, you can substitute a 50/50 mix of all-purpose and regular whole wheat.
  • Baking powder, baking soda, and eggs – They help the cake rise.
  • Maple syrup – Instead of making this cake with brown sugar or regular granulated sugar, I sweeten it naturally with pure maple syrup. I love the depth of flavor that the maple adds to the cake!
  • Applesauce – For more moisture and extra (natural) sweetness.
  • Almond milk – Or any milk you like! My homemade oat milk would work nicely here too.
  • Coconut oil – For richness. Free free to use olive oil or vegetable oil if you prefer.
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract – For warm, spiced flavor.
  • And sea salt – To make all the flavors pop!

Find the complete recipe with measurements below.

Hand using spatula to spread batter in a baking 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 cake, while larger pieces create a less uniform texture. Finely grate your carrots for light, fluffy, and cohesive cake slices!
  2. Spoon and level your flour. Anytime you’re baking, how you measure flour matters. It can easily settle or become compacted in a canister or bag, so if you scoop it up directly with your measuring cup, you might accidentally pack too much into your scoop. Too much flour = dry baked goods. And no one likes dry carrot cake! To avoid using too much flour, fluff the flour in the canister or bag with a spoon and then gently spoon it into your measuring cup. Clear off any excess flour with the back of a butter knife. This method for measuring flour is super simple, and it’ll help your carrot cake come out moist and tender every time.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 is 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-inch cake
  • a 2-layer cake using two 6-inch cake pans (also pictured)

Slice of cake on plate with fork

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 the cake 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. You could also leave the cake plain or serve it with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Let me know what variations you try!

Hand using spatula to spread cream cheese frosting on layer cake; assembled layer 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:
4.98 from 72 votes
Prep Time: 25 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 3 mins
Serves 10 to 12
My favorite carrot cake recipe! Made with wholesome ingredients like whole wheat pastry flour, applesauce, and pure maple syrup, it's moist, delicious, and easy to make.

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.

 

106 comments

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Rate this recipe (after making it)




  1. Baishakhi
    06.12.2022

    It looks delicious. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  2. Jill
    05.27.2022

    Where is the nutritional information

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      05.28.2022

      I’m sorry, we don’t post nutritional info, but you can plug the ingredients into a site like my fitness pal.

  3. Baishakhi
    05.12.2022

    I looks amazing. Thank you for sharing this recipe.

  4. Rachel
    04.30.2022

    Any suggestions/changes for making cupcakes instead of a full cake?

    • Michelle
      06.01.2022

      5 stars
      We did this. Came out great with no changes

      • Jeanine Donofrio
        06.03.2022

        I’m so glad you loved it!

  5. Sanaa
    04.24.2022

    5 stars
    I really would love to make this! But I’m from the UK and the measurements always throw me off! Any chance it would be possible for you to convert your measurements to UK grams? I tried to do it online but it’s all so confusing!

    • Clare
      09.05.2022

      It’s cups and tea/tablespoons! That’s not tough (I’m from the UK too)

  6. Gwen
    04.14.2022

    5 stars
    Lovely crumb and very tasty. I doubled the batter recipe as company coming for Easter and made three layers with two 8″ pans and one 6″ pan. Made single recipe of dairy free cream cheese icing. It goes a long way. Iced between layers and around all sides. Will definitely make again.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.15.2022

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  7. Polina
    04.10.2022

    5 stars
    Not a big fan of carrot cake, but made it yesterday for my husband. It was sooo good! We ate half of it 🙂 Perfect level of sweetness!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.11.2022

      I’m so glad you both loved it!

  8. David
    04.03.2022

    5 stars
    Great recipe for spring!

  9. Erika Anderson
    03.31.2022

    How would you make this gluten free?

    • Sarah from Holistik%20Collective
      04.05.2022

      The best option might be substituting an all-purpose gluten free flour, such as Cup-4-Cup, and perhaps adding an additional 2 Tbs. cornstarch to balance the texture to be fit for a cake. Just a thought!

  10. Kate
    03.31.2022

    Perfect timing! Have you tried a vegan variation to the cake? Curious about substitutes for the eggs

  11. 5 stars
    I love this and everything you do! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  12. Laura
    02.27.2022

    5 stars
    I made this for my brother’s birthday last night and got compliments from everybody!
    The frosting went really well with the cake because their respective sweetness levels balanced each other out. I added 1/2 tsp ground ginger (which I’ll increase to 3/4 tsp next time) and a pinch more nutmeg and the flavour turned out great!
    I ended up turning the remaining cake into cake balls by crumbling it up & mixing it with a bit of leftover frosting☺️

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      02.28.2022

      Hi Laura, I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it!

  13. Margarita
    02.14.2022

    Love all your recipes, but I just tired this one for my mothers’s birthday and came out super dense! Any idea why?

    • L
      02.27.2022

      Did you mix it too much? That’s a really common reason that muffins, quick breads, and cakes turn out dense (I say that from both research and an unfortunate amount of experience – haha). As soon as the dry ingredients have been distributed throughout the batter you should stop mixing.
      Is there anything about the recipe that you changed?

  14. Mili
    11.19.2021

    Hi,
    Can you replace maple syrup and sugar with organic date sugar?
    Thank you, kind regards

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      11.20.2021

      Hi Mili, I wouldn’t replace either. Changing from wet to dry sugar in the cake will change it’s consistency. And the frosting will be gritty without the powdered sugar.

  15. Anita Sabados
    07.28.2021

    4 stars
    Made this with no changes or substitutions and it was great! I think it tasted even better the next day. I’m wondering what the purpose of the butter is in the icing. I put it in but it’s such a small amount I’m wondering if it’s needed.

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      07.29.2021

      Hi Anita, for flavor, and it helps keep it firm. Butter is pretty traditional in cream cheese icing.

  16. Anna
    07.09.2021

    5 stars
    Deliciously moist and flavorful cake. Not overtly sweet. Easy to make!

  17. Lucina
    05.07.2021

    Hi. This cake looks so delicious. Would like to try it, but what can I use to replace coconut oil?

    • Kay
      12.20.2021

      I would use unsalted butter.

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.