My favorite carrot cake recipe! Moist, cinnamon-spiced, and topped in a tangy cream cheese frosting, it's perfect for any celebration.
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.
Carrot Cake Recipe Ingredients
These key ingredients make this warm, cinnamon-spiced cake moist, light, and even a little healthy:
- Lots of carrots! This cake is just lightly sweet, so the carrot flavor really shines through.
- 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.
- Maple syrup takes the place of granulated or brown sugar, making this carrot cake recipe (before the frosting) refined sugar-free.
- Applesauce adds moisture and a little sweetness.
- Coconut oil steps in as a healthier alternative for butter. You can also use olive oil or vegetable oil if you prefer.
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
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)
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!
More Favorite Baking Recipes
If this carrot cake recipe earns rave reviews, try one of these treats next:
- Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- Healthy Banana Bread
- Best Blueberry Muffins
- Pumpkin Bread
- Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
- Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Best Brownies
Or head to this post for more fun baking recipes!
Best Carrot Cake
- 2¼ 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
- 4 ounces cream cheese*
- 1½ tablespoons butter*, slightly softened
- 2 cups powdered sugar, more if a stiffer frosting is desired
- ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 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.