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:
4.95 from 36 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.

 

78 comments

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  1. Carly
    04.29.2021

    Hi, I tried to make this gluten free with almond flour but it wasn’t a great success. What should I use differently if I’m using almond and or coconut flour?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.29.2021

      Hi Carly, almond flour and coconut flour aren’t a 1:1 exchange with regular flour. A gluten free flour blend might work in this recipe. For the other flours, I’d search out recipes that are specifically made with them.

      • Carly
        04.29.2021

        5 stars
        Thank you! I love this recipe and your blog. Have a friend visiting who is gluten free so was trying to make it for her..

  2. Milena
    04.21.2021

    I just made this for my son’s second birthday. The kids loved it! Finally a place where I can find healthier desserts. Thanks. 🙂

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.22.2021

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

  3. Lilyw
    04.19.2021

    5 stars
    This stood up beautifully to a one-to-one gluten-free flour substitute—remained incredibly moist. Not a sweet cake at all, so the sweet frosting doesn’t feel cloying. Very nice.

  4. Andrew
    04.17.2021

    Great recipe! But watch out for coconut oil, it’s high in saturated fat–even more than butter! Mine turned out perfectly with avocado oil.

  5. Margaret
    04.03.2021

    Hi! Can I use regular pastry flour for this? Thanks!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      04.03.2021

      Hi Margaret, I haven’t tried it that way but I think it might be fine.

  6. Gendebien Magali
    03.14.2021

    5 stars
    this carrot cake is just incredible ! I did it twice: the first time with cream cheese frosting and the second one with mascarpone frosting, it was perfect ! thank you for your amazing recipes xx

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      03.14.2021

      I’m so glad you loved it!

  7. victoria
    01.11.2021

    can I use almond flour?

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      01.11.2021

      no, it’s not a 1:1 sub.

  8. Meghan
    12.20.2020

    Excited to try this recipe. Two questions- first, would it change much to sub cow milk for almond milk? And second, do you think this would work in a standard Bundt pan? I’ve been wanting to try a Bundt! 🙂

    • Meghan
      12.20.2020

      Oops! Just saw your Bundt response…

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      12.20.2020

      Hi Meghan, yep, you can replace the almond milk with regular milk. It’s a moist cake, I’m not sure how well it would do in a bundt pan or if the quantity would be correct.

  9. Abeer
    11.11.2020

    5 stars
    The cake was amazing wet and fluffy
    I replace apple sauce with mixing ( apple juice and apricot jam) and tge taste was more than delicious also I used 3 eggs
    Thank you so much 😊

  10. Erin
    11.02.2020

    Cannot wait to try this – making it this week as a tribute to my lovely grandmother who passed away a few days ago… carrot cake was her absolute favorite! Do you think you could make this in a bundt pan? I seem to have misplaced my round cake tins… thank you!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      11.02.2020

      Aww, that’s sweet. I haven’t tried it in a bundt pan, I’m not sure if it’ll be too moist to pop out well, the quantity might also not fill enough of it. If you have an 8×8 square pan that would be a better alternative.

  11. Kay
    09.17.2020

    4 stars
    The cake was amazing!
    The sugar was just a little on the lower side, otherwise, would make it again!

    • Jeanine Donofrio
      09.17.2020

      I’m glad you enjoyed it – we love this sugar level since the frosting is so sweet 🙂

  12. 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 🙂

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

  16. 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 🙂

  17. 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 🙂

  18. 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.

  19. Lauren
    04.12.2020

    Will this still taste okay with only white flour?

    • Lauren
      04.12.2020

      Nevermind I see your comment above!

  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!

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.