Our favorite carrot cake recipe! Moist, warmly spiced, and topped with tangy cream cheese frosting, it's easy to make and perfect for celebrations.
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
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.
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 cake, while larger pieces create a less uniform texture. Finely grate your carrots for light, fluffy, and cohesive cake slices!
- 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.
- 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 is 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-inch 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 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!
More Favorite Baking Recipes
If this carrot cake recipe earns rave reviews, try one of these treats next:
- Applesauce Cake
- Chocolate Zucchini Bread
- Healthy Banana Bread
- Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
- Best Brownies
- Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
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.
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?
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.
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..
I just made this for my son’s second birthday. The kids loved it! Finally a place where I can find healthier desserts. Thanks. 🙂
Hi Milena, I’m so glad everyone enjoyed it!
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.
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.
Hi! Can I use regular pastry flour for this? Thanks!
Hi Margaret, I haven’t tried it that way but I think it might be fine.
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
I’m so glad you loved it!
can I use almond flour?
no, it’s not a 1:1 sub.
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! 🙂
Oops! Just saw your Bundt response…
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.
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 😊
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!
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.
The cake was amazing!
The sugar was just a little on the lower side, otherwise, would make it again!
I’m glad you enjoyed it – we love this sugar level since the frosting is so sweet 🙂
This is my favorite cake at the moment! It also works well with a flax egg as a replacement if anyone was interested 🙂
This looks delicious! I only have sweetened applesauce on hand, should I reduce the amount of maple syrup I add?
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!
Thanks, it turned out great!
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
Hi Shelly, I’m so glad you loved it! I’m sorry, I don’t calculate nutritional information.
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!!!!
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!
How can i make my own applesauce? I so.want to.try it with that.
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 🙂
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!
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 🙂
Can I use regular milk instead of almond milk? I have 2 nut allergy suffers in my family.
yep! Any type of milk will work.
Will this still taste okay with only white flour?
Nevermind I see your comment above!
This looks so delicious! love the flavors, it must be such a great texture with the applesauce and the carrots. Beautiful!