My favorite carrot cake recipe! It’s moist, it’s easy, and it’s a little healthy too, made with whole wheat flour, applesauce, and maple syrup.
It’s carrot cake season! This week, I feel like I’ve eaten carrot cake for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had a big carrot cake last weekend for Jack’s birthday, followed by a few more cakes made (and consumed) while creating this post. I would say that I’m carrot caked out, but we really just love carrot cake! We even had it at our wedding because it’s Jack’s favorite thing ever.
This carrot cake recipe is based on my mom’s. Her secret ingredient is applesauce, which makes the cake super moist. Before the frosting is added, it’s even healthy, but with its rich texture and perfectly spiced flavor, you wouldn’t know it.
Key Ingredients in my Carrot Cake Recipe:
- Lots of carrots! The cake itself is not overly sweet so the carrot flavor really shines.
- 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’s great for giving baked goods a light, fluffy texture. 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 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 any neutral-flavored oil, if you prefer.
How To Make Carrot Cake – My Best Tips & Tricks!
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, but it holds true here. Mix your batter until just combined – and not any longer – to avoid making a dense cake.
- Let your cake cool completely before frosting it. Yes, this is an easy carrot cake recipe, but there is one hard part: waiting for it to cool! If you don’t, the cake will melt and absorb the frosting, and you won’t get that thick, perfect layer on the outside.
Carrot Cake Variations
Choose your cake size. The recipe below makes:
- one 9-inch round cake (pictured)
- one square 8×8 cake
- a 2-layer cake using two 6-inch cake pans (also pictured)
I live with a true carrot cake enthusiast (Jack), and if he’s taught me anything, it’s that carrot cake can be a personal thing. If you like your cake with chopped walnuts or raisins, feel free to fold ½-1 cup into the batter. Or, if you’re someone who likes carrot cake with coconut, fold ½ cup into the batter or sprinkle shredded coconut over the frosted cake. I like mine carrot cake just plain, although I think it’s pretty with a few chopped pecans sprinkled on top.
You can make the 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 on its own without frosting!
If you’re a carrot cake fanatic, try making these carrot quinoa breakfast cookies or these carrot bliss balls next. Or if you just love cake, this chocolate cake, this lemon cake, and this zucchini cake are all delicious.
Best Carrot Cake
- 2¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 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 temp
- ½ cup melted coconut oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 cups finely grated carrots
- 4 ounces cream cheese (or vegan cream cheese - I used Kite Hill)
- 1½ tablespoons butter or vegan 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 pan, 8x8 square pan, or two 6-inch round 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 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. Note: 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.