Best Carrot Cake

3 layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

The Spruce / Diana Rattray

Prep: 45 mins
Cook: 24 mins
Total: 69 mins
Servings: 16 servings
Yield: 1 cake
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
589 Calories
31g Fat
75g Carbs
6g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 589
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 31g 39%
Saturated Fat 11g 54%
Cholesterol 90mg 30%
Sodium 342mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 75g 27%
Dietary Fiber 1g 5%
Total Sugars 57g
Protein 6g
Vitamin C 4mg 18%
Calcium 94mg 7%
Iron 1mg 8%
Potassium 172mg 4%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

If someone made a list of the best cake/frosting combinations of all time, this amazing 3 layer carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting has to be at the top. It's a classic carrot cake—super moist, full of colorful grated carrots, spiced to perfection, and topped with a luscious, tangy cream cheese frosting.

The classic carrot cake recipe is versatile. You can make the impressive 3-layer cake, or you can bake it in two layers. For an even easier version, bake the carrot cake in a 9-by-13-inch pan. See the tips below for the various baking times.

Make the carrot cake with or without the chopped pecans, or you might swap them out with some toasted coconut or chopped walnuts. Feel free to add some raisins or chopped dried fruits, but keep add-ins to about 1 to 1 1/2 cups total.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups (320 g) flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1 cup (213 g) brown sugar

  • 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

  • 1 cup vegetable oil (neutral flavor)

  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce

  • 4 large large eggs

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 3 cups finely grated carrots (about 4 to 6 peeled carrots)

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

For the frosting:

Steps to Make It

Prepare the Cake

  1. Gather the cake ingredients and preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly grease the parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and spices. Whisk to blend the dry ingredients thoroughly. Set aside.

  3. In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vegetable oil, applesauce, eggs, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Beat until well blended. 

  4. Slowly beat the dry mixture into the wet mixture just until blended.

  5. Fold the carrots into the batter along with 1/2 cup of finely chopped pecans, if using.

  6. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared baking pans.

  7. Bake the cake for 22 to 26 minutes, or until it is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

  8. Let the cakes cool in the pan. 

Prepare the Frosting and Assemble the Cake

  1. Gather the ingredients for the frosting.

  2. In a mixing bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter, and a dash of salt until smooth and creamy.

  3. Sift the powdered sugar into the bowl with the cream cheese mixture and beat on low speed until blended. Add the 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and increase the mixer to medium-high; beat until creamy.

  4. To assemble the cake, carefully remove the cooled cakes from the pans. If desired, use a sharp knife to level the layers. Place the first layer on a cake plate and cover the top with about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with a second layer and cover with another 2/3 to 3/4 cup of frosting. Top with the third layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Swirl the frosting or smooth it as desired.

  5. If desired, sprinkle chopped toasted pecans over the top of the cake.

How to Store and Freeze

  • Store leftover frosted carrot cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.
  • To freeze, transfer slices of carrot cake to an airtight container, separating slices with sheets of wax paper. Freeze for up to 1 month.

Tips

  • To shred the carrots, peel them first and use the small holes on a box grater or food processor shredding disk.
  • With parchment paper-lined pans, the cake should come out easily. If necessary, slide a knife or spatula around the edge of the cake.
  • The cake may be made a day in advance. Leave the layers in the pans and refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble and frost the cake.
  • To smooth the frosted sides of the cake, place it on a turntable or lazy Susan. Hold a bench scraper lightly against the side of the cake as you turn it.
  • For a one-layer rectangular cake, spread the batter in a greased and floured 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake the cake in a 350 F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. For the frosting, cut the cream cheese and butter in half, with 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, a pinch of salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla.
  • For two layers, bake the cake in two 9-inch round cake pans (greased and lined with parchment paper) in the 350 F oven for about 30 to 34 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Can You Use Bagged Pre-Shredded Carrots to Make Carrot Cake?

Bagged shredded carrots tend to be dry and chunky, so they are best avoided. If that's all you have, put them in a food processor fitted with the blade and pulse them a few times, or just until they look more finely grated. Ideally, use the small holes on a box grater or food processor shredding disk to shred the carrots.

What Is the Best Oil to Use In Cake?

Choose a neutral-flavor vegetable oil for baked goods. Some good choices include canola oil, grapeseed, safflower oil, corn oil, and everyday vegetable oil.

Recipe Variations

Garnish the cake with toasted coconut instead of pecans.