Classic Carrot Cake
A Classic Carrot Cake is a must-have in every home cook’s baking repertoire! Lightly spiced, not too sweet, very moist and finished with an outrageously good cream cheese frosting. Perfect for Easter, spring celebrations, or any time of the year!
I’m feeling so guilty!
I am posting yet another carrot cake recipe when my Brazilian Carrot Cake is one of the most popular recipes on this site.
Is that cheating? Am I a traitor?
The thing is… if you make me choose between both carrot cakes, I think I would choose this one. 😳
Jokes aside, I felt that we were missing a classic American version here at Olivia’s Cuisine, especially with Easter coming up. They are two different creatures, after all!
While in the Brazilian Carrot Cake the carrots serve more for sweetness and color, here they take front stage, adding not only flavor but also texture! And, yes, the Brazilian version is topped with – my favorite – brigadeiro, but I find that the pairing of the spiced cake with cream cheese icing really takes the trophy.
The good news is that nobody is twisting my arm to choose and there’s a time and place for both cakes. I can make one or the other whenever I feel like it!
But today is all about the classic! So, ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause to the best (American) carrot cake you will ever make. 👏 👏 👏
The Origins of Carrot Cake
No one really knows where carrot cake came from and the many claims are always disputed!
That being said, I find that the most plausible theory comes from the food historians that claim that what we now call carrot cake originated from Medieval carrot puddings eaten by Europeans. According to that theory, carrots were used to sweeten these puddings, since sugar and other sweeteners were expensive and difficult to find.
Fast forward to many centuries later, during World War II, when carrots became really popular in British baking because of food rationing. Sugar in Britain was rationed to 8 ounces per person, so carrots began being used again to help sweeten cakes and cookies.
It wasn’t until the 1960’s that carrot cake became a staple in American households, when the Philadelphia Cream Cheese company started distributing recipes of carrot cake paired with cream cheese icing.
Carrot Cake Ingredients
To make this carrot cake, you will need:
- Carrots – We’ll use 3 cups of grated carrots and that’s about 6 medium carrots. Finely grate your carrots by hand or using a food processor. Do not use store-bought carrot sticks as they will not soften as much when baked and you don’t want to be biting into raw carrots when eating the cake.
- Flour – We’ll use all-purpose flour for this recipe. Don’t skip sifting the flour for a fluffier cake!
- Granulated Sugar
- Brown Sugar – I have tested this cake with just white sugar and with a blend of white and brown sugar, and I find that the latter makes a moister cake!
- Oil – Choose a neutral oil, like vegetable or canola.
- Eggs – This recipe calls for 4 large eggs.
- Spices – I like using ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for a lightly spiced carrot cake! You can go heavier with the spices if you want a more pronounced spiced flavor.
- Vanilla Extract
- Salt – I always use salt in my baked goods, to enhance the flavors and balance the sweetness.
- Baking Soda and Baking Powder – Since this cake has a lot of mix-ins, it needs all the power from both leaveners to rise!
- Pecans – You can substitute for walnuts or omit for a nut-free version.
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
To make the cream cheese frosting, make sure to have on hand:
- Cream Cheese – Make sure your cream cheese is softened to avoid a lumpy frosting.
- Butter – Also softened to room temperature.
- Confectioners’ Sugar – If your confectioner’s sugar is extra lumpy, I recommend sifting to avoid a gritty frosting.
- Vanilla Extract – or vanilla paste.
- Salt – I forgot to add it to the ingredients photo, but I also add a pinch of salt to my frosting, to balance out the sweetness.
How to Make Carrot Cake
I tried to keep this carrot cake recipe as classic as possible.
I’ve seen several recipes that call for pineapple or applesauce to moisten the cake or to make it taste less oily. However, I find that it is not necessary here and I didn’t want to risk the cake being too wet or too sweet! This cake is moist enough and doesn’t taste oily, so you’re good to go with the recipe as is.
You will also notice that I do not add raisins to my carrot cake. That is personal preference, and you can add them (or other dried fruit, like currants or cranberries) if you’d like!
Here’s how I make this Classic Carrot Cake. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!
Step 1: Mix the cake batter.
- Using a hand mixer, whisk or stand mixer, beat the eggs and both sugars.
- Mix in the oil, vanilla extract, salt and spices.
- Sift in the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then gently mix with a wooden spoon.
- Add the grated carrots and chopped pecans, mixing well with the spoon to incorporate.
Step 2: Bake the cake.
- Divide the batter equally into two prepared 8-inch cake pans.
- Bake until a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.
Step 3: Frost the cake.
- Make the cream cheese frosting by mixing all the frosting ingredients with a hand or stand mixer, until creamy and smooth. Note: The frosting can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before using!
- Spread about 1/4 of the frosting on top of the bottom cake. Top with the top layer and spread a thin coat of frosting all over the cake. Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes.
- Frost the cake with the remaining cream cheese frosting.
- If desired, decorate the cake and serve!
- Bake the cake in two 8-inch pans, instead of baking in one larger pan and slicing two layers later. This carrot cake has a moist texture, which makes getting a clean slice almost impossible. If you don’t have two equal pans, bake one layer first, wait for it to cool slightly (15-20 minutes) before unmolding, then bake the other layer.
- Make sure to let the cakes cool completely before frosting. Even better if you can bake them a day ahead, refrigerate them and frost the next day!
- I highly recommend you do a crumb coat and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes before doing the final frosting coat. The crumb coat acts as a primer to keep all the crumbs in place, so when you come with the “official” coating, you will have an even base to spread it.
How to Decorate Carrot Cake
A carrot cake is already perfect and delicious as is, simply frosted with cream cheese buttercream.
But, if you are serving it for Easter or any other special gatherings, you might want to jazz it up a bit to make it worthy of the occasion!
You can go as simple or as crazy as you’d like! From adding crushed pecans to the top or sides, to elaborated pipe work, store-bought toppers, or even using fresh carrots like I did.
Inspired by a photo I saw on Instagram, I also added carrot greens to the sides of my cake, which makes it for a very interesting presentation but not very practical to serve. If you choose to do that, you will want to pick them out before serving the slices, as most people don’t want to eat carrot greens with their icing!
Because this cake contains fresh carrots, it should be refrigerated, even when unfrosted. After frosting it, it will last for up to 5 days in the fridge.
While you can eat it cold, I find that the texture is better if you let it come to room temperature before serving.
Can you freeze carrot cake?
You can freeze the unfrosted cake layers or the frosted cake – tightly wrapped in both plastic and foil to prevent freezer burn – for up to 3 months.
When ready to serve, thaw overnight in the fridge and bring to room temperature before frosting/decorating or serving!
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many reasons why some cakes sink in the center. Maybe it was over mixed or under baked, the oven wasn’t preheated for at least 15 minutes before baking the cake, or the oven door was opened causing a sudden reduction of heat.
Yes, you can use the same amount of melted butter instead of the oil in this recipe. However, your cake’s texture won’t be as moist and tender!
Yes! This recipe works just as well for carrot cupcakes. Baking time will change, so start checking on your cupcakes at 20-25 minutes instead of the 45-50 minutes this recipe calls for!
More Easter recipes:
Classic Carrot Cake
For the Carrot Cake:
- 4 large eggs
- 300 grams (about 1 ½ cups) granulated sugar
- 75 grams (about ½ cup) brown sugar
- 265 ml (about 1 ¼ cups) vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- 265 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 340 grams (about 3 cups) finely grated peeled carrots
- 110 grams (about 1 cup) chopped pecans
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 225 grams (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
- 125 grams (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 225 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- Crushed pecans for decorating
- fine mesh sieve
- offset spatuka
- cake stand
- Preheat oven to 350ºF degrees, with a rack in the middle. Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans or line with greased parchment paper.
- Make the cake: Using a hand (or stand) mixer or a whisk, beat the eggs and sugars until fluffy. Mix in the oil, vanilla extract, spices and salt.
- Place a fine mesh sieve over your bowl and sift in the flour, baking soda and baking powder into the wet batter. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to gently mix – without overmixing – until no lumps of flour remain. Stir in the carrots and pecans.
- Divide the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow the cakes to cool for 15-20 minutes before removing from the pans to wire racks, so they can cool completely.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and the butter and mix with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Once combined, add the remaining ingredients and continue mixing until creamy and smooth.
- Assemble the cake: Once the cakes are completely cooled, use a large serrated knife to give them a trim to make them flat, if needed.
- Place the first layer on a cake stand or platter, and spread 1/4 of the frosting on top. Top with the second layer and then spread a thin coat of the frosting all over the top and sides. Refrigerate the cake for 15 minutes, then spread the remaining frosting all over the cake.
- If desired, decorate with crushed pecans before serving!