Carrot Cake

published Mar 23, 2024
Carrot Cake Recipe

Incredibly moist, extra flavorful, and easy to make, there’s so much to love about this carrot cake.

Serves10 to 12

Prep40 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook49 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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shot of a slice being taken out of a carrot cake.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

There are so many recipes for carrot cake on the internet. But I’m a pastry chef and this is the only carrot cake I make. It’s moist, lightly spiced, and surprisingly easy to make. What makes this carrot cake recipe the best ever? For starters, I slip in cardamom, fresh ginger, and orange zest to give the cake a bright yet spiced flavor that accentuates the sweetness of the carrots. While it might be controversial, crushed pineapple makes an appearance here, which results in an ultra-tender cake. 

As for the carrots, I skip the daunting task of peeling and grating them by hand. Instead I opt for a quick scrub and rely on my handy food processor to do the heavy lifting for me. The icing on the cake? I don’t frost the sides! Leaving them “naked” makes it even easier to assemble and delivers the ideal ratio of cake to frosting. Here’s how you can make the most incredible carrot cake that everyone can get behind. 

Why You’ll Love It

  • No need to spend time peeling your carrots! All they need is a good scrub to remove any dirt. 
  • Keeping the cake “naked” makes for quick and easy assembly. You’ll be able to make, assemble, and serve this cake in the span of a couple of hours.
  • Thanks to the addition of crushed pineapple, this carrot cake is extra moist and flavorful. (Don’t worry — it doesn’t taste pineapple-y.)

Key Ingredients in Carrot Cake

  • Carrots: The star ingredient adds sweetness, moisture, and texture. Fresh carrots are key; avoid pre-grated, which tends to be dry and lacking in flavor. 
  • Crushed pineapple: While not always traditional, crushed pineapple adds a boost of moisture, sweetness, and acidity.
  • Cardamom: Its herbal, citrusy flavor with a spicy warmth pairs well with traditional cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
  • Ginger: Fresh ginger adds a bright, spicy bite. Like the carrots, there is no need to peel — the thin skin is totally edible.
  • Orange zest: A touch of orange zest brings brightness to the cake. Just be careful not to use more than a teaspoon, or it will be overwhelming.
  • Pecans: Toasting pecans in the oven while it preheats and chopping in the food processor saves time. Walnuts can also be substituted. 
  • Lemon juice: Adding lemon juice to the cream cheese frosting plays up the acidity and keeps the cake from being too sweet. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

How to Make Carrot Cake

  1. Mix the batter. Toast pecans in the oven while it preheats. Whisk together flour, baking powder, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon, baking soda, and ground cloves. Mix the brown and granulated sugars, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla bean paste until smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients. 
  2. Prep the mix-ins. Finely chop the toasted pecans by pulsing in a food processor. Switch to the grater attachment and finely grate the carrots. Drain a can of crushed pineapple. Fold the mix-ins in the batter, reserving some of the chopped pecans for decoration.
  3. Bake the cake. Divide the batter between three greased and lined cake pans and bake until the top of the cakes bounce back when gently pressed. 
  4. Make the frosting. Beat together cream cheese and butter. Mix in powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Beat until smooth and fluffy. 
  5. Frost the cake. Stack the cake layers with frosting in between and on top, keeping the sides of the cake “naked.” Sprinkle reserved pecans around the top of the cake. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

The Best Way to Grate Carrots for Carrot Cake

While some swear by only hand grating, I find little difference between the carrots grated on a box grater and those with the food processor’s fine grater. The time (and fingertips!) saved with the food processor makes it the clear winner. 

Whatever route you choose, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to use freshly grated carrots and make sure the pieces are not too large. Finer shreds ensure even distribution throughout the cake while also cooking through easily.

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips

This carrot cake lasts in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, but only in an airtight container. Because the sides of the cake are not frosted, they will dry out more easily when exposed to air. The cake layers can be baked, wrapped, and frozen up to a month ahead; thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for an hour.  

More Carrot Cake Recipes

Carrot Cake Recipe

Incredibly moist, extra flavorful, and easy to make, there’s so much to love about this carrot cake.

Prep time 40 minutes to 45 minutes

Cook time 49 minutes

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 cup

    pecan halves

  • Cooking spray

  • 2 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/8 teaspoon

    ground cloves

  • 1/4

    medium orange

  • 1 (1/2-inch) piece

    ginger

  • 1 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 3/4 cup

    vegetable oil

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 12 ounces

    carrots (about 5 medium)

  • 1 (8-ounce) can

    crushed pineapple in 100% pineapple juice

For the frosting:

  • 8 ounces

    full-fat cream cheese

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1 pinch

    kosher salt

  • 4 cups

    powdered sugar (1 pound), divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Place 8 ounces cream cheese and 1 stick unsalted butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Let sit at room temperature to soften while you make the cake.

Make the cake:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Meanwhile, place 1 cup pecan halves in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast in the preheating oven until browned and fragrant, about 15 minutes. Coat 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of each with a parchment paper round.

  2. While the pecans toast, place 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves in a large bowl and whisk to combine.

  3. Prepare the following, adding each to the same medium bowl as you complete it: Finely grate the zest of 1/4 medium orange until you have 1/2 teaspoon. Peel and finely grate 1 (1/2-inch) piece ginger until you have 1 teaspoon.

  4. Add 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 4 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Whisk until combined. Add the flour mixture and fold with a flexible spatula until just combined.

  5. When the pecans are cool enough to handle, transfer to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until finely chopped, about 10 (1-second) pulses. Transfer 3/4 cup of the pecans to the cake batter; reserve the remaining for decorating the cake.

  6. Remove the blade and fit the food processor with the grater attachment. Finely grate 12 ounces carrots on the attachment (3 lightly packed cups; no need to peel first). Alternatively, finely chop the pecans by hand and grate the carrots on the smaller holes of a box grater. Transfer the carrots to the cake batter.

  7. Drain 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple and add to the cake batter. Fold together with the flexible spatula until just combined. Divide the batter between the three cake pans (about 2 cups or 18 ounces each).

  8. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the tops of the cakes bounce back when gently pressed and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes total.

  9. Place the cake pans on a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pan to the wire rack and discard the parchment paper. Let cool completely, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, make the frosting.

Make the frosting:

  1. Juice 1/2 medium lemon until you have 2 teaspoons.

  2. Beat the cream cheese and butter with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula. Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar and 1 pinch kosher salt, and beat on low speed until combined. Add the remaining 2 cups powdered sugar, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

Assemble the cake:

  1. If there is any doming on the cake layers, trim it off with a long serrated knife so the cakes are completely flat.

  2. Spread about 1 tablespoon of the frosting in the center of a cake or serving plate. Top with 1 cake layer. Dollop 1/3 of the frosting (1 scant cup) onto the cake and spread into an even layer, going all the way to the edges. Top with the second cake layer and repeat with another third of the frosting. Top with the final cake layer and spread the remaining frosting over the top (do not cover the sides). Sprinkle the reserved pecans around the edge of the top of the cake.

Recipe Notes

Frosting: If you want to also frost the edges of the cake, increase the ingredients in the frosting to 12 ounces cream cheese, 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 6 cups powdered sugar, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

Make ahead: The cake layers can be baked, wrapped, and frozen up to 1 month ahead. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Storage: Cover and refrigerate leftover cake for up to 4 days.