When you find the perfect carrot cake recipe hold onto it for dear life. If it’s moist and delicious, with just the right amount of spice, and it’s paved with a thick tangy cream cheese frosting, make copies of the recipe and lock them up. You’ll never want to be without this classic spring dessert.
it’s the perfect carrot cake
I’ve done all the work for you, just grab a fork and dig in. (Ok, you have to bake it first, but it’s a one bowl breeze!)
- it’s got the classic carrot cake essentials, with no unnecessary frills, aka coconut and raisins (although add them in if you must.)
- we’ll make it in one bowl.
- it bakes in a homey 2 layers, not three (I know you don’t have that third cake pan.)
- it turns out moist, with a rich satisfying color and the perfect texture.
- the best cream cheese frosting that can be made with cold cream cheese ~ whaaaat? Yup. It takes all of 2 minutes to make.
ingredients to pick up at the grocery store
- carrots ~ you’ll want to grate them fresh, don’t buy them pre shredded.
- pecans ~ you can substitute walnuts.
- cream cheese ~ brick style, not whipped.
from the pantry staples for the perfect carrot cake
- confectioner’s sugar
- vegetable oil
- baking soda and salt
- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves (if you don’t stock nutmeg and cloves, you’re missing out on some great flavor.)
- vanilla extract
my one bowl carrot cake method ~ it’s so easy!
Carrot cake used to be a all afternoon affair, but not anymore.
- Whisk the oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and spices in a (big) bowl.
- Whisk in the baking soda, then fold in the flour.
- Fold in the carrots and nuts.
the secret to my 2 minute cream cheese frosting
I think the magic of carrot cake lies in the unbeatable combo of the spiced cake with the tangy cream cheese frosting. It’s the perfect storm of flavors and textures. In my humble opinion, the perfect cream cheese frosting should be tangy, and firm, not soft and fluffy. Personally I like it best chilled, straight from the refrigerator.
the secret: I make my frosting by throwing all the ingredients into my food processor and processing until smooth and creamy. You might need to scrape down the machine once or twice, but it will only take a minute or two of processing. You’ll have smooth, lump free frosting, even when you start with cold ingredients.
this is the carrot cake of your dreams ~ pinky swear
We all have a memory of the perfect carrot cake. It doesn’t contain apricots, like Costco’s 4 pound monster, it’s not Martha’s towering 3 tiered version, Alton’s unsatisfying single layer or Ina’s pineapple and raisin stuffed cake. Claire Saffitz makes hers with fresh ginger and browned butter. Uh uh, not us. But that’s ok, this one is even better! This cake is pure yum without any extra bells and whistles to detract from that iconic memory.
We dispense with the piped orange carrots and the crust of crushed nuts in favor of a clean cream cheese frosting canvas. It won’t look like you bought it from a bakery, (or Costco) but it will look like you made it, from scratch. And that’s the whole point.
how to make carrot cake ahead
Carrot cake is ideal for making ahead because the layers are so moist. Simply let them cool completely after baking, then wrap each layer in plastic wrap, then in foil. It can be left on the counter or in the fridge for a day or two. Add the frosting after thawing the cake.
Note: the nuts can be toasted ahead, and the carrots can be grated ahead, just keep the carrots in an airtight zip lock bag in the fridge.
how to freeze carrot cake
Wrap the cooled layers as above, and freeze for up to 6 months. Add the frosting after thawing the cake.
how to reduce the calories in carrot cake
Sorry, but the only way to reduce the calories in this cake is to cut a smaller slice. The oil, sugar, cream cheese and butter are all pretty much essential to the experience.
how to make carrot cake gluten free
Check out my gluten free carrot cake recipe.
how to store this cake
Because of the cream cheese frosting this cake is best stored in the refrigerator. If you prefer your cake at room temperature, take it out of the fridge an hour before serving.
more luscious layer cakes
- Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake Recipe
- Raspberry Lemon Cake
- Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Frosting
- Orange Creamsicle Cake
- Maple Walnut Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
for the cake
- 1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 3 cups grated carrot
for the cream cheese frosting
- 8 ounces cream cheese
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 5 cups powdered sugar
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350F and butter two 8-inch round cake pans, and place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of each pan.
- Spread the pecans out on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Let cool before chopping.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract.
- Whisk in the spices. Next, whisk in the salt and the baking soda, making sure to get it well incorporated.
- Add the flour, and fold it in gently.
- Blend the batter just until there are no dry pockets of flour left, but don't over mix the batter.
- Finally, fold in the shredded carrots and toasted pecans.
- Take care to get all the chunky bits evenly incorporated. The batter will be thick.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans, and bake for about 35-40 minutes until risen and the cakes spring back when lightly touched. Allow them to cool fully at room temperature before frosting.
For the frosting
- Add the cream cheese, butter, salt, and vanilla to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse/process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Note: you can see I added the cream cheese in one piece, but I recommend breaking it up to make the blending easier and quicker.
- Add the powdered sugar, about 2 cups at a time, processing between each addition until smooth.
- Once the cake layers are fully cooled, frost with the cream cheese frosting and store any leftovers in the fridge.