Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Best ever recipe for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! Moist and light, with just the right amount of spice. Filled and iced with a sweet and tangy frosting, for a classic combination that’s perfect for spring!
It’s carrot cake with cream cheese frosting time!
I seriously cannot believe it’s taken me this long to post a carrot cake recipe here! This is long overdue, but hopefully when you taste how fabulous this is, you’ll forgive me. It’s so moist and light, and the warm spice flavors are so on point!
Carrot cake is such a classic, especially at this time of year. I always see tons of carrot-cake-inspired recipes at the beginning of spring! It’s just such a perfect dessert to serve at Easter-time.
And this version will not disappoint! It is as moist as can be, with plenty of warm brown sugar, sweet pineapple, cinnamon, and walnuts. And carrots of course! It tastes home-y, old-fashioned, and slightly sweet, with just the right balance of cinnamon spice. The tangy cream cheese frosting is a perfect compliment!
This carrot cake recipe is based on these Mini Brown Sugar Pound Cakes I shared back in December. When I tried the dark brown sugar version, I knew instantly that it would be delicious as a base for carrot cake!
I just added some grated carrots, crushed pineapple, nuts, and spices. If you like raisins, feel free to add 1/2 cup of those too! I especially like golden raisins in this, but the rest of my family is firmly opposed to the idea, so…
Most carrot cake recipes are made with oil, but this one is butter-based, so you don’t have to worry about it being at all greasy. And as I mentioned, it’s basically a jazzed-up pound cake, so (of course!) pound cake is always made with butter. I just love the added flavor and richness it gives!
But unlike other pound cake recipes, you’ll notice this one has baking powder and baking soda. I found that it needed a little extra lift, because of the weight of all the add-ins. With the extra leavening, it bakes up nice and light!
The carrot cake you see in these pics was baked in three 6-inch diameter pans. I love the look of a taller cake! But if you don’t have this kind of pan, you can bake it in two 8- or 9-inch pans, or in a 9×13 pan. Just bear in mind that they may come out thicker or thinner, and you may have to adjust the bake time.
You could also double the recipe and bake it in a 10-cup bundt pan! I think that would be fantastic and it would really serve a big crowd. I’m imagining that it would need at least 75 minutes in the oven though. You’ll know it’s done baking when it feels springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs.
It wouldn’t be carrot cake if it didn’t have carrots in it, right? This recipe uses 1/2 pound of fresh carrots. Just trim off the tops and bottoms and grate them finely.
You can use a box grater, but that’s a bit of a chore. I prefer to grate the carrots in the food processor. It makes things so quick and easy! Look for a link to the food processor I have just above the recipe card. It comes with a grating disk. One side is coarse (yields larger pieces), and the other is fine. I prefer the finer shred.
After grating half a pound of carrots, you should have about 2 cups. Just enough so there’s plenty of carrot running all throughout.
You’ll have carrot in every bite, and because it’s finely shredded it will be nice and tender.
We are also adding pineapple! It’s traditional, and it adds a nice brightness that really offsets the brown sugar nicely. I just used canned, crushed pineapple, but you could also chop up some fresh. Check out this quick tutorial on how to break down a whole fresh pineapple.
Whether you use canned or fresh, just be sure to drain it well. If it’s too juicy and wet, it will weigh down your carrot cake. Place it in a fine mesh sieve, and give it a firm press. You want to get as much moisture out as possible.
Besides carrots and pineapple, this cake also has tender walnuts and warm spice. The cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves really bring out the best in this cake!
If you can get your hands on whole nutmeg, I highly recommend it! The flavor is off the charts! Just scratch it along a microplane grater and you won’t believe the aromas. If you’re using fresh, you only need about 12 or 15 scratches. If you prefer to use pre-ground, it will probably take at least 1/4 teaspoon, if not 1/2.
To me, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is the ultimate. I can’t imagine any other kind of topping. The flavors just compliment each other so well, and it’s so classic and traditional.
You’ll find a simple cream cheese frosting recipe in the recipe card below, but if you’d like something fancier, try adding in the zest of an orange or a little triple sec orange liqueur. Orange blossom water would be a great addition as well!
This recipe yields enough to fill and frost a 3-layer, 6-inch diameter cake in the semi-naked style you see in these pics. There will be just enough left over to tint and pipe some cute carrot decorations.
For piping, I prefer featherweight decorating bags, and I’ve used a #3 tip for the carrots, and a leaf tip for the tops. The carrots are tinted with orange icing color and the tops are tinted with leaf green. You can see how to create this kind of decoration in the video on this post: Carrot Cake Cupcakes.
You could also just sprinkle the top of the cake with toasted chopped walnuts, for a really simple decoration.
If you’re looking for more of a glaze (as opposed to frosting), just add a few tablespoons of milk, until you have a pour-able consistency. This would be PERFECT on that bundt idea I mentioned above…
And if you just aren’t a fan of cream cheese frosting, I’ve definitely got other options for you. Here are just a few ideas:
Like most cakes, this carrot cake with cream cheese frosting can be made ahead. I actually prefer it that way!
Once the layers have completely cooled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight. To me, it just makes them easier/less crumb-y to frost.
Once made, this cake should keep for 3 days at room temperature, 1 week in the fridge, or a month in the freezer.
This is the best carrot cake recipe I’ve ever had, and I think you are really going to love it too! Give it a try, and let me know what you think!
A FEW MORE OF MY FAVORITE LAYER CAKE RECIPES
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- 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter (2 1/2 sticks), softened
- 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, loosely packed
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cake flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnnamon
- 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or 10 to 12 microplane scratches of whole nutmeg)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 cups finely grated carrots (from about 1/2 pound whole fresh carrots)
- 8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained & squeezed of excess moisture
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, mist three 6-inch diameter cake pans* with non-stick spray, and line with circles cut from parchment.
Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, and whip on medium-high speed (scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula occasionally) until pale and very fluffy ( a FULL 5 to 8 minutes).
Mix in the eggs, one at a time, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula after each addition.
Stir in the vanilla until well-blended.
Stir in the all-purpose flour, cake flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cloves on medium-low speed, until just barely combined (there should still be streaks of flour).
Fold in the carrots, pineapple, and walnuts, and transfer the batter to the prepared pans.
Bake until the cakes feel springy and a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs (about 42 to 48 minutes).
Cool for 20 minutes in the pans, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When completely cool, fill and ice with cream cheese frosting.
Place the butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.
Whip on medium-low speed until smooth.
Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula, then add about half the powdered sugar.
Stir in the powdered sugar until combined, then scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl again, and add the remaining powdered sugar and the salt.
Stir together until combined, then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and whip until the frosting is fluffy and stiff. (Be careful not to over-whip the cream cheese frosting, or it could become runny. As soon as the frosting looks stiff, turn off the mixer and use the frosting immediately.)
*Can also be made in two 8-inch diameter cake pans, two 9-inch diameter cake pans, one 9x13 rectangular baking dish, or DOUBLE the recipe to make it in a 10- cup bundt pan. Adjust bake time as needed.
For the cupcake version of this layer cake, click here: Carrot Cake Cupcakes.
For more info on the frosting, click here: The Best Way to Make Cream Cheese Frosting.