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My first attempt at Carrot Cake

I was charged w/ making dessert for Easter dinner and figured that a carrot cake would be fitting. As much as I like carrot cake, I've never actually made it before so spent a little time doing some internet research, including archived posts on CH.

As you can imagine, there are all kinds of variations floating about...with walnuts, pecans, crushed pineapple, shredded coconut, orange zest and a unique combination of spicing. Furthermore, recipes called for anywhere from 2-4 cups of grated carrot and 1.5-3 cups of sugar (some using brown sugar). Icing was also another "layer" of complication as recipes seemed to really vary on amounts of cream cheese and sugar. Some even called for butter and other flavorings like citrus zest and maple syrup.

I began looking for the classic carrot cake and didn't quite find it in any one recipe. I figured that Cook's Illustrated would have a very solid, classic one, but their website is a pain and I don't want the free recipes w/ registration because they have aggressive spamming. So what's a CH cook to do? Make up my own, of course!

I used these two recipes to guide me:

Classic to me means no pineapple or coconut or raisins (ew!), but I gotta have walnuts. No pecans, just walnuts. The cake should be moist but not too moist (or wet) and should have a semi-dense crumb that slices cleanly and doesn't break up into shaggy chunks. There should be a fresh, carrot flavor, and the walnuts should lend a little texture (not too much) and nutty depth. Spicing should enhance but not overpower the carrots. Icing should have that nice cream cheese tang but be sweet and luscious (as icing should be!). While lemon zest in frosting isn't what I consider to be classic, I had to include it anyway. And there must be a good amount of icing to generously slather between layers and all over the cake...none of that minimalist BS or leaving the sides naked.

So here's my version of the ideal carrot cake w/ some specific brands I used in parentheses:

For cake:
4 eggs
1.5 c. superfine (or caster) sugar (C&H
)1 c. neutral oil (Trader Joe's canola)
1 tsp. bourbon vanilla
2 c. unbleached AP flour (King Arthur)
1 tsp. baking soda
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon (Penzeys Vietnamese)
1 tsp. ground ginger
3 c. finely grated carrot
1 c. walnuts, toasted, chopped in food processor or by hand (I like mine on the finer side for this recipe)

For icing:
1/2 c. unsalted butter (Plugra), room temp.
12 oz. cream cheese (Philadelphia on sale at Safeway right now!), room temp.
about 4 c. sifted powdered sugar (C&H)
zest of 1-2 lemons (optional)

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350F. In bowl or stand mixer, whisk eggs til a little frothy. Stream in superfine sugar until well incorporated. Gradually stream in oil, pausing to make sure it emulsifies w/ the base a little at a time. Mix in vanilla. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Stir w/ a whisk to combine evenly and get out lumps. Add dry ingredients to wet in increments and stop mixing just when batter comes together. Stir in carrots and walnuts by hand and distribute evenly.

Pour batter into two 9-inch cake rounds, one deep 9-inch round (that's what I used), or one 9X13 pan. Prepare pan(s) by spraying/greasing and lining w/ parchment. The one deep 9-inch round took about 60 min. to bake. I rested a sheet of foil loosely on top for about the last 10 min. to prevent it from getting too brown. Cool for about 10-15 min. in pan and then remove from pan to finish cooling on rack.

Photo of batter in deep pan:

Photo of batter up close (see those purty carrots?):

Photo of cake cooling:

For icing:
Beat butter w/ mixer. Add in cream cheese and beat til incorporated and creamy. Slowly mix in sifted powdered sugar til you reach desired sweetness. Mix in lemon zest, if using.

To assemble:
Slice cake in half w/ serrated knife to make two layers, if necessary. Frost and decorate as you wish. I decorated w/ some additional chopped walnuts pressed around the side.

Photo of one layer so you can see crumb:

Photo of frosted cake before I added chopped walnuts to sides:

Sorry, no photo of finished sliced cake.

This was a darn good carrot cake, if I do say so myself! The cake itself was perfect for me, fitting all my criteria outlined above. I don't think I'd change a thing about the cake and will continue to bake in one large pan and slice into two layers. It baked very evenly, and I swear that superfine sugar delivers miracles! The icing was pretty close to perfect too, but I'm wondering if I had too much butter to cream cheese. Next time, I plan to reduce the butter to maybe 1/4 c. and see how I like it. I had about 1/2 c. of frosting left over, so this could help w/ portioning. The kids and adults alike approved after our Easter meal, and I'm thinking the Easter bunny would approve too...

PS. I think these would make the best little cupcakes! Most cupcakes are disappointing IMO, but these would live up to their look.

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  1. Wow...save a piece for me...Carrot cake is the bomb...Have made many different recipes...this one sounds great....

    1. Sounds great though I prefer the 'shaggy chunk' crumb you describe. For more tang in the icing use the juice of the lemon.

      1. That looks gorgeous, thanks. I'm inspired to make my own now!

        I must say that I love the caster sugar too! Since I discovered it here in England (it's as ubiquitous here as regular granulated), I haven't gone back.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Kagey

          I know what you mean. I bought superfine/caster sugar for a recipe by Donna Hay, and I loved what it did for my baked goods. I mainly use it for cakes and muffins and stick w/ granulated for other stuff.

        2. My favorite 'classic' carrot cake is the one in Molly O'Neil's NY Cookbook from the famous carrot cake lady at Carrot Top Bakery.

          7 Replies
          1. re: coconutz

            Thanks for the rec. Never heard of that recipe or bakery and couldn't find the recipe online. Any secret to making it so special?

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I finally found a copy on my computer I hope this is it without modifications. I have no idea if there is any secret to making it special. It is just very straightforward and adheres to what you said was your basic tastes in carrot cake. Now that I compare ingredients (if you double this), it looks incredibly close to yours:

              Carrot Top Carrot Cake
              1 cup flour
              1 cup sugar
              1-1/2 t. baking powder
              1 t. cinnamon
              1/2 t. salt
              2 eggs
              1/2 cup oil
              1 1/2 cups grated carrots
              1/2 cup walnuts

              I made frosting from cream cheese, butter (she uses shortening) and powdered sugar with a little orange zest. I differ in your tastes in that I'd like a bit less frosting, prob naked sides.

              I couldn't find the recipe online either, but there are interesting articles about Rene Mancino who got her start selling carrot cakes to incarcerated muslims.

              Carrot Top Carrot Cake
              1 cup flour
              1 cup sugar
              1-1/2 t. baking powder
              1 t. cinnamon
              1/2 t. salt
              2 eggs
              1/2 cup oil
              1 1/2 cups grated carrots
              1/2 cup walnuts

              I made frosting from cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar with a little orange zest.

              1. re: coconutz

                Thanks for taking the time to post this. It does look very similar to my recipe. I can see how orange zest would work nicely as well...

            2. re: coconutz

              Good Job! My favorite cake.
              Looking at the picture you supplied and the link (not your photo) the cake seems to be lighter than what mine comes out, I'm curious was yours the same color inside or darker than the book photo?
              My recipe is similar but use a combo of brown and superfine sugar, totalling 2 instead of the 1 and an additional cup of carrots, which when baked is dark and super moist.

              1. re: chef chicklet

                I'm not sure what you mean by "book photo", but yours is probably darker because of the brown sugar. I thought about using half brown, half white sugar but decided that I didn't want the deeper molasses flavor. Of course, I like to experiment so much that I might have to try it next time for comparison's sake...

                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Sorry CB I have no idea what i meant when I wrote "book photo" maybe I thought at the time you were showing us a book photo of a cake, is all I think might of been going through my brain at the time. It does look rather beautiful!

                  To me I don't get a molasses flavor in the cake i make at all. It is just super moist, and rich. I think you said you don't like the cake to chunk and mine doesn't because I do shredd the carrots in the food processor pertty well.
                  Carrot cake another one of those things that everyone likes it "their way".
                  So make yourself happy!

              2. re: coconutz

                Oh!! I have that cookbook and I love carrot cake... will have to give a try :) Any other favorite recipes from the book?


              3. Thanx, Carb Lover, for taking the time to share your recipes and all your hard work with your fellow 'Hounds. You are appreciated! I have to do some cupcakes for an upcoming event and I will try this recipe. And the icing is the very best part of a carrot cake, in my opinion!

                1. sounds & looks great- thanks for sharing! I think this recipe would work well also as a pumpkin cake (subbing for the carrots)

                  1. Thanks for sharing. I love carrot cake, and try new recipes for it all the time. Yours will be next, but I will likely add raisins. I love the giant flame raisins in carrot cake. Not for everybody, but luckily, my family loves them.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: amyzan

                      I definitelty ag

                      Definitely agree about the raisins. They add great moisture, flavor, and chewiness. Once I tried them, I consider them essential.

                      1. re: btnfood

                        I can understand that, for some, raisins would be in their ideal CC. I can't stand them in anything, so I always leave them out. I think the beauty of my recipe (and most that are out there) is that it's pretty easy to tweak based on how you like it. Enjoy!

                      2. re: amyzan

                        I agree... huge juicy raisins are essential. BTW, here is CI's recipe... no signing up...



                        1. re: Dommy

                          Thanks for linking the CI recipe, Dommy! (aka queen of finding recipes online)

                      3. This may seem horribly cutesy to many of you but:

                        last carrot cake I made, i sliced a carrot longways very thin w/ my mandoline. Cooked it in sugar syrup, and used the "ribbons" to tie a bow on the (birthday) cake. It impressed my Dad.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: danna

                          I generally don't like fussy stuff in food, but this sounds beautiful! Wish you had taken a photo!

                        2. The only carrot cake we love is one that is dark, rich, spicy, and loaded with pineapple and raisins. Coconut is optional.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Fleur


                            that is the type of carrot cake i love the most!

                            but, i need a great recipe for it

                            do you have one?



                          2. Well. Thanks for making me crave carrot cake this weekend! Got a slice to go from Claim Jumper (yes it's a chain and I don't care) and it was soooooooooooo good. Very moist and full of walnuts, raisins, coconut and pineapple. When I make mine homeade I use golden raisins. Layer of cream cheese frosting about 1/2 inch thick really made my Sunday morning breakfast.

                            1. Had to reply to this post after making your cake this weekend. 3 words...OH MY GOD!

                              I did add 1/2 C. raisins just cause I like 'em, but all in all...the absolute best carrot cake I have had. I fed it to a carrot cake conniseur and he also proclaimed it the best ever.

                              thank you for your hard work and research. I am going to make another one this weekend because my hubby said that all of the guests ate too much!


                              P.S. Two 9" rounds took 22 minutes to bake to delicious moist perfection!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sparkalina

                                Thanks so much for reporting back, sparkalina! It's nice to know that my recipe not only worked for you but that you and your discerning group liked it so much. This cake is very adaptable, so add raisins, pineapple, or whatever your heart desires! I really want to make carrot cupcakes soon, but right now homemade ice cream is competing in the dessert category and I don't need to have ice cream and carrot cake in the house all at once! :-)

                              2. The cake looks great.

                                Everyone has had the traditional carrot cake and thats why I dont do it with just carrots. You have to add that pineapple and more carrots. It comes out very moist just like most cakes should be. Most of the compliments I get from my carrot cake are from how moist it is, the pineapple addition and the frosting which is not too sweet. One of the things that I giggle about at parties is when I see all the frosting that is being thrown away because its too sweet. Avoid using all that powdered sugar. The cake is already sweet enough. I cut down the powdered sugar to 1 cup at the most, add 1.5 tsp of vanilla and 1 tbs of very fine grated carrots. Even withe the addition of the drained pineapple and more carrots it takes 25 minutes to bake.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: jaime24g

                                  I too was surprised that Carb Lover thinks pinapple is not part of a "Classic" carrot cake.

                                  When carrot cake came on the scene and became the rage--30? 40?--years ago I cut from a mag or newspaper the first recipe for one I'd ever seen. I made it for years. It had pineapple (no coconut as I recall, tho I have nothing against coconut) and was finished with a hot lemon glaze--no cream cheese frosting.

                                  I lost the recipe when I moved from Dallas ~20 years ago and my children still moan that it was the best carrot cake ever. I'd love to have your recipe if you have time to post it.

                                  [Edit: Jaime, I just thought to--duhhhh--google it and this looks very much like my old recipe. If it's the same as yours, don't bother to type yours out. http://www.cooks.com/rec/doc/0,186,14...]

                                  1. re: PhoebeB

                                    Hey Phoebe. That recipe is somewhat like mine.

                                    4 cups carrots
                                    2 cups flour
                                    2 cups sugar
                                    2 tsp baking soda
                                    2 tsp baking powder
                                    1/2 tsp salt
                                    1.25 tsp cinnamon
                                    4 eggs
                                    1.5 cups oil
                                    2 tsp vanilla
                                    20 oz. can crush pineapple (WELL drained)
                                    1/4 cup crushed pecans or walnuts

                                    8oz phil. cream cheese
                                    1/3 cup butter (room temp.)
                                    1 tsp. vanilla
                                    3/4 cup powdered sugar
                                    1 tbsp Kahula
                                    1/8th cup FINE grated carrots
                                    pecans or walnuts as desired

                                    This makes two 8 in. cake pans. If you try it, let me know how it turns out.

                                    1. re: jaime24g

                                      Thanks, Jaime; that looks wonderful and very much like my old one. Have you made this in a bundt-type pan? I wonder if it's too much batter for one.

                                      1. re: PhoebeB

                                        I have not made it in a bundt pan. I would try it in a 10" just to make sure. Let me know if it comes out ok if you try it.

                                2. So I finally had an occasion to make a boatload of carrot cupcakes. I increased the recipe by 50% which resulted in 30 cupcakes. Because the overall icing amount is less for cupcakes since the top is only covered, I increased the icing amount just a little. I may have added just a smidge more carrots this time too.

                                  The little buggers took about 17-18 min. in a 350F oven and were beautifully risen, tender, and moist. The cream cheese frosting was once again luscious and delightful w/ the brightness of lemon zest. I used more cream cheese to butter ratio this time (4:1 instead of 3:1) and preferred this balance.

                                  I brought them to a group picnic and kept the icing chilled until ready to ice and serve. The crowd collectively swooned, and plots to hijack leftovers were schemed. Success was declared!

                                  Photo of cupcake:

                                  Photo of it sliced in half:

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Carb Lover

                                    You should be a professional food-photographer! And the cake looks perfect.

                                    You say pineapple can be added? With no other modifications--more flour, eggs?

                                    1. re: PhoebeB

                                      Thanks. Sure, pineapple can be added. I'm not sure about modifications though; you might compare to other recipes w/ pineapple and extrapolate from there. Please report back if you try it!

                                    2. re: Carb Lover

                                      Sigh... CB, have I ever told you I love you?! ;o) Seriously, your posts are always so well thought out that I know that I can tackle your recipes without any hesitation about the end result. I had a similar conundrum the first time I made carrot cake a couple of years ago -- so many variations! Yours is now my official recipe. Thank you!

                                      1. re: TorontoJo

                                        Thanks, TorontoJo. I'm kind of detailed about recipes, but it really helps me since I often go back to my own posts for a refresher each time I make the recipe!!

                                      2. re: Carb Lover

                                        I made these this weekend. My cupcakes don't look nearly as good as yours, but they are incredibly delicious. Thanks!

                                        1. re: debbiel

                                          Thanks for reporting back; glad you like the taste. As far as the look of them, are they lopsided or flat on top or? If you didn't use superfine sugar, then I highly recommend it, especially for cake baking. All of my 30 or so cupcakes were beautifully domed and evenly browned and risen. I guess my oven is pretty stable in temp. too...

                                          1. re: Carb Lover

                                            The cupcakes themselves looked great. I'm just sloppy when it comes to frosting them. I did use the superfine sugar--just started using it about a month ago and agree that it's a great change.

                                      3. I made my first carrot cake last week using the recipe from Boulevard: The Cookbook and it was a huge success! Actually, it was my first time baking any cake from scratch! The cake is baked in a 9 x 12 pan, cut lengthwise, and the 2 halves are then cut into 3 layers. The 6 layers are then stacked with a lightly sweetened cream cheese filling. Everyone who had a piece loved how moist it was and the fact that it wasn't too sweet. Someone asked me to make 2 for her church and she'd pay me $60! *woohoo*

                                        Here are some pics:

                                        I'm afraid of knives so forgive the unevenly sliced layers. hehe

                                        Also, it was my first time using parchment paper. I didn't cut it to size and it warped the shape of the cake. Oh, well. I'll do a better job next time. =)

                                        1. In response to Carb Lover's First Carrot Cake Post

                                          CL: You should certainly get some kind of medal for being the last person in the U.S. to make carrot cake! Gold braid and satin ribbons should be involved!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: oakjoan

                                            I think I deserve one of danna's carrot "ribbons"! :-P

                                            Am I really the last person? I don't know what too me so long because I adore carrot cake!!

                                          2. I'm lazy. And once upon a time I did hand grate all the carrots.
                                            Then a friend gave me the cookbook from Denver called "Colorado Cache" and there's a carrot cake recipe in there that can be made totally in a food processor bowl. Great cake with minimal cleanup.

                                            1. Thank you all for your carrot cake photos! Would like to know if someone can post a recipe that will yield a carrot cake such as the one Paradise Bakery serves? Their carrot cake is pretty much all chunky filling, with minimal cake and a layer of cream cheese frosting on top. I pretty much scrape most of the icing off as the cake is perfectly delicious on its own!!

                                              Your input is very much appreciated!
                                              Thank you!

                                              p.s. I would like to add that I'm allergic to bananas, peaches, corn, and cucumber, among other things, so please offer a substitution ingredient if your recipe calls for it/them.

                                              p.p.s. Any recommendations for best carrot cakes to be found in PHX and surrounding areas?

                                              1. I made this for work and it was inhaled within the hour. I had to make do with what ingredients were on hand. I wanted to use superfine sugar but used brown sugar instead and also whole wheat flour. I also cut the hour with applesauce to bring down the calories. I also didn't have vanilla so added grated orange rind to give it some complexity.

                                                Thank you very much for sharing your recipe. I will get the ingredients that you mention and try this again soon.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Zengarden

                                                  Wow, your version sounds pretty different from mine but I'm glad this thread inspired you and that your coworkers enjoyed it! I always tweak recipes based on what's in my pantry and my personal tastes. I've been trying to incorporate wheat flour into my baking, so perhaps I'll try it w/ half wheat next time.

                                                  I'm curious, what was the texture/crumb of your cake like given your modifications?

                                                  1. re: Carb Lover

                                                    The texture was not crumb like but it was still lighter than expected given the type of sugar used and also the flour (WW). I didn't go half and half with the flour. I cut the slices into thin servings too so that I could feed more people.

                                                    Thank you for inspiring me to try this out. I am grateful that I finally made a carrot cake that didn't have the consistency of a hard brick.