Carrot Cake

Update 4/2011: Well, I’ve successfully been making this carrot cake for the last three years and except for this sheet cake variation, which is delicious in it’s own right, I haven’t met a carrot cake I love more than this one. Moist (oh so moist!), flavorful and just absolutely classic and fantastic, this carrot cake graces our Easter dinner table every year – and several times throughout the year when I get the itch to make carrot cake…again.

It is stunning and elegant, in it’s double layer form, and the frosting – well, I could wax poetic about the dreamy stuff. Whipped and creamy with just the slightest enhanced flavor from the dollop of sour cream, this frosting is the best straight-up cream cheese frosting in my repertoire.

Even though over and over again I claim chocolate to be my dessert (dinner??) of choice, there is something about the combination of carrot cake and cream cheese frosting that just gets me every time.

Carrot Cake

Unbelievable Carrot Cake

Unbelievable Carrot Cake

I always make this cake in two 9-inch round pans. I double the frosting recipe to accommodate the extra layers. If making in a 9X13-inch pan, you can leave the frosting amounts the same to cover the top of the cake.


  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 lb. medium carrots (6 to 7 large carrots), peeled
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or canola oil
  • Frosting (I double the recipe below to frost a 9-inch layered cake):
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons butter softened to room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream, light or regular
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar (4 1/2 ounces)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Grease and flour a 9X13-inch baking pan or 2 9-inch round pans.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside. In a food processor fitted with large or fine shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. You can also shred by hand on a box grater if you don't have a food processor.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or in large bowl and using hand-held mixer), beat granulated and brown sugars and eggs on medium-high until thoroughly combined, about 45 seconds. Reduce speed to medium; with mixer running, add oil in slow, steady stream, being careful to pour oil against inside of bowl (if oil begins to splatter, reduce speed to low until oil is incorporated, then resume adding oil). Increase speed to high and mix until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 45 seconds to 1 minute longer. Turn off mixer and stir in carrots and dry ingredients by hand until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain.
  4. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 32 minutes for 9-inch round pans and 40 minutes for a 9X13-inch pan. Let cakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pan and then invert them onto a cooling rack to cool completely (the 9X13-inch cake can be cooled completely in the pan if you don't plan to invert and ice all the sides). At this point, once the cakes are cooled, they can be wrapped in plastic wrap and put in a ziploc bag and placed in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature prior to frosting.
  5. When cake is cool, mix cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla at medium high speed in clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment (or in large bowl using handheld mixer) until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix until very fluffy, about 1 minute. Frost and eat!

Recipe Source: Cooks Illustrated (with my notes included)

155 Responses to Unbelievable Carrot Cake

  1. Sadie says:

    It helps to know that you use the dip and level method when measuring by volume for your recipes. I’m an obsessive recipe tester (almost 2,000!) and find that the norm is to spoon and level flour when measuring by volume. Many recipes caution NOT to dip and level. Cook’s Illustrated is one of the exceptions. I think it’s great when both measurements are given in a recipe, but it’s also helpful to know which method is used or the end result may not be what’s pictured. Those extra, or fewer, tablespoons of flour can make quite a difference! Thanks!!

  2. Ruth says:

    Hi Mel…I have been following your website for about 4 years and tell everybody about it! Your recipes comprise about 80% of my weekly menu 🙂 my son turns 3 next week and is surprisingly requesting a “carrot applesauce cake”. Do you know if I could sub the oil in here with applesauce?

    • Mel says:

      Hi Ruth – that’s a pretty cute request from your 3-year old! I haven’t tried subbing all the oil out for applesauce but I’m guessing it stands a pretty good chance of working (and I think others in the comments have done it).

  3. Stacie says:

    Hi Mel,

    I need to make a wine bottle/crate cake for a friend next weekend, and she’s requested carrot cake (which I’ve never made before). The cake ‘crate’ is going to be 2 9×13’s stacked, and was wondering if this cake is sturdy enough to stack without crumbling apart. I’ve always made a heavier cake (like madeira) or mud cakes when I need to stack, so this ‘light, but not rich carrot cake’ that she wants has me a little worried.

    Thanks so much!!

    • Mel says:

      I stack several 9-inch layers and it works fine so I think the two 9X13-inch layers should be ok although I haven’t tried it that way myself.

      • Stacie says:

        Thanks so much Mel. If the weight of several 9″ layers hasn’t crushed the bottom cakes on yours, then I think (fingers crossed) this would actually work.

        Going to make this later today so I can try it first (any excuse to eat cake right LOL). Now I just need the grocery store to open so I can get carrots.

      • Stacie says:

        Mel, I just had to tell you how amazing this cake is! Everyone who’s tried it, LOVED it! Usually it takes me a few tries of a new cake flavor before I find one I really like, but this one is winner – I don’t have to try any others!

        Thanks again for sharing!!

  4. Ann says:

    I made this carrot cake for the first time and brought it to work and it was such a success I will definitely use this for my go to recipe from now on. I used my kitchen aid grater attachment and what a bonus.

  5. Brittainy says:

    Hi Mel! I don’t normally comment on the recipes that I try online but I had to tell you how much I loved this cake! It was so delicious – made it for my husbands birthday and he couldn’t have been happier either! The frosting was amazing as well – so much more fluffy than traditional cream cheese frostings (at least that I have found)! Actually left me wanting more instead of regretting dessert like I usually do. Amazing recipe!

    I just had one question – I didn’t use walnuts in it this time as the hubs isn’t a fan, but I love nuts in my cakes and cookies. Have you ever tried making this with nuts (walnuts or pecans) in it? How much would you suggest using?

    Thanks again for an great recipe! Going in the keeper file for sure!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Brittainy – I haven’t used nuts in the actual cake batter (since I’m in the camp of never put nuts in my desserts 🙂 but I think you could certainly try it. Maybe start with 1 cup chopped and see how that goes. Good luck!

  6. Stacy says:

    Hi Mel! LOVE this carrot cake. I made it for my Bible study and everyone said it was the best carrot cake they had ever had. I wanted to do it in cupcake form soon- have you done this? I’m guessing I only need to change the amount of time it is in the oven.

    • Mel says:

      It’s been a while so I don’t remember how they turned out or how many they made but I know several people up in the comment thread have made this recipe as cupcakes with good results. 🙂

  7. Kasey says:

    Can you make this recipe into cupcakes?

  8. Senta says:

    As any one made this with out a standing mixer? Did it still turn out well? Thanks! Ps Mel I love all your receipes!!!

  9. Whitney says:

    Should I refrigerate this cake if I plan to make it ahead of time?

  10. Nikki says:

    You said to use medium sized carrots, could I use baby carrots instead? Thanks!

  11. Grace says:

    Hi, just wanted to say thank you for this recipe. It worked beautifully. I made it in a 9″ square tin and 6 muffins. Gifts for my neighbours for Easter. Delicious!

  12. Jennifer G says:

    In case anyone wants to make this into a bunt cake, it works fine. I baked it at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

  13. Courtney says:

    This was the best carrot cake I’ve ever had or made, and I sorta consider myself a carrot cake connoisseur. I made the recipe exactly as written, but I added a tsp of ground ginger for a little kick. I made it in two 9″ pans and although they fell in the center (I live at 6100 feet so I’m used to this!) it was nothing an extra dollop of the yummy frosting couldn’t cover. This was our Easter dessert and I just finished the last piece today – still as good as ever! Although now I’m sad we’re out of carrot cake :(!! Thanks for the awesome recipe, Mel!

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