The Only Carrot Cake Recipe You Will Ever Need.

A tender, flavorful carrot cake that fulfills all of your carrot cakes needs!  Filled and frosted with fluffy cream cheese frosting, of course.

Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers
Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers
Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers

Spring is finally here in Vancouver, and Easter is just around the corner.  To celebrate, I made you all the only carrot cake recipe you will ever need.  I was working on a few Easter assignments last month when I realized that I didn't have a carrot cake recipe up on the blog – until now.  How could that be?  In all my efforts to come up with unique flavor pairing and over-the-top combos, this classic somehow slipped through the cracks...

To remedy this, I started to question all-things carrot cake... What makes the very BEST carrot cake?  Do people like nuts in their cakes?  Am I the only one that thinks raisin have zero business belonging in a layer cake?  Even if canned crushed pineapple adds the best flavor/moisture, is applesauce a more convenient option?  Can we all agree that cream cheese frosting is its only acceptable companion?  

I actually took these concerns to my Instagram stories – the most legit place these days to find all the answers, jk.  Thankfully, a lot of you responded back!  Apparently I'm not the only who hates raisins, hooray!  But, like with all things, I quickly discovered that not matter what recipe I developed, it wasn't going to please everybody...   

You see, I couldn't very well make the BEST ever carrot cake out there, no matter how hard I tried, because there truly is no "best" anything.  Everyone has different taste and preferences.  Instead, I attempted to make the most flavorful and tender carrot cake possible with several variations to suite all your carrot cake needs.

Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers
Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers

First of all, I think a carrot cake needs to be (excuse me for this horrible word) moist.  It should be tender and never too dense.  We are making cake here, not the equivalent to banana bread, and not traditional fruit cake either.  In other words, don't shy away from a bit of oil.  Sometimes a good amount of fat is needed.  Although most of my other layer cakes are baked with creamed butter, I prefer a neutral tasting oil here (like grapeseed or canola oil).   

In addition to oil/fat, I typically add crushed pineapple to moisten and flavor my carrot cakes.  I understand that not everyone keeps a spare can of pineapples around, but equal parts applesauce will also do the trick.  In a pinch, you could even substitute for about a cup of mashed bananas (although I personally have not tested this yet).  Weary of adding pineapples to your cake?  You should definitely try hummingbird cake next =)

Next, are you for nuts or not?  I like the idea of walnuts.  They add an additional level of earthiness and texture.  At the same time, I personally don't care for large chunks of nuts (or anything, really) within my cake.  Instead, I opted for ground walnuts.  This way, you get that subtle nutty flavor but with a cake that is more texturally pleasing.  Be sure not to grind too far though!  Not into walnuts?  Try substituting for almond meal.  Hate nuts all together?  Replace the ground walnuts with 1/3 cup all-purpose flour.

Raisins.  I think we can all agree here that you either hate 'em or love 'em.  At least when it comes to cake.  I opted to leave them out.  If you must, add about 1/2 to 1 cup with the shredded carrots.

With carrot cake, as with most other baked goods, I believe any additional spices should play supporting roles.  There should be no need to drown out the flavors with spoons of cinnamon or any other spice.  I do love a touch of cinnamon for warmth though (and nutmeg, too), but not need to overwhelm the tender cake.  Love cloves?  Cardamom?  Feel free to experiment a little here and adjust the spices to your own taste.

I was baking banana cake recently.  As I was gathering ingredients, I realized I was out of brown sugar.  I decided to continue on with plain white sugar.  As the cake baked, the kitchen began to fill with yummy scents of cinnamon, ripe banana, and baked goodness.  I was so excited to sneak a taste test, but was then struck down with disappointment.  I've become so used to swapping in brown sugar for a portion of the white sugar that I missing that deeper, slightly more caramel flavor almost immediately.  The same goes for carrot cake.  I love adding both white and brown sugar.  I just think the brown sugar adds more dimension and depth of flavor.  Try using a combo of both as I've done here, or even go all brown or even deep muscovado sugar - Yum!

Lastly, the carrots themselves.  If you are only making one cake, just shred them yourself.  No need to pull out or dirty the food processor either.  Grating just 3 to 4 carrots with the large holes of a box grater takes only a few minutes (unless you prefer washing your food processor, hehe).  I find the bags of pre-shredded carrots to be a bit thick.  When quickly grated at home, the carrot pieces are finer and nearly melt into the cake. To measure, loosely pack the shredded carrots.  No need to drain them either, like you would with a zucchini cake.

I lied.  The last thing is the FROSTING!  Part of me thinks that carrot cake was invented just as a vehicle for consuming large amounts of delicious cream cheese frosting.  Cream cheese frosting should have some flavor to it though, in my opinion, not just sugar.  I've provided options for both vanilla bean and lemon cream cheese frosting variations below.  Either way, I prefer to add as little sugar as possible (but enough so that the filling doesn't squish out the sides) and to whip it for at least about 3 minutes.

Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers
Carrot Cake Recipe with buttercream flowers

Best Carrot Cake Recipe*
¾ cup ground walnuts, toasted**
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¾ cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 ¼ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
zest of one orange (optional)
4 large eggs
3 cups shredded carrots
8 ounces crushed pineapple or applesauce***

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans as set aside.

Grind about 1 cup of toasted walnuts in a small food processor or spice/coffee grinder.  Small chunks of walnut is okay, but be sure not to grind too far or it will start to become more of a paste.  Measure out 3/4 cup and set aside.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together both sugars, eggs, and orange zest (if using).  Stream in the oil and mix until combined.  Working in two batches, gently stir in the dry ingredients.  Stir in the ground walnuts.

Lastly, fold in the shredded carrots and pineapple until combined.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans.  Bake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes come out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

* In my humble opinion =)
** The ground walnuts may be replaced with equal amounts almond flour or 1/3 cup all-purpose flour.  A great tip for cleaning out your spice/coffee grinder in between uses it to grind up a small bit (like a tablespoon) of uncooked white rice (I read this is Luisa Weiss' Classic German Baking)
*** I have not tested this, but I bet you could replace the pineapple with a cup of mashed bananas as well (sort of like in this recipe)

Cream Cheese Frosting
12 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 to 5 cups confectioners sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
seeds from ½ vanilla bean or zest of one lemon (optional)

Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth.  With the mixer on low, mix in the remaining ingredients until just combined.  Once incorporated, turn up the mixer to medium-high and beat until fluffy.  Adjust the sugar and milk until your desired consistency in achieved.

Assembly
Once the cakes have cooled, gently cut them in half horizontally to create 4 even layers (this step is optional, but then you get to add more cream cheese filling – yummy!).  Fill each layer with about 3/4 cup of the cream cheese frosting.  Crumb coat the cake and chill for about 15 minutes.  Frost with the remaining cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired.

For the buttercream flower crown, I used my favorite Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  I tinted it with pastel yellow, peach, and a little fuchsia.  I like the blend the different shades together as I go to create a color palette that really coordinates.  I currently don't have a full tutorial of how to pipe each blossom (coming soon!), but you can find more info on the buttercream rose here and how to assemble here.  For a video of me piping the rose, click here!!  All of the flowers were piped using a petal tip, either 103 or 104.  The English roses are similar to the rose from the video, but instead of a cone-shaped in the center, I piped two centric circles of ruffles before starting the outer petals.  For the 5-petal blossoms, check out this video.  Before the buttercream sets, add a few tiny white sprinkles.

One final tip for the flowers – I like to pipe them each on individual squares of parchment paper.  I then pop them into the fridge so that the buttercream hardens.  This way, you just peel off the parchment then arrange the flowers on the cake.  They are much easier to arrange once chilled and are less subject to bumps and bruises.

Honey Carrot Banana Bread

A lightly spiced cross between a delicious carrot cake and decadent banana bread - all sweetened with honey and no refined white sugars.  

Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"

Want delectable, flavorul treats without the extra sugar?  You bet!  Isn’t everyday living mostly about trying to figure out ways to enjoy all our favorite eats and still be relatively healthy?  At least that is my main goal in life.  So when America’s Test Kitchen asked if I would be interested in testing out some recipes from their latest baking book Naturally Sweet, the answer was a total no-brainer.  Naturally, I said yes (you see what I did there? Lol).

Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"
Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"
Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"

When it comes to baking and most of the recipes I create for this blog, I typically don’t shy away from absurd amounts of butter or sugar.  I develop recipes with reckless abandon, and that probably isn’t going to change any time soon.  If you want a Tessa Huff cake, pie, or pastry, you are usually looking for something grand and show-stoppy – especially when it comes to celebratory layer cakes.  However, I don’t eat like this on a regular basis and I’m sure your day-to-day baking doesn’t involve 6-layer cakes dripping with caramel and covered in sprinkles either.  Good thing there are other resources for that…

When it comes to baking at home for my family, I try to be a bit more health conscious.  And while I spend most of my days developing treats in the kitchen, it’s been proven time and time again that I am not very good at making them with alternative ingredients.  My “healthy” muffins tend to resemble hockey pucks and don’t even get me started on my disasters when trying to go gluten-free or vegan.  Yikes!  Save those recipes for the experts.

This new book from America’s Test Kitchen is what I’m talking about.  While I can certainly make you a decadent pastry covered in slabs of butter and encrusted in sugar, turn to Naturally Sweet for all of your other needs.  Using less refined sweeteners – like honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and Sucanat, the wizards at ATK have figured out how to make all your fave baked goods with 30% to 50% less sugar!  Since sugar is part of the science-y part of baking, you can’t always simply just take it out completely and hope for the best. Thankfully, the peeps at ATK did all the hard work for us and put it all in this beautiful new book. 

I was drawn to two classics from the book – Banana Bread and Carrot-Honey Layer Cake.  I loved the idea of the carrot-honey cake because it called for a sweetener I already had in my pantry – honey!  I had some over-ripe bananas in my kitchen as well, so I decided to combine the recipes together for the ultimate tea time bite and breakfast-y treat! 

The spices in the carrot cake are heavenly and perfect for fall, while the banana keeps things moist for days – you know, for the type of loaves and cakes that keep all week (ones where you keep cutting tiny bits off for yourself every time you walk near the kitchen, hehe).  The honey in the frosting is pretty strong (or at least with the brand of honey I used), but the touch of vanilla and pinch of salt help to mellow out and balance the flavors.  I bet a sprinkle of cinnamon would go splendidly with the frosting too!

Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"
Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"
Honey Carrot Banana Bread from America's Test Kitchen's "Naturally Sweet"

Honey Carrot Banana Bread
adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

2 bananas
1 ½ cups shredded carrots
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cloves
2 large eggs
½ cup grapeseed oil
½ cup honey
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, smash the bananas with a potato masher or fork.  Stir in the shredded carrots.

Sift the dry ingredients together over the mixing bowl and stir to combines.

Whisk in the two eggs.

In a separate bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine the oil, honey, yogurt, and vanilla.

Add the liquids to the large bowl, and stir/fold until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes or until a thin knife inserted deep into the cake comes out with moist crumbs

Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the bread from the pan.  Continue to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

Honey Frosting
from “Naturally Sweet” – double the recipe for the Carrot-Honey Cake

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
3 tablespoons honey

Using a stand mixer, whip the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt together on medium speed until smooth.

Lower the mixer to low speed and add in the honey.  Once incorporated, turn the mixer back up to medium-high and whip until light and fluffy.

Banana Bread
from “Naturally Sweet”

7 tablespoons Sucanat
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
3 large, ripe bananas – peeled and mashed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
¼ cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 dgrees.  Grease a loaf pan.  Working in batches, grind the sucanat to a fine powder using a spice grinder.

Whisk the sucanat with the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the mashed bananas, melted butter, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla until combined.  Gently fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture until must combined.  Fold in walnuts, if using.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted into the center comes out with few moist crumbs, 55 to 65 minutes, rotating the pan hallway through baking.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cool.

Carrot-Honey Cake
from “Naturally Sweet”

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup + ¼ cup honey
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 2/3 cup shredded carrots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour the pans.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a bowl.

In a large bowl, whisk honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla together until smooth.

Stir in the carrots.

Add the flour mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until combined.

Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 16 to 20 minutes, or until the cakes are set and center is just firm to the touch.

Cool 10 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans.

Once completely cool, fill and frost with a double batch of Honey Frosting.

Thank you to America's Test Kitchen for providing me with a copy of "Naturally Sweet" and some awesome baking equipment.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.