This simple carrot cake recipe yields a cake with an incredibly moist crumb, featuring warm spices and a to-die-for luscious, tangy, nutty browned butter cream cheese frosting. Put simply, it’s seriously THE BEST!
I’m an equal opportunist when it comes to savoring a decadent slice of cake, but I do have my favorites for different seasons. In the spring and summer, strawberry shortcake reigns supreme, come fall it’s this pumpkin roll, and then when my birthday rolls around, it’s my forever favorite–German Chocolate Cake. However, this carrot cake is good enough to make any time, because it’s that good. What makes this carrot cake extra special is the creamy browned butter and maple cream cheese frosting. The browned butter adds earthy notes to the tangy cream cheese and when combined with the maple syrup, they bring toasty, caramelly flavors you’re going to crave over and over. Together, these flavors give an amazing twist to your classic carrot cake frosting. This truly is the best carrot cake recipe.
What is Carrot Cake Made of?
This carrot cake recipe contains the usual suspects you’ll find in most cakes — sugar, eggs, flour, leaveners. It uses oil instead of butter (for optimal moisture) and of course carrots.
Here’s what you’ll need to make this carrot cake:
- brown sugar — for flavor and for extra moisture (either light or dark is fine)
- granulated sugar
- eggs — at room temperature
- vegetable oil or canola oil — this will keep the cake nice and moist
- buttermilk — at room temperature (this will make the cake tender and moist — full fat is best)
- vanilla extract
- carrots — shredded in a food processor, or coarsely grated with a box grater
- all-purpose flour
- baking powder
- baking soda
- kosher salt
- unsalted butter — for the icing (you’ll brown half for delicious warm, caramelly, nutty notes)
- cream cheese — full fat is best and it’s super important this is at room temperature or you’ll have a lumpy icing
- maple syrup (the darker the better or try a bourbon-barrel aged maple syrup) — the toffee notes complement the browned butter beautifully
- powdered sugar
First, Prep the Frosting
Brown your butter then let it cool. Before starting the cake, brown half of the butter for the frosting so it will have time to cool before blending with the other stick of butter and cream cheese. Browned butter adds a lovely, fragrantly nutty flavor that adds caramel notes to the tanginess of the cream cheese. It’s all about balance, baby. Next, move on to baking that cake…
How to Make The BEST Carrot Cake
Shred the carrots. I find the quickest and easiest way to shred carrots is in the food processor with the grater attachment. Don’t have one? Don’t stress. You can use a good old-fashioned box grater instead, just watch those knuckles!
Whisk the sugars and eggs together until the mixture is thick and light in color. Creaming butter and sugar for 5-6 minutes adds air and lightness to the cake. I do this in my stand mixer but if using a hand mixer, be sure to use a large bowl because it will eventually hold all of your carrot cake batter. Next, slowly add the oil (adding it gradually will help emulsify the mixture), followed by the buttermilk and vanilla.
Mix your dry ingredients. Whisk up those spices, leaveners, and flour in a separate bowl. Adding nuts to your cake? Now’s the time. Toss them in your dry ingredient mix so they’ll distribute well instead of sinking to the bottom of your carrot cake.
Fold the dry ingredients into your wet ingredients. I like to do this in 3 stages so everything gets evenly incorporated. You don’t want to see any pockets of dry ingredients. Gently folding versus whisking or stirring is important so that you don’t over-mix the batter and end up with a tough cake. Once your dry ingredients are fully incorporated, fold the carrots into the flour mixture just until combined.
Divide and Bake
Divide the batter between two prepared cake pans and bake at 350°F. If using 8-inch round cake pans, they should take about 35-40 minutes to bake whereas 9-inch round cake pans will take 30-35 minutes to bake. If using a 9 X 13-inch baking pan, plan on 30-35 minutes of baking time.
How to tell when the carrot cake is done. When finished baking, you’ll notice the sides of the carrot cake will have pulled apart from the sides of the pan and a cake tester or long toothpick will come out clean from the cake. Allow the cakes to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Make the Browned Butter Maple Cream Cheese Icing
Whip your butter and cream cheese. As the carrot cake cools, beat the browned butter and softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add the cream cheese and salt and continue beating until there are no lumps. Add the maple syrup (I used a bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup), vanilla extract, and powdered sugar (1 cup at a time), beating until the frosting is smooth, whipped, and fluffy. Set aside until ready to use or refrigerate if making it in advance.
Make sure the cakes are completely cool before frosting. If the carrot cake is even slightly warm, the frosting may melt, becoming a sweet slick of liquid instead of frothy frosting.
Note: You can make the icing up to a week ahead of time, and store in the fridge. When ready to ice your cake, bring it to room temperature and fluff with a spatula or re-whip in a mixer if needed.
Is Carrot Cake Healthier Than Regular Cake
While carrot cake may be slightly healthier than your average cake due to its hearty dose of beta-carotene-rich carrots, it’s not exactly a healthy food. There’s still a fair amount of sugar and oil (it is cake after all). That said, life is short, eat carrot cake.
Why Did Carrot Cake Turn Green
Your carrot cake should not ever turn green, but if the tips of any of your carrots do, that is a sign you’ve either used too much baking soda or the baking soda wasn’t distributed well. This is because carrots have pigments that are sensitive to changes in pH balance. Just be sure your dry ingredients are well incorporated and all of your carrots should stay perfectly orange.
Mix-ins for Carrot Cake
There are so many different versions of carrot cake out there. There are versions with walnuts or pecans, coconut, crushed pineapple, and/or raisins. Some use applesauce in place of or in addition to the oil. I love making mine with toasted walnuts and sometimes golden raisins as well, but you could use pecans instead, add shredded coconut, do any combo of these, or skip it altogether. I don’t recommend adding pineapple to this carrot cake as it will throw off the dry/wet ingredient ratio.
If using nuts in your carrot cake, walnuts or pecans work best and I suggest roasting them beforehand to bring out more flavor. Roast the nuts at 350°F for about 10 minutes, then coarsely chop. 1 cup of nuts is plenty. If adding nuts, raisins, and/or coconut to your carrot cake, ½ cup is a good amount.
Tips for Making the Best Carrot Cake
Use room temperature ingredients so the ingredients blend more easily when baking. To speed up getting room-temperature eggs, place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes. Cream cheese takes at least an hour, but longer is better or your icing will be lumpy.
Shred your carrots. Skip the grocery store’s pre-grated carrots as they tend to be too thick and dry and won’t add enough moisture to your carrot cake. I use the grater attachment of a food processor to grate my own, but if you don’t have a food processor, you can use a box grater.
Go nutty if you want. If adding nuts to your carrot cake, I highly recommend toasting them first, then chopping them coarsely and tossing them with your dry ingredients first to ensure they won’t sink to the bottom of your cake. Or, top the frosting with nuts, maybe half and half for nut lovers and those who are not.
Mix it right. It’s important not to over-mix the carrot cake or else it could be tough, but you want to make sure all of your dry ingredients are entirely incorporated and that there aren’t any pockets of flour.
How to Store Carrot Cake
Since carrot cake has a cream cheese frosting, it’s best not to leave it out at room temperature beyond a day. To keep it fresher longer, store it in the fridge. Take it out 30 minutes before you want to serve to take the chill off.
Can I Freeze Carrot Cake
You can freeze the carrot cake layers (unfrosted) for up to two months. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. Placing the wrapped layers in a freezer bag will add another layer of protection against freezer burn. To defrost, place them in the fridge overnight or for at least 8 hours.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
How to Make THE BEST Carrot Cake
For the Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- 16 tablespoons unsalted butter , two sticks at room temperature, divided
- 1 pound full fat cream cheese , at room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 ½ cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup , the darker the better
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Carrot Cake
- 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs , at room temperature
- 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
- ¾ cup full fat buttermilk , at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 pound carrots , peeled and either shredded in a food processor, or coarsely grated with a box grater (about 4 cups)
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- Lightly brush the bottoms and sides of two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans (or 9 X 13-inch pan) with oil, or spray with non-stick baking spray. Line the bottoms with parchment paper rounds and set aside.
- First, brown the butter for your frosting. Add one stick of unsalted butter to a medium sized saucepan and heat over medium. Cook for about 3 minutes or until browned and fragrant (it will smell nutty), swirling the butter and stirring occasionally (be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan to release all the brown bits that might have gotten stuck). Once browned, remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Let it cool and solidify while you make your cake.
To Make the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer), whisk the sugars and eggs together until the mixture is thick and lighter in color, 5-6 minutes. While mixing, slowly add the oil to the eggs and sugar until blended and smooth then add the buttermilk and vanilla.
- In another bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. If adding nuts, add them to your dry ingredients now, tossing to coat. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture in three additions, mixing between each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is evenly mixed. Gently fold in the carrots (and raisins, if using), making sure there are no remaining pockets of dry ingredients.
- Divide the batter between two prepared cake pans (or your 9 X 13-inch pan). One trick I like for even cake layers is to place each pan on my kitchen scale, zero it out, and then add half the batter. Do the same with the other pan and add a bit more as needed so they weigh the same. Bake for 35-40 minutes for 8-inch cake pans, for 9-inch cake pans or a 9 X 13-inch pan bake for 30-35 minutes or until a tester inserted in the centers comes out clean and the sides of the cake pull away from the edges of the pan. Cool for 10 minutes in the pans then run a knife around the edges of the cake pans and carefully invert the cakes on a cooling rack to cool completely.
To Make the Frosting:
- While the cake cools, make your frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cooled 8 tablespoons of browned butter with the remaining stick of softened butter. Beat until the butter is light, smooth, and well blended. Add the cream cheese and salt then continue beating on medium to medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is incorporated and there are no lumps. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and then the powdered sugar (1 cup at a time), beating until the frosting is smooth, whipped, and fluffy. Set aside until ready to use or refrigerate for up to 1 week if making it in advance.
To Assemble the Cake:
- Place a heaping cup of icing on the first cake layer and use an offset spatula to spread it out. Top with your second layer and another heaping cup of icing, spreading down the sides and covering the whole cake. Note: Depending on how much icing you’d like on your cake, you may have ¼ – ½ cup extra icing leftover.
More Cake Recipe Ideas
- Confetti Cake With Buttercream Frosting
- Devil’s Food Bundt Cake with Chocolate Espresso Ganache
- German Chocolate Cake
- Vanilla and Chocolate Marbled Bundt Cake
- Lemon and Cherry Mini Bundt Cakes
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