Did you know that National Carrot Cake Day is February 3? The carrot cake recipe has been one of America’s favorites for decades.
But this yummy dessert is perfect for any occasion at any time of the year! Read on for step-by-step instructions on baking and icing your own carrot cake recipe!
What is Carrot Cake?
The modern carrot cake is simply grated carrot mixed into a batter, baked and topped with white icing. It often contains some sort of nut and is always stocked with plenty of spices! Some recipes include fruit or coconut, too.
This cake doesn’t taste like carrots, though. The added carrot to the cake adds texture, color, moisture and makes a great sweetener! The spices and other sweeteners make it taste like a yummy spice cake!
It’s most often found baked as a loaf, sheet cake, as cupcakes, or as a tiered cake. Due to its popularity, carrot cake is available at most bakeries.
Variations worldwide include baking the carrot cake with a pie crust (similar to a pumpkin pie,) steaming the cake like a thick pudding and covering with a sauce, or making it in molded pans and topping it with icing (similar to a plum pudding.)
Where Did Carrot Cake Originate?
The exact origin of the carrot cake recipe can’t be pinned down. However, there are plenty of instances throughout history so we have a good idea of the approximate time period that it came into the picture.
There is evidence that Arabic chefs used carrots as sweeteners for dishes in the 10th century. Their carrot pudding was a simple process of mashing carrots with a mortar and pestle and then mixing it with honey and walnut oil. From here, the mixture would be simmered and then cooled until firm.
In medieval Europe, carrots are believed to have been used as a sweetener because sugar was scarce. Eventually, a version of the carrot cake with meat became popular in England and Germany. This dish included meat, carrot, breadcrumbs, and spices. It would’ve been served in slices and then drizzled with honeyed icing.
By 1591, the modern version of what we consider the carrot cake recipe was published, although it still contained meat.
When it hit the medieval palace kitchen, it was served as a steamed or boiled carrot pudding. The chefs would cook it on low over an extended period of time to allow the natural sugars within the carrot to strengthen. They would then enrich the carrots with spices and bind it together with flour and eggs.
Once ovens became widespread, the dry method of baking became popular. Because of this, the cake became lighter in consistency and had more flour and fat content.
In England, “The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy” had an early version of Carrot Pudding Pie published in 1747. This version, similar to a plum pudding, was often steamed. Over the holidays, it was flamed with brandy for a dramatic effect.
In 1814, Antoine Beauvilliers, former chef for Louis XVI, included his recipe for Gateau de Carottes in several cookbooks that were published in France. By 1824, he included the same recipe in a cookbook published in London. It was labeled as Carrot Cakes.
With the establishment of America, the carrot cake recipe traveled across the ocean and made its way into wealthy kitchens. It is well known that George Washington favored this dessert and often served it at his parties.
However, this cake didn’t take center stage for desserts in America until the 1940s, during World War II. It’s a misconception that the carrot cake recipe became popular around this time due to limited food rations.
It’s more likely because of propaganda issued in Britain. The British Ministry of Food’s War Cookery Leaflet No. 4 published the carrot cake recipe. The ministry’s food campaign pushed carrots because they claimed it would help improve eyesight.
This was an attractive benefit because there were plenty of blackouts due to the war. People were eager to be able to see in the dark for their own safety! Although it wasn’t true that carrot cake could help the British people see in the dark, the recipe became quite popular.
An interesting story goes along with the idea of World War II aiding in the carrot cake recipe popularity. Soon after the end of World War II, there was an overabundance of canned carrots within the U.S.
A businessman named George C. Page hired bakers across the country to find uses for carrots. His idea was to create a demand for canned carrots, allowing the surplus to dwindle.
The solution? The carrot cake recipe! His plan worked, and this did indeed create a demand for the carrots.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the classic cream cheese frosting was added to the dessert. It’s possible the rise in popularity of cream cheese frosting was because the Philadelphia Cream Cheese company would include recipes in their packet wrappings.
This recipe was included in those wrappings. This possibly created a link between the carrot cake and cream cheese frosting that would last for decades.
In recent years, the carrot cake recipe became quite popular because of the health craze of the late 20th century. Although it’s a misconception that carrot cake is healthy for you, it still caught on as a healthy alternative to desserts.
A popular distant cousin of the carrot cake recipe is the Indian dessert gajar halwah. This is made with carrots, caramelized ghee, sugar, spices, and sometimes nuts and fruit!
Gather Your Ingredients
This carrot cake recipe calls for the basic ingredients to make almost any cake. You should have many of these ingredients in your pantry already.
The basic ingredients are flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, vegetable or canola oil, and pure vanilla extract. And don’t forget the spices! You’ll need salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
From here, you’ll need to gather just a few more ingredients from your local grocery store or market. You’ll need eggs, unsalted butter, two 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, unsweetened applesauce, 1 pound of carrots, chopped pecans, flaked coconut, and powdered sugar.
Tip: Grate your carrots at home. Store-bought grated carrots will be too dry for this recipe.
You’re ready to bake your carrot cake recipe!
Making Your Carrot Cake
Are you ready to make the best carrot cake recipe you’ve ever tasted? Grab your ingredients!
Begin by preheating your oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread 2 cups of chopped pecans evenly over the parchment. Toast the pecans for 7 minutes. Allow the nuts to cool completely.
Once the nuts have toasted, raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Next, grease two 9-inch cake pans with butter. If preferred, cut and line the pans with parchment paper to make it easier to remove from the pan once baked.
In a large bowl, whisk 1 ½ cups brown sugar, ½ cup sugar, ¾ cup canola or vegetable oil, 4 eggs (at room temperature), 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract until well mixed.
In a separate bowl, stir together 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, and ¼ teaspoon cloves.
Fold the wet and dry ingredients together with a spatula until just mixed.
Fold in 2 cups of grated carrots, 1 cup of the toasted pecans, and ½ cup of flaked coconut.
Pour the batter into two 9-inch cake pans evenly.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean. Do not overbake.
Allow the cakes to cool completely before icing.
Allow two 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese and two sticks of unsalted butter to come to room temperature.
In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to beat both butter sticks and cream cheese blocks on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Mix in 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.
Gradually mix in 5-6 cups of powdered sugar, one cup at a time. The amount will depend on you. Less sugar will make it less sweet, and more sugar will make the icing a bit stiffer.
Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping the sides to incorporate all the sugar. The frosting should be soft but not runny. Add more powdered sugar if the icing is too runny or a tablespoon of milk if the icing is too stiff.
Putting it Together
Level both cakes by slicing the top off each cake with a serrated knife.
Place one of the cakes on a cake stand or plate and frost the top.
Next, center the second cake on top of the first cake.
Spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
Sprinkle the top of the cake with the remaining 1 cup of pecans and extra coconut. Refrigerate the cake for at least 30 minutes before slicing to preserve the shape.
Finally, pipe designs along the edges if desired.
Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Variations for Your Cake
There are several variations you can make to this recipe. Here are just a few ideas to mix things up!
To change the flavor profile, you can replace the unsweetened applesauce with an 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple. Drain the can before adding the pineapple, so the batter isn’t too runny.
Try swapping out the flaked coconut for 1 cup of raisins. This traditional ingredient is a favorite for many carrot cake lovers!
Instead of a double-tier cake, try making cupcakes. Use cupcake liners in a muffin pan and bake for 20-22 minutes.
Switch up the kind of nuts you use. Change the pecans to walnuts for a varied flavor in this delicious carrot cake recipe!
Make It a Vegan Carrot Cake
Do you need to make a vegan carrot cake recipe? We’ve got you covered!
Simply replace the eggs with “flax eggs.” Add 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal and 2 ½ tablespoons of water into a small bowl. Stir together and allow to thicken for about 5 minutes. This is equivalent to one egg.
Next, change up the icing to a Basic Vanilla Icing made with your choice of alternative nut milk and vegan butter.
Try This Carrot Cake Recipe Today!
You’re now ready to bake your very own best-tasting carrot cake recipe! To learn more about carrots, visit the Carrot Plants page on our website.
The Best Carrot Cake You've Ever Tasted!
This oh-so-delicious carrot cake is guaranteed to be a hit with family or friends. Even better is it it's made with fresh carrots from the farmers' market or your home garden!
- Carrot Cake Ingredients:
- 2 cups chopped pecans
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 4 eggs (room temp)
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cloves
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 1/2 cup flaked coconut, plus more for sprinkling on top of cake
- Frosting Ingredients:
- 2 8-oz blocks of cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 6+ cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsps pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
To bake the cake:
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread pecans evenly.
- Toast 7 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease 2 9-inch cake pans.
- In a large bowl, whisk brown sugar, sugar, oil, eggs, applesauce, and vanilla until well mixed.
- In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.
- Fold wet and dry ingredients together with a spatula until just mixed.
- Fold in carrots, 1 cup toasted pecans, and coconut.
- Pour into cake pans and bake 30-35 minutes.
- Bake until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake.
- Allow cakes to cool completely before icing.
To make the frosting:
- In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to beat butter and cream cheese on medium-high speed for 2 minutes.
- Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.
- Beat on low for 30 seconds.
- Increase speed to high and beat an additional 3 minutes.
- Frosting should be soft but not runny.
- Add more powdered sugar if too runny or a tablespoon of milk if too stiff.
- Level cakes by slicing the top of each cake with a serrated knife.
- Put one cake on a cake stand and frost the top of the cake.
- Center the second cake on top of the first cake.
- Spread remaining frosting on top and sides of the cake.
- Sprinkle top with remaining pecans and extra coconut.
- Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before slicing to preserve shape.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Saturday 25th of March 2023
I found a carrot cake game changer in Cook's Illustrated: chop the carrots in your food processor. Don't puree, just chop to a fine consistency. No carrot shreds to deal with in the finished cake