This Carrot Cake features decadent cream cheese frosting slathered between layers of moist, perfectly spiced cake. Chopped pecans give texture, while buttermilk and finely shredded carrots make the cake ultra-moist. This would make a beautiful centerpiece for any holiday dessert table.
The Best Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
This homemade carrot cake is, hands down, one of my favorite Easter desserts. It’s super moist and decadent, with a tangy cream cheese frosting between layers of perfectly spiced cake. While any carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is good, the three layers just give it such an elegant touch that makes it perfect for the holiday dessert table.
Of course, I don’t reserve this recipe just for Easter. It’s way too good to just enjoy once a year. And it’s easy enough to make that it can truly be whipped up anytime you have a few free hours. It’s really a showstopper dessert with minimal effort.
This homemade carrot cake recipe is made with primarily pantry staples, plus some buttermilk for moisture and shredded carrots.
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for measurements and details.)
- All-purpose flour – Use the spoon and level technique for accurate measuring.
- Baking soda & baking powder – To help the cake layers rise in the oven.
- Ground cinnamon & nutmeg – Adds a warm flavor and wonderful aromatics.
- Salt – For flavor.
- Eggs – Provides the batter with structure. Eggs should be at room temperature.
- Vegetable oil – Helps keep the cake super moist.
- Sugar – Both granulated sugar and brown sugar are used in this recipe for the best flavor.
- Vanilla extract – A bit for additional flavor.
- Buttermilk – Using buttermilk in cake adds a light flavor but, most importantly, helps create a moist, tender crumb.
- Carrots – Peeled and finely shredded.
- Pecans – Adds a nutty flavor and a bit of texture to the cake.
- Cream cheese – Starting with room temperature softened cream cheese will help create a smooth frosting.
- Salted butter – The butter should be softened as well.
Here are a few easy variations to this carrot layer cake.
- Swap out the nuts. You could substitute walnuts for the pecans, if preferred, or even omit them completely.
- Other optional add-ins. Add in up to 1/2 cup raisins or 1 cup of shredded toasted coconut for additional flavor and texture.
- Add more spices. Allspice, cardamom, or ginger can be added for a stronger spice flavor.
How to Make Carrot Cake
While this cake may look decadent and elegant, it’s quite easy to make and assemble.
(Don’t miss the detailed printable recipe card and video below.)
- Prepare the pans. Spray 3, 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Make the cake batter. Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, oil, sugars, vanilla, and buttermilk until well blended. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the carrots and pecans.
- Bake. Divide the batter evenly among the 3 pans. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese and butter together until creamy and smooth. Add in 5 cups of powdered sugar and the vanilla. Beat until smooth and add in more powdered sugar, a 1/2 cup at a time, if necessary to achieve a spreadable frosting consistency.
- Assemble the layer cake. Add one cake layer to a serving plate, top with a quarter of the frosting, smoothing it over the edge, then add the second cake. Repeat. Top with the third layer and the rest of the frosting over the tops and sides of the cake as desired.
- Garnish. Garnish with chopped pecans. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Tips for Success
Here are a few tips to help you make the best carrot cake possible.
- Make sure to finely shred the carrots so that they disappear into the cake. I like to shred the carrots through the fine grater attachment on the food processor, then use the blade attachment and pulse 3 times to mince the shredded carrot.
- What cake pans should I use? This recipe calls for using 9-inch cake pans. The pans I use are heavy-duty, non-stick, and have straight (not sloped) sides which help to create a nice straight-sided cake.
- Can I use smaller cake pans? 8-inch cake pans will work, but will require a few more minutes of bake time, since there’s less surface area.
- What if the cakes cave in? Carrot cake is very heavy due to the moisture content and the nuts, and the center of the cake can sometimes get pulled inwards even when properly baked. It’s important not to use a cake pan smaller than 8-inch to minimize caving. If your cake caves in quite a bit and the appearance bothers you, you can use a sharp serrated knife to level the outer edge before stacking and frosting.
- Speed up the cooling process (and keep the cakes extra moist). When the cakes come out of the oven, let them cool for just a few minutes, then turn them out onto plastic wrap. Wrap tightly and place in the refrigerator until cold, about 1 hour.
Here are a few ideas for decorating your carrot layer cake. Any of these will make it look beautifully elegant on your Easter dessert table!
- Semi-naked cake frosting. To achieve the semi-naked look, use a plastic scraper to gently remove frosting as you spin the cake. You can remove as much or as little of the frosting as desired.
- Pipe frosting carrots. Try saving 1/4 cup of the frosting and color most of it orange with food coloring, and a small amount of it bright green. Place in two separate piping bags or plastic ziploc bags with the corner cut off, and pipe simple little carrots onto the cake.
- Add other garnishes. You could also garnish with spiralized fresh carrot or toasted coconut flakes.
Video: Best Carrot Cake Recipe
How to Store Carrot Layer Cake
- Storing leftovers. This carrot cake with cream cheese frosting will keep in the fridge, tightly covered for up to 4 days. If you have extra frosting, smear it on the cut edge of the cake to cover it completely. This will help protect the cake from the air in the fridge, keeping it moist for longer. I like to allow it to sit on the counter for a bit to come to room temperature before enjoying leftovers.
- To freeze. You can freeze this frosted carrot cake by placing the assembled cake in the freezer for an hour to set the frosting. Once the frosting is frozen and firm, wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap and again in foil. For best results, freeze no longer than 2 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight, then allow it to sit on the counter for a bit to come to room temperature.
More Easter Recipes:
- Hot Cross Buns
- Honey Glazed Ham
- Pea Salad
- Hummingbird Cake
- Peanut Butter Eggs
- Broken Glass Jello
- Lemon Tart
For the Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour , spooned and leveled
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 5 large eggs , room temperature
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 & 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 & 1/2 pounds carrots , peeled and shredded finely
- 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
For the Frosting
- 16 ounces cream cheese , softened
- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
- 4 to 6 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Spray 3, 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray, and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment.
- In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and buttermilk until well blended. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the shredded carrots and pecans. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-35 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for at least 15 minutes, before inverting them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Using an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until creamy and smooth. Add in 4 cups of the powdered sugar and the vanilla extract and beat until smooth, adding more powdered sugar if necessary to achieve a spreadable frosting consistency and preferred level of sweetness. (I usually end up using 5 cups.)
- Assemble Cake: Make sure the cakes are completely cooled before assembly. Level the cakes, if necessary and desired, by slicing a very thin piece off the top. Place 1 layer on a serving plate and add one quarter of the frosting (about 1 cup), smoothing it over the layer edge to edge, add the second layer and repeat using another quarter of the frosting (about 1 cup.) Top with the third layer and spread with the rest of the frosting, smoothing it over the tops and sides of the cake. To create a semi naked cake, use an offset spatula or plastic scraper to gently remove frosting as you spin the cake until desired look is achieved.
- Garnish with chopped pecans, or other desired toppings. Serve immediately or refrigerate and then bring to room temperature before serving.