This carrot cake is so ridiculously delicious that it comes with a warning- DON’T MAKE IT unless you’re prepared to bring it to every social function you’re invited to for the rest of your life. Seriously. This is My Favorite Carrot Cake and it’s filled with golden raisins, toasted almonds and crushed pineapple and generously swirled with lush cream cheese frosting. It’s SO good! And once you make it, it will become your new signature dessert!
The Best Thing About Food Is Sharing It
When I told my daughter I was going to post my carrot cake recipe she asked me if I was feeling ok. Up until recently I held this recipe close and didn’t share it. Ok, I shared it with my daughters and my best friend BUT I swore them to secrecy. Years ago I’d shared it with the owner of one of the restaurants I baked for. She wanted to make it for her family at the holidays and she swore she’d continue buying the restaurant’s cakes from me if I gave it to her. You’ve probably guessed what happened next- she stopped ordering it from me but it remained on the menu. Thus, my somewhat selfish decision to keep it to myself.
But I never felt right about that. Because the best thing about food, other than eating it, is sharing it, right?
Fast forward to now. I still make this cake for several restaurants and I know the same thing could happen again. But I love this recipe so much and I really want to share it with you. Because I KNOW you’re going to love it, too!
So…let the chips fall where they may!
I Have Opinions About Carrot Cake
I find myself completely lacking even a shred of willpower when presented with a slice of carrot cake. But it has to be the right kind of carrot cake:
- I believe carrot cakes should be substantial- they should have some “heft” when you pick them up.
- I like “pieces” in my carrot cake. TEXTURE. If carrot cake is smooth and delicate I consider it spice cake. Give me raisins and nuts!
- Speaking of spice cake, I like to keep the spices simple in my carrot cake. Cinnamon only for me.
- Please use fresh carrots, you must shred them yourself. The ones you buy pre-shredded seem like a good shortcut but they’re dry and will result in less moisture and an unappealing texture.
- And lastly- pineapple. I think it’s a must and if you don’t agree it’s ok to search out another recipe. My feelings won’t be hurt. Pineapple is what makes this cake SO MOIST.
What Do You Need To Make Carrot Cake?
I use two bowls and no mixer when I make this cake. The batter is very forgiving and, unlike many other cakes, you don’t need to worry so much about over-mixing. Here’s what you’ll need:
- All purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Kosher salt
- White sugar
- Neutral tasting oil (I prefer avocado oil)
- Carrots, shredded
- Golden raisins
- Sliced almonds, toasted
- Crushed pineapple, squeezed well
How To Make The Batter- No Mixer Required!
The first thing you’ll do is prepare your pans and preheat the oven (with rack in the middle position). Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray, lightly flour them and line them with parchment.
Next, toast the almonds by spreading them out on a baking sheet and toasting in the oven for about 8 minutes or until just lightly browned. I like to line the baking sheet with parchment because it makes it easier to remove them from the baking sheet so they don’t continue toasting after you take them out.
While the almonds are toasting, shred the carrots using a box grater or the shredding disk of a food processor. If using a box grater you’ll want large, peeled carrots. If you’re using the food processor you can simplify things by using baby carrots that are already peeled. Place shredded carrots in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
Now, drain the pineapple REALLY WELL. I squeeze as much moisture out as I can with my hands. You can use a strainer but I find that it’s difficult to clean all the tiny pieces out when you’re done. Add pineapple to bowl with shredded carrots and then add raisins and toasted almonds (lightly breaking up almonds with your hands as you add them). Mix it all up and set aside while you make the batter.
Making this batter is so simple. In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and whisk to combine. Stir in sugar. Add eggs and oil and stir well until completely mixed and no traces of white flour remain. Stir carrot mixture into batter and voila! You’re ready to divide it between your pans.
I’ve gotten into the habit of weighing my batter. That way I know each pan has an equal amount and they’ll cook evenly. This cake yields 2 lbs of batter per 9″ pan.
How Do You Know It’s Done?
Bake your layers for 30-35 minutes. I know I say this all the time, but it’s so important to learn to rely on things like touch and smell and visual cues when cooking and not just on time, because all ovens are slightly different. The more you bake, the more natural these things will come to you…like second nature 🙂
Other cues your cake is done:
- This batter will become a nice, even, golden color when it’s done and the top will be very flat, not sunken at all in the middle.
- When you touch the center of the cake and push lightly with your finger, you’ll feel resistance and it won’t leave an imprint.
- If you pay attention you’ll notice that you can suddenly smell your cakes just a few minutes before they’re done. I bake so many cakes that I’ll find myself naturally getting up from wherever I am and walking towards the kitchen a minute or two before the timer goes off because it “smells ready”.
Unmolding Your Cake Layers
Let the layers cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. You should be able to handle the pans comfortably without pot holders when they’re cool enough.
If you’ve prepared your pans well this should be easy! Run a flat icing spatula around the edge of your cake pans going all the way to the bottom. If you’ve lined them with parchment you should be able to gently shake the pan back and forth holding it flat on the counter top and feel it release inside the pan.
If it seems like it’s still sticking (sometimes it just happens!) there’s something else I’ll do before flipping the pans upside down. Take a narrow cake server like this and carefully slip it in-between the cake edge and pan, pushing at a very slight angle to loosen the bottom edge. Repeat this all the way around the cake and then gently shake back and forth holding flat to the counter again. You should be able to feel it slip back and forth.
Hold a wire rack on top of the pan and quickly turn over. Set the rack on the counter with the pan on top, tap the bottom of the pan to make sure the cake is released and gently lift the pan off. If part of the cake has stuck to the pan try to get it out in one piece and patch back into the layer. Frosting hides a multitude of cake sins, so don’t stress if it happens to you!
Repeat with the other layer and let cool COMPLETELY before frosting. I like to wrap the layers tightly in plastic wrap and chill before frosting, but as long as they aren’t warm AT ALL they’re ready to frost.
How To Make Great Cream Cheese Frosting
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about making great cream cheese icing:
- Use full fat cream cheese and butter
- Think Goldilocks- not too warm and not too cold. Most recipes will tell you to use room temperature ingredients but I think they’re wrong! The optimal temperature for the cream cheese and butter is cool to the touch but not quite room temperature. Too cold and your frosting won’t be smooth, too warm and it will be soupy. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen take it out of the fridge and place on the counter 30-45 minutes before you’re ready to start. And please NEVER warm it up in the microwave.
- Use a stand mixer if possible and a paddle attachment (not the whisk attachment).
- Beat Butter first until smooth.
- Add extract, lemon juice, salt and sugar next and make sure your sugar is sifted. Lemon juice cuts the sweetness of the sugar. Use fresh, not bottled. You CAN leave it out if you prefer.
- Add the cream cheese LAST and just beat until completely smooth.
- If it still seems too soft chill the frosting for 30-60 minutes.
How Decorate Your Cake
Carrot cake doesn’t beg for the spotlight- all fancy and dressed up and pristine. Rather, it’s humble and comfortable in it’s own skin. That’s one of my favorite things about carrot cake. It’s totally unpretentious. I mean, you can pipe pretty borders, arrange tiny icing-carrots on each piece, or press toasted almonds delicately onto the sides if you want to. I’ve done all of the above for the places I sell to. I’ve even used it in my daughter’s wedding cake- you can’t get much more fancy than that!
But my favorite way to finish a carrot cake is to casually swirl icing all over the top and sides- just fluffy clouds of tangy-sweet cream cheese goodness.
Casual, fancy or somewhere in-between, this is your carrot cake now…so you do whatever your little carrot cake loving heart desires 🙂
Does Frosting a Cake Make You Nervous?
If so, you’re not alone! I want to help.
The key to frosting a pretty cake is to start with a crumb coat. Crumb coating a cake is basically filling it and spreading a thin layer of icing all over the top and sides to “seal in” the crumbs. Like a base coat of paint. Once you have the crumb coat complete it’s so much easier to finish icing without any worry of ending up with crumbs showing. Tip: separate the frosting you’ll use for your crumb coat into a separate bowl, that way if you get crumbs in it you’ll still have crumb free frosting for finishing your cake!
Here are step by step pictures to show how I frost a cake. It’s really helpful to use a turntable or a lazy susan for this part, but you can absolutely frost a cake without one (a more casual swirled icing might be the better option without one). Use metal spatulas like these, I use an offset for the tops and a flat for the sides.
Your crumb coat is done. Chill for 30 minutes to making icing even easier or you can continue right away.
If you’re planning to pipe decorative borders you may need to chill the remaining icing first to firm it up.
Storing Carrot Cake
Carrot cake should be kept refrigerated and will stay moist and delicious for up to a week, which makes it the perfect dessert for making ahead! You can even freeze the layers, tightly wrapped, for up to two months.
I hope this cake brings you and your friends and family as much joy as it’s brought to mine! I welcome questions and comments below and if you make it please share how it turned out by tagging me with your pictures on Instagram and fb @breathingandcooking 🙂
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups sugar*
- 1 1/2 cups avocado oil*
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups shredded carrots (8 oz)
- 1/2 cup golden raisins*
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted and roughly crushed*
- 1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, VERY well drained and squeezed dry
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 16 ounces (2 blocks) cream cheese
- 3 3/4 cups (475 grams) sifted powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Prepare two 9-inch round pans by lightly greasing, flouring and lining with parchment.
- Toast almonds by spreading on a baking sheet and toasting in a 350°f oven for 8 minutes. Watch carefully because all ovens are slightly different and they can burn quickly! Remove from pan once toasted so that they don't continue to brown.
- Drain pineapple by squeezing very well. Place in large bowl. See notes for a use for the juice if you'd like to save it!
- Shred carrots either by hand or using a food processor and the medium grating disk. Don't use pre-shredded carrots because they tend to be dry. Add to bowl with pineapple.
- Add raisins and almonds to bowl with carrots and pineapple. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, Add sugar and whisk to combine.
- Add oil and eggs to flour mixture and mix well.
- Add carrot/pineapple mixture to flour/oil mixture and stir well to combine..
- Divide between prepared pans.
- Bake in a 350°f oven for 30-35 minutes, checking at the 25 minute mark, until finger pressed gently into the center feels resistance and cake bounces back.
- Cool on rack 20 minutes. Run a thin metal spatula around the sides to loosen and invert onto wire rack to cool completely.
- I like to wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight before frosting. This makes it much easier to get a smooth, crumb free coat.
- Ice with cream cheese frosting and chill before serving.
For Cream cheese Frosting
The optimal temperature for cream cheese and butter in this frosting is still cool to the touch but not quite room temperature. If it's too warm the frosting will be soupy, too cold and it won't be smooth.
- Beat butter with paddle attachment of stand mixer until smooth. Add sifted powdered sugar in several additions, until all sugar is added. Keep speed on low so that the sugar doesn't end up all over the counter.
- Add vanilla, lemon juice and salt to butter/sugar and increase speed to medium, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape bowl.
- Add cream cheese gradually (about 1/4 block at a time), beating on medium, until all cream cheese has been added. Scrape bowl several times while mixing. Beat about 30 seconds more, just until everything is completely smooth.
Ice cake with cream cheese frosting (see post for tips and pictures) and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you want to pipe the icing decoratively you may want to chill it for 30 minutes to one hour first so that it's more firm.
See notes for storage tips. Enjoy!
Omissions and substitutions:
- I like to use golden raisins but you can substitute brown raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries instead or leave them out completely.
- I always use sliced, toasted almonds and love the flavor toasting provides. You could substitute pecans or walnuts or leave the nuts out completely.
- I use avocado oil in all of my baking recipes because I don't use any vegetable or canola oils in my cooking. You can substitute vegetable or canola oil if you prefer. I do not suggest olive oil or coconut oil, the flavor and texture will not be the same.
- Measurement for salt is using Diamond kosher salt. If using Mortons kosher salt use 1/2 tsp, if using table salt use 1/4 tsp.
- You can reduce the sugar by 1/4 cup with no difference in texture. It's possible you could reduce it more but I haven't tried and can't guarantee the outcome.
- Use crushed pineapple packed in it's own juice, NOT in heavy syrup.
- (Bonus recipe to make a sauce with the extra pineapple juice: If you reserve the juice simmer it in a saucepan (with or without a dried thai chili) over medium-low heat until it's reduced to about 1/4 cup. Store in the fridge for up to 2 days until you're ready to use it. When ready, soften a tablespoon of chopped shallots in a small saucepan with a pat of butter. Add the reduction, whisking to smooth, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over fish or chicken. Delicious!)
Please do not use carrots you buy already shredded. they tend to be dry and make for an unappetizing texture in the finished cake. Shred carrots using a hand grater or the shredding disk of your food processor. To simplify things I buy 1 pound bags of baby carrots and use 1/2 of a bag for a recipe.
- When I have time I wrap and chill the baked layers overnight to make frosting the cakes easier. You can also freeze unfrosted layers, wrapped tightly in plastic and then foil or a ziplock freezer bag with the air squeezed out, for up to 2 months. Frosted cake will be good for up to one week, covered, in the refrigerator.
- I've found that taking the butter and cream cheese out of the fridge about 30 minutes before starting the frosting is best. Of course, this depends on the temperature of your kitchen. If they are too cold, your frosting won't be smooth and if they're too soft, your frosting will be soupy. You want them slightly cool to the touch and just soft enough that you can easily break it into sections with your fingers.
- Adding the cream cheese last and then beating only until everything is completely smooth helps keep the frosting thick and more firm. Make sure you sift your powdered sugar. The measurements are for sifted sugar.
- You won't taste lemon in the final frosting, but adding lemon juice cuts some of the sweetness of the frosting.Only use fresh lemon juice in the frosting, the pre-squeezed juice in bottles or little plastic squeeze-lemons is not the same. If that's all you have it's better to leave it out.