Looking for an extremely moist and easy Carrot Cake recipe? This simple classic carrot cake is lightly spiced, has moist soft crumb with a slight crunch from the walnuts, and covered in tangy cream cheese frosting.
An easy classic carrot cake recipe is something everyone needs to have in their back pocket for those occasions you need something super simple to make but can still impress! This is a wonderful cake for Easter, Thanksgiving, and birthdays.
This recipe is developed based on my homemade carrot cake cupcakes recipe which is a readers’ favorite with so many great reviews and feedback. That recipe is also super easy to make. But like I said, if you need something to wow, this is the best carrot cake for you and I will walk you through all the steps on how to make a carrot cake.
If you’re looking for a small carrot cake recipe, try my mini carrot cake.
Table of Contents
Why this recipe works
- This is a 2-layer classic carrot cake recipe made entirely from scratch but it is much simpler than it looks.
- The cake batter can be made entirely by hand with a whisk and essentially in one mixing bowl.
- The freshly grated carrots in the batter helps make a super moist carrot cake that will stay moist for days!
- The tangy cream cheese frosting is made with just 4 ingredients and is not too sweet.
- This cake also freezes really well and is such a treat to have for another day when you don’t feel like baking.
Ingredients and substitutions
As always, you’ll find the complete list of ingredients and quantities in the recipe card at the end of this post. Below are some notes and substitution tips for each ingredient:
- Flour – all purpose flour is simply all you need. You can use gluten free all purpose flour mix for a gluten free cake. I’ve used King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill brands before, although not for this specific cake.
- Leavening agents – this recipe uses both baking soda and baking powder.
- Salt – I use kosher salt. You can substitute table salt, but use about half to two thirds as much.
- Spices – I use just a little bit of cinnamon and nutmeg in this recipe for a very lightly spiced cake. For stronger flavor, you can definitely up the amount of spices to your taste. You can also add ginger, cardamom, allspice and cloves to add your own twist.
- Buttermilk – use store bought buttermilk or make your own buttermilk by adding lemon juice, yogurt, or sour cream to regular milk. Or simply substitute buttermilk with all yogurt or sour cream.
- Oil – While butter adds flavor to cakes, oil makes them ultra moist. Since we want the flavor of the spices to shine, I recommend using a flavorless oil like vegetable or canola in this simple carrot cake.
- Sugar – I love using brown sugar in this cake to add flavor depth, richness and additional moisture. Either light or dark brown sugar will work. If you don’t have brown sugar, you can always substitute granulated sugar.
- Egg – 3 eggs are used to bind everything together because it is a lot of cake!
- Vanilla – I like to use pure vanilla extract to enhance the flavor of the cake and also to add flavor the cream cheese frosting. Be sure to stay away from artificial vanilla flavoring.
- Carrot – make sure to grate your carrots really fine so you don’t have big chunks of carrots in a bite of cake.
- Walnuts – I add chopped walnuts for a crunchy contrast to the soft cake. You can omit walnuts or use chopped pecans or almonds if you prefer.
- Cream cheese – I recommend using full fat cream cheese for a richer frosting, don’t use light cream cheese.
- Unsalted butter – Make sure not to use salted butter or you’ll end up with super salty frosting. Trust me!
- Powdered sugar – I only use 1 ½ cups powdered sugar in the cream cheese frosting because I like my frosting less sweet. But you can increase the amount of sugar to your taste if you like a bit sweeter frosting.
Tools you’ll need
Here are some tools you’ll need to make this recipe.
- A food processor or a box grater to grate the carrots.
- Two 8 or 9 inch round cake pans to bake the cake layers in.
- A stand mixer or an electric mixer to make the frosting unless you want a really good arm exercise.
How to make carrot cake
The following instructions, step by step photos and tips are here to help you visualize how to make the recipe. You can always skip straight to the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
Make the easy carrot cake batter
First, prepare the wet ingredients by beating together buttermilk, oil, egg, and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in brown sugar until it dissolves completely. Now mix in the shredded carrot until evenly distributed.
Next, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and fold until incorporated. Then, fold in the chopped toasted walnuts.
Tip: Toasting the walnuts is highly recommended to bring out their flavor. It only takes a few extra minutes on the stove top for this step. Once you do it, you’ll never go back to using untoasted nuts.
Divide batter evenly among 2 parchment-lined and buttered cake pans. Bake in the middle of your oven until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Tip: If your oven bakes unevenly, rotate and switch the cake pans about ⅔ of the way through baking.
Make the frosting
Beat together softened butter and cream cheese until creamy. Add vanilla extract and combine. Stir in powdered sugar, then slowly increase the mixer speed and beat until the frosting is fluffy.
Tip: If the cream cheese frosting seems a bit runny while you’re working with it, just pop it into the fridge and allow it to set up for 15-20 minutes.
If you want more tips on how to make the cream cheese frosting, check out my post for the cream cheese frosting recipe.
More baker’s tips
- Weigh the carrots if you can – I used 4 medium carrots in this recipe. They were about 1 lb total in weight before peeling and shredding. It helps to have a kitchen scale to get precise measurement for the carrots or you can just weigh them at the store.
- Pack it loosely – If you don’t have a kitchen scale to weigh the carrots, just make sure you pack the shredded carrots loosely in the measuring cup. If you over-pack the carrots, you can end up adding too much moisture to your cake batter.
- Freshly grated carrots are best – I don’t recommend using preshredded carrots because they always seem dry.
- A kitchen scale is helpful but if you don’t have a scale to measure the cake batter, either eyeball the amount or use an ice cream scoop and count as you go to make sure you’re adding the same amount of batter to each pan.
- For thinner cake layers – bake the cake batter in 3 cake pans instead of 2 and make an even more impressive 3-layer carrot cake!
I have never used applesauce as a replacement for oil so I can’t recommend it based on personal experience. However, I have read that applesauce is an excellent oil substitute that you can replace 1 to 1.
This is a simple carrot cake recipe without pineapple in it. But if you want to add pineapple, I would remove the same amount of carrot because pineapple will also add moisture to the cake batter.
Yes, this cake should fit in a 9”x13” cake pan. However, just make sure that the batter doesn’t fill more than ⅔ of the way up the side of the cake pan, in case it spills over during baking. The bake time will likely be longer, but check the doneness using a toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle of the cake.
Yes, you can but it will make a lot. I recommend using my carrot cupcakes recipe instead for a batch of 12-15 cupcakes.
Room temperature: You can leave the cake out on the countertop for a few hours while serving it.
Refrigerator: Leftover cake or cake made ahead of time should be stored in the refrigerator. It will last up to a week.
Freezer: This easy carrot cake freezes wonderfully and will last up to 3 months. Freezing the cake whole or in individual slices will both work. Before wrapping the cake for the freezer, refrigerate or flash freeze it so the frosting hardens, then wrap in plastic as well as foil, and store in a freezer bag. Thaw frozen carrot cake in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a couple of hours up to half a day (for whole cake) before serving.
More layered cake recipes
📖 Recipe card
Easy Carrot Cake
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (325 g)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (more to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (more to taste)
- 1 cup buttermilk (246 g)
- 1 cup vegetable oil (210 g)
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cup light brown sugar (lightly packed, 288 g)
- 2 ½ cup shredded carrot (340 g)
- ½ cup chopped walnuts (60 g)
- More walnuts for topping if desired
- Melted butter for cake pans
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 16 oz cream cheese (room temperature, 454 g)
- 8 oz unsalted butter (room temperature, 227 g)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cup powdered sugar (150 g, add more to your taste)
- Make the cake batter: Start by toasting the walnuts in a frying pan over medium heat for 3 – 5 minutes until fragrant. Let it cool and chop into smaller pieces.
- Scrub the carrots clean, trim the end and peel the skin off. Cut them into smaller pieces and shred them in a food processor or shred them with a box grater. This should yield 2 ½ cups.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Brush melted butter on two 8” or 9” round cake pans. Line the bottom of the cake pan with a piece of round parchment paper and brush the parchment paper with butter as well. Set aside.
- Add buttermilk, oil, egg and vanilla extract to a large mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add brown sugar and mix until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add shredded carrot and mix until evenly distributed.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg into a medium mixing bowl. Add the salt and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and fold until incorporated. Fold in the chopped walnuts.
- Divide batter evenly between two cake pans (about 800 g of batter per pan). Bake for 35-37 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached.
- Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 10 – 15 minutes. When you can touch the cake pans, use a butter knife to loosen the sides, flip the pan over to remove the cake from the pan. Peel off the parchment paper, and allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before adding frosting.
- Make the cream cheese frosting: In a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer bowl, cream butter and cream cheese together until thoroughly mixed and creamy.
- Add vanilla extract and beat to combine.
- Add powdered sugar and stir until incorporated, gradually increase the mixer speed and beat until fluffy.
- Assemble the cake: Place 1 cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Put a few pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake to cover the cake stand or plate. This is to keep the frosting from smearing everywhere.
- Add about 1 cup of frosting on top of the first layer and even it out with an offset spatula. Add the second layer of cake on top.
- Frost the side and top of the cake with the rest of the frosting. Add chopped walnuts on top if desired. Carefully pull out the pieces of parchment paper underneath the cake.
- Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the frosting to set or until ready to serve.
- Vegetable oil, canola oil or olive oil will work in this recipe.
- If you don’t have buttermilk, use regular milk, sour cream, yogurt or make homemade buttermilk by mixing regular milk with lemon juice or sour cream/yogurt.
- 4 medium carrots, about 1 lb total in weight, will yield enough shredded carrots for this recipe.
- This carrot cake will yield 12 very generous portions but can easily serve 16.
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