The BEST Carrot Cake

This might be a good time to mention that we are dessert snobs. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Even though ‘snob’ is commonly used as a derogatory term, in this case, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We don’t rub our views in others’ faces or anything, but know what we like! We also know how to make a lot of the things that we like. Let’s take this carrot cake, for example. It truly is the best carrot cake we’ve ever tasted. It is the definition of perfection, so we are incredibly exited to share this recipe with you and spread the carrot cake love! We must warn you, however, that after you taste this baby, restaurant or bakery carrot cake will never taste the same again.

carrot cake 0018 IMG_1787At least, that is what happened to us. From time to time, we still sample other carrot cakes, but just about every one is either too dry, too soggy, too much pumpkin pie flavoring, bad tasting icing, etc. Yikes!

So, this particular recipe is the result of many manipulations and modifications to various recipes. We are pretty sure that we have created the perfect balance of flavors, with a little crunch from the pecans, all topped off with a creamy icing. What better way to get your vitamin A and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time but with a hearty slice of carrot cake!

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Carrot cake
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups grated carrots (about 1 lb)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (abut 4 oz)

Preheat your oven to 350 F (I typically use 325 F convection). Grease and flour three 9″ round pans with a circle parchment paper bottom. (See our Boston cream pie post for photos.)

Grate 1 pound of carrots, which will give you about 3 cups of shredded carrots.  I like to use the food processor to make the grating process fast and easy. The other ingredient requiring minor prep work is pecans. I use a knife to coarsely chop the pecans and create big, hearty chunks. If the pieces are too small, you will loose that wonderful, nutty crunch in the final cake.

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In a mixer, combine the sugars, oil, applesauce, and eggs.  Beat for a few minutes until creamy.  Add the next 6 ingredients,  and mix until fully incorporated, scrapping down the sides of the bowl.  Finally, add the carrots and pecans. Depending on your mixer, you can continue to beat for about 30 seconds or switch to mixing these ingredients in by hand.

Pour the batter into the 3 prepared pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the tops of the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 to 15 minutes.  After the initial cooling, I find it helpful to run a knife around the perimeter of the pan first, flip the cake onto your hand, and then place it on a cooling rack.  Don’t forget to remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cakes.  Let the cakes cool for 1 or 2 hours before assembling the final cake.  The lines you see in the photos on top of the cakes are due to indentations from the cooling racks. I like to cool the cakes upside down to help flatten the tops a little. I think this helps the layers to stack better.carrot cake 0007


  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature
  • 16 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • Red, yellow, and green food coloring (for carrot decorations)

Wait to make your icing until the cakes have cooled for a couple of hours when you are ready to assemble the cake. First, cream the room temperature butter, cream cheese and vanilla for a minute or two. Then, add the powdered sugar and beat at a high speed for 3 to 5 minutes until the icing is fluffy.

Now, we are ready to assemble! Place the first cake layer on your serving dish. Sometimes, I like to sprinkle a little bit of granulated sugar on the serving plate before placing the first cake down so it doesn’t stick.  Then, place about 1/4 of the icing on top of the first layer cake. Smooth the icing around evenly to cover the cake, trying to keep the surface as flat as possible.  Add the second layer cake and another 1/4 of the icing, spreading it around just like the first time. Finally, add the third layer cake and use the remainder of your icing (minus a few Tablespoons of icing if you want to draw carrots!) to cover the top and sides of the cake.

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Adding a few icing “carrots” on top of the cake makes it more fun! Every time we serve this cake to kids, they each want their own carrot!  Don’t make them too big, or the kids will want a HUGE piece of cake – a mistake I made only once:-)

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Here’s how we make the carrots. Place about 2 Tablespoons of reserved icing in a small bowl. Add 3 drops of red food coloring and 8 drops of yellow to produce the orange. Likewise in another bowl, reserve about 1 Tablespoon of icing and add 4 – 6 drops of green food coloring.  You can use a piping bag to decorate the carrots on the cake, but with such small amounts (and to make cleanup really easy),  I prefer to use zip-lock bags.  Transfer the icing into two small zip-lock snack size bags and cut off one corner to make a 1/8″ hole. Squeeze the orange icing into the carrot shapes, wiggling back and forth to give a little carrot texture. Then, top your carrots with a couple little green leaves! Chill the cake for at least an hour or two before serving.

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