Classic Carrot Cake

With its moist crumb and creamy frosting, Classic Carrot Cake is a beloved dessert that’s perfect for celebrating the arrival of spring.

Classic Carrot Cake

Skies are bluer, grass is greener, and I think we all can let out a collective sigh that winter is in the rear-view. In fact, there’s been a real spring-fling happening in my kitchen already! This Classic Carrot Cake has been on the agenda for a while, and I’m so happy to finally share it with you. It’s absolutely loaded with sweet grated carrots and chopped walnuts. It also has a little crushed pineapple in the batter. Which, along with the grated carrots, makes for a truly moist crumb. It’s an anytime kind of cake, but especially good for spring occasions.

And what about those cute candy carrots on top!? If ever there was a time to break out the marzipan, it is now just in time for Easter (one of the more important candy holidays, second only to Halloween). The carrots are fun to make and not difficult at all! See the video a little further down, just before the recipe, for the carrot-making technique in action.

Classic Carrot Cake

The Origins of Carrot Cake

So, how did we get here, putting carrots into cake? I think we can all agree that the natural sweetness of carrots has an affinity for confections. Putting them into cake just makes sense. Which is probably why it has been a practice since the middle ages when carrots were used in place of expensive sugar. The more modern version of carrot cake gained popularity during World War II, when rationing made sugar scarce. Although, some wartime carrot cakes were more scone-like than the moist tender cakes we know and love today. No doubt the cake reached its full potential (and deliciousness!) in more plentiful times.

Make the Carrot Cake batter

Begin by adding vegetable oil (I like sunflower oil) to the bowl of an electric mixer. This cake is oil-based, which helps it retain its moist crumb. Add granulated sugar, salt, eggs, ground cinnamon and ground ginger, baking powder and baking soda. Beat it all together (with a paddle attachment, if you have one) until the mixture is smooth. Then, add in all-purpose flour and mix until well blended.

Now, for the carrots! Grate carrots finely to feather-like shreds on a box grater. Or, you can use the grater attachment on your food processor to make speedy work of it. This cake requires 3 cups of grated carrots, or about 8 whole medium carrots (326g, if you’d like to weigh them). At this stage, also add in 1 cup of toasted chopped walnuts (or pecans), and 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple. Mix them in on low speed until dispersed throughout the batter.

Divide the batter between three round 8″ pans. Or you could use two 9″ round cake pans if you prefer. Bake the cakes for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick tester inserted near the center comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool for 7-10 minutes in the pans.

Turn the cakes out on wire racks to cool completely. This is important! Because cream cheese frosting is extremely meltable. Even if the cake is just barely warm, it will loosen the consistency of the frosting.

Make the Cream Cheese Frosting

You may recognize the cream cheese frosting from my Italian Cream Cake recipe. It’s my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe, because it tastes delicious and holds its shape for spreading and piping. Beat together 16 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 cup of butter and 8 cups confectioners’ sugar. Add a splash of vanilla extract and beat until smooth – that’s it!

Frost the Cake

Once the cake layers have cooled completely, it’s time to frost! Place one layer on a cake board or serving plate and spread a generous amount of cream cheese frosting on top. Carefully place the second layer on top and add more frosting; spread evenly. Frost the top and sides of the cake until fully covered with a thin crumb coat of frosting. Chill 20 minutes, and then cover the cake with a second coat of frosting.

Make the Marzipan Carrots

For an extra-special touch, make some homemade marzipan carrots. They’re not only cute, but they’re tasty, too! You’ll need 8 oz. of ready-made marzipan, which can be found at most grocery stores in the baking aisle. Or, if you can’t find marzipan, almond paste will work (such as Solo brand).

With gloved hands, tint the marzipan with orange gel food color and knead together to combine. Divide the marzipan into 8 equal balls, 1 oz. each. Next, roll each ball into a carrot shape under your palm. See the video just before the recipe card for the technique. Use the back of a butter knife to lightly press lines onto the surface of the marzipan carrot. Lastly, poke a hole in the blunt end of the carrot and insert a stem of fresh flat-leaf parsley for the carrot tops.

If you’re making this cake in advance, wait to garnish the marzipan carrots with the parsley until just before serving. The parsley looks best fresh because it does wilt a little over time (curly parsley would also work, and may stay fresher longer). Affix each carrot on top of the cake with a little leftover cream cheese frosting.

Classic Carrot Cake

How to Store the Carrot Cake

To keep your carrot cake fresh and moist, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Or well-covered with plastic wrap. Make sure to let it come to room temperature before serving for the best taste and texture.

Freezing Instructions

This Classic Carrot Cake can also be frozen for longer storage (without the marzipan carrots). Just wrap the frosted chilled cake in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil before placing it in the freezer. It will keep for 3 months. To thaw, transfer the wrapped frozen cake to the refrigerator and let thaw overnight. Slow is the way to go here. Because the cream cheese frosting can become a little runny if it thaws too fast at room temperature. Also, if you’re planning to freeze the cake – do not substitute nonfat or low fat cream cheeses (also Neufchatel cheese) for the frosting. The high fat content in regular cream cheese is what helps it keep well in the freezer.

Classic Carrot Cake

If you’re looking for the quintessential Classic Carrot Cake recipe with cream cheese frosting – this may be your winner. It’s timeless, and always a crowd-pleaser. The supremely moist crumb holds a wealth of carrots, nuts, and crushed pineapple. However, if you’d like to mix things up, you can find instructions for adding raisins and shredded coconut in the recipe notes. Happy Spring!

Related recipe: Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Classic Carrot Cake

Heather Baird
This traditional carrot cake is a timeless favorite with a moist crumb and flavor bursting with the natural sweetness of grated carrots. Topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting, a slice is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea.
This cake requires 3 cups of grated carrots, or about 8 whole medium carrots (326g, if you’d like to weigh them). 
I’ve used English walnuts in this recipe, but pecans could also be used. The crushed pineapple can be replaced with an equal amount of raisins, if you prefer. See recipe notes for other variations and substitutions.
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Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 12

Equipment

  • 8-inch cake pans (3)
  • toothpick

Ingredients
 
 

Carrot cake layers

  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil or sunflower oil
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 cup drained crushed pineapple

Cream cheese frosting

  • 16 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts toasted

Marzipan carrot decors

  • 8 oz. prepared marzipan
  • Orange gel food color
  • 8 sprigs flat leaf parsley with long stems

Instructions
 

Carrot cake layers

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease three 9” round cake pans
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the oil, sugar, salt, eggs, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix well to combine. Add the flour and mix until just combined.
  • Add in the grated carrot, nuts, and crushed pineapple. Mix until just blended.
  • Divide the batter between the three pans. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick tester inserted near their centers comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs attached. Allow the cakes to cool 7-10 minutes in the pans, and then turn out to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cream cheese frosting

  • Cream together the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the powdered sugar in two additions. Beat until smooth.
  • Add vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again until combined. Cover frosting with a damp towel to keep it from drying out while you work.
  • Place a cake layer on a serving plate or cake stand. Top with a generous layer of frosting; stack another layer and frost. Top with the third cake layer. Apply a thin crumb coat of frosting to the outside of the cake. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Cover the cake with the remaining frosting. Smooth top and sides using a cake smoother or bench scraper. Immediately press the chopped walnuts onto the bottom edge of the cake. Reserve any small amount of leftover frosting for attaching marzipan carrots to the top of the cake.

Marzipan carrots

  • Place the marzipan in a bowl and add in 1/4 teaspoon of orange gel food color. Knead with gloved hands until the marzipan is consistently orange. If the color is not rich enough, knead in a little more color. The marzipan should not be sticky because of the naturally present almond oil in the dough, but if you find the mixture sticky, knead in a little powdered sugar.
  • Roll the orange marzipan into 8 equal walnut-sized balls (1 oz. each). Place a ball on a flat work surface, from the center of the ball, roll it under your palm until one side becomes cone-shaped/pointed. Roll into a carrot shape to 4” length. Use the back of a butter knife to make lines in the marzipan carrot (see video for method). Repeat with remaining marzipan balls.
  • Use a toothpick to make a small deep hole in the blunt end of each marzipan carrot. Insert a sprig of parsley into each hole for the carrot greens.
  • Use leftover frosting, to attach the carrots to the top of the cake. Place carrots around the top edge of the cake in a radiating fashion with the pointed ends of the carrots meeting in the center of the cake.

Notes

What to expect: This cake is supremely moist with the classic carrot cake texture, lightly spiced flavor, and sweetness from grated carrots. The cream cheese frosting is a wonderful creamy contrast to the textured interior. 
  • Grate Fresh Carrots: For the best flavor and moisture, use freshly grated carrots rather than pre-packaged ones. This ensures that the carrots are at their peak freshness and will impart the best flavor to the cake.
  • Inclusions and Substitutions: In place of the walnuts and crushed pineapple, which equals 1 1/2 cups combined, you may add in any combination of add-ins you like, such as raisins, coconut, and nuts. Just keep all the add-ins to 1 1/2 cups total.
  • Drain Excess Liquid from Pineapple: If using canned crushed pineapple, drain it first, then measure to 1/2 cup before adding it to the batter. Too much liquid can make the cake soggy.
  • Toast the Walnuts: Toasting the walnuts before adding them to the batter enhances their nutty flavor and adds a delightful crunch to the cake. Simply spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and bake at 350°F in a preheated oven until fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Chill the Cake Before Frosting: For easier assembly and frosting, chill the cake layers in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before adding the cream cheese frosting. This helps firm up the cake and prevents the frosting from melting.
  • Add the Parsley to the Marzipan Carrots Last: The marzipan carrots can be sculpted and pierced with their toothpick holes then assembled on top of the cake in advance. But hold off inserting the parsley stems for the carrot greens until just before serving the cake. The parsley will wilt slightly over the course of about 2 hours.
See blog post for freezing and thawing instructions.
The cake layers for this recipe were adapted from King Arthur’s Carrot Cake
Keyword carrot cake, classic carrot cake, cream cheese frosting, crushed pineapple, english walnuts, grated carrots, homemade carrot cake, marzipan carrots, spring dessert, traditional dessert
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
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Blair Conrad
Blair Conrad
2 months ago

Ma’am, there’s no actual carrots in your ingredients list.

Annie
Annie
2 months ago

What could you use besides pineapple?

Michelle
Michelle
2 months ago

Would either fondant or gumpaste (or a combination of both) work as well for the carrots on top of the cake?

Michelle
Michelle
1 month ago
Reply to  Heather Baird

I remember that cake. It’s awesome! I still plan on making it. Thanks for the reminder.

Cindi
Cindi
1 month ago

I love carrot cake but can’t make it like this because we have severe allergies to nuts AND pineapple in my family. How do I make this delicious cake without them????