This classic carrot cake recipe is sure to be a crowd pleaser! Three layers of perfectly spiced carrot cake are paired with cream cheese frosting for a dessert that is as delicious as it is beautiful.
I know that a lot of people make carrot cake for Easter, but for me, it’s a year-round kind of dessert.
In fact, I often ask for my husband to make J. Alexander’s carrot cake for my birthday cake! That’s how much I love carrot cake.
I mean, can you really beat a moist, flavorful cake topped with cream cheese frosting? There really isn’t a wrong season for it.
Whether you’re planning Easter dinner, a springtime brunch, or just want to enjoy cake on a random Thursday afternoon, this classic carrot cake recipe is one that you’ll want to come back to again and again.
THE BEST LAYERED CARROT CAKE
There are so many carrot cake variations out there, from sheet cakes to cupcakes to bundt cakes and more.
But sometimes you just want a slice of classic carrot cake: A layered cake covered with tangy cream cheese frosting.
That’s when I turn to this recipe. The cake itself has just the right amount of spice, tons of carrots, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, and plump raisins. Top it with cream cheese frosting (with an optional coconut filling) and it’s perfection.
You’ll notice that this version doesn’t have any pineapple in it. While I personally love pineapple in carrot cake, I know not everyone enjoys pineapple and some folks are allergic to it – so if you’re that person, this is the recipe for you!
You can also omit the nuts and/or the coconut if you need to due to allergies as well.
But please don’t skip the raisins! I know some people have mixed feelings about raisins, but they really are so good in this cake and add so much flavor and texture.
HOW TO MAKE THIS CLASSIC CARROT CAKE
Layered cakes like this one always take a smidge more time to make simply because you have to assemble them, but that doesn’t mean that they are hard to make!
Why use oil instead of butter?
Carrot cakes almost always call for vegetable oil (or another neutral-tasting oil) instead of butter. But why?
Because oil is liquid at room temperature, it helps keep the cake moist. It also contributes to that slightly denser texture that we enjoy in carrot cake because you don’t get any of the aeration that comes from creaming butter and sugar together.
Cakes made with butter tend to dry out faster, too, but the oil will help your carrot cake stay moist for longer.
If you don’t like to use vegetable oil, avocado oil is a good neutral-tasting substitute.
Making the cake
Even though most cakes bake at 350°F, this cake bakes for a bit longer at 325°F. You’ll need 3 9-inch cake pans – make sure to butter and flour all of them.
Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In another bowl, mix together the grated carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and the raisins. As a note, I prefer to use unsweetened coconut in the cake batter, but you can use sweetened if you like.
Using a mixer, beat together the oil and the sugar, then add the eggs one by one. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour, mixing until just combined. Then fold in the carrot mixture.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for about 40-50 minutes; I recommend rotating the pans just past the halfway point.
Once the cakes are baked, let them cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Assembling the cake
I like to pair this carrot cake with my go-to cream cheese frosting. If you like coconut, divide the frosting in half and stir some coconut into one half of the frosting to use as the cake filling. (I like sweetened coconut for this.)
To assemble the cake, place one of the cake layers on a cake plate or a cardboard cake round.
TIP: To keep the cake plate clean while frosting, tuck pieces of parchment paper under the edges of the cake to cover the plate. Once you’re done frosting the cake, remove the parchment and your cake plate will be frosting-free!
Spread half of the coconut-filled frosting on top of the layer (or use about ¼ of the plain frosting if you want to forego the coconut). Top with another layer of cake and repeat with the rest of the filling or another ¼ of the plain frosting.
Add the last layer of cake on top. Cover the tops and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.
From there, you can decorate the tops and/or sides of the cake with chopped nuts or toasted coconut if you’d like.
STORAGE AND FREEZING
There are several ways you can store both the components of the cake and the fully assembled cake.
Storing carrot cake layers and frosting
Once the cake layers are fully cooled, you can wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store them at room temperature overnight before frosting.
You can also wrap them in plastic and then a layer of foil and freeze them for up to 2 months.
The cream cheese frosting can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container. Thaw it in the fridge for 24 hours, let it come to room temperature after thawing, and whip it with your mixer to revive the consistency before frosting the cake.
Storing the assembled cake
Once the cake is assembled, you can store it, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I recommend bringing it to room temperature before serving.
You can also place the entire cake, uncovered, in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Once the cake and the frosting are both firm, wrap the cake well and freeze it for up to 2 months.
Let the cake thaw, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight.
MORE SPRINGTIME DESSERTS
Looking for more springtime desserts to add to your menu alongside this classic carrot cake? I’ve got you covered with these delicious options:
Classic Carrot Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 cups grated carrots see notes
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
- 1 cup shredded coconut sweetened or unsweetened
- ½ cup moist, plump dark or golden raisins or dried cranberries
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 4 large eggs
For the Frosting
- 1 batch cream cheese frosting
- ½ cup shredded coconut sweetened or unsweetened (optional)
- Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut optional
For the Cake
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter three 9×2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Set aside.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins. Set aside.
- Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, beating after each addition until smooth. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until just combined. Fold in the carrot mixture. Divide the batter evenly among the baking pans.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back just past the midway point, until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean. Transfer the pans to cooling racks and cool for about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes. Remove the cakes from the pans; place back on the cooling racks, right sides up, and cool completely.
- The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.
For the Frosting
- Divide the cream cheese frosting in half. Stir ½ cup of coconut into one half of the frosting for filling the cake. (Omit this step if you do not want coconut in the filling.)
To Assemble the Cake
- Place one layer of the cake right-side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate. Tuck strips of parchment or wax paper under the edges of the cake to protect the plate while frosting.
- If using the coconut filling, top the layer with half of the coconut frosting (or generously cover with about ¼ of the plain frosting). Use an offset spatula to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer.
- Place a second layer of cake upside down on top of the first layer. Top with the remaining coconut frosting or another portion of plain frosting, again spreading to the edges of the layer.
- Place the final layer right-side up on top of the first two layers. Use the rest of the frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. If desired, decorate with toasted nuts or toasted coconut.
- Chill the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.
Sunday 19th of March 2023
I LOVE carrot cake too and this is a fabulous recipe. My son is gluten and lactose intolerant. What adjustment would you recommend if I substitute gluten free flour? And what icing can I substitute for cream cheese? I intend to make it for Easter, regardless, so any help would be appreciated.Thanks
Monday 20th of March 2023
Hi Patricia – I haven't made this recipe with those substitutes, so I'm not sure of the right method or of the results. Perhaps another commenter will have an idea for you. If you happen to give it a try, I'd love to know how it turns out for you. Happy baking! Jamie
Thursday 24th of March 2022
Normally I don't write comments but I just have to say that I made this for a birthday present and the WOW's ! were resounding. Even family members who said they "hate" carrot cake, thought this was amazing.
I will say there is not enough frosting to do the sides as it says in the instructions, but the picture just shows frosting oozing from the layers, which is very attractive.
Thursday 24th of March 2022
I am so glad you enjoyed the cake! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and share your feedback. Happy baking! -Jamie
Sunday 16th of June 2019
This recipe is perfect. No guesswork. Comes out great every time! This is the carrot cake of all carrot cakes!
Monday 17th of June 2019
So happy to hear you enjoy the cake! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your feedback! -Jamie
Monday 10th of November 2014
Is there a way we can alter this recipe for cupcakes? I am making cupcakes for a wedding and carrot cake is the brides favorite! This recipe looks so amazing and easy i thought i would give it a try! Thank you!
Monday 10th of November 2014
Taylor- You can use the same recipe for cupcakes but you will need to adjust the cooking time.
Thursday 21st of March 2013
I have been on the search for a carrot cake to make for Easter and this one seems to have caught my attention! Do you think i could make these into cupcakes?? Do you think i would need to alter the amount i make??
Thursday 11th of April 2013
Paige- I apologize I didn't get back to you before Easter. I typically find that most cake recipes can be easily be transferred into cupcakes by using the same recipe. Stop back and let us know how they turned out - have a great day! -Jamie