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Classic Carrot Cake

Cake server holding up a slice of 3-layered carrot cake.

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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.

Close up of a slice of 3-layered carrot cake on a white plate.

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.

Carrot cake covered in coconut and decorated with icing carrots with one slice removed.

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. 

Dry ingredients for carrot cake whisked together in a bowl.

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.

Wet ingredients for carrot cake mixed in a white mixing bowl.

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.

Carrots, nuts, coconut, and raisins mixed in a white mixing bowl.

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.

Carrot cake batter in 3 cake pans, ready to go in the oven.

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!

Set of four photos showing a layered carrot cake being assembled and covered in cream cheese frosting.

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.

Assembled carrot cake, coated with toasted coconut and decorated with icing carrots on the top.

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.

Cake server pulling a slice of carrot cake out of the whole 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.

Slice of carrot cake decorated with coconut and an icing carrot next to a fork on a white plate.

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:

Cake server holding up a slice of 3-layered carrot cake.

Classic Carrot Cake

Yield: 1 3-layered 9-inch cake
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Cooling and Chilling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

This three-layered classic carrot cake is covered with a tangy cream cheese frosting for the perfect dessert!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (246 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 cups (305 grams) grated carrots (see notes)
  • 1 cup (108 grams) coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 cup (69 grams) shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
  • ½ cup (80 grams) moist, plump dark or golden raisins or dried cranberries
  • 2 cups (394 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (236 ml) canola oil
  • 4 large eggs

For the Frosting

  • 1 batch cream cheese frosting
  • 1/2 cup (34 grams) shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened (optional)

For finishing

  • Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Instructions

    For the Cake

    1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter three 9x2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Set aside.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

    For the Frosting

    1. 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

    1. 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. 
    2. 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. 
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Chill the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

    Notes

    3 cups of carrots comes out to about 8-9 carrots, depending on size. You can grate them using the shredding attachment on your food processor or using a box grater.

    I personally prefer to use unsweetened coconut in the cake batter and sweetened coconut in the cake filling.

    This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. 

    Store the cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

    To freeze the cake: Freeze uncovered. When the cake and frosting is firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

    Cake barely tweaked from Dorie Greenspan

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