King Arthur’s Carrot Cake: A classic cake, perfected

No list of the most beloved classic cakes would be complete without carrot cake. I consider it one of the unsung heroes of the dessert world; it gets overlooked in favor of more obvious choices. And I can understand that; after all, carrot cake isn’t sexy like a decadent chocolate layer cake or ethereal like an angel food cake. It has a lot to work against: it has vegetables right up front and center in the name!

But one bite and you remember why it’s a perennial favorite and a fixture at many bakeries. A good carrot cake is moist and just teetering on the right side of dense. The cake itself isn’t too sweet, but the swath of cream cheese frosting makes it decidedly a treat.

Carrot cake via @kingarthurflour

The necessary ingredients for carrot cake can be a contentious topic among bakers. Some swear by adding pineapple and coconut; others prefer dried fruit and nuts. (If you prefer the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to carrot cake, we have a recipe for you.)

We do know what has to be included: warm, fragrant spices (cinnamon and cloves and ginger) and lots of carrots.

We often sell a carrot cake in our bakery in Norwich, Vermont (right in the same building as our baking school and retail store; come visit us!). It’s wildly popular — a favorite amongst kids and adults alike.

Here's the only recipe you need to make the ultimate classic carrot cake, period. Click To Tweet

Our carrot cake is a straightforward rendition of the classic but perfected. It has the ideal balance of sugar and spice, just enough nuts to add flavor and texture without weighing down the layers, and a cream cheese frosting with a little secret ingredient to add zip.

Although we do hope you’ll travel to Vermont and stop in sometime to visit us and eat some cake, we’ve got the recipe to recreate it at home.

Carrot cake via @kingarthurflour

Here are a few key notes about our recipe to make it the best possible homemade version:

Toast your nuts

Our recipe doesn’t specify toasting the nuts, but you should give this a try. Most recipes that call for nuts will benefit from this extra step.

Toasting the nuts lightly brings out more of their natural flavor and makes them even crunchier and crispier, especially as they bake.

Use the extract

The cake is generously covered in a luscious cream cheese frosting. You’ll notice that our frosting recipe calls for either vanilla extract or Fiori di Sicilia.

You can certainly use vanilla extract, but we urge you to try it with Fiori. This unusual citrus- and vanilla-flavored extract tastes reminiscent of a Creamsicle; it adds wonderfully bright and creamy notes to frostings. The citrus is a particularly great partner for cream cheese. The flavor is subtle with such a small amount, but it’ll make your frosting more flavorful and nuanced. People will be clamoring to know what makes your cream cheese frosting so much better than most!

Carrot cake via @kingarthurflour

Check your spices

Spices don’t last forever. They get less potent over time, and it’s a good idea to check them periodically to make sure they’re at their best. A good rule of thumb is to keep dry spices for six months. If you don’t remember when you got yours, sniff them! Does the cinnamon smell strongly of cinnamon? If not, toss it and restock.

This is always a good idea for baking. But using good spices is especially important in carrot cake. Spices give this cake its characteristic flavor. They’re competing with carrots, cream cheese, and nuts, so make sure the spices can really shine.

Take the easy route

You can make this cake in two ways: as a sheet cake or as a layer cake. If you aren’t comfortable (or don’t have the time or inclination) to frost a layer cake, you don’t have to!

Instead, bake the cake in a 9″ x 13″ pan. Simply spread the frosting over the top of the cooled cake and serve it straight from the pan.

If you want to make a layer cake, try freezing the cooled cake layers for 30 minutes before frosting. They’ll be easier to frost and less likely to shed crumbs.

Make smart swaps

You can easily make this cake gluten-free by using 2 cups of our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour.

Or add some whole grains! Use 2 cups of White Whole Wheat Flour instead of all-purpose. The nutty, mild taste of white whole wheat brings out all those flavors of toasty walnuts and warm spices.

Carrot cake via @kingarthurflour

If you bake our Carrot Cake, tell us how it goes in the comments below!

About

Posie grew up on a farm in Maryland and spent her summers in Vermont. As an editor for King Arthur and Sift magazine, she feels lucky to bake every day and connect through writing. She loves homemade bread warm from the oven, raw milk cream, ...

comments

  1. Stephanie Hayes

    I’ve received marriage proposals for both your kitchen sink carrot cake recipe and the sourdough version. Although, I’m not sure if my friends wanted to marry me or the cake! The great thing about carrot cake is that it has enough healthy ingredients to justify having it for breakfast. And I’m sure it would be perfectly at home at a wedding reception too.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Vivi, sultanas are a type of raisin. Feel free to use any kind of raisin (if you like them) in this delicious cake! PJH@KAF

  2. Diane Klein

    I use Black Walnuts for the nuts…the best. And I use a caramel icing. This is the only way I eat it now. I got the recipe from my Mom a long time ago, she got it from a lady in Mexico when my Dad was stationed there.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia McElhatten

    Last time my daughter made a carrot cake for my birthday, she added pineapple to the cream cheese frosting and it was remarkable!!! I will do it that way forever now!!! Pineapple in the cake and in the frosting. Made the frosting a little less sweet and more like a whipped cream cheese frosting.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cynthia, we love a good carrot cake with pineapple in it too! Our Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake recipe has ALL the yummy ingredients in it. (Except the kitchen sink, of course!) It’s definitely a different style of carrot cake, but still a fantastic one. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    2. Heather Lampman

      I had, but lost, a carrot cake recipe that had drained diced pineapple in the cake, and orange zest in the cream cheese frosting. I could try to recreate it, but am wary of the moisture the pineapple would add to the cake. I really doubt that King Arthur’s recipe with dried pineapple would compare. Does anyone have a similar recipe?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Heather, if you read our Kitchen Sink Carrot Cake recipe all the way through to the tips at the bottom, you’ll see that crushed drained pineapple works equally well as a substitute. It’s really quite delicious! Kat@KAF

  4. Holly

    I made this recipe Sunday, but it’s not the same as the one in the book. That one I’ve made several times and write down the place and occasion in the book.

    Reply
  5. Paula

    I love this recipe. I like to use half white whole wheat and half AP. I made it this past weekend using browned butter instead of oil and it worked great.

    Reply
  6. Diane

    My husband and I had dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant. They had Carrot Cake and it’s one of our favorites. This cake was very dark,dense,yet moist. Loaded with carrots,pineapple,coconut,pecans, raisins,and of course spices.Icing wasn’t a traditional cream cheese, similar, yet no tangy flavor.
    What makes some cakes very dark,others a light color? Is it possible to change color byusing dark brown sugar,in place of regular white sugar?
    Thank you,

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Diane, that’s an excellent question! Using dark brown sugar would help get a slightly darker color, as would switching to whole wheat flour. We’ve heard some folks add around a tablespoon of cocoa powder to their carrot cake to get a darker color as well; with the strong flavors already in the cake itself, the flavor isn’t noticeably different, but the color definitely is. Combining all three of these should get you a beautifully dark carrot cake, if that’s your goal. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  7. Francine Roza

    Omg! I have been making your recipe for Carrot cake for years and it, by far, is the best! I am a died in the wool chocoholic but friends and family ask for this as their “gifts” for birthdays and special occasions. I also have been using Fiori de Sicilia for years in the frosting. Takes me back to my Sicilian family roots!

    Reply
  8. Margaret

    What do you think is the best frosting for carrot cake OTHER THAN cream cheese? A basic vanilla buttercream?

    Reply
    1. Posie Brien, post author

      A basic vanilla buttercream would be lovely! I’d suggest adding a little spice to it, maybe some cardamom and nutmeg, or a little cinnamon and ginger? That would liven it up, and complement the flavors of the cake. We also have a lemon buttercream frosting recipe online which would be really nice to have citrus with carrot cake! It’s a subtle lemon flavor. We also have a pineapple frosting recipe online, which sounds a little crazy I know, but if you like pineapple *in* your carrot cake, it could be interesting! Happy baking! Posie

  9. Bridgid

    Your carrot cake recipe is my go to. But I add crushed pineapple, nuts, raisins and sultanas. I put coconut through the food processor first. It is the best ever! I have made it with white whole wheat and separately with unbleached white flour. Both are stupendous!

    Reply

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