The intense carrot flavor in my carrot cake comes from a caramelized carrot puree and finely shredded carrots. It is lightly spiced with cinnamon and allspice and has a moist, spongy, soft texture from both butter and oil. These ingredients yield a cake with a beautiful natural orange color and earthy, sweet carrot flavor.
The recipe below makes a large 8-inch round cake with three layers of naturally orange carrot-forward cake. The cake above is frosted with my Buttercream Cheese Frosting, a super stable version of cream cheese frosting I’ve invented for layer cakes.
I will include the Buttercream Cheese frosting in the recipe card below, but if it’s your first time making it, I highly recommend reading my dedicated post on how my Buttercream Cheese frosting comes together.
There are lots of fantastic carrot cake recipes out there. Many are spice cakes enhanced with shredded carrots added and there are also some that use canned pineapple to increase the acidity, sweetness, and texture of the cake.
The key to getting an intense carrot flavor in my cake is using two types of carrots: a caramelized carrot puree and finely shredded carrots.
Roasted and pureed carrots make this cake intensely carrot flavored. Carrots are a natural source of sugar, and roasting them at a high temperature caramelizes the sugars within. Baking soda is added to the carrots before roasting because it enhances the Maillard reaction, which is the chemical reaction that produces the browning of food and delicious toasty flavors.
Using a caramelized carrot puree in this cake gives it a beautiful natural orange color from the carotenoids and a sweet and earthy carrot flavor. The carrots also contain starches and other plant material, which gives the cake a bit more body and structure.
A carrot cake wouldn’t be complete without the second type, shredded carrots. By finely shredding them, they integrate into the crumb of the cake more evenly. I don’t blot or remove moisture from the carrots in this recipe. Carrots also contain juices, which provide moisture and also flavor.
When you make cakes that only contain oil (and no other aeration technique, such as adding beaten egg whites), they are super moist, but the crumb is also on the heavier and denser side. This is actually quite lovely in some cakes, and it’s a common method for carrot cakes. But because I wanted my cake to have a bit more aeration, I am instead using a portion of butter to cream with the brown sugar, which gives this cake a slightly lighter texture than typical carrot cakes.
(This is a visual tutorial for making the carrot cake layers. The buttercream cheese frosting recipe will be listed in the recipe card below, but if you need a visual tutorial, look here.)
Step 1: Make the caramelized carrot puree.
Melt butter and add baking soda and salt (1a). Then add chopped carrots (1b), and stir in the butter (1c).
Roast for about 45 minutes at 400°F/205°C (1d). Puree with an immersion blender or food processor (1e).
Step 2: Prep oven and pans.
Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C.
Spray and lay down parchment circles in three 8-inch pans.
Step 3: Grate carrots.
Grate the carrots using the fine holes on a box grater (3a). Place in a bowl (3b) and cover (3c).
Step 4: Combine dry ingredients.
Add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice in a bowl (4a) and whisk together (4b).
Step 5: Combine wet ingredients.
Add the sour cream, carrot puree, and vanilla extract to a cup/bowl (5a) and stir together (5b).
Step 6: Cream fats with sugar.
In a stand mixer, mix the butter and brown sugar, then add oil (6a) and mix (6b).
Step 7: Add eggs.
Add the egg yolks and eggs (7a) and mix until it comes together (7b).
Step 8: Alternate dry and wet ingredients.
Alternate adding the flour mixture (8a) with the carrot puree mixture (8b). Finish the batter by adding the shredded carrots (8c) at the end with a spatula (8d). You can also add your add-ins (nuts and raisins) here if you want.
Step 9: Pour batter into pans.
Divide the batter among your pans (9a) and use a spatula to smooth the surfaces (9b).
Step 10: Bake cakes.
Bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out with moist crumbs.
Step 11: Cool slightly and wrap.
Let cakes cool slightly, trim the tops if needed (11a), and wrap them in plastic (11b, 11c). Allow the cakes to cool completely before assembling.
The carrot cake recipe below gives you the instructions for an 8 inch 3 layer cake with 7 ½ cups of buttercream cheese frosting.
You can create your own combination of cake using my Cakeculator. Select “Carrot Lover’s” for the cake flavor, and any pan size (cakes or cupcakes or whatever) and then choose the frosting of you choice. If you’re looking for a more cream cheesy flavored frosting, or one that comes together a little quicker, try my “Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.”
Please consider using the gram measurements, which allow you to perfectly replicate all my cake and frosting recipes. Weighing is the most accurate way to bake, and I use it exclusively.
For American bakers, I have converted grams to estimated volumes (cups, teaspoons, etc.), which are not as accurate and may have awkward proportions, but they still work.
ButterCream Cheese Frosting (makes about 7.5 cups):
ButterCream Cheese Frosting
Assembly and decorating:
Please see the video I've linked above to see how you can put this cake together.
*You may get a little more carrot puree that you need from the initial roasting step. Roast using the amounts indicated for the carrot puree and then after that, measure out how much you need.
**Dried fruit and nuts are "add-ins" for carrot cake and seem to be pretty divisive (you either love or hate them in your cake). This recipe with or without add-ins to suit any palate. You can add up to the total volume indicated in your recipe. Things that work well are: raisins, currants, toasted walnuts or pecans, chopped candied ginger, a pinch of finely grated orange zest, or shredded coconut. My fav: raisins, toasted pecans, and just a touch of orange zest. Note that if you do add extra ingredients, make sure to smooth out you batter if you're baking cakes or mini cakes so they bake evenly. (This is not necessary for cupcakes) Also, it may take a couple minutes more to bake, so be sure to use a skewer test to ensure there's no uncooked batter in the centers.
***The cream cheese brands that work best are: Lucerne, Walmart's Great Value (my favorite), or Target's Good and Gather. Trader Joe's was a runner up, but gave a more yellow frosting and was a tad bit more runny. I have now tested and confirmed that Philadelphia full fat cream cheese works great. Also tested Philadelphia in the tub - the result was every so slightly runnier in the end. Still workable for piping and smoothing, but if you have issues, add a little bit more butter to offset the decrease in fat content they use for this kind of cream cheese.
**** The citric acid contained in lemon juice increases the acidity or "tanginess" of cream cheese without adding a lemon flavor. It's delicious if you love a cream cheese flavor - you can sub vanilla extract, but it does add an extra flavor element on top of the cream cheese instead of enhancing it like lemon juice.