classic carrot cake

classic carrot cake

This classic carrot cake combines the perfect ratio of sugar and spice for the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted. I can alway say no to carrot cake. My experience has proven that carrot cake can be dry and cloying. Too much sugar in the cake and the frosting without any balance of flavors. My paradigm was rocked when I tried this cake!

Flakes of coconut in the batter keep things super moist, without a strong coconut flavor. The blend of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg come through beautifully without overwhelming the senses. The cream cheese frosting is spiked with lemon zest and juice for a delightful lift and a fraction of the sugar used in most recipes. This recipe has been triple tested and tasted by over 20 willing diners. Everyone gave this classic carrot cake two enthusiastic thumbs up!

classic carrot cake

I began my search for a winning carrot cake recipe when my husband’s awesome uncle requested the treat for his birthday. Uncle John is a truly inspiring person. He leads an uber successful law firm in Silicon Valley and somehow manages to stay humble. John and his lovely wife have been key players in our support system since Kenny and I got engaged 6 years ago. We’re lucky enough to see them every other month and we enjoy every conversation and meal we share. Aside from being wonderful people all around, John and his wife are discerning gourmandes. Kenny and I have enjoyed everything from cassoulet to chicken marbella in the warmth of their home. Any cake worthy to share the table with their cooking has to be good! 

classic carrot cake

After researching carrot cake recipes from some of my most trusted resources (including Bon Appetit, America’s Test Kitchen, and David Lebovitz) I settled on a classic version in New York Times Cooking. The recipe was from Dorie Greenspan (James Beard Award winning cookbook author) with over 2,000 five-star reviews! I studied Greenspan’s recipe and the reviews and decided to (gulp) make a few changes. I certainly don’t proclaim to match the expertise of Mrs. Greenspan but I can’t help putting my own (healthier) spin on almost any recipe I encounter. 

Here are some of the changes I made to the original NYT recipe

  • Reduce the amount of the total sugar in the recipe by 2 ½ cups 
  • This change alone saves almost 1000 calories from the original recipe. I tend to enjoy slightly less sweet desserts but all of my taste-testers thought the reduced sugar was a delicious change

To avoid sacrificing flavor with the reduced amount of sugar, I:

  • Added ginger and nutmeg to the batter
  • Plumped the raisins in Grand Marnier 
  • Added lemon zest and a pinch of salt to the frosting to round out the flavor
  • I also replaced the granulated sugar with dark brown sugar since the added molasses adds moisture and a depth of flavor

This classic carrot cake recipe boasts the perfect balance of sweet and spice. It was a hit with my family and I hope you’ll enjoy it too! 

If you’re looking for a refined-sugar free carrot cake, try my date sweetened carrot cake. It’s one of the most popular recipes on my blog!

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classic carrot cake

classic carrot cake

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  • Author: Sepideh Esmaili Campos
  • Yield: serves 810 1x



Carrot cake: 

  • Baking spray for the pans (I use coconut oil spray)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon grand marnier (or whisky, rum, or water)
  • 1 ¾ cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil 
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature 
  • 3 cups grated carrots* 
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (or use “halves and pieces” from the grocery store)
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Cream cheese frosting: 

  • 12 ounces cream cheese (1 ½ packages), at room temperature
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at room temperature
  • Zest of 1 fresh lemon, grated (about 1 teaspoon zest)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1 ½ cups powdered sugar


Bake the cakes:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the center of the oven. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 
  3. Line the bottoms of two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. 
  4. Spray the pans and the paper with baking spray, set aside. 
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside. 
  6. Combine the raisins and grand marnier in a small bowl or glass measuring cup. Microwave for 20 seconds to plump the raisins, set aside. 
  7. In another large mixing bowl, whisk together the canola oil and sugar until combined. 
  8. Add the eggs to the oil and sugar, one at a time, whisking between each addition. 
  9. Once the oil, sugar, and eggs are fully combined and the mixture looks syrupy, add the flour mixture and fold to combine using a large rubber spatula. 
  10. Mix just until there are no more visible pieces of flour left. 
  11. Tip the soaked raisins (and their juices), shredded carrots, walnuts, and coconut into the batter. 
  12. Fold gently with the rubber spatula to just combine. 
  13. Divide the batter evenly among the two prepared cake pans and place on the center rack of the oven, side by side. 
  14. Bake until the cakes are dark brown, spring back when touched, are starting to pull away from the sides, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-50 minutes**. Be sure to check the cakes halfway through baking and rotate the pans and swap their positions on the rack. 
  15. Once the cakes are baked, remove them from the oven and let them cool at room temperature on a wire cooling rack. 
  16. After 30 minutes of cooling, run a small sharp knife around the edges of the cakes to release them from the pan. 
  17. Turn the cakes out onto the baking racks, remove the pans, and let the cakes cool completely before frosting. 

Make the frosting: 

  1. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. 
  2. Place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer. 
  3. With the paddle attachment in place, whip the butter and cheese together on medium speed until fully combined, 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula a couple times during the mixing process. 
  4. Add the lemon zest, juice, and salt to the butter mixture and mix on medium speed to combine. 
  5. Stop the mixer after a couple minutes and remove the bowl from its stand. 
  6. Place a large sieve over the cream cheese and butter bowl and sift the powdered sugar into the bowl. 
  7. Place the bowl back into the stand mixer. 
  8. Turn the mixer on at low speed to prevent a powdered sugar cloud. Run the mixer until the sugar is starting to combine, 60 seconds. 
  9. Increase the speed to medium and whip until the frosting is fully combined and smooth. 

Frost the cakes:

  1. Transfer one of the cool cakes onto a cake stand, right side up. 
  2. Use an offset spatula to spread ⅓ of the frosting generously over the top of the cake. Let some of the frosting creep over the edge of the cake to help you frost the sides later. 
  3. Place the second cooled cake, right side up, on top of the frosting layer. 
  4. Spread half of the remaining frosting evenly over the top of the cake, letting the sides creep over the edge a bit. 
  5. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides of the cake, sweeping off any excess with your offset spatula. 
  6. If extra frosting remains, transfer it to a piping back and decorate the cake as desired or pipe little mounds of frosting to place the marzipan carrots on (if using). 
  7. Place the frosted cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set the frosting. 
  8. Serve the cake at room temperature and store covered leftovers in the refrigerator.


*You can use pre-shredded carrots from the grocery store, just pulse them in the food processor a few times to break down any very long pieces.

**Baking times can vary based on your oven. Check the cakes often after the 40minute mark so you don’t over cook them. You can also do the sound test: hold the pan up to your ear (using oven mitts since the pans will be hot). If you hear a lot of sizzling, the cake is still wet inside and needs to bake longer. If the cake is mostly quiet, you can remove it from the oven. 

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