This moist carrot cake recipe has been a long time coming. In the past, whenever I was asked to make a carrot cake, I used a very traditional carrot cake recipe.
Most classic or Southern carrot cake recipes include shredded coconut, chopped walnuts or pecans, and crushed pineapple.
But you know what?! I don’t really love all those ingredients in my carrot cake. I just want a simple, nut-free carrot cake that’s perfectly spiced and tender. And that’s exactly what this recipe is!
What Does Carrot Cake Taste Like?
Most of the delicious flavor we associate with carrot cake comes from the spices that are added to the batter.
Ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and cinnamon are the dominant flavors in most carrot cake recipes.
It’s essentially a spice cake that’s super moist from the water content in the shredded carrots.
Some recipes also call for molasses or brown sugar, which pairs so well with these warm spices.
How to Make This Moist Carrot Cake
To make sure this cake turns out as amazing as possible, let’s walk through each step together! I’ve also included a video tutorial of the process below.
I figured it might be helpful to know what tools I use too, so I’ve shared a list below too.
Not all of these are mandatory, but they make the process a lot easier.
If you don’t have all these things on hand, feel free to improvise and work with what you have.
- 4, 7-inch Cake Pans or 3, 8-inch Cake Pans
- Spinning Cake Stand
- Serrated Knife
- 10-inch Greaseproof Cake Board or Flat Plate
- Large Offset Spatula
- Bench Scraper
- 2 Large Piping Bags
- 1 Open Star Piping Tip (like a Wilton 1M)
- Orange and Green Gel Food Coloring
Step 1: Bake the Moist Carrot Cake Layers
Make the carrot cake batter first following the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Divide it evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Remove the cake layers from the oven and let them cool in the pans for about 30 minutes. Or if you’re in a rush, place the pans directly in the freezer to accelerate the cooling process.
Then gently run an offset spatula around the rim of the cake pans to loosen them and flip them onto wire racks to finish cooling.
These layers bake up pretty flat, so leveling them is optional! If you want to level them, use a serrated knife to level the top of each cake layer once they’re fully cooled.
If you’re making these in advance, you can wrap and freeze them at this point.
Step 2: Make the Cream Cheese Frosting
While the cake layers bake and cool, make the Cream Cheese frosting.
I love cream cheese frosting, but I know that some people find it quite sweet!
This frosting can also be made in advance if needed and kept in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for a month.
Wait to color the frosting until you’ve filled and crumb coated the cake.
Step 3: Stack and Frost the Cake Layers
Then it’s time to assemble this cake! Stack and frost cake layers on a greaseproof cake board or flat plate. Use a dab of buttercream to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
Spread an even layer of buttercream on top of each cake layer with a large offset spatula.
Repeat with the remaining cake layers and place the top cake layer upside down to make the cake easier to frost.
Step 4: Crumb Coat the Cake
Spread a thin coat of frosting around the cake to fully cover the cake layers.
Smooth the frosting using a large offset spatula or bench scraper, then chill the cake in the fridge (30 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
Step 5: Smooth on the Second Layer of Frosting
Next, smooth the frosting using a large offset spatula or bench scraper.
If you’re struggling to get smooth sides on the cake, check out my video tutorial on how to frost a cake smoothly.
Step 6: Color the Remaining Frosting and Decorate the Cake
Place 1/4 of the remaining frosting in a separate bowl and color it green with gel food coloring. Place in a piping bag fitted with a Wilton 1M or 2D frosting tip. Seal the top of the bag with a rubber band or clip.
Color the remaining frosting orange with gel food coloring. Place in a piping bag fitted with a large round piping tip, or an opening cut about 1 inch wide. Seal the top of the bag with a rubber band or clip.
Pipe vertical lines of orange frosting on the sides of the cake to look like carrots.
Then pipe green frosting swirls around the top edge of the cake to look like carrot tops and enjoy!
If you’re making this cake in advance, it can sit at room temperature for a few hours or be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
Substitutions and Swaps – Carrot Cake Layers
This recipe uses quite a few ingredients and I know you might not have them all on hand. Or if you have food allergies or restrictions, I’ve got you covered.
Below are some swaps and substitutions that can be made in this cake recipe.
- Granulated Sugar – I do not recommend changing the type or reducing the amount of sugar because it will change the texture of the cake layers.
- Brown Sugar – I prefer using light brown sugar, but you can also use dark brown sugar if needed.
- Vegetable Oil – Any flavorless oil will work in this recipe. Canola or even sunflower oil would work great!
- Large Eggs – If you have an egg allergy you can use flaxseed eggs or a vegan egg replacer.
- All Purpose Flour – This recipe turns out best with AP flour, but you can use a gluten-free flour blend or cake flour if that’s what you have on hand.
- Ground Spices – These are the star of the show in this cake, so I don’t recommend skimping on them! Make sure your spices are fresh and fragrant.
- Buttermilk – You can also use full fat yogurt, whole milk, sour cream, or an alternative yogurt or milk (almond, soy, oat) if you’re dairy free.
- Shredded Carrots – I like to buy large carrots that come in a 1 lb. bag. You can also buy loose carrots, just be sure to weigh them at the store to make sure you get 1 lb. Don’t use pre-grated carrots! They are dry and their lack of moisture will make the cake layers less moist.
Substitutions and Swaps – Cream Cheese Frosting
- Unsalted Butter – If you only have salted butter on hand, you can use it in place of the unsalted butter. Just be sure to omit the salt that this frosting recipe calls for. You can also use vegan butter in its place (and omit the salt)!
- Cream Cheese – I find full fat cream cheese that comes in a block works best in this recipe. Avoid whipped cream cheese or cream cheese that comes in a tub. They usually contain additives to make them more spreadable.
- Heavy Cream – Whole milk or alternative milk (soy, almond, oat) will work fine in this frosting recipe if that’s what you have on hand.
- Green and Orange Gel Food Coloring – Gel or oil-based food coloring works best to color the buttercream. Liquid food coloring can be used, but it’s more difficult to create vibrant colors.
Making This Carrot Cake in Different Sizes
I used 4, 7-inch cake pans to make this cake, but this recipe can be used to make different sized cakes.
You can make three, 8-inch or four, 6-inch cake layers with one batch of batter. Bake the cake layers at 350 F / 175 C for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
One batch of batter can also be used to make one 9×13-inch sheet cake. Bake it at 350 F / 175 C for 30-40 minutes and use flower nails or heating cores to help the cake bake evenly. It should end up being about 2 inches tall.
If you want to make cupcakes, I highly recommend using my carrot cake cupcake recipe. One batch makes a dozen cupcakes.
What Makes This Carrot Cake So Moist?
There are three ingredients in this recipe that make it super moist. The first is the amount of shredded carrots!
This recipe uses an entire pound of shredded carrots. The water from all the carrots turns into steam as the cake batter bakes, which creates an amazing texture.
This cake recipe also uses oil instead of butter. This adds moisture to the recipe and allows you to mix the carrot cake batter by hand, without a stand mixer.
The final ingredient that makes this carrot cake so moist is buttermilk!
I love baking with buttermilk and felt like this recipe needed a bit. Buttermilk adds a wonderful tang and adds…you guessed it! More moisture 🙂
Tips for Making the Best Carrot Cake
- Properly measure your flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level) or use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
- Use a serrated knife to level your cake layers once they’re fully cooled, to make it easier to assemble and frost your cake.
- Use a microplane grater to shred your carrots into super fine pieces! It’s a bit of extra work, but it gives the cake an amazing texture.
- Chill your cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes it so much easier to stack and frost.
- Mix your cake batter just until the ingredients are incorporated. This will ensure your cake layers are tender and fluffy.
- Don’t use pre-grated carrots! They are dry and their lack of moisture will make the cake layers less moist.
Making This Moist Carrot Cake in Advance and Storage Tips
Make your cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable.
You can also make the frosting ahead of time too, or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to a month. Be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to get the consistency nice and smooth again.
A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month. The buttercream locks in all the moisture, keeping the cake fresh and delicious!
If you cut into the cake and have leftovers, use any remaining frosting to cover the cut section to keep it moist and store in the fridge for up to a week.
Let Me Know What You Think!
If you try my moist carrot cake recipe, I’d love to hear what you think of it! Please leave a rating and comment below.
Tag me @chelsweets and use #chelsweets on social media so I can see your amazing creations!
Other Recipes You Might Like:
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar (200g)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil (225g)
- 6 large eggs, room temperature (336g)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (375 grams)
- 2 tsp baking soda (12g)
- 1 tsp baking powder (4g)
- 1 tsp fine salt (6g)
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon (7g)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (1g)
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves (< 1g)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature (120g)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (8g)
- 1 lb. carrots, peeled and finely grated - about 3 1/2 cups of grated carrots (454g)
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting
- 2 cups or 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (452g)
- 1 cup or 8 oz. full-fat cream cheese, room temperature (226g)
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract (12g)
- 1 tsp fine salt (6g)
- 11 cups powdered sugar (1375g)
- 2 Tbsp heavy cream or whipping cream (30g)
- green and orange gel food coloring
Carrot Cake Layers:
- Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Line four, 7-inch or three, 8-inch round pans with parchment rounds and grease with non-stick baking spray, or brush them with homemade cake release. You can also use this recipe to make 4, 6-inch cake layers but the bake time will be 5-8 minutes longer. If you don't have 4 cake pans, the batter can sit at room temperature for a few hours. Bake as many layers at a time as you can at a time.
- In a large bowl, whisk together 1 cup of light brown sugar, 1 cup of granulated sugar, and 1 cup of oil until combined.
- Then mix in 6 eggs, 2 at a time. Whisk together until the batter is smooth.
- In a separate large bowl, sift or whisk together 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp cloves.
- Add half the dry ingredients into the sugar/egg mixture and mix until just combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula.
- Mix in 1/2 cup of buttermilk and 2 tsp of vanilla until combined.
- Then mix in the remaining dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
- Finely grate 1 lb. of carrots. You should end up with about 3 1/2 cups of shredded carrots. Fold the grated carrots into the batter.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. I like to use a digital kitchen scale to weigh my pans so that they all have the same amount of batter. This guarantees the layers will be the same height once baked.
- Bake the cake layers for 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
- Let the pans to cool for 10 minutes, then run a small offset spatula around the perimeter of the pans to separate the cake layers from the pan.
- Place the cake layers in the freezer for 45 minutes to accelerate the cooling process. Once the layers are fully cooled, carefully flip the pans and remove the layers from the pans.
- Use a serrated knife to level the tops of the layers. If you're making these layers in advance, wrap and freeze the cake layers at this point.
Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
- While the cake layers bake and cool, make the cream cheese frosting.
- Beat 2 cups of butter and 1 cup of cream cheese on a medium speed for 30 seconds with a paddle attachment until smooth.
- Add in 1 Tbsp of vanilla and 1 tsp of salt. Beat on low until the ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Slowly mix in 11 cups powdered sugar on a low speed. Halfway through add 2 Tbsp of heavy cream to make the frosting easier to mix.
- If the frosting is too thick, add in additional cream (1 Tbsp at a time). If the frosting is too thin, add in more powdered sugar (quarter of a cup at a time).
- Wait to color the frosting until the cake is fully frosted.
- Cover the uncolored cream cheese frosting with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent it from crusting and set it aside. This can sit at room temperature for up to 4 hours, but if you make it in advance be sure to store it in the fridge.
Assembling This Layered Carrot Cake
- Stack and frost cake layers on a greaseproof cake board using a dab of frosting to help stick the first cake layer to the board.
- Stack the cake layers and add an even layer of uncolored cream cheese frosting between each cake layer with a large offset spatula.
- Use a large offset spatula and/or bench scraper to cover the cake in a thin layer of frosting to trap in any crumbs, then chill it in the fridge (30 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) until the frosting is firm to the touch.
- Then add another layer of frosting around the cake and smooth the frosting with a bench scraper. This layer doesn't have to be perfect because we're about to pipe frosting carrots around the side of the cake!
- Place 1/4 of the remaining frosting in a separate bowl and color it green with gel food coloring. Place in a piping bag fitted with a Wilton 1M or 2D frosting tip. Seal the top of the bag with a rubber band or clip.
- Color the remaining frosting orange with gel food coloring. Place in a piping bag fitted with a large round piping tip, or an opening cut about 1 inch wide. Seal the top of the bag with a rubber band or clip.
- Pipe vertical lines of orange frosting on the sides of the cake to look like carrots.
- Pipe green frosting swirls around the top edge of the cake to look like carrot tops, then enjoy!
Substitutions and Swaps
If you need to make any substitutions or swaps in this recipe, please check out my section on ingredient substitutions above.
My Tips for Making the Best Moist Carrot Cake
- Ingredients at room temp mix together better! Set out any cold ingredients ahead of time.
- Properly measure the flour (spoon into the cup measure, then level). Or better yet, use a kitchen scale to measure your dry ingredients.
- Use a scale to weigh your cake pans as you fill them. It helps the cake layers bake to the same height and bake more evenly.
- Level your room temperature or thawed cake layers with a serrated knife to make them easier to stack.
- Chill the cake layers in the freezer for about 20 minutes before assembling the cake. It makes it so much easier to frost them!
- Don't use pre-grated carrots! They are dry and their lack of moisture will make the cake layers less moist.
Making This Layered Carrot Cake in Advance & Storage Tips
You can make these cake layers in advance and freeze them. It breaks the process up and makes it more approachable.
You can also make cream cheese frosting ahead of time or save any leftover frosting! It can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
This frosting can also be stored in the freezer for up to a month. Just be sure to give it a good stir once it thaws to make it nice and smooth again.
A frosted cake can last in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer up to a month. If you freeze the cake, transfer it to the fridge the night before you plan to eat it.
This will help it gradually thaw and minimize any temperature shock. Remove the cake from the fridge about an hour before you plan to cut into it.
Amount Per Serving Calories 598Total Fat 29gSaturated Fat 15gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 110mgSodium 424mgCarbohydrates 82gFiber 1gSugar 67gProtein 4g