Carrot cake is personal. Some people want it to be loaded with everything but the kitchen sink: for example, a combination of coconut, raisins, nuts, pineapple or all four. Others might push a slice aside if they spot even a glimmer of a raisin in the cake’s crumb. These carrot cake purists prefer their slice to be all about the carrots and nothing more. This recipe allows you to choose your own adventure. Keep it simple and leave out the extras or load them in — the choice is yours.
What’s not negotiable here is the frosting. Cream cheese frosting is what makes carrot cake so glorious, in our opinion, and so it doesn’t veer. To make a batch, beat softened cream cheese and unsalted butter together until completely blended then slowly added powdered sugar and beat until the frosting is exceptionally light and fluffy. A splash of vanilla extract is classic but to add a touch of brightness, consider adding lemon extract, too. This lesser-known extract is made from lemon zest or peels that are soaked in neutral-flavored alcohol to release their natural oils. The result is something bold and fresh that pairs wonderfully with the sweet frosting and cake.
If you’re pro-coconut when it comes to carrot cake and you’ve stirred it into the batter, save some more for garnish. Sprinkling the cake with shredded coconut before serving makes it look especially show-stopping. Not a fan of coconut? You can garnish the cake with toasted chopped walnuts or walnut halves instead. Or leave it plain and simple and let the cake speak for itself.
Technique Tip: Cakes can be made one day before frosting. Remove the cooled cakes from the pans, peel off the parchment paper and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator until ready to frost.
Once frosted, leftover cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- baking spray or unsalted butter, for greasing
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup neutral oil, such as canola
- 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple or 1 cup applesauce
- 1/2 pound carrots, coarsely shredded (about 2½ cups shredded)
- 1 cup halved walnuts
- 1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 2½ cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or lemon extract
- 1 cup 3 ounces) flaked sweetened coconut for garnish (optional)
Make the cake:1.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease the bottom and sides of 2 8-inch round or square baking pans with nonstick baking spray or butter. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.2.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt together. Set aside.3.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and both sugars on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until any large clumps of brown sugar have dissolved and the eggs have thickened and lightened in color.4.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and pour in the oil, stirring until incorporated.5.
On low speed, stir in half the flour mixture, then the pineapple or applesauce, then the remaining flour mixture.5.
Stir in the carrots and any other add-ins, such as walnuts, coconut and/or raisins.6.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or knife inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.7.
Transfer the pans to wire racks and cool the cakes completely in the pans. Slide a butter knife around the edges of each cooled cake before removing from the pan and peel the parchment paper off the bottom of each cake before frosting.
Make the frosting and assemble:1.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy.2.
Add the sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time, beating until the sugar is completely incorporated and the frosting is pale and thick. Add the vanilla or lemon extract and beat for 30 seconds more.3.
Line a serving plate with 3 strips of waxed paper, layering them so they cover the edges of the plate but leave a triangle of uncovered plate in the center.4.
Place one cake layer in the center of the serving plate. Spread about 1/4 of the frosting across the top. Place the remaining cake layer on top and cover the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting.5.
Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut, if desired.6.
Carefully remove the strips of waxed paper, pulling them out from under the frosted cake to leave a clean serving plate.