Making the ultimate carrot cake is easier than you think. Here's a foolproof recipe
For seasoned cooks and kitchen novices, cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller takes it back to basics with great, family-friendly recipes worth making over and over again.
This incredible cake boasts flecks of tender carrots in an orange-scented, ultra-moist batter. It’s not just the coupling of oranges and carrots that make this cake shine, warm cinnamon scents the batter and vanilla perfumes the tangy cream cheese frosting. It's a sweet, citrusy cake with rich, satiny frosting. Carrot cake nirvana.
Carrot cakes are traditionally made with oil instead of butter. Why? Oil keeps carrot cake moist and helps it last for days (if it doesn’t get gobbled up on the first day). It helps with cleanup too. There’s no need for an electric mixer since we’re not aerating butter by beating it with sugar – a technique used to create a lighter, tender cake. And trust me, this carrot cake will be perfectly light and tender anyways.
So, what makes this recipe different? For one thing, most carrot cake recipes call for crushed pineapple, and there’s a good reason for that. A scientific reason. Pineapple contains enzymes that break down protein and tenderize food. In the case of carrot cake, they break down the proteins in the flour and soften the carrots, which yields a tender, moist cake. Plus, pineapple juice is sweet and while carrots are “sweetish” when compared to other vegetables, they’re not “cake sweet”.
However, pineapple isn’t the only fruit with tenderizing skills. Citrus performs the same function. The pairing of zingy oranges and sweet carrots gives the classic carrot cake a refreshing makeover. The juice keeps the cake moist, sweetens the batter and adds an unrivaled burst of flavor.
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Tips for making the perfect carrot cake
Grate your carrots correctly. I suggest using a food processor fitted with the grater blade for consistency, efficiency and easy cleanup. You can also use the large holes of your box grater. This carrot cake only bakes for about 30 minutes, which doesn’t give the carrot shreds long to soften. Bigger chunks of carrots won’t get soft in that time and nobody wants a crunchy cake.
Precisely measure your ingredients. As with all cakes, proper measuring is the key to a successful outcome. Add a little extra sugar and the cake may sink in the middle. Too much flour, and the cake will be dry. Don’t eyeball it — use measuring cups and spoons and level them off with the flat side of a knife.
Don't overmix the batter. Even though we’re whisking and stirring by hand in this recipe (not using an electric mixer), overmixing the batter is still a danger. Overworking the gluten in the flour can yield a tough, chewy cake. Blend just until the dry ingredients are incorporated into the “wet” carrot mixture.
Cool the cake completely before frosting, a minimum of 1 hour. The frosting is made with cream cheese and butter, both of which will melt if you try to frost the cake when it’s warm.
Chill the cake before serving, if possible, a minimum of two hours. As hard as it may be to wait, the cake and frosting are better when they’ve had a chance to commingle for a couple hours. That said, it’s not the end of the world if you want to enjoy the cake sooner.
Refrigerate your carrot cake. Since the cake includes fresh carrots and the frosting is made with butter and cream cheese, this carrot cake needs to be kept cold. You can leave it in the cake pan covered with plastic or foil or transfer it to a sealable container. The cake will last up to 7 days refrigerated.
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Recipe: The ultimate carrot cake
Serves: 8 to 10
- Cooking spray, oil, or butter for coating the pan
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups finely grated carrots, about 5 medium carrots
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, about 1 orange
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cream cheese frosting
- 1 8 ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray, oil, or butter. Note: Some nonstick pans, namely those coated with a ceramic nonstick finish, should be coated with a thin layer of oil or butter, not cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, orange juice, eggs and vanilla. Fold in the carrots and orange zest.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined and incorporated. Do not over-mix.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a wooden pick comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Set on a wire rack to cool. Cool completely before frosting, at least 1 hour.
- To prepare the frosting, in a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar one cup at a time. Mix until blended and creamy.
- Once the cake has cooled completely, spread the cream cheese frosting over top. Chill for a minimum of two hours before serving. Store leftover cake in the refrigerator.
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