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Spiced Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

Moist Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Author: Maria Do
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 12 slices 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: American


Real carrots, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves bring this carrot cake to life! Coconut oil adds moisture and a depth that is irresistible, and it’s paired with a brown butter cream cheese.



Carrot Cake

  • 312 g all-purpose flour (~2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if using kosher, use 1 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 300 g dark or light brown sugar (~1 1/2 cup packed) 
  • 100 g granulated sugar (~1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup melted coconut oil, room temperature (240 ml)
  • 4 large eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce or crushed pineapple, room temperature (240 ml) 
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 260 g carrots, finely shredded (~2 cups or 4 whole carrots, must shred at home for moisture)
  • 2 cups pecans, chopped and toasted (228 g) (half goes inside the cake, half for decoration)

Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 2 blocks cream cheese, room temperature (16 oz or 500 g)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup or 115 g)
  • 568 g powdered sugar, unsifted (~5 cups)
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream or milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt


  1. Toast pecans. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 7-10 minutes until fragrant, before the pecans get dark. Allow pecans to cool before chopping. Set aside.
  2. Brown the butter. Melt unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the butter gets a tint of brown, not too dark, about 10 minutes. It will smell nutty and delicious! Pour into a heat-safe bowl, and cover at room temp to solidify.
  3. Shred carrots. Shred whole carrots using a box grater or food processor using the smaller, finer holes. Make sure to shred at home because pre-shredded carrots are generally dried out, and we need the moisture of the freshly shredded carrots for the cake.
  4. Preheat oven + prep pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease three 9″ round cake pans and line with parchment paper. I like to cut circles of parchment to fit snug at the bottom. Grease again over the parchment and on the sides. (If you would like to make this recipe as cupcakes, a loaf, or a bundt, see the Notes section at the bottom.)
  5. Mix dry + wet ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, apple sauce, and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined, avoiding overmixing. Fold in shredded carrots and half the pecans until evenly combined. Pour cake batter into the 3 baking pans, ensuring they weigh approximately the same (I highly recommend a digital scale).
  6. Bake. Bake the cakes for 20-24 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. If the toothpick comes out wet, continue baking until cooked thoroughly, but be careful of overbaking. When done, invert the cakes out of their pans onto a cooling rack. Peel off the parchment paper to allow steam to escape faster. Cool the cakes completely before frosting. I like to make the cakes the day before and keep them in the fridge overnight so that it’s easier to frost!
  7. Make the frosting. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat together the solidified brown butter and cream cheese until smooth but not whipped. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, milk, and salt. Beat on low speed until the powdered sugar is incorporated, then increase speed to medium-high until creamy but not whipped, ~1-2 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin, more milk if too thick, or another pinch of salt if too sweet. Frosting should be smooth but not runny.
  8. Assemble and frost. Using a long serrated knife, level off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Add a spoonful of frosting to the center of your cake stand or serving plate to keep the cake in place. Place the first layer on the stand and add an even layer of frosting on top. Spread to cover the entire top surface. Repeat with the second and third layer. Spread remaining frosting over the sides of the cake. Decorate the cake with the rest of the toasted pecans. Refrigerate cake for at least 15-20 minutes to set before cutting. Store in a fridge to enjoy for up to 5 days. Don’t leave it out overnight since the frosting has cream cheese in it.
    Optional: I added candied dried carrots to the top as well! To make them, thinly slice carrots on a mandolin, coat with simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water), bake carrots in a single layer at 400°F for 15-20 until they’re curling at the edges. While they’re cooling but still wet, generously sprinkle granulated sugar to coat.


Make-Ahead Instructions. This cake continues to build flavor with time, so baking the cakes a day in advance is highly recommended!

Nuts. Feel free to swap out pecans for walnuts or leave them out completely. No revisions are needed in the recipe. 

Other Add-Ins. If you’re a fan of raisins or coconut flakes in your carrot cake, you can add them into this cake but reduce the pecans to 1/2 cup. Then add 1 cup of raisins or coconut or a mix of both. Don’t exceed 1 1/2 cups of add-ins or the cake will be too heavy. 

Applesauce. Unsweetened or sweetened applesauce works just fine here with unnoticeable change in taste. If you love pineapple in your carrot cake, switch the applesauce for the same amount in crushed pineapple (with juices). Full-fat yogurt, buttermilk, or mashed bananas also work as great substitutes. 

Oil. Make sure your melted coconut oil is relatively cool before adding it to the batter. If not using coconut oil, feel free to swap for any neutral tasting oil like vegetable, canola, or avocado. 

9 x 13″ Sheet Cake – Carrot Sheet Cake. This batter can be baked in a 9 x 13″ pan for a super simple sheet cake! Use the toothpick test to gauge how long to bake it for since it will take longer than 25 minutes. 

Carrot Bundt Cake. You can also bake this recipe in a bundt pan! Make sure to grease the pan really well since you can’t lay parchment on it. Bake at 350°F for approximately 50 minutes or more until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Carrot Cake Cupcakes. If you prefer the size and ease of cupcakes, this recipe can be baked into 3 dozen cupcakes Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake at 350°F for 19-22 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. You can also halve this recipe if you want fewer cupcakes.

Carrot Loaf Cake. Recipe also works for a cakey loaf. Divide the batter evenly into 2 loaf pans, and bake at 350°F until a toothpick comes out clean, approximately 25-30 minutes. 

Keywords: carrot cake, easter recipes, spring recipes