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A Better Carrot Cake Recipe

If you think there’s nothing new to learn about good old carrot cake, think again! This is A Better Carrot Cake Recipe not because of the ingredients, but how they’re put together.

One of my favorite things to do as a baker is to take a mediocre or even “pretty good” recipe and make it better. Often the smallest changes can make a huge difference in the outcome.

How you mix a recipe, and how you handle ingredients, can transform your baking. If you click on the Baking School tab in the main menu you’ll find a wealth of information about baking ingredients and techniques, including my favorite post about how to create the best cake recipes.

What’s wrong with the average carrot cake?

Check out most any carrot cake recipe and you’ll see that the ingredients are similar to this recipe; oil, sugar, flour, spices, carrots, eggs, and, if you like, raisins and nuts. Some recipes throw in some coconut or pineapple for added flavor.

As I’ve said before, cake is not my very favorite dessert. Ten years of running a cake business will do that to you. But I do enjoy carrot cake. Honestly, it’s mostly because of the cream cheese frosting, but I do like the cake too.

My objection to carrot cake is the often lumpy texture. Thick shreds of carrots, big raisins and chopped nuts contribute to the chunkiness.

So why is my carrot cake “better” given that I have pretty typical ingredients?

I put the ingredients together so that you get all the great flavor and moisture of the traditional carrot cake, but with a finer texture and beautiful deep orange color.

Scroll through the step-by-step photos to see how to make a Better Carrot Cake!

a bowl of currants
Plump currents in hot water before adding them to the batter.
a bowl of ground walnuts
Finely grind the walnuts.
ground carrots in a food processor
Instead of shredding the carrots, finely grind them in a food processor.
carrot cake batter in a mixing bowl
Emulsify the oil, sugars and eggs for a smooth batter.
carrot cake batter in a mixing bowl
Add the remaining ingredients. The finely ground carrots give the batter a deep orange color.

How to make a better Carrot Cake:

  • The first switch I made to the traditional recipe is to use currants instead of raisins. Currants are smaller than raisins so they blend into the batter better. I also soak the currants in hot water to plump them up. The pre-plumped currants won’t draw moisture from the batter.
  • I use walnuts for great flavor and richness (pecans would also be good). Rather than simply chopping the walnuts, I grind them in a food processor to fairly small bits. You get the flavor and richness from the walnuts, but the smaller bits blend into the batter better. Sensing a the trend yet?
  • Finally, and I think most importantly, instead of shredding the carrots I grind them in the food processor until they’re the texture of a chunky puree. Again, the small bits of carrot will blend into the batter better. Grinding releases lots of juice from the carrots so the cake is super moist. The carrot juice gives the cake batter a beautiful deep orange color.
The beautiful deep-orange color of this cake comes from the almost pureed carrots.
a slice of carrot cake on a plate

I baked the batter in three 8″ cake pans for a tall cake with three layers of cake and two layers of frosting. This recipe could also be baked in 9″ pans and can be baked as two layers instead of three. The batter also works well for cupcakes.

I filled and iced the cake with my Better Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below). This cake is so moist I think there is plenty of icing. But, if you like extra frosting, you can make 1 1/2 times the frosting recipe for thicker layers of icing and a thicker coating.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, please consider giving it a 5-star review.

Better Carrot Cake

Better Carrot Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

If you think there’s nothing new to learn about good old carrot cake, think again! This is A Better Carrot Cake Recipe not because of the ingredients, but how they’re put together.

Ingredients

Better Carrot Cake Batter

  • 1 cup (5 oz, 140 g) currants
  • 2 cups (10 oz, 285 g) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.25 cups (9 oz, 270 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (8 oz, 224 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed (8 oz, 224 g) brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 pound (454 g) carrots, ground in a food processor until the bits are very small, but not quite a puree, see photos.
  • 1 cup (4 oz, 112 g) walnuts (optional) ground to small pieces (see photos)

Assembly

Instructions

Cake Batter

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line three 8" or 9" round cake pans with parchment paper, or butter and flour the pans. (see note 1).
  2. Place the currants in a small bowl and pour enough hot water over to cover. Set aside for 20 minutes to plump. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
  3. Mix the oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until it resembles applesauce. Add the eggs, vanilla and lemon extract. Mix until the batter is smooth and emulsified (see photo).
  4. Add the ground carrots and the walnuts. Drain the water from the currents and add them to the batter. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, scraping the bowl in between. Mix until completely combined.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the pans. Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. If you bake 2 layers they may take a little longer to bake.
  6. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and cool completely (see note 2)

Assembly

  1. Set aside half the frosting to ice the cake. Place one cake layer, flat side down, on the serving platter. Spread 1/2 of the remaining frosting over the layer. Repeat with the 2nd layer. Place the third layer, flat side up, on top.
  2. Ice the cake with a very thin layer of frosting. This is called the "crumb coat". Refrigerate the cake to set the crumb coat.
  3. Ice the cake with a final coating. Press ground walnuts onto the sides of the cake. Chill to set the cake. (see note 3).

Notes

Note 1: The cake can be baked in two pans for thicker layers.

Note 2: The cakes can be baked several days before, wrapped and refrigerated. Or bake several weeks before and freeze.

Note 3: I like to chill the assembled cake to set the layers. Leave the cake at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving to soften the frosting. Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen because of the cream cheese in the frosting.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram

Jody

Saturday 19th of March 2022

I made this as cupcakes. I needed 30 and thought 1 recipe might not be enough so I made 1.5 of the recipe. It made 46! I made the frosting as written, frosted 45 (we’d sampled one without frosting) and have some leftover. It is truly the best carrot cake we’ve ever had.

Ruby

Friday 18th of March 2022

Just to let you know I’m opposite of you I enjoy a chunky Carrot Cake but thanks for showing me another option.

Grace De Silva

Friday 11th of February 2022

I have made this carrot cake a few times, all my friends loved it so much.

Thank you for sharing this recipe.

Eileen Gray

Friday 11th of February 2022

You are very welcome!

izzy

Tuesday 26th of October 2021

Hi! I've been searching for the perfect carrot cake recipe without using a lot of leavening. I've tried out a few recipes but there is this aftertaste from the leavening. The recipes I used, used both baking powder and soda. Can you explain why your recipe uses 2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking soda? Thank you! I'm really curious.

Eileen Gray

Tuesday 26th of October 2021

The leavening in carrot cake has to do a lot of heavy lifting. This batter is quite wet and has lots of chunky ingredients that can weigh the batter down as it rises. There are also some acidic ingredients (brown sugar, currants) which is why there is some baking soda. The eggs and flour provide structure for the cake crumb and the additional leavening helps prevent it from being dense and gummy. If you object to the amount of leavening you can experiment with gradually lower amounts to get to a flavor you like without compromising the texture too much for your taste.

Nelda Moore

Thursday 29th of July 2021

I have friends with diverticulosis but I dearly love walnuts, so do you have any information on how grinding the nuts to a much smaller size might affect her digestive system? Common sense tells me it would be worse, but maybe just the opposite is true. It would be wonderful if we could all eat this without consequences. (I will soak my currants/raisins in bourbon rather than water.)

Monique Loupe

Saturday 20th of November 2021

@Nelda Moore, You might want to make cupcakes. Pour some batter in a few cups for your friend, then add the nuts.

Eileen Gray

Thursday 29th of July 2021

I honestly have no idea so I couldn't say.

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