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Classic Carrot Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

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Serve twelve to fourteen.

Yields one 9-inch layer cake.

  • by Abigail Johnson Dodge from Fine Cooking
    Issue 97

For the cake
  • 1 cup canola, corn, or vegetable oil; more for the pans
  • 2 cups (9 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1-3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups (8-3/4 oz.) lightly packed, finely grated carrots
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1-1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For the frosting
  • 1 lb. cream cheese, softened
  • 12 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 lb. (4 cups) confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp. table salt
Make the cake

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil and flour the sides of two 9x2-inch round cake pans, tapping out any excess flour. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. In a large bowl with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the oil, eggs, carrots, brown sugar, walnuts, raisins, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just blended, about 30 seconds. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake until the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed and a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 28 to 30 minutes.

Let cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pans to loosen the cakes, invert them onto the rack, remove the pans, and carefully peel away the parchment. Set the cakes aside to cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until the layers are completely cool.

Assemble the cake

Carefully set one cake upside down on a large, flat serving plate. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread about 1-1/2 cups of the frosting over the top of the cake. Top with the remaining cake layer, upside down. Spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting. For more tips on how to frost a layer cake, watch our video.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. The cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Make Ahead Tips

The flavors of this moist cake only improve with time, so feel free to bake and frost the cake up to a few days ahead.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 840; Fat (g): 54; Fat Calories (kcal): 480; Saturated Fat (g): 22; Protein (g): 8; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 20; Carbohydrates (g): 86; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 9; Sodium (mg): 550; Cholesterol (mg): 150; Fiber (g): 2;

Photo: Scott Phillips

I made it in a 9x13 glass pan and it took 38 min to bake but it came out beautifully. Didn't need as much frosting though since there was no filling layer.

This is my go to recipe for carrot cake! Everyone loves it and it is often requested by my friends for their birthday. One thing to remember... Don't ever use "light" cream cheese for the frosting. It will make it runny. Just follow the recipe as is and you won't be disappointed

First time making a carrot cake and it was AWESOME!! I made it for an office birthday party and everyone loved it and commented that the cake was so moist and the frosting was to die for. Fabulous recipe!!

I don't know what I did wrong but the frosting did not thicken as needed, it was a bit loose and did not have the texture needed for frosting. Followed the recipe to a T with the exception that I used light Philly cream cheese in an attempt to save a few calories. I won't write it off as there is not a single negative review on the frosting so I'll just say I screwed up somewhere/somehow. Kind of disappointing as the frosting is expensive to make. I'll still give it 4 stars and try again.

This is the BEST carrot cake I've had! This is the keeper! I agree that the recipe makes an excessive amount of frosting, but it's so good - who cares?! (Extra for the baker!) You won't be disappointed with this cake!

Delicious! I just impressed my guests to no end with this cake. I did leave out the raisins since none of us like them around here. But otherwise I followed this recipe to the letter and the result was phenomenal. The frosting especially is to die for and the baking time was spot on.

I don't really like carrot cake (I made it for my mother-in-law) but everyone RAVED about it. I even came around and I must say it was lovely - moist and flavourful. Will make it again!

Best Carrot Cake Ever!! It turns out moist and uses simple ingredients and is super easy to make. I did make a few changes though : omitted the ginger powder- at our house we are not too fond of ginger in cakes, and reduced the sugar by a third as I don't like overly sweet cakes and this one has frosting too. Will make it again and again!!

This cake was delicious! I made it for my very picky boyfriend and he loved it. Carrot cake is his favorite. I am not a very good baker, great cook though! Very easy to follow this recipe and came out perfect! Will definitely be making it again SOON!

I made this cake for my boyfriends birthday, he's very picky about his sweets. He loved this cake! The frosting is creamy and not too sweet but decadent. The cake is moist and flavorful. I left out the raisins (not a fan) and it was perfect! I took a slice to work and received comments on how wonderful it smelled and tasty it looked. This recipe was easy to follow and make. I made it all within an hour or 2 after work and frosted it that night! It was a huge success! I'm definitely going to be making it again!

This is a delicious carrot cake. I used a different icing recipe and the combo was the perfect carrot cake.

Absolutely delicious! I've baked it twice and my husband and daughter are begging for me to make it again. It's true that the flavour of the cake improves with time. I baked the cake and frosted it the next day and it was incredible!

It was an OK cake, with a good crumb and moistness, but I have a different carrot cake recipe that includes pineapple that I much prefer. This one seemed to lack something in comparison. I think the icing was a bit excessive, but half a recipe would have been too little. ............ I had no problem with saltiness (and I'm very sensitive to salt) so I wonder if the previous reviewer ended up with salted walnuts.

Yes, probably the best carrot cake I've ever made, and the frosting (being my favorite part) was divine, apart from a faint saltiness. Did anyone else detect this in your versions? It didn't ruin the cake by any means, but I started to wonder if that 3/4 t. called for in the recipe was a touch too much...? Certainly, I can reduce it next time but I'm curious about other's experience. The gorgeous appearance of two, generously frosted layers, the ample amount of carrot inside, the walnuts, the large Flame raisins I used, all contributed to a fantastic, luscious cake. And it was relatively easy to put together-very fast! Thanks Abigail (and your mother)!

The cake is beautiful and looks delicious. I orginally made this carrot cake when I first baked carrot cake. However, I have made carrot cake for 30 years with a similar recipe that contains crushed pineapple - raisins optional. It is requested for dinners and I have given it for gifts at Christmas and everyone agrees it is more moist and the best carrot cake recipe of the two. It is also no secret, you can find the recipe in cookbooks and on line. Making the cake ahead of time only makes it better. Be careful using dark metal baking pans as they can overbrown the cake. It can also be made as a sheet cake, although there will be too much icing. This icing is the best in the world and is good on Devil`s Food, Orange, and Italian Cream.

This is absolutely the best carrot cake ever. I usually do not do alot of baking because there's only two of us at home so a big cake would be too much temptation. I made this as a friend's birthday cake and it was divine! I thought that the recipe for the frosting would be too much but it turned out to be the perfect amount. Both the cake and the frosting as easy to make and equally yummy. If you make this cake, you will impress your friends and family. It's also totally amazing to have with your coffee in the morning. Enjoy!

I made a 1/2 recipe as 12 cupcakes. Delicious. I love that the frosting is not sickly-sweet.

I am a huge carrot cake fan and when I received the Feb/March '09 issue of Fine Cooking, well I of course just had to make this one. Being this was the first time with this recipe I decided to follow it line for line with no mods. The recipe was very easy to follow. I liked that some of the ingredients were called out in weight instead of volume because it's more accurate when you use a scale. I also used a stand mixer for the batter and frosting for more consistent results. The end result was a wonderfully moist, rich and flavorful cake. The spices were very prominent and I like that. All the guests at the birthday party were very pleased by my creation. Make this cake - you won't be disppointed!

As a chocolate desert enthusiast, I was not sure how I would like this recipe, but decided to try it anyway since my wife loves carrot cake. This turned out to be one of the best desserts that I have ever made! I left out the raisins and added some extra toasted walnuts but otherwise made it exactly as specified. The only thing I will do differently next time will be to use more of the frosting between the layers as I ended up with more frosting then I needed on the outside of the cake.

This cake was fabulous. I made it a few days ahead and kept it in the fridge. I thawed it for several hours before serving and it was divine. I was told by many that it was the best carrot cake they ever had. I garnished the top with grated cinnamon chips and finely chopped, toasted walnuts. Make this cake-your friends will thank you for it.

I have never been much of a carrot cake fan.. the words carrot and cake just don't mix in my book... However while out for dinner with friends and sharing some desserts the carrot cake we ordered was the best dessert on the table so I decided I wold try and make one.. along comes this months Fine Cooking with a recipe so I gave it a go.. This is without a doubt one of the best cakes I have ever baked or tasted.. the icing matched perfectly with the cake.-not to mention that the caked iced looks spectacular. the toasted nuts and raisins mmmmm .. and each day the cake sits the flavour just get better and better.. Make this cake .. you wont regret it for a second..and neither will your family or friends.. my co workers agreed this was one of the best ever desserts they had tasted. enjoy !!

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