Carrot Cake

The "perfect" recipe for all shapes and sizes of carrot cake, whatever makes your Inner Bunny's nose wrinkle in pleasure: cupcakes and muffins; an easy snacking cake, either big or small; a round or square layer cake. The carrots are grated and the batter is mixed in a food processor, a method that yields a Carrot Cake that's especially light and tender. (The technique is adapted from Cook's Illustrated's genius recipe developers 20+ years ago!) For a real sweet treat, spread the cake with the best cream cheese frosting this side of the cabbage patch.

Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

Homestyle Carrot Cake, Made from Scratch in a Food Processor. A Long-Time Tried-and-True Family Favorite. No Mixer Required. A Spring Classic, Especially at Easter. Budget Friendly. Potluck & Party Friendly. So Good!!
Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

My Sad Story.

People! As if we need one more reason to share our very best recipes, it's this: should we lose a recipe, we can call to ask, "By chance, did I give you my carrot cake recipe?" and then sigh with relief when hearing, "Yeah! It's our favorite."

Me? I've lost "my" carrot cake recipe. It wasn't even my recipe, it was my grandmother's, the carrot cake recipe she made for my 17th birthday the year it was just the two of us; the carrot cake recipe I made for her 80th birthday when family gathered from all over the country; the carrot cake that I made, after she died a few months later, year after year after year to commemorate her birthday, delivering fat squares to friends, neighbors and in her special memory, elderly acquaintances, often to huge surprise and delight.

I've searched high and low. I've called family and friends. It was hand-written on a smudged-up 3x5 orange (carrot orange!) index card and wrapped in a plastic sleeve. The flipside includes notes on each year's deliveries and details my own secret technique for moist, flavorful carrot cake. I even remember the likely last time I made it: in 2001, when my parents were in St. Louis on my grandmother's birthday.

My sister doesn't have it. My cousins don't have it. For some reason, it didn't make the family cookbooks on either side and it's not in the church cookbooks I've contributed to.

I fear it's lost forever – a special shame since as hundreds of thousands of visitors to Kitchen Parade and A Veggie Venture can attest, I am hardly, what shall we say, stingy? with good recipes.

I'm sad, teary even. Sure, everyone has a decent carrot cake recipe. And the lost recipe may not have been so special except that it was particularly mine, my grandmother's, the one we shared.

And I want it back!

Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

About This Recipe: Carrot Cake

  • Sadly, this is not "my" recipe nor even my grandmother's recipe. Still, it's its own very happy ending, a lovely spiced carrot cake with a fluffy cream cheese frosting, my adaptation of Cook's Illustrated's 2003 recipe, baked as cupcakes, an easy snacking cake, a big 9x13 cake plus rounds or squares for towering layer cakes.
  • Distinctive Ingredients = The Spice Mix (cinnamon, cardamon, nutmeg & cloves)
  • Ingredient List for the Cake = all the above + carrots + white sugar & brown sugar + 2 large eggs + vegetable oil + flour + baking powder & baking soda + salt
  • Ingredient List for the Cream Cheese Frosting = cream cheese + butter + sour cream + vanilla + powdered sugar
  • For Garnish = a swirl of grated or julienned or scraped carrot, optional
  • Kitchen Tools = A food processor for grating the carrots; mixing the batter; and for double or triple batches only, whipping up the luscious cream cheese frosting.
  • The mixing technique is not difficult but decidedly unusual. First, it relies on a food processor for grating the carrots and then emulsifying eggs, sugar and oil. Both these are mixed with flour, leavening and spices.
  • Timing-wise, allow about 30 minutes hands-on time and plan on cake! on the table! ready to eat! in about 2 hours.
  • Carrot Cake can be a little plain in appearance, the dark cake, the white cream cheese frosting. That's why I always like to do a little sumpin-sumpin on top with bits of carrot. Go to town, whatever works for you. Or not.
  • This is pantry-friendly recipe. Odds are high that bakers already keep these ingredients on hand, ready and waiting for the next cake or quick loaf.
  • This is a budget-friendly, no pricey or hard-to-find ingredients to hunt up or order online.
  • As written, the recipe yields a dozen cupcakes; an 8x8 pan that is easily cut into nine or sixteen pieces; a single-layer round cake easily cut into 8 or 12 or more wedges. The recipe may also be doubled for a 9x13 pan; doubled for two-layer 8x8 or round cakes; tripled for three-layer cakes. (If tripling the recipe, I recommend separately mixing one single batch and one double batch.) I haven't tried this yet, but think that the recipe would work well in a loaf pan as well, a Carrot Cake Loaf, if you will.
  • So good! I hope you love it!

  • Looking for something expressly for muffins with carrots? Check out my Morning Glory Muffins (loaded with carrots, apple, raisins and nuts). Or spice up a loaf of zucchini bread with carrot, see Zucchini Bread with Carrot & Candied Ginger.
  • Not quite what you're looking for? Check out my other cake recipes.
Steps to Make Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

How to Make Carrot Cake

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in seven easy steps. You can definitely do this!

  • MEASURE THE DRY INGREDIENTS [collage above: top two photos] That's the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt, collecting them in a bowl large enough to hold all the batter. Mix the dry ingredients really well, you'll know when they're well-mixed once you see no signs or streaks of the spices because everything is so well incorporated
  • GRATE THE CARROTS IN A FOOD PROCESSOR You'll need a big food processor for this, not a mini one. Use the grater disc, seat the processor's lid and insert peeled and trimmed carrots through the chute. Scrape the grated carrots out of the food processor into the bowl with the Dry Ingredients.
  • SWITCH TO THE STANDARD "S" BLADE [collage above: lower left photo] Use this blade to process both the sugar and the eggs for 20 seconds. Yes, time it! With the food processor running, slooooooowly pour the vegetable oil through the opening in the lid. Once all the oil is in, process the sugar-egg-oil mixture for another 20 seconds. Yes, time it! If you pay close attention, you may well feel and hear the mixture noticeably change during that last 20 seconds, thickening a texture a lot like sweetened condensed milk. Scrape this mixture right into the bowl with the Dry Ingredients and Grated Carrot.
  • USE A BIG SPOON OR FORK TO MIX THESE ALL TOGETHER BY HAND Just turn the ingredients together until they're well mixed, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl too. Then quit! You don't want to overwork the batter.
  • IT'S TIME TO BAKE! [collage above: lower right photo] If you haven't yet, prepare your baking pans with spray and possibly parchment. Then scoop (for cupcakes) or scrape (for other cakes) the batter into the pan, gently smoothing the top (for other cakes). Bake at 350F/180C: the baking time will vary, depending on what you're making. All that detail is included in the recipe below.
  • LET COOL Once the cupcakes or cake or cakes are baked, let them cool before removing from their respective pans.
  • MAKE THE FROSTING I skip the frosting when serving carrot cake as muffins but otherwise, wow, this cream cheese frosting is excellent. For a single batch, you'll need to switch to a mini food processor or a hand mixer with a bowl. But if you're making a double batch for a 9x13 or layer cakes, wash and dry the bowl of the food processor and then use the food processor to make this light and fluffy cream cheese icing.
A baking pan prepped with a parchment sling held in place by metal binder clips.

How to Make a Parchment "Sling"

More and more baking recipes specify cutting parchment to create a "sling" for lifting cakes out of square and rectangular baking pans.

If you plan to just leave the cake in the pan and cut it right there, just ignore the sling instructions, all you need is a knife and maybe a spatula.

But lifting a cake out of the pan while keeping it intact does some times keep the cake over-baking from the residual heat of the hot pan.

It's also nice to lift out the entire cake for displaying and serving from a cake plate, say, or for building the individual layers for layer cakes.

So here's how to do it.

  • Cut a piece of parchment the width of the pan that's long enough to come up two sides plus some excess.
  • With your fingers, press the parchment into the pan's inside bottom edges.
  • With your fingers, fold the parchment over the pan's top edges away from the inside.
  • Now clamp the parchment onto the top edges with common office-supply clamps called metal binder clips. These will prevent the parchment from flopping back over the cake.
  • Brilliant, yes?!
Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

  • Is the food processor worth the trouble? Definitely yes. I recently baked back-to-back batches of this recipe, one with a hand mixer, one with the food processor.
  • The first batch, I grated the carrots by hand and mixed the batter with a hand mixer. The cupcakes baked up slightly unevenly and without much loft but otherwise tasted great.
  • The second batch, I grated the carrots in the food processor (not much difference, there) but then followed Cook's Illustrated's food processor technique to the letter. The cake mixed in the food processor baked up noticeably lighter and more tender.
  • Cook's Illustrated insists that the food processor is critical, that emulsifying the sugar, eggs and oil disperses the fat throughout the batter so it doesn't sink to the bottom, creating a heavy, soggy, bottom. So okay then.
  • That said, I don't think the average carrot cake lover is going to notice, or even care, whether you use the food processor or a hand mixer, especially if you make the cream cheese frosting which is just so dominant in our enjoyment.

  • Do you have to peel the carrots first? Maybe. It depends on the carrots. If the skins are thick or gnarly, definitely peel them before grating. But if they're pretty spring carrots, just trim off the stem and root ends, then grate away.

  • What if you forget to bring the cream cheese and butter to room temperature? It's not the end of the world. I forgot recently and just threw the cream cheese and butter into a mini food processor, just these two by themselves before adding the wetter sour cream and the liquid extracts. A few odd lumps remained but it was easy to pick them out. So. It's still a better idea to warm the two beforehand but if you've gotta make the frosting asap, well then, just do.
Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.

For Best Results

For my weekly column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I interviewed chefs and translated their restaurant recipes for home kitchens. The most illuminating question? "How can a home cook ensure the same results?" So now I ask that question of myself, too, for my own recipes. Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

Measure Using a Scale Nearly all my recipes for baked goods read, xx cups flour, "fluffed to aerate before measuring". This is because flour packs down from its own weight, so fluffing the flour makes a huge difference in the ultimate lightness of baked goods, pancakes, biscuits, etc.

Recently, I fluffed the flour before measuring it, then weighed it to compare with Cook's Illustrated weight information. The two were 100% in synch. It's one more reason to invest in a kitchen scale, this is my kitchen scale, in red! I've used it for years. But it you don't have access to a kitchen scale, fluffing the flour first is an excellent way to emulate the equivalent of one cup of flour by weight, 125g.

I also use a scale to measure most baking ingredients, ensuring consistency, skipping separate and some times inaccurate measuring cups. The exceptions are baking powder, baking soda and spices, say. For small amounts, a measuring spoon is just more accurate.

Buy Fresh Vegetable Oil Take a sniff of your vegetable oil. If it smells the least bit off, that odor will permeate your carrot cake. That's why, years back, I learned to buy only a small bottle of vegetable oil. Even still, I occasionally have to pitch the remainder of an open bottle.

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How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this recipe inspires you, please do save and share! I'd be honored ...

Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.
Carrot Cake ♥ Mixed in the food processor, baked in many shapes and sizes.


Hands-on time: 25 minutes over about 45 minutes
Time-to-table: 2 hours
Makes 12 cupcakes or one 9-inch round cake or one 8x8 cake (double ingredients for a 9x13 cake)
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring or 156g
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamon, optional but lovely
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (assumes table salt)
  • 1/2 pound (8oz/224g) carrots, peeled and trimmed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar (see ALANNA's TIPS)
  • 3/4 cup (132g) vegetable oil (or canola or safflower)

PREP Heat the oven to 350F/180C.

For cupcakes, spray regular-size muffin tins with baking spray, my favorite is Baker's Joy and my backup is this three-ingredient DIY Substitute for Baker's Joy.

For a round cake pan, lightly spray the pan, then if you like, cut a piece of parchment for the bottom of the pan and spray it too. For an 8x8 or 9x13 metal baking pan, lightly spray the pan's bottom and sides. If you like, line the pan with a parchment "sling" – that's just a rectangular piece of parchment cut to line the bottom and also come up and flop over two opposite sides; the sling makes it easy to lift the cake out of the pan after baking, for example, to serve on a cake plate. To keep the parchment sides from flopping into the batter, use two of those black binder clips found in office-supply stores. For good measure, spray the bottom of the lined pan, too.

A little more prep work helps things move along. Prep the carrots for grating and measure the vegetable oil, preferably in a liquid measuring cup with a spout. Finally! Let's get to makin' this cake!

DRY INGREDIENTS Measure the Dry Ingredients into a large bowl, one large enough to hold all the cupcake batter. If you use a kitchen scale (affiliate link) to measure the flour in grams, no need to use a measuring cup! Stir them well, until the spices are evenly distributed throughout the flour.

GRATE THE CARROTS Install the grater blade in the food processor and with the food processor running, carefully insert the carrots through the feeding tube. Scrape the grated carrots out of the food processor's bowl into the bowl that holds the Dry Ingredients.

WET INGREDIENTS Switch to the food processor's metal blade. Add the eggs and both sugars and process for 20 seconds. With the food processor running, pour the oil into the food processor in a slow stream, then process for an additional 20 seconds; the texture will noticeably change during those last 20 seconds as the ingredients emulsify.

Scrape the Wet Ingredients mixture (including from the blade) into the bowl holding the Dry Ingredients and grated carrots. Use a spoon or spatula to gently turn the ingredients to mix until no flour streaks remain.

FOR CUPCAKES or MUFFINS Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tins and bake for about 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, then gently remove from the tins and let finish cooling on a rack. (For muffins, skip the Cream Cheese Frosting.)

FOR a 9-INCH ROUND CAKE or 8X8 CAKE or 9x13 CAKE Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes (rotating half-way through for the 9x13) or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, then let cool to room temperature in the pan.

Once the cake is cool, you may lift the cake onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment and arrange on a serving plate. Or, if you're like us, just leave the cake right in the pan!

ALANNA's TIPS If using light brown sugar, consider adding a teaspoon of molasses to the sugars for a small boost of molasses flavor akin to dark brown sugar. Leftover cake should be refrigerated! That's experience talking!

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See .
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Piece (assumes 12): 310 Calories; 17g Tot Fat; 5g Sat Fat; 52mg Cholesterol; 198mg Sodium; 36g Carb; 1g Fiber; 25g Sugar; 3g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 7 & PointsPlus 8 & SmartPoints 14 & Freestyle 13 & myWW green 13 & blue 13 & purple 13 & future WW points
First published in 2008 at A Veggie Venture, my food blog about vegetables. The recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated though TV folks may be more familiar with American's Test Kitchen (ATK), the award-winning public television show. Cook's Illustrated is ATK's magazine format and is a great subscription for curious cooks. I don't cook from it often but I do learn a lot from every single issue. This recipe came from the March-April 2003 issue. I wish to heavens that Cook's Illustrated would open up its website to print subscribers, at minimum, to let print subscribers search recipes lists to learn which print issue it's in, so we're not forced to search through stacks of past issues. C'mon, Cook's Illustrated, get with it!


Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Time-to-cake: 10 minutes
Makes about 1 cup frosting, enough for a dozen cupcakes or one 9-inch round cake or one 8x8 cake (double ingredients for a 9x13 cake)
  • 4 ounces (112g) cream cheese, room temperature (light aka low-fat aka neufchatel cream cheese works fine)
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons (36g) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon sour cream (I love this addition!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • A pinch of table salt
  • 3/4 cups (90g) powdered sugar (also called icing sugar or confectioner's sugar, it's the white powdery stuff)

  • Carrot bits, for garnish, optional

Use an electric hand mixer in a medium-size bowl to mix the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, vanilla and almond extract until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed, sussing out tiny lumps of cream cheese.

Add the powdered sugar and mix until light and smooth.

Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cooled cupcakes or cake and decorate the top with carrot bits.

ALANNA's TIPS I specify a hand mixer for the cupcakes and the 9-inch round and the 8x8 square because for a single batch of frosting, there's just not enough volume for the big food processor or a big stand mixer, the blade will just spin and spin. For a double batch of icing for a 9x13 pan, you can make the frosting right in the big food processor used for the carrots and Egg-Sugar-Oil mixture, just be sure to wash the bowl first. It takes a couple of hours for cream cheese to really warm to room temperature but it helps to let the cream cheese and butter warm up a bit even just while mixing the batter and baking the cupcakes or cake. If you forget completely (been there, done that), a mini food processor like this one (affiliate link) works for mixing a single batch of the frosting. Good news, it can also handle cream cheese and butter straight from the fridge for a single batch of frosting, it's just not ideal and you'll likely end up with a few bits and bumps. In addition, the mini processor becomes very full, enough that the frosting overflows onto the spindle the holds the blade. If you clean the spindle off right away, it should be no problem but if the frosting dries on the spindle, the mini processor might be a goner.
Southern Belle Lemon Layer Cake ♥, easy cake mix cake, very lemony with a delicious lemony cream cheese frosting. Also strawberry cake, cherry cake, orange cake and 9x13 variations!

Summer Poke Cake with Strawberries & Blueberries ♥, so fresh and festive all summer long.

Mom's Blueberry Coffeecake, another easy summer recipe ♥, moist and delicious with fresh or frozen blueberries. Rave reviews!

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.