The best carrot cake recipe you will ever need - this time with fluffy, nutty brown butter frosting and choose your own adventure add-ins.
Everyone’s ‘favorite’ carrot cake recipe differs from person to person. Some might prefer nuts to break up the moist cake layers while other won’t even take a bite if the cake contains raisins. Here, I’ve offered a few different variations on the same tried and tested recipe that suites everyone’s needs.
I first developed this recipe last spring and covered it in beautiful (yet time consuming) buttercream flowers. In hindsight, I see that the flower crown negates the simplicity that people are looking for from a fool-proof carrot cake. Like most of my cakes, the buttercream flowers and added decorations are always optional, but I decided this favorite carrot cake needed a more approachable frosting and finish.
The best carrot cake is now dressed in the most mouth-watering waves of brown butter frosting. Don’t you just want to drive right in? With flavors this good we don’t really need all the bells and whistles (although they never hurt). The organic swoops and swirls of the slightly nutty frosting are so inviting.
Exposing the sides of the cake and piling on the frosting on top shows just how moist the carrot cake is and makes us want to take a nap in the soft and fluffy frosting. Why hide that natural beauty with perfectly smooth buttercream? We eat with eyes first, after all.
The Best Carrot Cake Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup walnuts (toasted and ground), 1/2 cup almond flour, or 1/3 cup all-purpose flour*
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon all spice
¾ cup grapeseed or canola oil
1 ¼ cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup crushed pineapple, applesauce, or mashed, ripe banana*
3 cups shredded carrots
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans as set aside.
Whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour (or ground walnuts - if using), baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together both sugars, eggs, and orange zest (if using). Stream in the oil and mix until combined. Stir in the pineapple (or applesauce or banana).
Working in two batches, gently stir in the dry ingredients.
Lastly, fold in the shredded carrots until combined.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 28 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes come out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans. Allow cakes to completely cool before filling and frosting.
To assemble, place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Pile on about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of frosting and spread flat with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Place the second layer of cake on top. Frost with the remaining frosting (or desired amount**). Serve and store at room temperature for up to two days. Keep any remaining leftovers after that point in the refrigerator for an additional day or two.
*Chose one of the ingredients from each list. For example, add 1/2 cup almond flour and 1 cup applesauce or 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour and 1 cup crushed pineapple.
**Since the sides are bare, I like a nice pile of frosting on top. If this is too much for you, leftover buttercream may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in the freezer for a couple of months. Thaw in the fridge/ bring to room temperature and re-whip before using.
Brown Butter Frosting
1 cup + 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Place the butter in a light-coloured sauce pan and melt on the stove over medium heat**. Continue to simmer until the butter becomes frothy and starts to turn golden in color. Stirring to keep the milk solids from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan, continue to cook the butter until brown, about 8 minutes. When done, it will be nutty and fragrant.
Strain the brown butter into a heat-safe bowl. Discard the dark solids left behind. Refrigerate the butter until it becomes solid yet soft (the same consistency as room temperature butter). Stirring every so often, this may take 20 to 35 minutes.
Once the melted brown butter returns to a semi-solid consistency, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a mixer bowl with a hand mixer). Mix on medium until the butter is smooth and uniform. With the mixer low, slowly add in the remaining ingredients. Once incorporated, beat the buttercream on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes***. Add more sugar and cream as needed until the desired consistency is achieved.
** Do not boil on high heat or too much water content from the butter will evaporate out
*** Even though the ingredients will come together sooner than this time, keep mixing to incorporate enough air to make the frosting light and fluffy instead of heavy and grainy.