This homemade carrot cake recipe is full of flavor with lots of carrots, covered in rich decadent cream cheese icing, and topped with crunchy pecans.
I wish everyone could have been blessed enough to have known Heather’s Great Aunt Frankie. Her giant smile and infectious laugh made her the type of person you just enjoyed being around. And boy could she throw a party! She was the perpetual host. And, she simply loved loving on folks through her food. Today, I’m honoring the sweet memories of a memorable lady by sharing her beloved recipe – Aunt Frankie’s Carrot Cake.
One of the recipes Aunt Frankie was known for was her carrot cake. Even folks who didn’t like carrot cake loved Aunt Frankie’s Carrot Cake. It’s moist and rich with a touch of cinnamon spice and coated in a fluffy cream cheese frosting.
This is a dessert staple during the Easter season but can be served all year round. Aunt Frankie’s homemade carrot cake is full of flavor with lots of carrots, covered in rich decadent cream cheese icing, and topped with crunchy pecans.
What is carrot cake?
Carrot cake is a yummy, moist, and traditionally, layered cake filled with a lot of… you guessed it! Carrots! Specifically, grated carrots. Between each layer and coating the outsides, is a delicious and decadent cream cheese frosting. Often times, you will find toasted walnuts or pecans chopped and sprinkled on top of the cake and along the sides of the cake.
Most carrot cakes I’ve had were made from scratch, but you can find some boxed carrot cakes mixes in the grocery story that are actually pretty good. And y’all know I’m no stranger to a cake mix. But, Aunt Frankie made her carrot cake recipe from scratch, so we will be making this cake from scratch. But trust me… it’s easy!
How do I soften cream cheese?
When making this carrot cake, it is important to soften your cream cheese before making the frosting so everything blends together easily. There are several ways you can soften cream cheese quickly for your perfect cream cheese mixture. You can choose any of the following methods.
- Submerge in a large mixing bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes.
- Microwave the cream cheese in 15-second intervals. Don’t over nuke it though! No one wants scorched cream cheese. What a travesty!
- Leave out your cream cheese on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. This is my preferred method.
- Place in your hands while still in the packaging for about 15 minutes. Press the packaging back and forth in your palms until you can feel it is creamy and approximately room temperature.
How do I store carrot cake?
Since carrot cake is made with cream cheese, the safest way to store it is in the refrigerator. With that being said, I often keep it covered, in an airtight container, or wrapped in plastic wrap and placed right on the counter for up to a few days. I’ve even seen professional bakeries do this.
Any longer than a few days and it will need to be refrigerated. However, if you are going for longevity, this moist carrot cake will last the longest when stored in the fridge.
Self Rising Flour – You are going to need 2 1/4 cups of self-rising flour. That is very important. If you don’t have self-rising flour, you can use 2 cups of all-purpose flour and add in 3 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. You will still need to add the baking soda as well.
Baking Soda – I don’t really have anything groundbreaking to share here besides, it’s always good to have a small container of baking soda on hand, especially if you are a baker. Just make sure it’s fresh. Adding a little baking soda to some vinegar or lemon juice is the best way to test it. If it fizzes, you’re good to go!
Ground Cinnamon – You can get fancy and grind your own cinnamon sticks. Or, you can be like me and do it the good ole lazy way… snag yourself a small container of pre-ground cinnamon from the spices section of your local grocery story.
Sugar – Yes please! I mean would it be a delicious cake without it?! You will need 2 cups for this recipe.
Vegetable Oil – If you want a moist cake, you do not want to skimp on your vegetable oil. However, if you find yourself without vegetable oil, you can use melted butter in its place. But it’s not a 1:1 swap, though. I’d recommend using 2 additional tablespoons of butter if you go that route.
Eggs – This recipe calls for 4 large eggs. Make sure they’re room temperature.
Grated Carrots – You’ll need about 3 cups of shredded (or grated) carrots for this recipe. And yes, you’ll need to shred them yourself. The precut matchstick carrots from the grocery store are just too thick. I just used a box grater to shred mine, but you can use a food processor as well. It took about 4 medium carrots to yield 3 cups.
Pecans – Yes, pecans can be a little pricey, but they’re worth it. Be sure to buy chopped pecans for this recipe. They’re cheaper to buy in pieces, and it saves you the step of having to chop them. You can also use walnuts, if you wish.
Cream Cheese – You will need 2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese. I prefer full-fat cream cheese for a richer flavor.
Butter – If you have been around here for a while, you probably already know what I’m about to say… unsalted butter is best for baking, so I recommend going with that variety of butter. Brand is totally up to you.
Powdered Sugar – Any powdered sugar will do for this recipe. You will need 4 cups, which equals 1 (16-ounce) package.
Vanilla Extract – You can use any brand of vanilla extract. Whatever you have on hand will do the trick. I’ve been known to use the imitation stuff a lot too. There are actually quite a few professional bakers who consistently use the imitation vanilla because it yields a better flavor. I’ve found that to be true myself. But, you do you.
Variations and Additions
Sweet Potato Cake – This carrot cake is very similar to my Sweet Potato Cake. It features pretty much the exact same ingredients and instructions, except it swaps sweet potatoes for the carrots and is topped with a fluffy marshmallow frosting. So, if you like this carrot cake, give the Sweet Potato Cake a try, and let me know how you like it.
Thicker Frosting – This cream cheese frosting recipe makes a fluffy, silky icing for the cake. While I love that “Duncan Hines” swirled frosting look, I do understand that some may want a thicker, more pipe-able frosting. You can achieve this affect by simply refrigerating the frosting for a little while or by adding additional powdered sugar. Not too much though… add a little at a time until the frosting thickness is to your liking.
Coconut Oil – The vegetable oil in this recipe really is the best choice, but if you simply can not consume vegetable oil, you could use coconut oil. Just keep in mind, this will give the cake a hint of coconut flavor.
Walnuts – While I much more prefer pecans for this recipe, walnuts are an adequate substitution when in a pinch.
Aunt Frankie’s Carrot Cake
For the cake:
- 2 1/4 cups self-rising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted and divided (optional)
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 3 lightly greased 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper; lightly grease parchment paper. Sift together first 3 ingredients. Set aside.
- Beat sugar and oil at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.
- Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed just until blended and stopping to scrape down sides. Fold in carrots and 1 cup walnuts or pecans. Spoon batter evenly into prepared pans.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.
For the frosting:
- Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add powdered sugar, beating well. Stir in vanilla.
- Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.
- Arrange remaining 1/2 cup of nuts around outer edge on top of cake.
- Cut with a serrated knife. Store covered at room temperature for up to 2 days or in an airtight container in the refrigerator for longer.
If nutritional values are provided, they are an estimate and will vary depending on the brands used. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, I recommend grabbing your favorite brands and plugging those ingredients into an online nutritional calculator.