Light Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


The first cake I ever baked in North America was carrot cake. I remembered then that we only had a fine grater, and can you image grating so many cups of carrot through that? Laborious! I kept thinking that it better be good, while staring at my orange-soaked hands. Guilty of mass carrot murder. But, you know, we love carrot cakes and this is what you make for the love of it.

What makes this different and so much better than my previous attempts was that it’s surprisingly light, and still amazingly good. Sometimes, a heavy carrot cake just puts me off because I can only have a couple of bites and I feel like that’s it for me for the rest of the month.

But this…this I can eat again and again.

Once you make it, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It’s great for Fall or anytime of the year, really. :-)


Fluffy yet not dry, moist yet not dense, flavorful yet not too spicy. Those are what makes this light carrot cake so special, on top of having only half a cup of oil instead of up 1 ½ cups in your regular carrot cakes. The flavor of the sweet carrots shine through without ever reminding you they are vegetables. This cake is all I’ve ever wanted in a carrot cake. You can use light or regular cream cheese. I gave myself that and used regular. ~Joy

This recipe was adapted from Cooks Illustrated magazine (November 2006 issue).

For the Cake:

  • vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), peeled and coarse grated, about 3 cup

For the frosting:

  • 1 package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar


For the cake layers:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle position. Lightly coat 2 9″x2″ aluminum round cake pans with cooking spray.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Beat the eggs and sugars together in another medium bowl until smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Add oil and mix on low speed until it becomes thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.

4. Sift half the flour mixture over the batter and gently stir. Repeat with remaining flour and mix until most of the lumps are gone, but do not over mix. Fold in the carrots with a rubber spatula.

5. Pour the batter equally into greased pans and level the top with a spatula. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. It is done when a cake tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs when inserted into the middle of the cake.

6. Cool cake layers in the pan for 10 minutes then invert onto a wire rack to completely cool, right side up.

For the frosting:

Beat cream cheese, vanilla and lemon juice together. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth and without lumps.

To assemble the cake:

Place the first layer on a plate or cake stand, and frost the top with half the icing. Gently place the 2nd cake layer and frost with the remaining icing. Optional: top with some shaved white chocolate or dehydrated caramelized carrot shavings.

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  • November 4, 2010 2:38 pm

    Your cake looks heavenly. I will be trying the recipe soon!

  • November 4, 2010 2:47 pm

    you know for some weird reason, I have not yet made carrot cake! Thanks for reminding me what to do with the carrots I seem to have amassed :)))

  • November 5, 2010 11:08 am

    LIGHT?!!!! That means I can eat the whole darn cake, right?

    I love the pic with the mug! GORGEOUS

  • November 5, 2010 5:21 pm

    I think I’m going to have to make this! NOW!

  • November 5, 2010 6:34 pm

    oh my this looks delicious! i absolutely love carrot cake!

  • November 6, 2010 1:27 pm

    I love carrot cakes! But more than carrot cakes, I love Gajar Halva (carrot pudding. I like the kind that’s rich, with fresh Indian cheese (mawa). This is probably the only thing in which I like green cardamoms.

  • November 12, 2010 12:33 am

    You know I’m gonna love this Joy…I did a carrot cake from the Ottolenghi Cookbook last year. carrot season is just about beginning here. I’d love to try this one!

  • Amy
    November 22, 2010 7:13 am

    I made this for my mother’s birthday.
    We are not big dessert eaters in my house
    and things usually end up getting thrown out,
    but everyone absolutely LOVED this!
    It is all gone!

    Thanks so much!

  • May 25, 2011 6:51 am

    thanks for the recipe! I tried it with whole wheat flour and it was still great. I especially liked the lemon in the icing! You can see my cake here

  • Carol
    November 17, 2013 7:32 am

    Enjoyed this cake. Nice texture and nice flavor. I feel like I’m eating a fancy restaurant cake. I did add 1 cup confectioners sugar to the icing. Love that this cake only used 1/2 cup oil. Thanks. This will be my go to Carrot Cake. There are some carrot cake recipes with pineapple, coconut and nuts that use less oil too. I like that this is TRUE Carrot Cake. I will make the other kind also but glad for the change up.

    • joy
      April 2, 2014 8:11 am

      True enough, while I like the “heavier” carrot cakes with pineapple and coconut every now and then, most of the time I just want a straightforward carrot cake. I’m glad you liked it!

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