A Carrot Cake to Celebrate

Carrot Cake post square

We celebrated my mom’s 93rd birthday this weekend with a “carry-in dinner”. That’s what we called potluck meals at the little church of my childhood back home in Indiana. (Reminds me of the song Jim Nabors sings at the opening of the Indy 500 every year. Never fails to rip a tear out of me.) Anyway, my two daughters-in-law and I REALLY DID cook the entire meal in our own kitchens and carry it to their little apartment at the retirement village where they live. It was easier for my parents that way.

Mom 93rd bday w carrot cake

My mom loves carrot cake so it was the excuse I needed to record the family recipe–along with a few changes I couldn’t resist. The original comes from my sister Kay, a true southern cook who has spent most of her adult life in Alabama. She is not afraid of a little sugar and fat to make things taste good. Her husband claims it is absolutely one of her tastiest creations.

My modifications are heavily influenced by Dorie Greenspan’s carrot cake as published in Baking, From My House to Yours. Changes are noted inside the parenthesis. Because it’s not quite as rich, I really like the second recipe for cream cheese icing, based on a version printed in a recent issue of Cook’s Country magazine. However, it doesn’t make a lot, so consider doubling the recipe if you’re baking a layer cake and want to frost the sides too.

The actual cake pictured above is a half recipe baked in 3 6-inch round pans. It’s the perfect size for our rather small family, leaving us with a piece or two for the birthday person to enjoy later.

A Carrot Cake to Celebrate
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cup oil (1 cup)
  • 2 cups sugar (1-1/2 cup)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts (I use toasted pecans + ½ cup raisins or dried cranberries + 1 cup shredded coconut)
Cream Cheese Icing
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ¼ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound (3-1/2 cups) powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Icing (My way)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups marshmallow cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare 3 9-inch round cake pans or 10 x 14-inch rectangular pan by spraying with vegetable oil/flour combination such as Baker's Joy or line the bottom of pans with wax paper or parchment paper (my preference).
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Combine oil and sugar in mixer bowl until smooth. Add eggs and mix until smooth. Mix in carrots and vanilla.
  4. Add dry ingredients and mix only until they disappear. Gently fold in nuts, fruit and coconut if using.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes rotating pans half way through baking time. After cooling for 5 minutes, turn out onto baking rack and allow to cool completely before icing.
Cream Cheese Icing
  1. Mix cream cheese and butter till smooth and fluffy using an electric mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.
Cream Cheese Icing My Way
  1. Beat cream cheese, marshmallow cream and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat on low until smooth.

Other cakes we make in our family…

Hickory Nut Cake

Susan’s Blueberry Coffeecake

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

persiangemini October 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm

This looks great. So did you divide all these amounts by 2, to make it in a 6 inch pan? I am making a cake in a 6 inch pan and 4 inch depth and looking to see how I need to modify the ingredients that I have for a 9 inch pan to 6 inch pan. Any tips will be appreciated.


Corrie Anne May 21, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hooray! My fiance is going to love that one! I can’t wait to try it out!


Nadine May 11, 2011 at 8:12 am

Hi again Paula,
I was looking at your recipe for carrot cake. I was wondering if you had ever heard of chia seeds. You can take 1 T chia seeds add to 9T water, let sit for 5 mins and it becomes like a gel. With that gel you can substitute 1/2 of any baking recipe for the oil. So your carrot cake recipe that calls for 11/2c. of oil can be as good using 3/4c. oil and 3/4c. of chia gel. Try it out ! It is amazing. There are also other good benefits for using chia seeds. Added to yogurt it is amazing!


Paula May 14, 2011 at 8:32 am

Nadine, I have never tried chia seed. Do they add a certain texture? Kinda like flax seeds? Well, I will certainly give them a try. Thanks for stopping by.


Judy April 18, 2011 at 9:46 am

I’ve only gotten into carrot cakes recently and have been searching for the best recipe, which so far is Cook’s Illustrated’s 2003 version. However, no matter what recipe I’m using, I always cut the oil in half and use buttermilk for the other half. No one can tell the difference and you automatically cut 1/2 the oil calories. The buttermilk has the added advantage of tenderizing the cake. Reducing fat wherever I can, adding fiber with whole grains, and subbing Nu Naturals stevia for part of the sugar are some of my skinny secrets. I’m the same size that I was in high school but it takes a lot more work now, as I’m 70.


Paula April 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Judy, you are my hero. The same size as in high school at 70–WOW! I’m finding it more work at 56 than just 5 years ago but doing a food blog might have something to do with it too. Love your hints for cutting calories in carrot cake. Thanks for sharing.


Thelma Archer October 4, 2010 at 4:28 pm

O MY GOSH! I want to eat the whole cake! I love carrot cake, it is one of my favorites, I can’t wait to try this recipie. I can’t believe the cake image it looks like I could cut myself a slice or TWO! Thanks.


ldh September 9, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Hi Paula!

I made this cake this past weekend and it was as delicious as it looks. It just might be one of my favorite desserts! I posted about it today. Thanks for all of the great recipes you share!

Kindly, ldh


Madam Chow September 6, 2010 at 9:52 am

That looks incredible. My mouth is watering.


Jill September 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Gorgeous birthday cake!


Paula September 1, 2010 at 7:58 am

absolutely beautiful!


Katrina September 1, 2010 at 12:06 am

That cake looks fantastic and delicious. And yay for your mom!


Margaret August 31, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Carrot cake is a fav in this house. especially on Hub’s birthday. Yours looks pefect. Love the smaller size. Just right.


UrMomCooks August 31, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Happy bday to ur mom!!! U are very blessed! (awesome reminder on the wonderfulness of carrot cake! looks fantastic!)


Mimi August 31, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Happy Birthday to your mom! Great photo. Carrot cake was my mom’s favorite cake too. Your cake looks fabulous. I haven’t made a cream cheese frosting with marshmallow cream before, but it sound great.


Paula August 31, 2010 at 8:50 am

Happy belated birthday to your amazing Mom! 93…Wow! What an awesome lady.

The carrot cake looks scrumptious!


Suzanne August 31, 2010 at 8:49 am

Lovely cake, I really like carrot cake too. Congratulations on your mother’s 93rd birthday that’s wonderful to still have your parents!


ldh August 31, 2010 at 7:40 am

A perfect birthday cake that must be as good as it looks! Sending Happy Birthday wishes to you mom!


Beth August 31, 2010 at 6:33 am

What a beautiful cake, and a wonderful tribute to your mother. Happy birthday to her!


Betty @ scrambled hen fruit August 30, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Happy birthday to your mom! That’s a great looking cake- carrot cake is one of my favorites!


Sandy August 30, 2010 at 4:38 pm

What wonderful pictures!!! That carrot cake just jumps right out at you and the picture of your mom is great. You have great Daughter-in-laws that love your mom and I can’t wait to hear about the menu. Love to you all.


Other Sis August 30, 2010 at 11:40 am

Ah, yes–carrot cake! It is my husband’s favorite, so I’ve made a lot of them over the years. Here at altitude (in Denver), I’ve had to make a few changes–and the biggest one is that my layers always flop so I always make the cake in a 9″X13″ pan.

Specifically, I don’t add any baking powder (just the 2 teaspoons soda), 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1-1/2 cups sugar. Also, just in case one “messes up” and throws everything in the mixing bowl at once…the cake comes out just fine that way, too. And, we use pecans here instead of walnuts.

Great picture of Mother–and thanks for highlighting this great and long-time family favorite!


TheKitchenWitch August 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

Carrot cake is my favorite cake, too! You did a beautiful job, and happy birthday to your lovely mom!


sis August 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

Wow, your presentation looks better than my cakes ever look. :+)
I specialize in lop sided layers. Looks like I will be forced to make one in the new few days. It looks sooooo good.


Der August 30, 2010 at 7:57 am

I love the picture of Grandma!
And I could eat the whole bowl of cream cheese icing!!!


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