If you’re looking for a memorable dessert to take to your next party, look no further than this spiced carrot cake recipe. This is a moist and flavorful cake made with lots of carrots, chopped pecans, a bit of chai, and a rich cream cheese frosting. It’s the perfect dessert for fall, or really for any gathering you’ve got coming up!
We recently celebrated my husband’s birthday. He doesn’t necessarily like to celebrate his birthday, but he doesn’t mind me using it as an excuse to cook and/or bake something for him. His favorite cake is carrot cake, and since it’s fall, it’s a no-brainer for me to bake it!
We had his family over to our place for the first time, so of course I had to go all out with the food. And since it was his birthday, I stuck with his favorite dishes. Aside from the carrot cake, I also made braised short ribs and butternut squash soup. Don’t worry, I’ll also be posting those recipes on the blog soon!
As you may have noticed, I chose to use chai to spice my carrot cake. I just think that using different kinds of spices add such a depth of flavor to this carrot cake more so than just using cinnamon. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just using cinnamon for this–it’s going to taste delicious regardless! If you don’t have chai, you can make your own using my masala chai mix recipe. Otherwise, you can definitely try the following variations:
- Keeping it simple? Use 2 tsp cinnamon
- Want a bit more variety? Try 1 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp cardamom + 1/2 tsp ginger
- Feeling fancy? Combine 1 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp cardamom + 1/4 tsp ginger + 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Want a different combo? Try 1 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp cardamom + 1/4 tsp ginger + 1/4 tsp cloves
As you can see, you can really play around with different spices. The only advice I can give is keep the cinnamon at 1 tsp if you’re adding other spices to it. Depending on what spices you already have available in your pantry, just use 1/4 tsp of each spice until the total amount of spices in the carrot cake equals 2 tsp. I’m a big fan of cardamom so I usually add a bit more of it, but it’s totally up to your preference!
The add-in variations
For this carrot cake, I kept it simple with just adding chopped pecans to the carrot cake batter. But, you can totally use other types of nuts or seeds, and you can even use dried fruit like raisins. Pro tip: toss the nuts or fruit in your flour first–this will ensure that they don’t all sink to the bottom of your cake while baking.
For additional moisture, I used sour cream because it also helps with tempering the overall cake sweetness. However, you can replace it with unsweetened applesauce or crushed pineapple if you’re used to having those underlying flavors in your carrot cake.
The frosting variations
You can adjust this recipe to your taste by substituting other flavorings for the cream cheese. For more chai flavor, you can add 1 teaspoon of my masala chai mix into the frosting. Alternatively, you can just add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add 1 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice to the cream cheese frosting and you’ve got a pumpkin spice carrot cake. The possibilities are endless!
Tools you’ll need
Carrot cake batter
- 3 cups freshly grated carrots (about 4 large carrots)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 4 eggs
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp chai mix (or see the spice variation section in this post)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Cream cheese frosting
- 16 oz cream cheese (2 bars), softened
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
- Whisk the eggs, oil, and both sugars together in a bowl until they're all well mixed. Add the sour cream and vanilla extract and whisk.
- Combine the flour, spice mix, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. At this point I like to drop my chopped pecans into the dry ingredients and toss them around in there. Coating the nuts in the flour will keep them from sinking to the bottom of your cake while baking. And because I'm efficient (AKA lazy), I just sift all the dry ingredients with the pecans into the bowl with the wet ingredients. When you sift them, you're left with just the floured pecans in the sieve! Mix the sifted dry ingredients with the wet ingredients to form your cake batter.
- Then, fold in the floured pecans and the freshly grated carrots in your cake batter.
- Divide the cake batter in half and pour into two greased 9-inch cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
- While your cake is baking, you can make your cream cheese frosting! Whisk all the frosting ingredients together. It's that easy! You won't be frosting immediately, so you can keep your frosting chilled in the fridge.
- Once your cakes have baked, let them cool on a cooling rack thoroughly before frosting. Once you're ready to frost, put as much or as little cream cheese frosting as you'd like!
You can leave the outside of the cake unadorned, or use leftover cream cheese frosting if you want to get fancy and give it that semi-naked look. You can make it really thick or thin depending on how you want it. I went with a thin layer, as it just seemed to “pop” out of the carrot cake better than a thick layer would.