Brown Butter Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Brown Butter Carrot Cake

By Tessa Arias
  |  
March 1st, 2020
4.80 from 102 votes
4.80 from 102 votes

Brown Butter Carrot Cake is so moist, tender, sweet, and delicious that even carrot cake haters will LOVE it! Tons of cream cheese frosting, this recipe is perfect for Easter, Mother's Day, or whenever you need to impress.

Yield: 10 servings

Prep Time: 35 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes

Tessa's Recipe Rundown...

Taste: The carrot cake is perfectly sweet, nutty, and flavorful while the frosting is rich and tangy. Texture: Ultra moist and tender with that luscious frosting in every single bite. Ease: Totally doable, promise! Pros: My go-to carrot cake recipe. Cons: None beyond the usual layer cake cons... more time consuming and messy than say cupcakes. Would I make this again? Absolutely.

As a kid, the last cake you wanted was carrot cake.

Well… maybe right behind fruit cake.

Four layer brown butter carrot cake on a cake stand

As an adult I’ve liked carrot cake fine. But it wasn’t until I had a slice of AMAZING carrot cake from a little café called Fragments in Paris that I realized just how good it could be.

So I decided to elevate my existing favorite recipe for Perfect Carrot Cake Cupcakes into a show-stopping layer cake.

I found the idea of browning butter for carrot cake especially compelling. Since nuts are a common fixture and a clear complement to carrot cake, the idea of adding more sweet nutty flavor in the form of browned butter just made sense. Plus by browning the butter you only have to use your mixer for the icing.

Not to mention the brown butter helps make the cake super rich and moist. That plus the brown sugar, applesauce, and carrots (of course!).

Slices of carrot cake ready to serve

Some warm spices in the batter and then another extra dash of cinnamon in the cream cheese frosting really round everything out. This truly is the best carrot cake recipe.

Plus, slicing the two cake layers in half for a four layer cake isn’t just impressive to look at. It means MORE FROSTING!

Best Brown Butter Carrot Cake Recipe Tips

How to brown butter for cake:

A skillet works better than a saucepan for browning butter because there’s more surface area for the brown bits to develop.

  1. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter.
  2. Swirling the pan occasionally, continue to cook the butter. It should become foamy with audible cracking and popping noises.
  3. Once the crackling stops, continue to swirl the pan until the butter develops a nutty aroma and brown bits start to form at the bottom. Once the bits are amber in color, about 2 to 3 minutes after the popping stops, remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Let cool completely.

What are the best cake baking pans?

Never use dark colored nonstick cake pans. They conduct heat too aggressively and often lead to hard dry edges and undercooked or sunken centers.

My favorite cake pans are the Fat Daddio’s pans.

Carrot cake batter in cake pans ready for the oven

How to *properly* prepare carrots for carrot cake:

Shred fresh carrots, no pre-shredded packaged ones. Freshly grated carrots are more flavorful and moist! Better yet, buy your carrots at the farmer’s market. They’re SO much sweeter!

3 cups freshly shredded carrots equals about 4 medium carrots, but definitely buy extra just in case. Don’t grate your carrots too finely, you want to have carrot ‘confetti’ in your cake so the bigger holes on your box grate would work better. You can also use your food processor’s grating attachment to make it quicker and easier.

Nuts in carrot cake?

I added pecans or walnuts as an option for this carrot cake since that’s fairly traditional. You can totally leave them out if you prefer. They add crunch, but also a bit of savory flavor to contrast the sweetness. You could also experiment with adding in a few tablespoons of raisins, if you’d like.

Applesauce in carrot cake?

This isn’t here as a healthy addition, necessarily. But it does allow us to get away with using a little less butter. Applesauce in carrot cake helps provide tender moisture and a nice sweet, fruity flavor to complement the carrots. You don’t really taste ‘apples’ – just freshness.

How to tell when cake is done baking:

Carrot cake is done baking when a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

How to Make Cream Cheese Frosting

Bowl of creamy and smooth cream cheese frosting ready for carrot cake layers
Arguably the best part of carrot cake! Here are my cream cheese frosting tips:

  1. For the best and creamiest frosting, be sure your cream cheese and butter are at room temperature.
  2. Beat them together in a large bowl until completely smooth, scraping down your bowl often, until there’s no lumps. Even if you have a paddle attachment that scrapes the sides as it goes, I would still recommend scraping down the paddle and especially the bottom of the bowl to ensure no lumps.
  3. Don’t skip sifting the powdered sugar! It’s a pain, but you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  4. For those beautiful vanilla speckles, use vanilla paste over vanilla extract.

How to assemble brown butter carrot cake:

Layer of carrot cake being spread with cream cheese frosting
In this recipe, we take 2 cake layers and cut them in half for a total of 4 layers. Because if carrot cake is one thing, it’s a vehicle for cream cheese frosting. Now you can totally skip this step (and you likely won’t need all the frosting), but that’s no fun 🙂

To cut each cake layer, use a cake leveler or serrated knife. A cake leveler makes your layers absolutely perfect. If you bake cakes often, consider investing in one!

How to decorate carrot cake:

The cream cheese frosting is a little looser than your classic buttercream, so you won’t be able to do intricate detailed designs. I personally prefer a more basic or even ‘naked’ look for carrot cake anyways.

A border of chopped nuts on top of the cake makes a simple yet elegant final garnish.

If you want to have a little fun, check out my article on how to make decorative edible carrots.

Can you make this best carrot cake recipe into cupcakes?

Almost any cake recipe can be turned into cupcakes. Check out my full guide on how to convert a cake into cupcakes (and vice versa!). Or simply make my Carrot Cupcakes.

How can I make carrot cake ahead of time?

Wrap uncut unfrosted cooled cake layers completely in several layers of plastic wrap. Place inside a freezer bag. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge. Don’t defrost at room temperature or you will end up with mushy sticky cake.

How do I store carrot cake?

Cover with a cake keeper and store at room temperature for up to 6 hours then refrigerate for up to 3 days.

More Spring Cake & Cupcake Recipes:

More Brown Butter Recipes:

4.80 from 102 votes

How to make
Brown Butter Carrot Cake

Yield: 10 servings
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Brown Butter Carrot Cake is so moist, tender, sweet, and delicious that even carrot cake haters will LOVE it! Tons of cream cheese frosting, this recipe is perfect for Easter, Mother's Day, or whenever you need to impress.

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 10 tablespoons (142 grams) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cups (318 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 cups (400 grams) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (250 grams) unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups (296 grams) finely shredded carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
  • 3/4 cup (84 grams) finely chopped walnuts or pecans

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 24 ounces (680 grams) cream cheese, completely softened
  • 2 sticks (227 grams) unsalted butter, completely softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 5 cups (625 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

Directions

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Thoroughly grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium skillet set over medium heat, melt the butter. Swirling the pan occasionally, continue to cook the butter. It should become foamy with audible cracking and popping noises. Once the crackling stops, continue to swirl the pan until the butter develops a nutty aroma and brown bits start to form at the bottom. Once the bits are amber in color, about 2 to 3 minutes after the popping stops, remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Let cool completely.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
  4. To the browned butter, whisk in the brown sugar then the eggs. Stir in the applesauce, vanilla, and carrots. Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the nuts.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely before transferring to wire racks.

  6. Slice each cake layer in half for four layers using a cake leveler or serrated knife. Place layers in the fridge while you make the frosting.

Make the frosting:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt on medium-high speed until very light, creamy, and smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. On low speed gradually add in the sugar and beat until creamy.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Place one cake layer cut side up on a cake stand or platter. Spread about 1/4 of the frosting all over the cake layer, pushing it out over the edge just slightly. Repeat with the remaining layers. With an offset spatula, spread the remaining frosting evenly all over the cake, smoothing the edges.
  2. Serve or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Course : Dessert
Cuisine : American
Keyword : carrot cake, carrot cake recipe, easter, mother's day

Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.

March 2020 Baking Challenge

This recipe was the selection for the March 2020 baking challenge! Check out the entries below, then click here to find out what the current month’s challenge recipe is!

March 2020 Baking Challenge

Tessa Arias
Author: Tessa Arias

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

Find Tessa on  

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Recipe Rating




  1. #
    Lisa — October 19, 2022 at 8:46 am

    I was so excited and wanted to make this for for my daughter-in-law but she absolutely hates fruit of any sort, including apple sauce. Am I able to leave the apple sauce out? If not, do you have another carrot cake recipe that does not have it in it?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — October 19, 2022 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Lisa! Applesauce in carrot cake just helps provide a tender, moist structure. You really don’t taste any apple flavor! If you really don’t want to try it, you could experiment with replacing the same amount of apple sauce with more butter or a flavorless oil (vegetable or canola) – but we haven’t tested that, so I can’t guarantee how that will work out. Alternatively, if you just don’t want to risk it, I’d recommend trying Tessa’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes here instead 🙂 Happy baking!

  2. #
    Chris — August 19, 2022 at 10:47 pm

    Made this recipe into cupcakes for my grandsons first birthday party. They were a hit and absolutely delicious. Very easy recipe to follow. Thank you! Oh

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — August 22, 2022 at 11:42 am

      So wonderful to hear that, Chris!!

  3. #
    Cleo — August 7, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    I used the exact measurements for ground ginger. The cake baked perfectly but all you can taste is ginger. Is that what this cake is supposed to taste like?

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — August 8, 2022 at 2:08 pm

      Hi Cleo! This cakes should have a well-rounded spiced flavor, from the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, in balance with the browned butter and other ingredients. Were your cinnamon and nutmeg perhaps older, and your ginger was brand new? Older spices lose their potency, while fresh spices pack a lot more punch – which could be why it seems that the ginger flavor has overtaken the others! Feel free to reach back out to us with more details so we can help troubleshoot further 🙂

  4. #
    Julie — July 13, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    Amazing,
    I have your book/ magazine and you have changed by baking skills above and beyond! I have been baking for over 25 years… thank you… have made carrot cake for hubby’s birthday and 90 percent call for OIL… Ugg.. this was the best cake I have ever made… My husband calls it CRACK carrot cake… thank you sooo much!!!! I have shared a slice or two with many friends… THANK you

    • #
      Kiersten @ Handle the Heat — July 15, 2022 at 9:44 am

      WOW, Julie, what a compliment!!! You are going to absolutely make Tessa’s day when I pass along your message! We are so thrilled that you love Tessa’s cookbook and magazine so much, and so happy you and your husband and friends love the carrot cake recipe!! Thank you so much for your lovely comment – it truly makes us so happy to hear this!! Happy baking 🙂

  5. #
    Angel Marie Lozano — April 28, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I made this cake and it didn’t rise at all. They came out thin. Why is that???

    • #
      Emily — May 9, 2022 at 8:11 am

      Hi Angel Marie! This cake has relatively thin layers due to starting out with two cake layers and slicing each in half to make the four layers; however, you do want to make sure that your leavener (baking soda) is fresh. Check out this article Tessa wrote on Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder. She includes how to test for freshness. Please let me know if I can help troubleshoot further, but I hope you give this recipe another try! How did your cake taste?

  6. #
    Michele — April 20, 2022 at 1:07 pm

    Can either this cake or the cupcake recipe be made as a sheet cake?

    I’ve made the cupcakes and they were delicious! But I need to make a flat cake.

    • #
      Emily — April 26, 2022 at 7:36 am

      Hi Michele! We haven’t tried that, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work! Please let us know how it goes if you give it a try!

  7. #
    Haifa — April 19, 2022 at 4:40 am

    The Cake was so perfect but the frosting was more liquid than expected, anything that I can do to make it thicker?

    • #
      Emily — April 26, 2022 at 7:44 am

      Hi Haifa! Feel free to add additional powdered sugar (about 2 tablespoons at a time) until you reach your desired consistency 🙂

  8. #
    Lexi — March 30, 2022 at 10:09 am

    Could I use six inch pans instead of eight inch? Would you recommend 3 or 4 of them?

    • #
      Emily — March 30, 2022 at 3:50 pm

      Hi Lexi! We haven’t tried this recipe using 6-inch pans, so I can’t say for sure! Let us know how it goes if you give it a try.

  9. #
    XY — March 27, 2022 at 11:18 am

    I don’t have experience in baking and I made this for a bunch of bakers and they loved it, thank you for the recipe!!

  10. #
    Tracy — March 26, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    Hello, Tessa. My name is Tracy. Thank you so much for this amazing recipe but I have only one question :
    Can I make my own applesauce? Because I can’t find it anywhere at my place. I know you’ve suggested mashed banana as a substitute. But I preferred stick to the original recipe if I can. I thank you very much in advance

    • #
      Emily — March 29, 2022 at 12:54 pm

      Absolutely! Homemade applesauce would make this cake even better 🙂 Let us know what you think of this recipe when you give it a try!

  11. #
    XY — March 22, 2022 at 12:18 am

    How can I substitute Applesauce? I can’t seem to find the recipe on your site either.

    • #
      Emily — March 22, 2022 at 9:20 am

      We haven’t tried anything else! Other reviewers have used grated apples or crushed pineapple with success. Hope that helps! The recipe is listed right above the section where you commented 🙂 You can also click the “Jump to Recipe!” button at the top of the page to be taken to the recipe. Please let us know what you end up trying and how you liked it!

  12. #
    Tina — January 31, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Can you please confirm that it only cooks for 30 mins because mine was in for over 50 mins and still wasn’t cooked in the middle. Tastes great but will make in three 9 inch pans the next time.

    • #
      Emily — February 1, 2022 at 11:40 am

      Hi Tina! Yes, the timing is correct. Wow, what a difference! What type of pan did you use? Do you have an oven thermometer? All ovens are different, but I wonder if your oven isn’t at the correct temperature when it beeps that it’s ready. Mine is only at 280°F at the beep, and takes an additional 15 minutes before it’s at 350°F. I’m so glad your cake tasted delicious, but hopefully we can figure out what went wrong with your bake!

  13. #
    Osleidys — January 25, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    Definitely the best carrot cake! Simply Delicious!!!

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