This Carrot Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting is our family's all-time favorite cake recipe! Unlike a classic carrot cake that uses shredded carrots, this particular recipe calls for roasting the carrots with an apple. The apple and carrot are then pureed together with buttermilk and added to the cake batter to result in a beautifully-colored, tender carrot cake with a moist crumb.
The cake layers bake tall and fluffy and are paired perfectly with a homemade Brown Butter Frosting! This recipe always wins us rave reviews and we promise...once you try it, you'll be saying goodbye to your box grated carrot cakes forever more!
A Totally Tubular Tuber Cake
So you’ve already decided to skip the boxed spice cake mix and make the best carrot cake recipe you can find. And now that you’ve found it, perhaps, you’re skeptical and wondering why you should take the extra time to roast your carrots for this bake. We get it, but hear us out! We love all the warm, nostalgic flavors of homemade carrot cake BUT we just cannot get behind the stringy shredded carrot texture making its way into the dessert course. Instead, this from-scratch Carrot Spice Cake recipe features a roasted apple and carrot puree that lends to a moist and tender crumb. So, let us assure you: the roasting is WORTH IT. Roasting your carrots softens them to be easy to puree and contributes to a perfectly smooth texture. Roasting also coaxes out all those carrots’ natural sugars and sweet flavors resulting in better flavor. These carrots are roasted alongside an apple (we like honeycrisps) to keep that cake anything but dry and add even more yummyness.
Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice
The warm baking spices that flavor this Carrot Spice Cake are what all our fondest memories are made of. What is it about cinnamon and sugar that brings us right back to licking the spoon as a child? This homemade Carrot Spice Cake has no shortage of cozy baking spices ready to be remembered. The rich quantities of cinnamon, ground ginger, clove and nutmeg compliment the roasted carrot and apple just so. As for sweetness, we chose to use a combination of light brown and granulated sugars. Baking this cake with light brown sugar adds a subtle note of caramel-like molasses flavor. Meanwhile, granulated white sugar helps keep the cake light, fluffy and springy. Brown Butter Frosting ties all of these delicous flavors together like a nice, little bow.
What Spices are in Carrot Cake?
- Cinnamon: Ground cinnamon is essential to complimenting the roasted carrot and Brown Butter Frosting in this cake. Most of us will have to settle for pre-ground, store-bought cinnamon - which is what we use at home. If you are lucky enough to have access to fresh cinnamon (and we are so jealous), reduce the overall quantity by half.
- Ginger: Ground ginger root adds an almost citrus-like spice to this homemade Carrot Spice Cake recipe. Originating in Southeast Asia, this herbaceous root is a common ingredient in both savory Asian dishes and cozy baked goods from around the world. We love baking with store-bought ground ginger for it’s ease and intensity. If you would like to use fresh, spicy ginger root, we won’t stop you! Peel with a spoon and grate six times the quantity (yes, six!) on a microplane to remove the tough fibers.
- Clove: Cloves are best known for adding warmth and aromatics to baked goods. Named after the French word for ‘nail’ these tiny, pointed flower buds pack a ton of flavor. Toast whole cloves in a pan before grinding or opt for purchasing ground clove, as we tend to. Either way, be cautious to measure with care, too much clove can easily over-power your bake. Just enough clove, as in this recipe, will add in enticing warming spice and leave your kitchen smelling amazing.
- Nutmeg: Nutmeg is the sun-dried seed of an evergreen tree originating from Indonesia. While widely-available pre-ground, we would urge you to freshly grate nutmeg with a microplane or spice grinder. While not quite as intense as the other spices for this cake, nutmeg lends lovely nutty, floral notes. Keeping the whole seeds on hand will be helpful not only for bakes but will enhance everything from curries and cream sauces to your morning coffee.
- Pumpkin Pie Spice: Pumpkin Pie Spice is often made up of these same spices listed, but in slightly different ratios. We tweaked and tested several spice ratios to perfect this scratch carrot cake recipe. However, spices can be expensive and we understand you may not have all these things on hand. If pumpkin pie spice is what you keep in your cupboards, feel free to substitute about two tablespoons for slightly different results.
Creaming Butter in a Carrot Cake?
If you’ve ever attempted homemade carrot cake before you’ve probably found most recipes call for vegetable oil. Naturally, when developing this Carrot Spice Cake recipe, I also reached for the oil. Cake after cake I found myself disappointed with the crumb’s heavy texture and greasy mouthfeel. Eventually, I switched to trying out coconut oil and olive oil but found similarly slick, dissapointing results. Adapting this recipe to use unsalted butter was KEY in this cake’s success.
Butter added SO MUCH delicious flavor and could keep a fluffy crumb by incorporating air directly into the batter. Be sure to cream butter with care until it is pale and your sugary mixture is airy and light. Cream your room temperature butter and sugars together slowly in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or with an electric mixer) on no-higher-than medium speed. Allow the butter and sugar to cream together for five full minutes before proceeding. (Quickly creamed butter might save you a minute or two of prep but has a tendency to lose that coveted air in the oven, leaving you with dense, deflated cakes.) Then, add the large eggs one at a time being sure to allow them to fully incorporate into the batter before adding the vanilla extract. Finally, alternate adding the roasted carrot mixture and dry ingredients while mixing on low speed. Be careful not to over-mix the cake batter! Personally, I like to finish the last moments of mixing with a rubber spatula to fold in any of the remaining flour mixture without overworking the batter.
Nuts about Spice Cake
We love the buttery pecan crunch studding this moist cake recipe, but you are welcome to omit the nuts, if you prefer. You are also welcome to substitute walnuts in this Carrot Spice Cake, for a more delicate texture. For either nut, we recommend weighing (or volume measuring), chopping (by hand or food processor), then toasting. Four or five minutes in a warm oven will bring out the aromatic oils in the nuts and enhance their flavor greatly. Toasting the already-chopped nuts escalates that process and gets more toasty flavor throughout. If you go this route, shake the chopped nuts in a mesh sieve or strainer to remove the fine dusty particles that will burn in the oven.
Just like how roasting brings out the best in your nuts and carrots, browning your butter takes this humble staple to a whole other level. Gently cooking your butter to caramelize the milk solids brings out tons of toasty, nutty, flavors. This toffee-like richness is the perfect compliment to our homemade Carrot Spice Cake. The process requires your undivided attention (to prevent burning) but only takes a couple of minutes. We recommend having a measuring cup (or other vessel) to transfer your newly browned butter into and stop the cooking abruptly. Just like that, your liquid gold is ready to eat and its sweet or savory potential is infinite. (Seriously, drizzle it on everything.) For the Brown Butter Frosting, chill the butter back to a softened state before proceeding. All of those beautiful little caramelized bits will subtly speckle your frosting like stars in the city sky.
Icing on the Cake
A good frosting can take a great cake from everyday to extraordinary and that's exactly what’s going on with this Brown Butter Frosting. This is a simple American-style buttercream of whipped fats and powdered sugar. (No melted sugar syrups or stiff peaks required!) Here we are using brown butter and some cream cheese for a hint of that classic, tangy cream cheese frosting flavor! If you have a nice maple syrup on hand, as we New Englanders always do, we recommend whipping a bit of that in, too. So good! The recipe below makes a smaller amount of frosting used to achieve the naked frosted look, as pictured. If you prefer a sweeter, more generous swoosh of frosting, and who could blame you - feel free to make a larger batch. We have included recommended ingredient quantities for a larger batch of frosting in the Notes section, below the recipe. (See Note: a.)
Keep Cakes Moist with Simple Syrup
If you will be baking the cake a day or two before consumption (or displaying a naked cake for a while before slicing), we recommend brushing the surface of the cool cakes with simple syrup before frosting. Simple syrup is just sugar melted into water and can be done with a kettle, stovetop or microwave. This technique is used by most commercial bakeries and is an easy way to avoid dry cakes. We usually use a 2:1 sugar to water ratio but a diluted maple syrup could also work wonders for this Carrot Spice Cake.
King of Carrot Flowers
As seen in the photos, we decorated this Carrot Spice Cake with pumpkin seeds and dehydrated carrot and parsnips that were cut to look like flowers. In all honesty, the dehydrating process is very long and, while beautiful, not terribly edible. However, if you’d like to tackle this show-stopping garnish at home, it is quite possible. (Assuming you don’t need your oven for any other tasks!)
How To Make Carrot Flowers
- Preheat your oven to its’ lowest setting - around 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees celsius). If your oven doesn’t go quite that low, as ours does not, slightly prop open your oven’s door with a kitchen towel for the duration of baking.
- Slice rounds of fresh carrots and parsnips very thin, about 1 ½ millimeters (1/16 inch). We used the widest tubers we could find to help account for shrinkage in the oven. Even still, our carrots flowers were teeny-tiny, about the size of a dime.
- Dip the sliced roots in a boiling water bath for one minute before plunging them into ice water. This boiling and chilling process, called “blanching and shocking”, will help to preserve the color of your vegetables, particularly the carrots, during dehydration. Dry your sliced carrots and parsnips between two clean dish towels.
- Cut slits, (we did about five slits per) like spokes of a bicycle tire through each round, being careful not to cut completely into the center. You can stack a few slices or similarly sized rounds to help speed up this process, but it is rather tedious. Line sliced rounds on a parchment or silicone lined baking sheet.
- Bake the sliced carrots and parsnips for five to seven hours, turning once or twice, until all the moisture has evaporated. You will be left with crunchy, dry “flowers”. These flowers can be prepared well ahead of time and stored in an airtight container for several weeks.
Share Your Success!
We’re looking forward to this homemade Carrot Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting making its way to the special moments and gatherings you share. This is our debut recipe at foodworthfeed and one we’ve come to cherish at our own celebrations.When this favorite recipe makes its way to your table, be sure to drop us a star rating! And, as always, mention @foodworthfeed or tag #foodworthfeed in your Instagram posts and stories! We’d love to feature you on social! We love having a seat at your table, you’ll always have one at ours. Cheers!
Other Recipes To Love
Check out these other delicious scratch baking recipes!
- Ultimate Monkey Bread French Toast
- The Best Sticky Toffee Buns with Pecans
- Strawberry Shortcake with Lavender Sugar
- Lemon Blondies with White Chocolate Ganache
Head to our Sweets & Dessert page for more dessert recipe inspiration!
The Best Carrot Spice Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
- Immersion or Standard Blender
- Stand Mixer with the Paddle Attachment (or Electric Mixer)
- 2, 9" Cake Pans
Carrot Spice Cake
- 3 -5 medium carrots peeled, ends removed, cut into 1 inch (2½ centimeter) segments
- 1 medium apple cored, halved (See Note: c.)
- ½ Cup buttermilk room-temperature
- 2⅓ Cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg fresh-grated
- 1 teaspoon fine kosher salt*
- 1 Cup unsalted butter softened, room-temperature
- 1 Cup plus 2½ Tablespoons light brown sugar
- ½ Cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs room-temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ Cup pecans or walnuts chopped and toasted, optional
Brown Butter Frosting
- 1 Cup unsalted butter plus more to account for evaporation (See Step 2.)
- ½ Cup cream cheese room-temperature
- 3½ Cups powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup or whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch fine kosher salt*
- ½ Cup simple syrup (See Keep Cakes Moist with Simple Syrup text in post)
- Carrot and Parsnip Flowers garnish (See King of Carrot Flowers text in post)
Carrot Spice Cake:
- Gather, measure and prepare the recipe ingredients as listed. For the most consistent results, we recommend using metric weight measurements whenever possible. To view metric measurements, toggle the US Customary/Metric switch at the top of this recipe card.
- Arrange a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350° Fahrenheit (177° celsius). Prepare your cake pans with parchment paper rounds, butter and flour to prevent sticking. (See Note: d.)
- On a small parchment or silicone lined baking sheet, roast your carrots and apple until easily smashed with a fork, about 35 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Add carrot and apple to buttermilk and puree with an immersion blender until no lumps remain. (See Note: e.) Set aside.
- On a sheet of parchment or medium mixing bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg and salt together. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer) combine butter, brown sugar and sugar. Cream butter and sugars together on medium speed until pale, light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, scraping bowl to incorporate between additions. Add vanilla and mix to combine.
- Add half the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the carrot puree and mix on low speed to combine, scraping the bowl and paddle as necessary. Add the remaining flour and pulse on low speed until the flour is incorporated into the batter about ninety percent. Remove the batter from the stand or electric hand mixer and use a rubber spatula to gently fold and finish incorporating the flour while being sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Fold in pecans, if using.
- Evenly distribute the batter between pans and level the cakes with an off-set spatula before placing in the oven to bake. To avoid disturbing the bake, resist the urge to open the oven door and check your cakes for thirty minutes. Cakes are fully baked when they spring-back when gently poked in the center, about 30 - 40 minutes (depending on your oven).
- Allow cakes to cool in baking pans for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Cakes must be completely cooled before frosting.
Brown Butter Frosting:
- Gather, measure and prepare the recipe ingredients as listed. For the most consistent results, we recommend using metric weight measurements whenever possible. (See Note: a.)
- Start by preparing the brown butter. This can be done the day before, or during the cake’s baking time. Melt the butter in a lightly-colored medium saucepan over medium heat. Swirl or gently stir the butter to prevent hot spots. Once the foaming has subsided, watch the butter very closely. Cook the butter until the milk solids, which will have fallen to the bottom of the pan, become golden and aromatic. Once browning occurs, burning can happen very quickly. Remove the butter from the heat and immediately transfer to a measuring cup or other vessel. Due to water evaporating from the butter during cooking, the browned butter will be lesser in weight and volume to your uncooked butter. Add additional unsalted butter, as necessary, to bring the total weight back to 225 grams or one cup of butter. Chill the hot butter on the counter or refrigerator until in a room-temperature, softened-solidified state proper for creaming.
- In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer) combine brown butter and cream cheese and beat on medium speed until light.
- Add powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated, scraping the bowl and paddle as necessary. Increase the mixer speed, slowly, to medium-high and whip for one minute.
- Add maple syrup or milk, vanilla extract and salt to frosting and whip on medium-high speed until fluffy, smooth and spreadable.
- Brush simple syrup on cakes, if using. Frost completely cooled Roasted Carrot Spice Cakes, as desired. Slice, serve and enjoy!
*Unless otherwise noted, foodworthfeed recipes are developed using Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt. If using iodized or table salt, reduce quantities by about half.