Carrot Cake Loaf with Cream Cheese Frosting
When it’s done right, carrot cake with cream cheese frosting is one of my favorite indulgences.
And this is my new favorite recipe for carrot cake.
I’m really picky about carrot cake. Just like when I dissected Lemon Bars and pointed out many things that could go awry from dog biscuit-like crust to lackluster lemon oomph, carrot cake is also ripe for caketastrophes, with the number one issue being dryness. I would rather eat a dry rice cake than ingest all those calories on cake that tastes like a dry rice cake. Problem solved because this is the moistest carrot cake I’ve ever had.
Additionally, many carrot cakes don’t include enough of the starring ingredient, carrots. I also have to have raisins in my carrot cake or it’s just not the same. I know some people don’t like raisins, but I’m a Raisin Lover. Here they’re used plentifully, adding flavor, texture, and help keep an already soft and moist cake even more so.
As for nuts, they’re a total deal-breaker for me in baked goods and this carrot cake is nut-free. With both raisins and nuts, you can add or omit based on your ideal definition of carrot cake.
Another issue that plagues carrot cakes is blandness. When it comes to cinnamon-and-spice-and-everything-nice, I use a heavier hand than most recipes call for. Carrots, eggs, sugar, buttermilk, flour; they’re all ingredients that can stand up to bolder spices. In no way is this carrot cake overly-spiced; it’s not a spice cake, but it’s flavorful. It’s not to be confused with those grocery store carrot cakes that are generally so bland they’re just one step above jarred baby food carrots.
As for actually baking the cake, many people seem to shun layered cakes and Bundt cakes, whereas loaves of things, like banana bread or quickbreads baked in loaf pans, seem more popular. I’ll be the first to admit, I typically don’t have the patience for layered cakes or for frosting them, so I baked this in loaf pans. So much easier than a fancy three-layered cake and absolutely nothing is sacrificed in the taste department.
This batter makes enough for two loaves. I used one 9-by-5-inch pan and one 8-by-4-inch pan. The photos are of the 9-by-5-inch. I like symmetry and wanted to do two 8-by-4-inch loaves, but there was just a bit too much batter. I could have them made 4 to 6 muffins, but kept it easy in two loaf pans. Choose any combination of loaf pans, muffin pans, tube or Bundt cake pans. It would make a great 10- to 12-cup Bundt, two mini Bundts, or about 4 mini loaves. Whatever odd assortment of pans you have, go with it, adjusting baking times accordingly.
To make this cake, I combined elements from my Carrot Pineapple Banana Bread with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and from my Pumpkin Bundt Cake. It’s a whisk-tougher batter and the first 11 ingredients are added to the bowl, all at once, and whisked. There is nothing fussy about it and it goes from cupboard to oven in less than five minutes with very few dirty dishes.
I was torn whether to use oil or butter, and if using butter; to cream it or melt it. My banana bread recipes all begin with melted butter because I love the flavor, but the pumpkin bundt uses oil and it’s the moistest cake I’ve ever had. So for the carrot cake, I used both oil and melted butter. Why not. I absolutely was not dragging out my mixer, so it’s melted butter rather than creamed. Melted butter usually produces denser cakes rather than light and airy, which is my preference anyway.
Simply melt the butter, add the oil, buttermilk, eggs, sugars, vanilla, all the spices, and whisk. That’s the first 11 ingredients.
The buttermilk tenderizes the batter and helps an otherwise dense batter rise nicely while baking. I used both granulated and brown sugar since a bit of brown sugar adds flavor and moisture.
The spices include a mix of cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. If you don’t happen to keep them all on hand, I suggest using more cinnamon. Cinnamon cures everything. For a twist, if you love pumpkin like I do, pumpkin pie spice would be lovely, too. As written, the cake is nicely spiced and before you double the cinnamon or other spices like I usually do with most recipes, taste the batter and go from there.
Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, optional salt, fold in the carrots, raisins, and optional nuts. If you’re using both raisins and nuts, reduce each to about 3/4-cup rather than one full cup each so you don’t overwhelm the batter with add-ins, tasty as it sounds.
Pour the batter into your pan(s), making sure not to fill any pan more than halfway full because the batter rises considerably. Bake at 350F until top is set in the middle, and it will likely have domed up a little. A toothpick will come out clean, and even when the cake is done, the pan will feel heavy for it’s size. This is one moist cake, I’m telling you.
Baking times will vary greatly by pan sizes used. For standard-sized loaf pans, 40 to 50 minutes, is recommended. I baked the 8-by-4-inch loaf for 42 minutes and the 9-by-5-inch for 50 minutes. If you’re making mini loaves or muffins, I’d start checking them by 20 minutes, and go from there. One big Bundt cake will probably take 55 to 65 minutes, but because of oven variances, various pans used, moisture content in the carrots, and personal preference, baking times will vary.
While the cake bakes, make the frosting. Carrot cake just isn’t carrot cake without cream cheese frosting. Beat together butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, a splash of vanilla, and whip until it’s soft and fluffy.
For the photos, I wanted you to see the moistness and texture on the surface of the slices and didn’t cover them frosting. But in reality, I eat a thick, ridiculous layer of frosting, smeared all over. I lay the slice flat and butter it. With frosting. That little skimpy one-inch stripe on top is just for photos. Cream cheese frosting is worth lacing up my running shoes for.
This is my new favorite carrot cake recipe. I’ve been saying that a lot lately about things being the best. These Coconut Oil White Chocolate Cookies, The Best Lemon Bars, these Brown Sugar Cookies, these Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, but these things have all been on my Bucket List for 2013 and one by one, I’m checking them off. Classics and basics that I want a solid recipe for, for years to come.
This recipe is a keeper. The cake is tender, springy, dense but not heavy, falling-apart soft and moist without being greasy. The oil keeps it moist beyond all words, the butter adds flavor, and the buttermilk does both. It’s full of texture from the carrots and raisins. And it’s warmly spiced with cinnamon and the spices classic carrot cake is known for. The cream cheese frosting is the literal icing on the cake; tangy, creamy, luscious.
I have not been able to keep away from this cake. It’s a good thing the recipe makes two loaves.
- For the Cake
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- pinch salt, optional (buttermilk is already a salted milk and I omitted adding salt)
- 2¼ cups coarsely grated carrots, packed loosely
- 1 cup raisins, optional but recommended
- 1 cup diced nuts (such as walnuts, pecans), optional
- For the Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (I used Trader Joe's Whipped Light)
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (half of one stick)
- 1½ cups+ confectioners' sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the Cake - Preheat oven to 350F; spray loaf pans with floured cooking spray; set aside. I used one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and one 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Choose any combination of loaf pan sizes, tube or Bundt cake pans, or muffin pans.
- In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power. Add the oil, eggs, buttermilk, sugars, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and whisk vigorously until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, optional salt, and stir to incorporate; don't overmix. Stir in the carrots. Stir in the raisins and optional nuts. If using both raisins and nuts, use about ¾ cup of each rather than 1 cup each, or the batter may become overwhelmed with add-ins. Pour batter into prepared pans, making sure not to fill any pan more than halfway full because this batter rises considerably.
- Bake the two loaves (9x5 and 8x4) for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is set in the center, golden, and a toothpick comes out clean. Baking times will vary greatly by pan sizes used. I baked the 8-by-4-inch loaf for 42 minutes and the 9-by-5-inch loaf for 50 minutes. Muffins or mini loaves could bake in as short as 20 minutes, a big Bundt cake may need 55 to 65 minutes. Allow cake to cool in pans for about 10 minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. While cakes cool, make the frosting.
- For the Cream Cheese Frosting - To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the cream cheese, butter, and beat to soften and combine, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy. Add additional sugar as desired for thicker frosting. Spread frosting over the tops of the cooled loaves. Slice into ¾-inch wide slices and serve. I yield 9 to 10 slices from a 9x5 loaf.
- Some people prefer to refrigerate cream cheese frosting and if you're one of them, I suggest frosting the slices individually immediately prior to serving, rather than frost the whole loaf and then refrigerating it, which will dry it out.
- Store unfrosted loaf wrapped in plasticwrap and placed inside a large ziptop plastic bag for up to 1 week at room temperature, or freeze for up to 3 months. Freezing second loaf after it's cooled is recommended if you're not going to eat it within a week.
- Adapted from Carrot Pineapple Banana Bread with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
Carrot Pineapple Banana Bread with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting – One of my favorite quick-breads on my site. It has everything I could want in a bread; carrots, pineapple, banana, raisins, pudding mix, browned butter, and cream cheese. It’s rich, decadent, and it’s denser like banana bread, with the richness of cake. The photos don’t do this recipe the justice its due
Oatmeal Raisin Carrot Cake Bites (no-bake, vegan, GF) – Cookie dough bites are always popular and instead of cookie dough, these are carrot cake dough. They’re soft, chewy, and filled with texture
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake with Chocolate Ganache – I took elements of this cake when making the Carrot Cake Loaf because this is my favorite cake on my site. If you crossed the buttery-est yellow cake with pumpkin, added chocolate chips, and draped it all in a rich ganache, this is what you’d get. It’s a one-bowl, whisk-together cake that takes minutes to make, with amazing results. Moist, tender, flavorful, easy and everyone who’s made this cake writes to tell me they make it…again. Always a hit
Pumpkin Banana Bread with Browned Butter Cream Cheese Frosting – This quickbread pairs two of my favorites, pumpkin bread and banana bread, into one and it’s topped with a frosting that I could eat by the spoonful
Coconut Spice Cheesecake Bars – Part cheese cake, part spice cake,with the flavors of carrot cake and cream cheese frosting. Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and coconut are baked in between the cake and cream cheese layers for richly spiced bars that are very fast and easy to make since there’s a shortcut involved
Do you like carrot cake?
If you have a favorite recipe for any carrot cake, bread, or loaves, I’d love to hear about it.