We’ve taken a classic carrot cake and made it better than ever. Soft and moist carrot cake, generously spiced, perfectly sweet, and topped with an incredible brown butter cream cheese frosting. Brown butter adds a rich, nutty, toffee-like flavor to the frosting making it the perfect complement to the carrot cake. Make this recipe as a layer cake or as a 9×13 sheet cake.
Our love for carrot cake runs deep. We have lots of fun and different carrot cake recipes (Pineapple Carrot Cake, Pumpkin Carrot Cake, Carrot Cake Cookies). This recipe is more of a classic, with some changes that makes it our favorite version.
This cake is
Moist and soft: Buttermilk, oil, and grated carrots all add moisture to this cake. It stays moist and soft for days.
Flavorful: The cake itself has the perfect combination of spices and a balanced sweetness from white and brown sugars. The brown butter frosting adds a deep nutty flavor along with the traditional sweetness and tang that you get from a cream cheese frosting.
Made with basic ingredients: The cake itself is a traditional carrot cake without extra add-ins. No coconut, nuts, or pineapple in the cake batter.
Start by making the cake.
Divide the batter between three 8-inch round cake pans or spread the batter into a 9×13 baking pan.
Bake and cool.
Prepare the frosting. Make the brown butter (more on this below) then chill until solid but still soft. Beat chilled butter, cream cheese, powered sugar, salt, and vanilla until smooth and combined. Spread frosting onto cake.
Grate full size carrots for this recipe. Do not use baby carrots or carrots that are packed in water. They will add too much moisture to the batter.
Grate the carrots using the small holes on a box grater. This ensures that the carrot pieces are fine and they will soften during the short bake time.
Don’t have buttermilk? Try one of these Buttermilk Substitutes.
Choose between a layer cake (three 8-inch cakes) or a 9×13 sheet cake for this recipe.
When it comes to browning butter (more on this below), our #1 tip is to watch it carefully. Once it begins to turn golden brown it can burn quickly. Be sure to remove it from the hot pan as soon as it is done.
How to brown butter
Brown butter is butter that has been cooked until the milk solids in the butter begin to toast/brown. The flavor is unmatched, brown butter tastes nutty and rich with a deep toffee-like flavor.
Place the butter in a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned bits form on the bottom of the pan and the butter begins to turn golden and smell nutty.
When adding brown butter to our cream cheese frosting those little brown bits disperse all throughout the frosting adding incredible flavor and color.
Love brown butter? Try our Brown Butter Cookies!
Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, tablespoon not teaspoon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves or ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ¾ cup vegetable or canola oil
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ¾ cup buttermilk
- 2 cups grated carrots*, grated on the small holes of a box grater
Brown butter cream cheese frosting:
- ¾ cup (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into large pieces
- 12 ounces full fat cream cheese, softened
- ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 3½ cups powdered sugar
- chopped toasted pecans, optional garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and grease the pans. If you'd prefer you can use a 9×13 pan instead. Grease it and set it aside.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and both sugars on medium speed until thickened, about 4 minutes. With the mixer still running, slowly stream in the oil, then add the vanilla.
- Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, in 5 additions total (flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour), beating well as you add each. Once the last bit of flour has been added, stir in the carrots. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture well, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans (or pour into a 9×13). Spread the top into an even layer. Carefully drop/rap the pans onto the countertop a couple times to remove excess air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 18-22 minutes for the 8-inch cakes or 27-32 minutes for the 9×13.
- Place pans on a wire rack to cool completely. Proceed with the frosting.
Brown butter cream cheese frosting:
- Begin by browning the butter. Place the butter in a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until light brown bits form on the bottom of the pan and the butter begins to turn golden and smell nutty. Watch it closely as it can go from brown to burned quickly. Immediately transfer the butter into a bowl along with any accumulated brown bits (see photo).
- Place brown butter in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring occasionally. Once the brown butter has solidified but is still soft, you can remove it from the fridge and proceed with the frosting. Do not use the butter if it is still melted and warm and do not let it chill so long that it is rock hard.
- Beat brown butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add half the powdered sugar, beating until combined, followed by remaining powdered sugar. Turn speed up to medium-high and beat for one minute until smooth and creamy. If necessary, you can adjust the consistency of the frosting by adding a splash of milk to thin it, or adding a bit more powdered sugar to thicken. Note: It will firm up once the cake has been frosted and refrigerated.
- Place one cake layer on a serving plate. Top with one third of the frosting, repeat with remaining layers. I chose not to frost the sides of the the cake, allowing for a generous portion of frosting between each layer. If using a 9×13 pan, scoop frosting onto the cake and spread into an even layer (you will have enough frosting to generously frost the 9×13). Garnish with pecans, if desired. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes so that the frosting can set.
Nutritional Information is an estimate based on third-party calculations and may vary based on products used and serving sizes.
Frosting adapted from Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz.