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Carrot Layer Cake Recipe

Carrot Cake on a square cake stand with a slice cut out.

Happy Easter!

I thought Easter would be the perfect time to share a carrot cake recipe, and not just any carrot cake recipe. The BEST one I’ve ever made. Ok, maybe it’s the only one I’ve ever made. But I really think it might also be the best one I’ve ever eaten. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and they always turn out well. I have yet to find an exception.

I love everything about this recipe. The nice, thin layers (means a higher proportion of frosting!) created by baking the cake in a sheet pan and then cutting into 4 pieces are fabulous. Super easy and cuts down on baking time too. Total baking time is only about 15 minutes.

A slice of Carrot Layer Cake on a plate with a bite cut out.The cream cheese frosting is hands down the best I’ve ever had. The secret to it is the buttermilk powder. If you’re like me, you’ve never even heard of it before- but you definitely do not want to skip or substitute for this little-known ingredient. It gives the frosting a wonderful tang, but because it is not a liquid, it does it without thinning down the consistency.

It is absolutely divine and you can eat a lot of it without feeling like you are going into a sugar coma. I found some buttermilk powder at my local market right near the baking powder. Ordering it online, Buttermilk Powder, 1lb., is always an option too. But whatever you do, don’t go without!

Carrot Cake with chopped pecans on the sides.Another great thing about this recipe- no need to worry about making the frosting look nice on the sides. It gets covered up by the pecans. Perfect for me because I have no patience when it comes to frosting a cake. Or anything else for that matter.

I’m no fan of raisins in carrot cake or anything else and thankfully this recipe uses dried currants which I find much more palatable. Not only are they much smaller than raisins, I find they have a nicely concentrated and sweet flavor, more like dried blueberries which I love. I did cut the quantity of them down somewhat because I didn’t want the cake to be riddled with them.

I could go on and on about how much I love this cake, but unfortunately I have too many other things to do. Just trust me. This is the only carrot cake you ever need to make.

Note: I found the flavors of the cake were even better after 24 hours, so try not to eat it all in one day. 🙂

Also, make sure you use scissors and cut the parchment paper to perfectly fit the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, the corners of the cake may turn out thinner and misshapen. When spreading the batter, be sure to really push it all the way into the corners of the pan.

A slice of Carrot Cake on a Plate with a fork stuck in it.

carrot layer cake cook's illustrated

Carrot Layer Cake




  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar (8 3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 carrots)
  • 2/3 cups dried currants (I used 1/3 cup)


  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar (12 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, chilled and cut into 12 equal pieces
  • 2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped


  • For the cake: Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 18×13-inch rimmed baking sheet, line bottom with parchment paper, and grease parchment. (I used butter.)
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and ground cloves.
  • In another large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Stir in carrots and currants. Add flour mixture and mix together using a rubber spatula until mixture is just combined.
  • Pour batter onto baking sheet and spread out evenly with spatula. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until center is firm to touch. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a wire rack (do not remove parchment) and then reinvert onto a second wire rack and let cake cool completely.
  • For the Frosting: Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat together butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla, and salt on low speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
  • Increase speed to medium-low and add cream cheese, 1 piece at a time. Mix until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  • Transfer cake to a good cutting surface, parchment paper side down. Using a long knife, cut cake into 4 equal rectangles. Place one cake piece on a cake stand or plate. Spread about 2/3 cup frosting on top. Repeat with remaining layers.
  • Spread frosting on top and sides of cake. Using hands, gently press pecans onto sides of cake. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.
Course: Dessert

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Disclosure: Spicy Southern Kitchen is an amazon.com affiliate.

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24 thoughts on “Carrot Layer Cake Recipe”

  1. Jessica Owen

    I’m actually in the middle of making this cake and just realized that it says “buttermilk powder” and not actual buttermilk. HELP is there a way to substitute it? There’s no liquids to replace it with and I’m struggling to figure out the best way to make this work because it’s too late to run to the store.

  2. This cake is fabulous! We are very particular about carrot cake and have tried lots of different ones. This one is the best!

  3. This cake is fabulous1 Terrific flavor, moist, beautiful crumb. And you’re right — that buttermilk tang is amazing. Carrot cake is my husband’s absolute favorite, and I can see him requesting this on again and again. I left off the pecans and it was just fine. Thanks for posting this recipe. It’s definitely going in my rotation!

  4. Hi, I’ve tried out your recipe and it is great! instead of the currants, I added in some dates and some nuts – to give it a crunch. Thank you for the recipe.

  5. Made this as a birthday cake and loved it! Swapped in ginger for the ground cloves, since I didn’t have any on hand. Used chopped raisins instead of currants. Also didn’t have the buttermilk powder for the frosting, so I added an extra 4 ounces of cream cheese and another 1/3 cup or so of powdered sugar. Total hit!

  6. Lyse Blanchard

    Just made this as birthday cake. I can’t have cow dairy so I made the icing with soft goat cheese and it is so good, I wanted to eat all the left over icing. I still used the buttermilk powder and hope I won’t react. But if I do, it will definitely have been worth it! Thank you!

    1. Christin
      Christin Mahrlig

      As soon as you have the cake cut into pieces, peel them off the parchment paper when you get ready to stack them on a cake stand.

    1. Christin
      Christin Mahrlig

      Ann, I’ve had it for a really long time and I can’t for sure remember where it is from but I think it was Crate and Barrel. I just searched all my cabinets for it and can’t even find it. I don’t know where that cake stand took off to!

    1. Christin
      Christin Mahrlig

      Thanks Ella! I think it’s the best carrot cake I’ve ever tried. Especially the frosting. Hope you enjoy it. Have a wonderful Easter 🙂

  7. Krystle(Baking Beauty)

    This looks so scrumptious! Love that you don’t have to get the icing to look perfect on the sides!

    1. Christin
      Christin Mahrlig

      Thanks Krystle! I love how the nuts cover the sides of the cake. They taste yummy too!

  8. Averie @ Averie Cooks

    Just saw this on FG and it looks AMAZING! I love carrot cake, CI, and buttermilk powder. That stuff works miracles. Love it and just used some today for a recipe I’m posting later in the week. Gorgeous cake!

    1. Christin
      Christin Mahrlig

      Thanks Averie! And I will have to check out your recipe because I have no idea what to do with the rest of my buttermilk powder.

  9. Ari @ Ari's Menu

    Holy cow, I just want to jump through my screen and dive into that amazing looking cake! I LOVE carrot cake, and especially the frosting!

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