The perfect carrot cake that has no nuts, but lots of crunch from a graham cracker crumble. Incredibly moist, deliciously spiced, and perfect for any celebration!
Carrot cake is in my top 3 types of cake. I really love spices, and the flavor of a carrot cake and cream cheese frosting is just my favorite. Unfortunately, SO many of them are made with nuts...and I just happen to be allergic to nuts. Especially pecans and walnuts, which usually make their way into a carrot cake. So, with us all stuck inside, I thought this would be the perfect cake to help cheer the mood and be a part of our spring or Easter celebrations.
Now, this is a cake that can be made into a sheet cake, cupcakes, etc. But I made this recipe for a 3 layer round cake. I just love the look of it and the layering with the graham cracker crumble. Also, a good crumble in the cake really adds a crunch that you don't get without nuts, so this helps with that. And of course, a graham cracker crumble is one of the tastiest things. If you don't have graham crackers, you could use ginger snaps, shortbreads, or another similar cookie. If you love this recipe, you should also check out my Small Batch Carrot Cupcakes or my Pumpkin Spice Cake.
Also, as this is a cream cheese frosting, I recommend placing it in the fridge if you plan on not eating the whole thing within a few hours. You can also freeze the cake into slices, placed into freezer safe/airtight containers. Then let it defrost on the counter for like 20-30 minutes before eating. This is now my new favorite cake, Spiced Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Graham Cracker Crumble. So I hope you love it as much as I do.
Table of Contents
Tips on Ingredients
These are the items that I have notes for, whether it's to buy the best quality or if there are specific notes about those ingredients for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
- Oil: I personally prefer to use a grape seed oil as it doesn't have a flavor. But you can also use vegetable oil or olive oil. Or to make it super rich, you can melt butter.
- Carrots: I wouldn't say these need to be the best quality, but they should be fresh. And I like buying them in shredded form. 10 oz bag is enough, and you'll have a little left over.
- Graham Crackers: I am a Honey Maid girl...ride or die, these are my favorites. I'm sure others will taste good too, but these are the best.
- Cream cheese: I think we can all agree that cream cheese can either be delicious or pretty gross. This is one of those things I recommend for the frosting being a good quality since it's eaten raw and not baked in. So, using something like Philadelphia cream cheese or a specialty one.
- Vanilla extract: in general, I just always suggest a good vanilla, preferably not a fake. But because this is the main flavor profile (along with the cream cheese) in the frosting, you want it to be a good quality.
- Butter: I always suggest using a good quality when it comes to your dairy. This always helps the texture and flavor profile. I personally am a big fan of butter like Kerrygold.
Tips and Tricks
These are tips on how to do a specific step or why I've listed something a certain way in the recipe as necessary for the best-spiced carrot cake.
- Frosting: You can also double the frosting recipe and graham cracker crumble if you wish to have extras or if you'd like to use the leftover cake (from trimming the tops) to make cake pops, etc.
- Pans: If you don't have 3 pans to divide into, that's fine, divide into bowls and pans to create equal amounts. I split mine into 1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoon each.
- Graham Cracker Crumble: Can be made without the graham cracker crumble, but this is what makes it unique.
- Add-ins: You can add in raisins or nuts. Add in at the step of adding in the carrots.
- Assembling: You can assemble the cake as you want. If you don't want the crumble to show, just add it into the in between layers as I did. But if you want to have it show on top, you can just make sure to only use ⅓ on each layer and have some leftover for the top. Or if you do cupcakes or sheet cake, you can frost and add graham cracker crumble on top of that.
- Apple Sauce: You can swap out apple sauce for pineapple. Or even more butter/oil/fat.
- Spices: Now this part is flexible for sure if you don't love spices. But as a spice girl...I highly encourage you to use them all. But of course, if you don't love spices, feel free to remove those you don't love.
- Green Carrots: In one of my pans, I left the cake in it to cool too long. The carrots turned green and this had never happened before so I looked it up. They are still safe to eat, but leaving it in a metal pan too long can mess with the pH. So, I linked the helpful article here for tips to avoid this or why it might happen. But also, it is harmless.
Carrot Cake Decoration Ideas
I love the part of cake making that is decorating. There are so many great ways to decorate a carrot cake. Below I'll list a few.
- Edible Flowers: You can do what I've done here and add edible flowers. they are such a fun and beautiful touch to a cake. You can purchase edible flowers at Gourmet Sweet Botanicals.
- Sprinkles: I love love love a good sprinkle look on a cake. Get some in some beautiful colors and decorate away.
- Mini Carrots: I did this with a recent Small Batch Carrot Cupcakes recipe. I added little carrots from Gourmet Sweet Botanicals and I added extra graham cracker crumb ontop. So fun!
- Pipe Carrots: Make extra frosting, color it, then pipe on the little carrots. A great example of this is on A Cozy Kitchen's, Mini Carrot Cake.
- Piping and Candy: You can add fun colors to extra icing, pipe it on in little rounds, and add in sweet little candies like my pal Erin from Cloudy Kitchen did in this Carrot Cake.
A lot of people add nuts to carrot cake, however, I am allergic, so I made this graham cracker crumble. So delicious and adds a wonderful crunch. You will also see a lot of people want more moisture from their carrot cake, so here I use apple sauce. But you also might find recipes with bananas, pineapple, etc. Anything to add more moisture. This is usually why you'll also see oil instead of butter.
Sure, but the bake time will change and you'll need to keep an eye on the bake. Use a skewer or toothpick to test doneness. You can do a sheet cake, cupcakes, do 8" or 9" rounds. However, this will just change the height of the layers and baking times. Or you can even do 4: 6" cakes, just lower your cooking time by about 5-10 minutes. I believe all the cooking times would be between 35-45 minutes (except cupcakes, which would take between 18-22 minutes)
You'll want to follow the instructions on this one carefully so the crumbles don't go everywhere. Start by trimming tops off of cakes with a bread knife. Try to make it as level as possible. Then dollop a small bit of frosting onto the center of the stand or plate you would like to use. Then place the first layer of cake directly onto that. Pipe or spread a thick layer of frosting onto that first cake layer. Use your piping bag to pipe an outer circle on the layer. Then add about ½ of the graham cracker crumble on top of that. Add another layer of cake on top of that and repeat the cream cheese and graham cracker layers. Finish with the top layer of cake, then frosting. You can now make it a naked cake and not frost the sides, or lightly frost the sides, or you can completely cover your sides. Decorate with flowers, toppers, etc.
There are a few disputes over this. Whether it came from England, France, Russia, the Vikings. Different sources have different takes on it. But many show that the 1300s is when carrot cake or pudding was really "invented". You can read more about it here.
For some people, nutrition facts are dangerous for their mental health, while others need them for their physical health. Please read over these with caution for your own safety.
For this particular recipe, the calories are 736 calories. Carbohydrates: 118g, Protein: 8g. All other nutritional facts can be found at the bottom of the recipe card.
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- Stand Mixer
- 2 cups white sugar
- ¾ cup grape seed or neutral oil
- 3 eggs room temperature
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup apple sauce
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon all spice
- ⅛ teaspoon cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon mace
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 cups carrots shredded
Graham Cracker Crumble
- 3 graham crackers
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoon butter melted
- ½ teaspoon butter or vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 8 oz cream cheese room temp
- ½ cup butter room temp
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 ½ cups powdered sugar sifted
For the Cake:
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Using your paddle attachment on your stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil for about 2-3 minutes. Then add in eggs, vanilla, and apple sauce for an additional 1-2 minutes.
- In a separate large bowl, sift the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
- Turn your stand mixer back onto a low speed and slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until combined.
- Let the batter sit while you prepare the pans. This allows the batter to rise and double the leavening process. I like to let it sit for 20-30 minutes.
- Prepare three 6" cake pans by lightly oiling the pans, then adding parchment paper cut into rounds to the bottom of each pan. Then flour or powder sugar the sides of each pan (this is about 1 tablespoon for all three pans). (Great time if you still have it, to do some dishes. Clean as you go!)
- After 20-30 minutes of resting the batter, fold in the carrots.
- Divide batter between the three prepared pans. Use an offset spatula or a butter knife to smooth out the batter in each pan if needed.
- Place the cakes into the oven, if you're baking three pans, place two on the bottom rack, side by side and one on the top rack in the center. Or if you're doing two, then one, set two on top rack cook and then let pan cool before adding batter into the third.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check with a toothpick until it comes out clean. May need an additional couple of minutes if you use other pans.
- Take cakes out and cool in the pan. Then cool in the fridge before assembling so you don't melt your frosting.
Graham Cracker Crumble:
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare a large jelly roll baking sheet (baking sheet with a lip) with parchment paper.
- Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Remove and pour onto the baking sheet. It will be crumbly and maybe in big chunks or small pieces. I try to mush mine together as one big, flat thick surface.
- Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Golden, but not burnt.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool.
- Use a fork or your hands to break into small pieces.
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Using your paddle attachment cream the butter by itself for 3-4 minutes. This helps to create a fluffy texture. Scrape sides of bowl as needed.
- Add in cream cheese and mix until combined. May take about 2-3 minutes to get it completely smooth. Scrape sides of bowl as needed.
- Add in the vanilla and stir until well combined.
- Add in powdered sugar one cup of a time. Mix until thoroughly combined and smooth. Allow to continue to mix for 3-4 minutes to let it fluff up. Scrape sides of bowl as needed.
- First, trim tops off of cakes with a bread knife. Try to make it as level as possible.
- Take a dollop of frosting onto the center of the stand or plate you would like to use. Then place the first layer of cake directly onto that.
- Pipe or spread a thick layer of frosting onto that first cake layer. Then add about ½ of the graham cracker crumble on top of that.
- Add another layer of cake on top of that and repeat the cream cheese and graham cracker layers.
- Finish with the top layer of cake, then frosting. You can now make it a naked cake and not frost the sides, or lightly frost the sides, or you can completely cover your sides.
- Decorate with flowers, toppers, etc.