Whole Wheat Carrot Cake (3, 8" layers or 36 cupcakes)
I don’t believe in healthy desserts, only in deliciousness. So don’t mistake the whole wheat flour in this recipes as anything other than the most delicious ingredient for the job. It lends a subtle nuttiness to the flavor but the real reason I use it? It improves the texture of the cake tremendously.
Carrot cakes have a reputation for being incredibly moist, but often to the point of heaviness or unpleasant sogginess. Whole wheat flour binds with the excess moisture in the batter (it absorbs more liquid than regular flour) and keeps this carrot cake fluffy.
You can use any sort of carrots to make the cake, but the sharp, spicy flavor of carrots from the garden or farmers’ market make it shine.
16 ounces unsalted butter
14 ounces sugar
7 ounces brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cinnamon, freshly ground if you’ve got it
1 ½ tsp ginger
½ tsp mace
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
16 ounces whole wheat flour, sifted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
32 ounces carrots, peeled, trimmed, and shredded
16 ounces pecan pieces or shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 350° and line three tall, 8” cake pans with parchment paper. Lightly grease them and set aside. For cupcakes, use cupcake pans and papers.
In a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. Once it has liquified, turn the heat to medium. Soon the mixture will bubble, possibly spit, and make a bit of noise. You’ll notice brown bits forming on the bottom of the pot. When the butter goes ninja silent, you’re done. Set the butter aside to cool.
Using a hand or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, spices and eggs. Whip on medium to medium high speed until light and fluffy, about five minutes.
Reduce the speed to medium low and with the mixer still running, slowly drizzle in the brown butter, making sure to include all of the browned bits from the bottom. Add the vanilla next, then reduce the speed to low and add in the sifted whole wheat flour all at once. Mix until just incorporated.
Shut off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold in the nuts and shredded carrots.
Measure 32 ounces of batter into each 8” cake pans or about 3 ounces into each cupcake liner. Bake about 30 minutes for cake or 20 minutes for cupcakes, or until the cakes have puffed and lightly browned. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out with a few crumbs stuck to it.
Cool the cakes or cupcakes thoroughly before frosting with cream cheese buttercream. Check out my crumb coating tutorial for more details on finishing a layer cake. Decorate with carrot roses. The frosted cake will keep at room temperature for about four days.
For more information on how to store cakes, see this post from the Kitchn.
May 01, 2012 · 9:56 AM
The carrot rose is the best part!
· Meister @ The Nervous Cook · http://www.thenervouscook.com
May 01, 2012 · 1:39 PM
I’m a huge fan of Carrot Cake. Yes, I had Carrot Cake as my wedding cake! I’m compelled to try your recipe with fresh Farmer’s Market carrots, as I know this it will be splendid!
· Deb · http://Eastofedencooking.com
May 01, 2012 · 2:11 PM
The salt, of course, also makes it shine. But you already know that, which is part of why I love you. I agree w/you that the texture of carrot cake tends to be that of wet soil. I will def give this version a try—I have some white whole wheat KA flour kicking around that might be perfect for this
· Jenni · http://www.pastrychefonline.com/blog
May 01, 2012 · 4:18 PM
This looks so cute and delicious – the addition of brown butter = genius!
Choc Chip Uru
· Choc Chip Uru · http://gobakeyourself.wordpress.com
May 01, 2012 · 4:32 PM
I feel like I have a lot to learn about the different flours and how they work in baked goods. I have coconut flour that I want to use, but it tells me to be sure to add more liquid since the flour absorbs so much! I need a book about flour
· Vicki @ WITK · http://wildeinthekitchen.blogspot.com
May 01, 2012 · 5:29 PM
WOW! Gosh I love carrot cake so much, and I learned a lot about whole wheat flour just now Your pictures are beautiful too!
· Mary Ellen @ Pâte à Chew · http://www.pateachew.com
May 01, 2012 · 7:20 PM
Just home from work, thanks for all of the lovely comments everyone!
@Deb, I had carrot cake in my wedding cake too!
@Vicki, I haven’t played much with coconut flour, but I hear it’s really, really thirsty. I’ll have to explore!
@junglegirl, I love Ideas in Food, but I’d missed that one. Thanks for taking the time to email the link, had fun reading about it.
May 01, 2012 · 7:23 PM
What a beautiful, original cupcake! Beautiful presentation and photos! Wow!
· Allen @ Cook! Bake! Share! · http://www.cookbakeshare.com
May 01, 2012 · 8:56 PM
Mmmmmm. That’s all I have to say
· Kiri W. · http://www.healthyfoodietravels.net
May 02, 2012 · 10:05 AM
@Allen & @Kiri, thank you so much!
May 02, 2012 · 10:39 AM
Oh wow, that is gorgeous!
· RavieNomNoms · http://ravienomnoms.wordpress.com/
May 03, 2012 · 8:41 AM
I love the carrot rose.
May 03, 2012 · 9:42 AM
@RavieNomNoms & @Minu, thanks so much!
May 03, 2012 · 2:10 PM
I’m still laughing at the “ninja silent” butter, but this recipe looks utterly delicious. Can’t wait to try it!
· gina@cateror · http://www.cateror.com
May 03, 2012 · 4:48 PM
Love all your work, Stella bella!
Buzzzzzzzz, congrats on Top 9
· Chocolate Chilli Mango (Viviane Buzzi) · http://chocolatechillimango.com/
May 03, 2012 · 4:54 PM
Hi Stella. Juuuuust bumped into ur blog via foodbuzz via foodwishes. Your beautifully swirled frosting and the carrot rose drewwww me in. Knowing its a carrot cake, i thought that frosting has to be cream cheese and if it is, how in the world is it so beautifully stiff?!? So i just had to know and here I am …..
As a matter of fact, recently ive been going mad searching for ways to make a pipeable cc frosting.
The butter, cc & powdered sugar version will never be stiff enough unless u put HEAPS of that sugar in, which is an absolute no no for me.
Then I tried to make a cc version of the flour frosting which also didnt work AT ALL…it curdled somehow ….
Then I tried the one with whipping cream…which also turned into creamy soup after some 20-30 mins even after being refrigerated.
I should write a script for a CC horror flick!!!
Is your cc frosting in this picture, your german one or swiss? ….cuz after looking at this, i feel like there is still little hope…
May 03, 2012 · 9:13 PM
This is lovely! Your cake sounds absolutely delicious, and I love the carrot rose on top! Congrats on the Top 9!
· Amy @ FragrantVanillaCake · http://www.fragrantvanillacake.blogspot.com
May 04, 2012 · 10:07 AM
@Ally @Gina, thanks so much!
@Viviane, please, please, please tell me you have carrot cake in Australia.
@Saima, the buttercream in the photo is the cream cheese version of the Swiss. It’s a bit softer than all-butter Swiss, but quite manageable. You can help it stiffen up even more by whipping 10 ounces of melted white chocolate into the buttercream too.
@Amy, I really wanted some purple carrots to make “red” roses, but they haven’t come in yet at the market.
@Garry, you can absolutely make a half batch! And the cake freezes really well too, wrapped in plastic and stored in an airtight container.
May 07, 2012 · 9:53 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with you about the whole wheat as a flavor booster in cake. I used to make a ‘graham cracker cake’ and the whole wheat flour is what took the cake to the graham-y level.
· Gail · http://www.onetoughcookienyc.com
May 09, 2012 · 10:02 AM
@Gail, OMG, graham cracker cake?! WANT!
May 11, 2012 · 12:04 PM
These looks amazing! I love the carrot roses! I never thought about wheat flour in carrot cake, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I love the addition of brown butter, can’t wait to try this!
· Rachel · http://thegirlwiththecupcaketattoo.com
May 11, 2012 · 2:02 PM
I love your blog and your commitment to deliciousness. Really, in a larger sense, what else matters? Thanks. I want to make these this weekend.
· Bakingtherapist · http://bakingtherapist.wordpress.com
May 12, 2012 · 12:24 PM
@Rachel, hope you like it! Snap a pic for me.
@Bakingtherapist, I’m actually making up a batch too, for a friend’s birthday cake. Happy baking!
May 13, 2012 · 10:54 AM
I made your recipe Thursday night. Turned out good. Thanks for the brown butter tip – first time I made the brown butter; turned out perfectly.
I struggled with the weighted measure versus measuring cup measure. I know 8 fluid ounces is one cup. I am sure I was a little off when I added 2 cups of flour (for the 16 ounces) instead of weighing it, but it still turned out.
I used white flour, not wheat. Nuts of choice were walnuts. Butter cream frosting. I did not add mace only because I had none.
Cupcakes were really good. Nice a light.
Thanks for posting – I will make this recipe again.
May 13, 2012 · 11:39 AM
@SabrinaG, oh goodness! I’m glad the cake turned out nicely even with all the changes. I hope you’ll have a chance to make it again someday with a scale, I’d be curious what you think of both versions.
As you guessed, converting from weight to volume can be really tricky. The “1 cup is 8 ounces” rule only works for things like water. For example, a cup of honey weighs 12 ounces while a cup of flour is more like 4 1/2. If you’d like to read more about why I bake by weight instead of volume, check out this post.
P.S. I’m so happy you made brown butter for the first time! It’s a major addiction, be careful.
Jun 06, 2012 · 7:02 PM
@megan, if you’re already a whole wheat fan, I know you’ll love this cake. Whole wheat at its best! Good luck with the roses.
Aug 12, 2012 · 12:17 PM
D0, that’s wonderful! It really makes all the difference, I love that you’re already in the habit.
Aug 21, 2012 · 1:19 PM
After searching high and low for the PERFECT carrot cake recipe, this is it! Most old-school recipes rely on icky vegetable oil for the fat and the AP flour just buckles when you add all the carrot and nuts. And don’t even get me started on fillers like pineapple and coconut – it’s carrot cake, not tropical cake! Stella, this is by far one of the best recipes on the face of this planet. Thank you! And the browned butter – absolutely genius!
Aug 21, 2012 · 5:39 PM
Thanks so much Chelsea!! Ugh, veg oil is the worst, right? I do really appreciate the history of carrot cake and how it came to use oil, a result of butter rationing during World War 2, but browned butter’s way tastier, what can I say?
Aug 30, 2012 · 3:22 AM
Hi! When I try a recipe, I like to stick to the exact recipe so that I can get the chefs true tasty outcome…but my daughter is allergic to nuts so I was wondering if you would think it would still have your tasty intentions if I were to substitute raisins and if so, how much raisins? By the way, I love your site…it’s very inspirational!
Aug 30, 2012 · 9:12 AM
@Angela, you may very well be able to use raisins, but since they will absorb liquid from the cake, it may change the texture a bit. You might try using toasted pumpkin seeds you can have have a crunchy-nut like replacement that is allergy friendly. Hope that helps!
@Zashee, that shouldn’t be a problem at all, go for it!
Feb 02, 2013 · 9:39 AM
Wow! A last minute decision to make carrot cake but all my recipes needed oil. Found your recipe on a quick google trawl. Only change I made was half white flour cos I didn’t have enough whole wheat and I added a few raisins.. Everyone LOVED it. My husband prnounced it the best cake ever. I was a little worried about how runny the batter was but it turned out great Thanks!
Feb 02, 2013 · 11:51 AM
Hi Janine! Happy to meet another anti-oil carrot cake baker! So glad you had a little wheat flour on hand to use, it makes a difference! And as you found out, the recipe is very flexible about the ratios of white to wheat, so don’t hesitate to play around next time and find the balance you like best. Your husband has great taste, haha.
Mar 05, 2013 · 3:22 AM
Hi there Stella!
Was very apprehensive about making Swiss Meringue Buttercream cos it sounded very complicated, but I did it! And the first time without a thermometer! So far everybody was well so all ok. But just to confirm the temp is in Fahrenheit right? And yes it was soft and smooth and not too sweet so Mum got to eat more, great! It is just that after a while it became very runny almost to the point of being “oily”.. I guess I still have to stick it in the fridge for a while now and then huh? I live in the South East Asia hence our days (and nights) might get a little warm (understatement )
Oh and is whole wheat flour = whole meal flour? Been meaning to try this recipe for a while.
Mar 05, 2013 · 9:20 AM
Hi sharina! So glad you tried it out and enjoyed it, hurray! Yes, I’m an all American girl and my temperatures are Fahrenheit! Especially with the Swiss buttercream, so long as you cook it until it “feels” really hot, you should be good to go, though. Sounds like it did get a little warm hangin’ out at room temp; here I say it’s fine at room temp presuming that’s around 70F/21C, so if it was warmer than that the buttercream would definitely have experienced some challenges.
I assume whole wheat and whole meal must be the same, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard that term! The “healthy” stuff, lol.
Mar 05, 2013 · 11:28 PM
Hi there again!
Have a few more questions regarding SMB Stella…
I have some leftover from my niece’s birthday cake and have frozen it for future use. So when once back at room temp can I use it straightaway or should I whip it up again?
Another question, while making the said birthday cake, I used some colours (Americolor Gel Paste). However I cannot get it at the shade I wanted and had to settle with murky blue and peach instead of the intended Sky blue and Yellow. The SMB has a slightly yellowish shade after adding the butter anyway and when I mixed in the colours, it wasn’t uniform, it had speckles in it. Was that because of the colour absorbed by the vanilla seeds maybe? Or should I have mixed the colours and left it overnight before using it?
And how do I make it white?
Thanks so much!
Mar 06, 2013 · 9:11 AM
Hi sharina! Once you let the buttercream come to room temperature, you’ll need to whip it so it turns nice and creamy again.
The problem you’re experiencing is that the gel pastes are not fat soluble, so instead of dissolving into the buttercream and giving you a good color, they’re just spreading around in tiny globlets (the specks you saw). Before adding the color, you need to dissolve it in a little vanilla extract or milk (just a tablespoon) first and then whip it in.
If you completely melt the buttercream you’ve already made, the color will be released. You can then refrigerate the buttercream until sold, then rethaw and use again. Kind of a big process, but all that to say, you’re not stuck with the colors you’ve got now.
Mar 07, 2013 · 5:52 PM
Good luck, sharina!
Mar 20, 2013 · 2:04 PM
Mhmmm looks really yummy c: xx
· Ice Pandora · http://icepandora.blogspot.com
Mar 25, 2013 · 10:18 PM
Hi Mounett! You can use all white flour (in the same amount), but the cake will be much more dense. If you don’t have any wheat flour on hand, you’ll be fine to make it with what you’ve got. But if you ever have a chance, I think it’s a much better cake with some whole wheat flour mixed in. Hope that helps, happy baking!
Apr 14, 2013 · 10:07 PM
Hey Sara! Aww, hurray!!! I’m thrilled to hear it, and totally jealous of your awesome whole wheat flour! What a perfect addition. Thanks for taking the time to let me know how the cake turned out.
Apr 18, 2013 · 9:04 PM
I am so excited to try this recipe out. I like my cakes made with butter because they just taste better and I’ve never found a carrot cake recipe without oil in it. I’m also glad that you didn’t throw in pineapple and coconut into the cake. Couple of questions… Do I have to squeeze the juice out of the carrots before adding it to the batter? And can I omit the nuts altogether?
Apr 19, 2013 · 9:51 AM
Hi Stef! Oil is very traditional, but pretty darn blah flavored. No need to squeeze the carrots, they don’t have much moisture to give up. The squeezing is only necessary if you’re making a pear or apple variation, since they’re much juicier. Feel free to omit the nuts!
May 22, 2013 · 10:06 AM
Whenever I make carrot cake I seem to always have the same problem. While the batter is baking it takes FOREVER (almost double what recipes call for) and still seems very wet by the time I take it out. I know carrot cakes are supposed to be moist but this just seems ridiculous. Oven temps/times are fine for everything else I bake so not sure what is going on here. Do your cupcakes here dome or do they remain flat? Is this just a quirk of the carrot cake in general? Any ideas on how to fix the baking time issues? Thanks!!!!
Btw, I used ww pastry flour and a scale but omitted nuts.
May 22, 2013 · 5:33 PM
Hi Amy! One thing that pops to mind would be if you were using cold carrots straight from the fridge, which would chill the batter and perhaps slow things down. I’ve never tried cold vs room temp carrots before, so I really don’t know if it’s a problem or not, but ingredient temp can be a factor in other cake recipes.
As far as the moisture issue goes, is this something you’re experiencing with my recipe or just with others? I just want to make sure we’re on the same page, since you’d talked about other recipes too. Let me know, and I’ll see what I can do!
May 23, 2013 · 1:33 PM
I’ll keep carrot temp in mind for sure and so far it’s been the same for every recipe I’ve tried, yours included. Maybe it’s close to what it’s supposed to be and I’m just expecting something to happen that doesn’t? Lol Either way, they were a hit! I took them to work today for my birthday and people raved about them! (I did the carrot roses too, what a simple elegant garnish.)
Jun 16, 2013 · 10:48 AM
This might be the absolute opposite of what you have taught us readers in this post, but have you experimented with making this carrot cake recipe gluten-free yet? Asheville, NC loves their gluten free foods!
· Karen · http://www.blackmountaincakes.com
Jun 18, 2013 · 9:09 AM
Hi Karen! I have been experimenting with a GF carrot cake, but haven’t quite nailed it yet. I’ll keep you posted!
Jul 02, 2013 · 7:24 AM
Hi Hala, I’m afraid I don’t have the cup measurements myself, I’m an all-scale girl. If you’d like to read a little more about why I don’t use cup measurements with my recipes, you can read about it here.
Hi Mindy! I’d go for the German. For a lot of people, Swiss buttercream can be a bit overpoweringly buttery (especially if they’ve never tried it before), but the German has a really great vanilla ice cream flavor that everyone seems to find irresistible.
Jul 03, 2013 · 5:44 AM
Thanks for the reply. I’m very excited. You know… I personally don’t like American butter cream because it’s tooth decay sweet. But where I come from most people I know don’t care. They just eat it and maybe comment it’s too sweet. I’ve tried making Swiss. I tasted it right after I made it and it did taste like pure butter. I got scared and threw in 2 ounces of cream cheese. Still like butter. But I find that after it got to rest for a bit it didn’t taste like butter anymore. It was just right and I made that my go to frosting. But I might change my mind after making the German one. Ooopsie I ran away with my mouth again! Will let you know how it turns out.
Jul 05, 2013 · 8:29 PM
Hi Mindy, haha, yeah, don’t make any promises until you try the German version. I’m glad the taste of the Swiss started to grow on you! Especially with versions that have extra add-ins like caramel or chocolate, the butter flavor really dies down.
Jul 29, 2013 · 9:54 AM
HI Corky! Shouldn’t be a problem, just make sure you don’t overfill the 7” pans, probably no more than 2/3rds of the way. With cupcakes, 1 or 1/2 ounces of batter should be just right. Good luck!
Aug 08, 2013 · 6:37 AM
Hi Stella me again! I’ve just made the mix for your carrot cake however so far it has been in the oven for nearly an hour and the cake is still not cooked. I use an oven thermometer so I know my oven is working at the correct temp. Could there be any other reason as to why its taking so long? Much love xxx
P.s. thanks for all the help yesterday re smbc with cream cheese. However I decided to bin that batchnand try again lol xxx
Aug 09, 2013 · 10:49 AM
Hey Corky! Sorry I didn’t get to this sooner, did your cakes turn out in the end? I developed this recipe with a convection oven at work, so it’s a little normal for recipes to take longer in a “normal” oven (I just can’t provide estimations because I haven’t baked them that way myself). But generally it only adds an extra 10 or 15 minutes. Did you have the cake in two pans or three, just out of curiosity?
Aug 20, 2013 · 6:29 PM
Hi Tami! Thanks for the notes on bake time, I’ll update the recipe so other people will know (I bake in convection, hence it’s such a short bake time). Really glad you liked this recipe!!
Sep 14, 2013 · 10:02 PM
Me too! Just made it today in 9” pans, also in a convection oven, and not only did it take 30 minutes to bake through, but the layers were huge – full to the brim when risen! I can’t imagine having been able to use 8” pans without at least 2” high sides if not higher. How do you possibly fit this recipe in 8” pans?? I had about 35oz of batter in each and weighed all ingredients. If anything I had less carrots and pecans than called for.
Can’t wait to try it this week! Pairing with Christina Tosi’s graham buttercream, liquid cheesecake, milk crumbs, and homemade fondant carrots
· Sarah · http://Www.thesweeteryboston.com
Sep 15, 2013 · 5:11 PM
Hi Sarah! Thanks for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment. I do use 8” cake pans, but mine are 3” tall. I’ve been using them so long I never stopped to think that they weren’t standard (talk about being stuck in my own little world!). I really appreciate your feedback!
Your dessert creation sounds spectacular! Wish I could see the finished product.