4.7 from 23 votes

Best-Ever Homemade Carrot Cake

The best-ever homemade carrot cake decorated with cream cheese frosting and candied carrot peels.

This carrot cake is perfectly spiced, moist and unbelievably good! Using candied carrot peels as decoration (optional), cream cheese frosting and sweetened shredded coconut, this cake is simply the best — I make it all the time.

My Ultimate Carrot Cake with Candied Carrot Peels recipe is one of my favorites from Zoë Bakes Cakes. I make it a lot. For birthdays, for Tuesdays, for family gatherings, it was the first cake my boys ate, because I could justify giving a baby cake, if it had carrots. I’m not suggesting it replace baby food, but for their first birthday cakes, it was my go to. I put this cake and many more of my all time favorites into my new book, Zoë Bakes Cakes: Everything You Need to Know to Make Your Favorite Layers, Bundts, Loaves, and More:

Zoë Bakes Cakes, Zoë François's cookbook.

I was inspired to use the whole carrot after making Cenk Sönmezsoy’s Perfect Apple Pie, which uses every single bit of the apple to make the pie, core, peel, and seeds are all used to extract as much apple flavor as possible. I love that he didn’t waste a bit of the fruit. I usually peel the carrots and toss them away into the composter, which honestly doesn’t cause me too much guilt, but why not use them for the cake? I just washed the carrots, peeled them, and candied the peels. They go through several stages while baking. First they turn to carrot leather, chewy and soft, then they dehydrate fully and turn to a snappy, brittle, sweet, but earthy candy. Delicious.

A slice of homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, decorated with candied carrot peels.

You can watch me make the cake and carrot candy (plus a picture of my son eating his first carrot cake – 19 years ago) in my instagram video and find the recipe below. 

The ultimate carrot cake with candied carrot peels | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François
The ultimate carrot cake with candied carrot peels | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François
The ultimate carrot cake with candied carrot peels | ZoeBakes photo by Zoë François
Ultimate Carrot Cake with Candied Carrot Peels | ZoëBakes | Zoë François

Best-Ever Homemade Carrot Cake

This carrot cake is perfectly spiced, moist and unbelievably good! Using candied carrot peels as decoration (optional), cream cheese frosting and sweetened shredded coconut, this cake is simply the best — I make it all the time!
4.7 from 23 votes

Ingredients

Candied Carrot Peels

  • Peels from 2 pounds organic carrots washed – Make sure you get a nice thick peel, if they are too thin, they will fall apart while you candy them. My peeler produces just the right thickness, but you may need to press a bit harder to get a nice peel.
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) water
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water or 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
  • Pinch kosher salt

Carrot Cake

  • 4 cups (450g) loosely packed finely grated carrots
  • 2 1/3 cups (280g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups (250g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (200g) lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups (300ml) mild-flavored oil such as vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Finely grated zest of 1/2 large orange
  • 1 3/4 cups (150g) sweetened shredded coconut plus 1 3/4 cups additional for decorating the outside (if desired)
  • 1 cup (160g) chopped dried fruit such as apricots, raisins, cherries

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 1/2 lb (680g) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (330g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract optional
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 5 cups (600g) confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tbsp Lyle’s Golden Syrup see note

Instructions

Candied Carrot Peels

  • Preheat the oven to 200°F / 95°C. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.
  • In a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together the simple syrup, orange blossom water, and salt and warm to a gentle simmer. Add the carrot peels and cook just until the peels are turning translucent.
  • Strain the peels in a fine-mesh sieve and then lay them out on the prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake until the carrot peels start to curl up, anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on their thickness. Turn the oven temperature to 100°F / 40°C and bake until completely dry; this can take several hours. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place for up to 48 hours.

Carrot Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°F / 175°C. Generously grease two 8 by 3-inch cake pans, then line them with greased parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg until well combined.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together both sugars, oil, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, 1 3/4 cups / 150g of the coconut, dried fruit, and carrots. Then add the dry ingredients and mix just until uniformly combined.
  • Divide the batter into the two prepared pans and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Gently tap the pans on the counter several times to release excess air bubbles.
  • Bake until a tester comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cakes cool completely before removing from the pans. Remove the parchment paper and place one cake layer on a serving plate.

Cream Cheese Icing

  • Make the icing by blending the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, lemon extract, lemon juice, confectioners' sugar and Lyle's Golden Syrup, until smooth.
  • Put one of the layers of cake on a 8-Inch Cake Circle and then top it with 1 cup of the cream cheese icing.
  • Cover the cake with a thin crumb coat (watch video for crumb coat instructions). Then finish with a smooth coating of the cream cheese icing (watch video for smooth icing instructions). If using, arrange candied carrot peels around the cake or press additional shredded coconut to the sides of the cake.
    carrot cake decorated two ways - one with candied carrot peels and the other with shredded coconut
  • Serve cake immediately or store in the refrigerator (see note about candied carrot peels), covered, for up to 48 hours. If refrigerated, bring the cake to room temperature before serving.

Notes

Once you put the peels on the cake, you want to serve it immediately. Refrigerating the carrot peel candy will cause them to wilt.
Golden syrup is like a light caramel but not as overpowering a flavor; it just adds a nuance that is exquisite. Golden syrup is a staple in most British kitchens, but if you happen to find it in your own grocery in the United States, give it a try.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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26 thoughts to “Best-Ever Homemade Carrot Cake”

  1. If I were to make this with shorter carrot peels, would it then keep in the fridge? (If they were flush with the frosting).

  2. I don’t see in recipe instructions where you add the zest. Also, my cakes started to get overbaked at 32 minutes, are you sure about 50?! 🙂

    1. Thank you, I have updated the recipe! And yes I confirmed it should be 50-55 minutes at 350. If yours started to get overbaked at 32, it may be that your oven runs hot. Zoe suggests using an oven thermometer to check your oven temp.

    1. Hi Jo! We’re not sure of a substitute for it, but you could certainly omit it. Zoë knows some readers have done this with success, she just hasn’t made it this way herself. The texture will be slightly different, but it should work just fine to leave it out. Enjoy!

  3. yay! my first cake from zoebakes. The cake is absolutely delicious, the spices+orange peel truly make a difference. I used an 8inch springform pan and was surprised to see my cake was done after 35 mins (I do have a thermometer) I did not follow the recipe for the frosting – seemed to be too much!

  4. The photo is of a 4-layer cake. Your directions do not indicate to split the layers which I think would be very difficult to do with such a moist cake.

    Double recipe??

    1. Hi Ginger! You have a good eye. If you chill the cakes you can cut them into 4 layers, but it is challenging because of the moisture content. Just about every time Zoë makes a cake, she decorates it differently depending on the look she’s going for. In the book she decided to divide it into 2 pans for ease and that’s the recipe you see here. I hope this helps!

  5. 5 stars
    This recipe is delicious. Ignore the three star rating. I had rated as a five, don’t know what happened.

    1. Hi Maria, yes, it will be best for you to do it by weights. Be sure to refrigerate the layers to make them more stable, before handling something so large. Happy baking!

      1. 5 stars
        Hi Stephanie, it came out perfect. Thank you. But one more question…the two 12” layers are huge and heavy. Do you think the bottom layer will be strong enough to withstand the weight of the top layer if I stack them, or should I use something to help the top layer stay in place?
        Thank you.

        1. So glad it worked! Make sure to chill the layers before stacking and make sure the filling is something that can withstand the weight. Don’t use whipped cream. If you’re going to use cream cheese icing, chill it first as Zoë suggests in the recipe, so it has more body.

  6. The cake’s flavour and taste was bang on !!
    But the texture was a little dense and too moist(almost fudgy),is that how it is supposed to be?

    1. Hi Brindha, so glad you enjoyed the flavor of this cake! It is one of Zoë’s favorites. Because of the type of cake it is, it should definitely be moist, but if it seems fudgy it may have been underbaked.

  7. Excellent recipe. I followed recipe except baked in 3 8″ pans (instead of 2). The only change I will make for next time is to omit the orange zest–personal taste only. I served this at a family dinner and everyone raved about it. The frosting recipe is more than enough for 3 layers (I did not do the carrot peel decoration). I baked and frosted 2 days in advance (kept in fridge) and cake was perfect–moist (but not soggy) and so delicious.
    Thank you!

  8. 5 stars
    Thank you Zoe for sharing this recipe! It is perfectly named because this is absolutely the best carrot cake. I followed your recipe for the cake exactly, baked it in two 8×3 inch pans and split the layers to end up with 4 layers. The cake was so moist, perfectly flavored, and was not too dense or heavy. I actually made this for my own birthday celebration and received your Zoe Bakes Cakes cookbook as a gift!

  9. Hi – I’m baking this for Easter & have a quandary…. I need to bake it on Thursday because we’re traveling. Should I bake, frost & freeze or just bake & freeze and frost on Easter? I’m getting back into baking & having so much fun! Thanks so much for your inspiration & help : )

    1. Hi Sandra! Zoë suggests you bake and freeze, then frost on Easter or the day before. Cheers!

  10. Hi! I am plan to bake this cake from the book recipe, which looks to be the same. However, I don’t have 8 by 3 inch round pans so I was going to back them in 3 8 by 2 inch pans as is suggested in the header paragraph in the book. I would assume the bake time would be less than 50 to 55 minutes if spread in 3 pans but the book doesn’t provide baking time for 3 pans. I was hoping you could provide that info. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jennifer! Zoë suggests you check the cakes starting around 30 minutes to be safe. Happy baking!

  11. 5 stars
    There was this baker near me that made a carrot cake that was incredible. I chased that recipe for years…..I finally found it in this one! It was so good! The only change I made was that I sweetened my own coconut. The oil I used was avocado. I didn’t have Lyle’s golden syrup for the frosting, but other than that, I followed it using a scale for measuring. Wow, Wow! it really is the best carrot cake recipe. Every cake I have made out of your book has been delicious! Can’t wait to bake more from it.

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