Carrot Cake with Lemon Frosting

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Looking for a smaller carrot cake? Celebrate spring with this easy carrot cake recipe featuring a few healthier swaps.

I’m not sure how carrot cake became a classic for springtime, but I’m not complaining!

We love carrots for snacking and cooking, so whoever first decided to turn it into sweet treats is a genius in my book.

A carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and chopped nuts on a glass stand, with a few whole carrots in the background.

Each spring I love whipping up carrot cake scones, carrot cake cookies, and of course, carrot cake itself!

This is a great small cake for celebrating with just a few people, or for enjoying all on your own.

Need to eat gluten free? Try gluten-free carrot cake instead.

Easy carrot cake

This recipe is perfect for my family because it makes just one layer, so there’s no worry about trimming, stacking, and frosting perfectly. Plus, it’s just the right amount to have a sweet treat but not have leftovers for days.


I like making treats a little healthier sometimes, so similar to my zucchini bread this recipe uses applesauce instead of apple or butter.

A carrot cake on a glass cake stand.

I also use whole wheat flour along with the all-purpose flour, which gives it a bit of a nutty taste. The final cake is lovely in texture and kid-approved.

Adding lemon zest to the frosting brightens it up, bringing the sunshine of the spring inside. It’s just what you need to welcome the season!

Ingredients for carrot cake

Full list of ingredients with quantities is located in the recipe card.

Ingredients for baking arranged on a counter with labels indicating each item, such as carrots, flour, eggs, and spices.

You’ll need:

  • Eggs
  • Applesauce (use unsweetened)
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Grated carrots
  • White whole wheat flour
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Neufchâtel cheese (lowfat cream cheese)
  • Powdered sugar
  • Vanilla extract
  • Lemon
  • Walnuts

I recommend shredding the carrots yourself rather than buying the pre-shredded bag at the store. This way you can shred the carrots as fine as you like, and you will retain the moisture in the carrots. The storebought shredded carrots can often be dried out, so make sure to get a fresher package if you do need to go this route.

How to make this recipe

First, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly coat an 8-inch cake pan with nonstick spray. If you line it with a parchment round, it will be even easier to release the cake from the pan. 

You can also bake this in two 6-inch pans for a layer cake, or use a square baking pan.

Set out your cream cheese to soften while the cake is baking and cooling.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the applesauce and sugar. Stir in the grated carrots.

Use another bowl to sift together the flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until completely incorporated. Make sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to get everything mixed and prevent any pockets of flour.

The batter will be thicker than a regular cake batter. Scoop it into the prepared cake pan and spread in an even layer to the edges.

Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. 

Let the cake cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When you’re ready to frost the cake, combine the softened cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Zest the lemon into the bowl, then beat everything together until completely smooth. Taste and add more sugar if desired.

Spread the frosting onto the cooled cake (an offset spatula makes this very easy) and top with chopped or halved walnuts.

A carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and chopped nuts, with one slice served on a plate.

Storage tips

Due to the cream cheese frosting, this cake can be left at room temperature for up to 2 hours, but after that it should be stored in the refrigerator. 

Store the cake covered, preferably under a cake dome, to prevent it from drying out. 

A slice of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and chopped nuts on a plate with a fork.

FAQ

Absolutely! I like to use golden raisins.

Turbinado sugar is a raw cane sugar. You’ll see it in stores labeled as turbinado sugar or under the brand name Sugar in the Raw. 

If you don’t have any, you can swap in an equal amount of unpacked light or dark brown sugar.

Neufchâtel is simply a lightened-up cream cheese. It has less fat than the standard block of cream cheese, but has all the luscious flavor! I’ve found it is also a little softer and easier to work with than regular cream cheese.

You can always use regular cream cheese in its place if you like.

Make this easy carrot cake and welcome spring into your kitchen!

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below!
It means so much when you enjoy my recipes, so let me know how it goes and leave a comment if you have any questions.

A carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and chopped nuts on a glass stand, with a few whole carrots in the background.

Carrot Cake with Lemon Frosting

Celebrate spring with a simple single-layer carrot cake.
Author : Megan Myers
4.55 from 11 votes
Print Pin Recipe Review
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6
Calories 360 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 cups grated carrots
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 8 ounces neufchatel cheese, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Walnuts, optional

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat an 8-inch cake pan with nonstick spray and line with a parchment round.
  • In a large bowl, beat together eggs, applesauce, and sugar, then mix in carrots.
  • In another bowl, sift together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, then stir into carrot mixture until completely mixed in. The batter will be thick.
  • Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and spread to the edges in an even layer.
  • Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
  • To frost, beat together neufchatel cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth. Frost cake and top with walnuts, if desired.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 sliceCalories: 360 kcalCarbohydrates: 58 gProtein: 9 gFat: 11 gSaturated Fat: 5 gCholesterol: 90 mgSodium: 279 mgPotassium: 401 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 36 gIron: 2 mg

Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.

Tried this recipe?Leave a comment below!
megan

About Megan

I focus on fresh ingredients and easy methods, with spins that keep meals interesting. Dinnertime shouldn’t be stressful or complicated, and I’m here to help you enjoy the time spent in the kitchen. Read more…

4.55 from 11 votes (5 ratings without comment)

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52 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    My favorite Spring tradition is going to the Bronx Zoo after a long Winter, the baby animals have begun to be out and about and the temperature is just right, to spend an entire day there.

  2. My favorite spring tradition is dying Easter eggs with our children and then having a little Easte egg hunt on Easter morning!

  3. I love it cause u can open the doors and air the house out, for a fresh clean smell.. then all of the pretty flowers blooming bring the pretty looks and the nice smell..just everything full of life..

  4. I’m on vacation here in Florida, but when I return to Ireland next month, I certainly intend baking that gorgeous Carrot Cake of yours. Neufchâtel cheese is not a cheese I’m familiar with. Maybe we don’t have it in Ireland. Thank you for recipe.

    1. @Ursula, neufchâtel is a lighter version of cream cheese, so you can certainly swap it out for the standard cream cheese in the recipe, if that is available! Unfortunately, I’m not sure what else would be equivalent.

  5. LOL, we don’t get ‘spring’ here in Thailand. Thais call the three seasons ‘hot, hotter and hottest’ and at our current temperatures of more than 104 degrees every day, we’re hoping this is the ‘hottest’ it’s going to get.

    The cake looks amazing, btw, and I’ll definitely be trying it.