My son has declared this the best gluten free carrot cake recipe ever and not only the best gluten free cake, but the best carrot cake ever. If anyone should know it’s him. As someone who doesn’t like chocolate, carrot cake has always been his go-to dessert at bakeries and he always chooses that for his birthday cake. So you can believe if he says it’s the best it is because he has done the research.
Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour Blend – for almost all of my recipes, I use Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Flour Blend. I have found it to be the most versatile gluten free flour. It works particularly well in cakes and muffins. You can use your own favorite flour blend but keep in mind this recipe was developed with BRM, so your final product may be slightly different. For best results, weigh your flour since all gluten free blends are different.
Baking Powder & Baking Soda – We are using a little of both kinds of leaveners for this cake. The batter is quite heavy and can use the extra lift to keep the cake light and fluffy.
Spices – I personally adore cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in my carrot cake. I have never been a fan of cloves, which many people use. If you’re in a pinch, you could substitute 1 3/4 teaspoon apple pie spice or pumpkin spice in place of mixing the spices yourself.
Oil – Part of the moisture of this cake comes from the fact that it uses oil instead of butter. Don’t substitute here. Any light tasting cooking oil will work – I usually stick to olive oil or melted coconut oil. There are a couple of reasons to stick with oil – oil is 100% fat, where butter is only 80% fat and the remainder is water and oil is liquid at room temperature and even when chilled. Since this cake must be stored in the refrigerator due to the cream cheese frosting, you will want it to be edible while cold.
Light Brown Sugar – This is another ingredient that is contributing to the moist nature of the cake. In addition, it’s also giving a nice caramel flavor. Don’t substitute for white sugar. If you’re in a pinch you can use dark brown sugar instead of light brown.
Eggs – Eggs are the piece that hold the dough together. I have not tried this recipe without eggs (vegan) and I don’t suggest it. If you need an egg free recipe, I suggest looking for one specifically made for that diet to avoid disappointment here.
Applesauce – Some recipes call for milk or sour cream, I prefer to use applesauce in this cake. It adds to the moistness of the cake and the apple and carrot flavor blend together so well.
Vanilla – Just a hint of vanilla to sweeten the flavor.
Carrots – The all important ingredient which makes it a carrot cake. Shred them yourself on the day you make the cake. They will be much fresher than store bought shreds. For ease, you can throw baby carrots directly into your food processor and chop them finely.
Nuts – Totally optional. I used walnuts, but pecans would also be delicious. If you’re nut free, you can eliminate them with no other changes needed in the recipe.
Some people like coconut or raisins in their carrot cakes. I don’t add those to mine, but you can easily add raisins or coconut – just reduce the amount of nuts used. You want to have no more than 1 cup of combined mix-ins.
How to make carrot cake from scratch
To achieve a moist and fluffy carrot cake, you will want to make sure to follow the mixing instructions carefully. Having your ingredients at room temperature is also critical to a good outcome. An electric mixer will work best to incorporate enough air into your batter.
- Step 1 – Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt into a large bowl. Whisk them together until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
- Step 2 – Combine the oil and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium high speed for 2 minutes.
- Step 3- Add the vanilla and beat for 30 seconds more.
- Step 4 – Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 60 seconds between each addition. At this point you should have a light fluffy batter beginning to form.
- Step 5 – Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and add half of the flour mixture. Let it stir in a little and then follow it with half of the applesauce. Repeat with the remaining flour and applesauce.
- Step 6 – Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the carrots and walnuts. Fold them in with a spatula. It should only take a few strokes.
- Step 7 – Divide the batter into your cake pans and bake!
What size cake will this recipe make?
The cake pictured here was made in three 6-inch cake pans.
This recipe would also work as two 8-inch or 9-inch layers, a single bundt cake, 24 cupcakes or a 9×13 sheet cake.
Does gluten free cake take longer to bake?
Gluten free cake may take a smidge longer to bake than a regular cake, but it is not significant. This cake in a 6-inch size takes about 30 minutes to bake. If you go to an 8-inch or 9-inch size, it may take up to 35 minutes. The best way to make sure your cake is done and not overly dry is to check it with the poke method. When you think the cake is mostly done, gently poke the top of the cake near the center with your finger. If the top springs right back, the cake is done. If it leaves a small indentation then you need to cook a few minutes more. Check every 2 minutes afterwards.
Can I make this cake ahead of time?
You can prepare the cake ahead of time with no problems. If you want to work ahead, you have the following options depending on how far in advance you need to make the cake:
- Just a day ahead – Make the layers. Once cooled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature overnight.
- Farther in advance – Make the layers. Once cooled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then place them in a freezer bag. Store in the freezer (without frosting) for up to 3 months. Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator before icing.
How do you store leftover cake?
Because of the cream cheese icing, this cake needs to be stored in the refrigerator. I store mine loosely covered with plastic wrap for up to 5 days (if it lasts that long).
How do you make dairy free cream cheese frosting?
The dairy free cream cheese frosting recipe below is one of my favorites. It’s a simple matter of using vegan cream cheese and butter in the recipe.If you’ve done much cooking with vegan substitutes, you’ll know that they don’t all work the same. For cream cheese, I love to use Miyoko’s brand. Its very stiff just like blocks of dairy cream cheese. But, you can also use the type in a tub like violife or kite hill. The recipe here was made with kite hill cream cheese which is a little more wet and requires more powdered sugar to compensate. If you do use miyokos, you can cut at least 1 cup of powdered sugar from the recipe with no issue.
If you’re looking for an easy substitute, you can also use Pillsbury brand cream cheese from the grocery store. It is both gluten free and dairy free.
If you love carrot cake, check out these other great carrot cake recipes!
Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Dairy Free Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake
- 2 C Gluten Free 1-to-1 Flour Blend I use Bob's Red Mill
- 2 tsp Baking Powder
- ½ tsp Baking Soda
- 1 tsp Cinnamon
- ½ tsp Ginger
- ¼ tsp Nutmeg
- ½ tsp Salt
- ½ C Olive Oil or any light vegetable oil
- 1 C Light Brown Sugar lightly packed
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 3 Eggs room temperature
- ½ C Unsweetened Applesauce room temperature
- 2 C Carrots shredded
- 1 ½ C Walnuts finely chopped and divided
For the frosting
- 8 oz Vegan Cream Cheese room temperature
- ½ C Vegan Butter room temperature
- 4 C Powdered Sugar sifted
- 1 tsp Vanilla
For the cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Stir together and then set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the oil and sugar. Beat on medium high speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla and mix 30 seconds more. Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing for about 60 seconds between each addition. Scrape down the bowl.
- Turn the mixer to the lowest setting. Add half of the flour mixture. Then add half of the applesauce. Add the remaining flour and then the remaining applesauce. Mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand and scrape down the bowl, gently folding in any remaining bits of flour.
- Add the carrots and 3/4C of the walnuts. Fold together by hand until just incorporated. This should only take a few strokes.
- Divide the batter evenly between your cake pans.
- For 6-inch pans, bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes (8-inch pans for 35 minutes). Check for doneness by gently poking the top of the cake. If it springs right back it's ready, if it leaves an indention then cook for 2 minutes more and check again.
- Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
For the frosting
- Add the cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes until it is smooth. Add the room temperature butter. Beat another 2 minutes until they are well combined. Add your vanilla. Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Once it has all been combined into the cream mixture, scrape down your bowl. Then turn your mixer to medium high speed and beat for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and fluffy.
- Use immediately to top cake. If you want to use a piping bag, then refrigerate the icing about 30 minutes before adding to your piping bag.
- To assembly the cake
- Level your cakes using a sharp knife to cut off the dome top.
- Place a dab of frosting on the middle of your plate. Place the first cake layer on the plate. Top with 1/4 of the frosting. Spread the frosting over the layer. Add the next cake layer on top of the frosting and add another 1/4 of the frosting on top. Add the third cake layer to the top. Please cake in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to chill the frosting.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and add another 1/4 of the frosting to the top of the cake. Working from the top down, coat the sides and the top in an even layer of frosting. Smooth the surface with a bench scraper. Place the cake back into the refrigerator for 30 minutes (this will be your crumb coat).
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator. Apply the remaining frosting. Swirl it over the whole cake or decorate to your taste.
- Chill at least 30 minutes prior to serving to set the frosting.