This Spiced Carrot Cake is an easy sheet pan version of the classic! It's spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, & cardamom and is covered in brown butter cream cheese frosting for the ultimate flavor combination. This cake recipe without butter in the batter stays extra moist from vegetable oil, sour cream, and applesauce.
Carrot cake is one of my favorite desserts! I love the carrots and spices, but often I just can't be bothered to make a full layer cake. That's why I made this single-layer simple carrot cake recipe. You can just slap the frosting on the cake and spread it out with an offset spatula. It's quick and easy, and it still looks gorgeous and delicious!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Flavorful cake packed with carrots and warm spices.
- The brown butter cream cheese frosting adds the most delicious, rich flavor in combination with the carrots and spices.
- This Easter carrot cake recipe with oil stays super moist.
- It's a single layer carrot cake without nuts.
- This applesauce carrot cake is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cardamom.
- Of course, you can't make carrot cake without shredded carrots! I like using fine shreds but a slightly more coarse grate will also work.
- Applesauce may seem like a surprising ingredient in cake, but it adds moisture and helps create a tender crumb. Use smooth, unsweetened applesauce.
- Vegetable oil and sour cream keep this simple carrot cake moist without the use of butter.
- Room temperature cream cheese is combined with brown butter and powdered sugar for a decadent frosting.
See recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
Substitutions & Variations
- Add chopped walnuts or pecans for extra crunch.
- Leave the frosting off of the cake for a breakfast version, or try my Carrot Cake French Toast recipe!
- Bake the batter in cupcake tins or loaf pans instead of a sheet pan. Cupcakes should take less time to bake while loaf pans may take longer.
- Decorate your carrot cake with sprinkles and/or dye your frosting.
This recipe has not been tested with other substitutions or variations. If you replace or add any ingredients, please let us know how it turned out in the comments below!
How to Make Spiced Carrot Cake
Step 1: In a medium bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and all of the spices.
Step 2: In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the granulated and brown sugars with the oil, then mix in the eggs, vanilla extract, sour cream, and applesauce.
Step 3: Sift and fold the dry ingredients into the wet, then fold in the shredded carrots until fully incorporated.
Step 4: Pour the batter into a 9x13 inch pan, and bake at 325°F until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
Step 5: To make the frosting, first you'll want to brown the butter in a pan. When brown bits form on the bottom of the pan and it smells nutty, pour it into a heat-resistant bowl and let it cool completely.
Step 6: Stir room temperature cream cheese until smooth, then mix in the cooled butter, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Spread over the cooled cake.
Expert Baking Tips
- If you want to make cupcakes instead of a sheet cake, check out my carrot cake cupcakes recipe!
- I love baking with spices, so this cake packs a lot of flavor from them! For less intense flavor, I recommend decreasing the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger measurements by ¼ - ½ teaspoon.
- Don't remove the cake from the pan or frost it until it's had time to cool completely! Removing it too soon could cause it to fall apart. Frosting too soon could make the frosting melt or ruin the top of the cake.
Yes. You can use the same amount of room temperature butter instead of the browned butter in the frosting, if you don't want the brown butter flavor.
Make sure the browned butter has cooled before adding it to the cream cheese so no curdling occurs. You can speed up the cooling process by refrigerating it, but don't leave it in long enough to solidify.
Absolutely! You can make and freeze the cake layer and then frost it before serving. See below for more details.
Store the unfrosted carrot cake at room temperature for 2-3 days.
The frosted cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Store leftover spiced carrot cake slices in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator (frosted) or at room temperature (unfrosted) and enjoy!
Make Ahead of Time
To make this cake ahead of time, make the cake layer and then cool and freeze it. When you're ready to assemble it, make the brown butter frosting and spread it over the cold cake. Refrigerate until it's completely thawed and you're ready to serve it!
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Spiced Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Frosting
- 9x13" cake pan
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring spoons
- Scale or measuring cups
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¾ teaspoon* ground nutmeg
- ¾ teaspoon* ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1½ cups light brown sugar packed
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup sour cream room temperature
- ¼ cup applesauce room temperature
- 3 cups (~6 medium carrots) shredded carrots
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter browned and cooled
- 8 oz (1 block) cream cheese room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 325°F and line a 9x13" cake pan with parchment paper (covering the sides).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars and oil. Add the eggs, vanilla, sour cream, and applesauce, mixing well after each addition.Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Sift and fold the flour mixture into the wet ingredients just until a few dry streaks are visible. Then, fold in the shredded carrots.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.Once the cake has cooled, feel free to lift it out of the pan by grabbing the edges of the parchment paper.
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- Place the butter in a pan over medium heat. Stir until the butter browns and releases a nutty aroma. Let it cool.
- Mix the cream cheese in a large bowl. Stir in the cooled brown butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar until well combined.
- Spread an even layer of frosting over the cooled carrot cake. Cut into 24 pieces (or less for bigger slices) and enjoy!
I made this carrot cake for Easter last year. It was the best cake carrot I’ve ever made and the family agreed. Making it today for my Dad’s birthday! This is a keeper and the only carrot cake I’ll ever make. Thanks for sharing!!
Aw yay I'm so happy to hear this!! Thank you, Trish 🙂 Happy belated birthday to your dad, I hope he had a great one!