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Simple Carrot Cake Recipe

A lightened-up simple carrot cake recipe with less sugar, whole wheat flour, and plenty of shredded carrots and fresh apples. Top with cream cheese frosting!

I don’t typically like carrot cake. It’s too sweet for my taste and traditional recipes call for an amount of oil and sugar that make me wince. I have made it, though: once as part of a trio of cakes that my boss commissioned from me for a birthday party (I did a tall and skinny carrot cake, a fat and luscious German chocolate cake, and a New York-style cheesecake) and again this past Easter when we invited friends over for dinner. It turns out that my husband loves carrot cake, prompting me to serve it following the leg of lamb (!) I bathed in olive oil and rosemary in a nod to my Greek roots. When his birthday occurred in May I decided to revisit that recipe and make it better. Inspired by a gluten-free recipe from Jamie Oliver I think I succeeded. My updated version calls for whole grain flour, olive oil, and an entire apple peeled and grated and stirred into the batter to compensate for the lower sugar component. And it really works: this cake tastes like a familiar carrot cake but it’s one that won’t leave you with a sugar crash an hour after you eat a slice.

This recipe is easily adapted to be gluten-free with a quick mix of gluten-free oat and sweet white rice flours. If you don’t care for whole wheat flour, try spelt or just all-purpose. Dairy-free instructions are included in the head notes and there’s actually no dairy called for at all in the cake, just in the icing. Another bonus is that cake part is heavy on the carrots and fruit and lighter on the oil and sweetener (to do away with the refined sugar altogether use honey or maple syrup). Grated fresh ginger gives a slight kick and a touch of warming cinnamon contrasts nicely with the hint of apple.

I may never love carrot cake but this version is encouraging me to come around to it. I have to be honest, however — a chocolate cake with peanut butter butter cream is always going to be up there in my top three (top one?). I’m already plotting it for my next birthday which, despite my best efforts at pretending it isn’t so, is looming on the horizon in a few short months. Thoughts of cake, then, will distract me.

Simple Carrot Cake Recipe

Nicole Spiridakis
A lightened-up simple carrot cake recipe with less sugar, whole wheat flour, and plenty of shredded carrots and fresh apples. Top with cream cheese frosting!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 10 servings
Calories 410 kcal


For the Cake

  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup brown sugar , or ⅓ cup honey
  • ½ cup olive oil , or vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger , or 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large apple
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 orange

For the Icing

  • ½ cup unsalted butter or dairy-free margarine , softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar , sifted
  • zest of 1 orange
  • ½ cup cream cheese , at room temperature
  • cup chopped walnuts toasted


  • Heat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a 9-inch cake round line the base with parchment paper.
  • In a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the sugar and oil and whisk to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and spices. Add dry mixture to the wet and fold together. Peel and grate the apple (core and all but pick out the seeds) and carrots, then stir into the batter along with the orange zest and juice.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan, place on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, and bake or until golden and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Meanwhile, make the icing. Beat the butter, powdered sugar and most of the orange zest until pale and smooth, then stir in the cream cheese (and maple syrup if using) until just combined.
  • Once cooled, frost the cake with the icing. Sprinkle walnuts on top.


Calories: 410kcalCarbohydrates: 39gProtein: 4gFat: 28gSaturated Fat: 10gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0.4gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 315mgPotassium: 144mgFiber: 3gSugar: 24gVitamin A: 520IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 92mgIron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Let me know in the comments how it went!


  1. Hi Marianna – do you have a g-f all purpose blend that you use? If so you could just sub it here for all the flour quite easily. But otherwise I think sorghum/buckwheat would work; both have pretty distinctive flavors but I think the carrots and apple would stand up to them well. Let me know how it turns out!

  2. I’m glad you found the need to implement carrot cake, I feel like the concept is great but the realisation something… not so much :D Can’t wait to try it, the only thing is I can’t have oat and certified GF sweet rice flour is basically impossible to get here in Italy, what will you suggest? I was thinking using a mix of sorghum and buckwheat with a part of amids

  3. What a beautiful first photograph to illustrate the luscious cake! Well done and inviting recipe….even sounds healthy!

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