Put a chocolate spin on the classic carrot cake with this decadent chocolate carrot cake! It's moist and soft with a delicious cinnamon nutmeg cream cheese frosting.
Chocolate cake is definitely one of my all-time favorite cake flavors. But carrot cake is also up there with is hints of cinnamon and nutmeg and delectable cream cheese icing. So I thought...why not combine the two into a decadent chocolate carrot cake?!
This cake is the perfect combination of chocolate and spiced-up carrot cake. It makes a great cake for a crowd since it satisfies the chocolate lovers and the spice cake lovers at the same time!
- Boldly flavored
- Hints of sweet cinnamon and nutmeg
- Moist and soft cake layers
- Easy cinnamon cream cheese icing
- Can be made gluten free and dairy free
- Perfect cake gatherings to please both chocolate and carrot cake fans
Ingredients and substitutions
There are a variety of substitutions and swaps with these ingredients to match your dietary preferences and what you have you have on hand.
For the cake
- Carrots - They are folded into the cake batter to create a soft and tender texture. Make sure to wash your carrots and use a grater to create fine pieces of carrots. You can use store-bought grated carrots but you will need to soften them by letting them soak in some warm water for 10 minutes. When ready to use, drain the grated carrots, pat dry with a towel, and fold into the cake batter.
- Greek yogurt - You can also use regular plain and unsweetened yogurt or dairy free yogurt. Apple sauce is also a great substitute.
- Coconut oil - This is my preferred oil to use in cakes. Vegetable oil or avocado oil will work as well.
- Espresso - This is mixed into the warm water to create a watery espresso drink. It's poured into the cake batter last to help thin in out and elevate the chocolate flavor. I promise, you will not taste the espresso flavor! A cup of hot coffee will work too or you can use plain warm water.
- Brown sugar - This helps to create that caramel-ish flavor well-known in carrot cake. Substitute with coconut sugar if desired.
- Cacao - I almost always use cacao in my chocolate baking recipes since it's minimally processed but cocoa powder will work the same.
- Pecans - These are folded into the cake batter and used to decorate the outside of the cake. Walnuts will also work. The nuts are completely optional.
For the icing
- Cream cheese - This is the base of the cream cheese icing. Make sure yours is soft and at room temperature. If needed, place it on a plate and warm it in the microwave in 8 second internals until soft to the touch.
- Butter - Just like the cream cheese, make sure it's at room temperature and soft.
- Powdered sugar - Used to sweeten the icing.
Gluten free options
This recipe is made with all purpose flour but I also tested a few different options to make it gluten free too:
- Swap the flour with the same amount of gluten free 1 : 1 flour. I like Bob's Red Mill gluten free flour best for this recipe.
- You can also use a combination of almond flour and tapioca flour or arrowroot starch. Use 2 cup of almond flour plus ⅔ cup tapioca flour.
How to make chocolate carrot cake
You will need a large mixing bowl, a hand or stand mixer or stiff whisk, and 3 6-inch cake pans. You can also use 2 9-inch cake pans.
Step 1 : Mix the wet cake ingredients (except the warm water) with the sugars
Add the sugar and brown sugar to the bowl along with the eggs, melted coconut oil, yogurt, and vanilla. Mix well until the sugars are dissolved into the liquid.
The mixture will be somewhat thick but should be able to run off your whisk.
Step 2 : Add the dry ingredients
Add the flour, cacao powder, spices, and baking powder and soda to the bowl and fold until no flour clumps remain. The batter will begin to thicken up a lot and look like chocolate mousse. This is just the cacao powder which tends to soak up a lot more liquid than regular flour.
Step 3 : Add the warm espresso water
First warm up your water either on the stove or microwave it for 60 seconds. If using coffee, also be sure to heat it up in a cup. It should be steaming hot. Add the espresso powder (if using) to the water and pour into the cake batter.
Use a rubber spatula to stir the liquid into the cake batter. You will begin to see the batter become a dark chocolate color and thin out into more of a cake batter consistency.
Step 4 : Fold in the carrots and pecans
Add the grated carrots and chopped pecans to the batter and gently fold with a rubber spatula to disburse.
If using store-bought grated carrots, remember to blot them dry with a towel before adding to the batter.
Step 5 : Pour into cake pans and bake
Grease your cake pans with oil, I used coconut oil. Then pour the batter into each pan. To ensure your cake layers are exactly the same size, I recommend measuring the batter in each pan. Each pan should have about 425 grams of batter.
Bake in the oven until the cakes have risen and the edges are pulling away from the sides. Allow them to cool down before removing from the pans. If you want to speed along the cooling process, go ahead and transfer the cakes to the fridge so they are cooled when you frost the cake.
Step 6 : Make the cream cheese frosting
While the cakes are cooling, prepare the frosting by beating the cream cheese and butter together until creamy. Add in the vanilla and continue to mix well. Then slowly add the powdered sugar to the bowl, 1 cup at a time.
Once the powdered sugar is all incorporated, add the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix again to disburse. The frosting should be thick enough to stand up on its own but also spreadable. If it's too thick, add a teaspoon of water or milk to thin it out.
How to decorate the cake
First, make sure your cake layers are completely cool before icing. This goes with most any type of cake because if it's still warm, the icing will melt and create a giant mess.
If you are going to pipe carrots on your cake with orange and green icing, make sure to spoon out about 3 tablespoons of the icing into 2 separate bowls. You will dye them after the crumb coat is on the cake.
I like to start by spread a tiny bit of icing on the bottom of my cake stand or platter or whatever you are using to serve your cake and placing the bottom cake layer on top. This helps keep the cake in place while you frost it.
A turntable is best when frosting a layer cake but definitely not necessary. If you're using one, place your cake stand or platter on top of the turntable. Then spread a thick layer of icing on top of the first cake layer. Allow some of the icing to spread off the edges.
Place the second cake layer on top and repeat with another thick layer of icing on top. Finally place the third layer on top and spread a thick layer of icing on top. Then use your uneven spatula to spread the icing that has spread off the edges around the sides of the cake. Add some more icing to the sides if needed to get a nice thin layer.
I like the look of a naked cake so I used a cake scraper to really get a thin coat of icing along the sides and on top. If you want a thicker coat of icing, you can leave the icing as is on the sides. Sprinkle some chopped pecans along the bottom of the cake and around the edges on top.
There are many ways to decorate a cake but a carrot cake can be a little more difficult since it usually has just a simple cream cheese icing. This means there is nothing really telling people that it's a carrot cake. I decided to pipe a few "bunches" of carrots on top to showcase the flavor but you can also do this on the sides of the cake as well.
To do this, dye one of your reserved icing bowls orange and the other green. Then fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the orange frosting. Draw long triangles on top of the cake and fill them in with icing. You can create a "bunch" look by having some overlap each other.
Then fill another piping bag fitted with a smaller round tip (or you can use the same one) with the green icing. Pipe little leaves on top of each of the orange triangles to create carrots.
How to serve and store
Serve the cake once the icing has set. It should be firm enough to touch without leaving an indention. Use a thin sharp knife to cut the cake into slices. To get clean slices, make sure to clean off the knife after each cut.
To store, place the cake in an airtight cake container. It will keep for up to 4 days out on the counter. You can also go ahead and slice the cake into pieces, wrap each one separately with saran wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to enjoy, thaw out on the counter until soft and enjoy!
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can use gluten free 1:1 flour or a combination of almond flour and tapioca flour. See the notes section of the recipe card below for more details.
Fresh grated carrots are best but you can also use the store-bought kind as well. Soak them in warm water for at least 10 minutes to soften them and then blot dry with a towel before folding them into the cake batter.
For more cake fun, check out my:
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Decadent Chocolate Carrot Cake
For the cake
- ¾ cup coconut oil - melted
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup brown sugar - substitute with coconut sugar if needed
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup greek yogurt - plan and unsweetened, substitute with reguar or dairy free yogurt or apple sauce
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 ½ cup flour - substitute with gluten free 1:1 flour or 1 ⅓ cup almond flour + ½ cup tapioca flour
- ½ cup cacao powder
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp allspice
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup warm water - or warm coffee
- 1 Tbsp espresso powder
- 1 ½ cup grated carrots
- ¾ cup chopped pecans
For the icing
- 8 oz cream cheese - softened
- 4 Tbsp butter - softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
For the cake
- Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, add the melted coconut oil, eggs, sugars, greek yogurt, and vanilla. Mix well with a hand or stand mixer or stiff whisk until the sugars are dissolved into the liquid.
- Add the flour, cacao powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to the bowl and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. The batter will be thick like a mousse.
- Heat the water in the microwave for 60 seconds or on the stove until it’s steaming. If using coffee, make sure it’s hot. Add the espresso powder to the warm water and pour into the bowl with the batter. Mix well the batter thins out to resemble a deep chocolate cake batter.
- Add the grated carrots and chopped pecans to the bowl and gently fold with a spatula to distribute.
- Grease 3 6-inch cake pans or 2 9-inch cake pans with coconut oil and evenly pour the batter into each. There should be about 450 grams of batter in each pan. Bake in the oven for 20 - 25 minutes until risen and the edges of the cakes are pulling away from the sides.
- Allow the cakes to cool slightly before removing from the pans to cool completely. To speed up the cooling process, place the cake layers in the fridge for an hour to chill. You need the cake layers completely cooled before icing or you will have a big melted icing mess.
For the icing
- Once the cake layers have cooled, prepare the icing by beating together the softened cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and continue to mix. Then add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Finally add the cinnamon and nutmeg and mix to incorporate.
- Reserve about 3 tablespoons of icing into 2 separate bowls if piping carrots with orange and green icing on top. You will dye these orange and green in a later step.
- To ice the cake, spread a little bit of the icing on the bottom of your cake stand or platter and then place a cake layer on top. Spread a thick layer of icing on top and allow the icing to spread over the edges of the cake layer. Place the second and third cake layers on top and repeat with another thick layer of icing.
- Then use your knife or uneven spatula to spread the icing around the sides of the cake. I like the “naked cake” look so I took a cake scraper to scrape the sides down to a super thin coat of icing.
- Sprinkle some extra chopped pecans along the bottom of the cake and around the edges on top. For the carrots, dye one of your reserved icing bowls orange and the other green. Then fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the orange frosting. Draw long triangles on top of the cake and fill them in with icing. You can create a "bunch" look by having some overlap each other.
- Then fill another piping bag fitted with a smaller round tip (or you can use the same one) with the green icing. Pipe little leaves on top of each of the orange triangles to create carrots.
- Use a thin sharp knife to cut the cake into slices and enjoy!