The most delicious, decadent, and EASIEST vegan carrot cake recipe you will ever find! Bursting with carrots and warming spices, covered with a luxurious cream cheese frosting, and topped with candied walnuts for an extra sweet crunch, this cake will quickly become your new addiction!
Carrot cake is a funny thing. What genius ate a carrot and was like “oh, this should be a dessert”?? I’m very grateful to that person. Just have lots of questions.
Anyway. This vegan carrot cake is unbeatable. Three layers of tender, moist, rich carrot cake, filled with a perfect amount of spice, and tons of carrots and walnuts (if you want!). Cover them with a heavenly cream cheese frosting that I find myself eating straight out of the bowl when I should be frosting the cake. Then top it all off with candied walnuts, which honestly I think should be used to top every single food on the planet, but I digress. And even with ALL OF THAT, you can keep it to just one bowl, so later in the day when you’re bursting with cake and can barely stand up straight, you’ll have minimal dishes to deal with!
If you’re reading this and really getting into the idea of eating vegan carrot cake, but really NOT in the mood to frost a cake, then might I suggest heading over to my Vegan Carrot Cake Cupcake recipe instead, and enjoy the same flavor and texture but in a smaller package!
How To Make It:
This vegan carrot cake come together beautifully and quickly. While the cake is baking and cooling, you can use the down time to prepare your candied walnuts and cream cheese frosting, that way not a moment is wasted while you’re in CAKE MODE!
The most time consuming part of this recipe is peeling and grating the carrots. I start here to get it all prepped in advance, since it’s smooth sailing once this is done. I find it takes about 7-8 large carrots to get 4 cups shredded, and double that if you’re using small or very thin carrots.
The cake batter..
Once that’s done, it’s time to get the cake batter prepared! Mix together the gluten free flour, both sugars (see the Ingredients Needed section to learn how to make these lower in sugar!), baking soda and powder, salt, and spices (I use a ton of cinnamon, some nutmeg, and just a bit of ginger, but you can play with the amounts of course). Then add in non-dairy milk, neutral oil, and vanilla extract. Finally, add in the carrots and the walnuts, and mix all until just combined.
Pour the batter evenly into parchment lined & greased 8” cake tins. I like to weigh each one with my handy dandy kitchen scale to make sure they’re all roughly the same weight, that way they look uniform and pretty at the end.
I bake mine for exactly 30 minutes, so I recommend 28-32 here, since you know best how your oven handles recommended bake times. Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the middle of the layers and removing the pans from the oven as soon as the toothpick emerges with just crumbs, not wet batter.
Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes, then invert them onto cooling racks to cool completely before adding the frosting. I like to let mine get closer to room temperature, then I move them into the fridge for a little while, since I find it easier to frost them when they’re cold. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, I suggest letting them cool/chill for at least 30 minutes.
One quick note..
..on the cake layers before moving onto the walnuts and frosting – though they don’t dome too much, I did level my layers off before building the cake you see in the photos here. Leveling is not totally needed, and it’s actually a bit challenging to level a cake that has nuts in it because it’s not as simple to just slice through it smoothly, but I am saying it here in case you are following along to try to recreate the cake from my pics exactly!
The candied walnuts..
While the cake layers are cooking or cooling, I like to make the candied walnuts. These are of course optional, but STRONGLY recommended, as they add a seriously delicious flavor and texture to each bite. This part is extra simple, just add the vegan butter and sugar to a pan over medium heat. Mix them together with a rubber spatula for about a minute until they are combined, then add in the walnuts. Mix all together for 3-5 minutes, keep a close watch because usually right around 5 minutes the mixture will start to burn. I pull mine just under 5 minutes, and then immediately transfer the mixture onto parchment paper to let it cool there. Don’t skip the parchment paper part here! They will be sticky until they cool, so if you just put them straight into a bowl or plate, they may get stuck to the bottom.
Now time for the frosting! Wipe down your batter bowl if you want to keep it to one-bowl like I promised in the title.! I use a simple hand mixer to make all of my frostings, but if you have a fancier mixer then certainly use that one. The vegan butter can either be cold and hard straight from the fridge, or softened and at room temp. Either way add the vegan butter, vegan cream cheese, and vanilla extract to your bowl and beat for a minute or two until it’s all fluffy and combined. Then add in the powdered sugar one cup at a time, mixing fully after each one. I like to put in a little pinch of salt as well, but if you’re sensitive to salted foods then leave it out.
One last thing – I note in the ingredients you can add some cornstarch as well. Generally speaking, I find cream cheese frosting to be thinner than buttercream, since it’s made up mostly of cream cheese rather than butter, and just isn’t as structured. If you want to make it thicker either for piping purposes or any other reason, but you don’t want to do more and more powdered sugar, you can do a little cornstarch at the end to continue thickening it without dumping even more sugar in.
One batch of this frosting should get you enough to put between the layers and do the naked on the outside look like I did, but if you want the frosting to be thicker around the outside too, I’d suggest doing 1.5x the amount below.
That’s it! Time to eat your vegan carrot cake!!
I suggest keeping this cake in the fridge, where it will stay good for 3-5 days. You can also freeze it to enjoy for a few months.
Pro Tips & Tools:
- Make sure you are measuring your flour either by weight or using the spoon and level method. Do not scoop directly from the container, as you will wind up with too much! This is so important! If you want to buy a pre-made gluten free flour blend, make sure it’s King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, it is BY FAR the best one for my recipes, NOT Bob’s Red Mills or any others. If you want to make a homemade blend, here is a link to the one I use.
- Make sure you measure your liquid ingredients using liquid measuring cups. This will ensure accuracy! I love this set.
- Need any other tools I’ve used here? For the cake itself I use these cake tins, these parchment liners, and this kitchen scale to make sure each layer is the same size. For the frosting, I use this simple hand mixer. And to frost the cake you can use a simple offset spatula, or spring for this whole set of cake stuff.
- Flour – Make sure you are measuring your flour either by weight or using the spoon and level method. Do not scoop directly from the container, as you will wind up with too much! This is so important! If you want to buy a pre-made gluten free flour blend, make sure it’s King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, it is BY FAR the best one for my recipes, NOT Bob’s Red Mills or any others. If you want to make a homemade blend, here is a link to the one I use.
- Brown sugar & granulated sugar – I love the mix of both here. It’s sweet without being overpowering, and the brown sugar is the perfect flavor combination with the other ingredients. You will also use brown sugar to candy the walnuts. If you are trying to cut back on your sugar intake, I love using this Monkfruit Sweetener in place of the granulated sugar.
- Cinnamon, nutmeg, & ginger – the amounts here can be altered if you feel strongly for or against one of the spices. I go heavy on the cinnamon, use a good amount of nutmeg, and a pinch of ginger for some punch.
- Baking soda, baking powder, and salt – I recommend using baking powder that has no added aluminum. This one is my go-to.
- Non-dairy milk – any non-dairy milk should work here! I usually use soy or almond.
- Neutral oil – any neutral oil should work here, I always use grapeseed
- Vanilla extract
- Shredded carrots – as mentioned, I find it takes about 7-8 medium sized carrots to get 2 cups of shredded pieces.
- Walnuts – you can get about a cup of walnuts into the cupcakes, then use another half cup if you plan to have candied walnuts on top.
Frosting Specific Ingredients:
- Vegan butter – this is used for both the frosting, and to candy the walnuts
- Vegan cream cheese – I am fond of the Kite Hill brand, and they come in 8oz packages which is exactly the amount you want for the frosting here
- Powdered sugar – for the frosting. If you want to do this part sugar free, you can use this Monkfruit Powdered Sweetener in place of powdered sugar.
- Cornstarch – optional! Cream cheese frosting is a bit thinner than buttercream, so sometimes you want to thicken it up more but can’t handle adding even more sugar or sweetness to it, so you can use a little cornstarch if needed.
What To Bake Next:
- Want more use out of your cake pans? Try this Vegan Red Velvet Cake, or this Vegan Lemon Blueberry Cake with Lemon Curd Filling, or this Vegan Chocolate Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting, or this or this Vegan Triple Chocolate Cake.
- Want more hidden veggies? Try this Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Bread.
- Want some fruit instead? Try these Vegan Lemon Bars, or these Vegan Blueberry Muffins, or this Vegan Lemon Pound Cake.
One Bowl Vegan Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (Low Sugar and Gluten Free options)
Cake Ingredients – note this will make THREE layers
- 3½ cups gluten free flour can sub all-purpose if desired. This links to my favorite store bought gluten free flour blend that works best with all of my recipes, or see "Ingredients Needed" section for further info.
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar *if you want a lower sugar option, this links to my favorite sweetener, you can substitute it 1:1 in place of regular granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp nutmeg
- pinch of ginger
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 cups non-dairy milk
- ¾ cup + 2 tbsp neutral oil
- 4 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 cups shredded carrots
- 2 cups walnuts
Candied Walnut Ingredients
- 1½ tsp vegan butter or neutral oil
- 2 tbsp light brown sugar
- ½ cup walnuts
Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
- ½ cup vegan butter
- 8oz vegan cream cheese
- 4 cups powdered sugar *if you want a sugar free option, this links to my favorite powdered sweetener, you can substitute it 1:1 in place of regular powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- ½-1 cup cornstarch this is optional IF you want a thicker frosting but don't want to keep adding sugar endlessly
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease 3 8-inch cake tins plus line with parchment rounds. Note – this recipe has amounts for THREE layers of cake. If you are doing more layers or fewer layers, adjust the amounts accordingly!
- In a large bowl, mix together the gluten free flour, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Then add in the non-dairy milk, neutral oil, and vanilla extract. Lastly, add in the carrots and walnuts and mix all until just combined.
- Pour evenly into your greased and lined cake pans. Bake for 28-32 minutes – mine are perfect at exactly 30 – check to be sure they’re done by sticking in a toothpick and removing the pans when the toothpick comes out with just crumbs, not wet batter.
- Set aside your cake pans to cool for about 15 minutes before removing the cake from the pan and putting onto a cooling rack to come to room temperature. Personally I like to let them come to room temperature for a few minutes and then stick in the fridge, as I find it easier to build a layer cake when the cake itself is cold.
- While your cake layers are cooking and then cooling, it’s time to make the candied walnuts and frosting, starting with the walnuts since they will also need cool time. Put the butter and sugar into a small pan over medium heat. Let it heat up for about a minute until combined, then add in the walnuts. Cook for 3-5 minutes until they are coated – don’t let it burn! – then transfer the mixture to parchment paper to cool fully.
- Lastly, just before putting together the cake, it’s time to make the frosting. Note – this amount of frosting will make what you see in these pictures, which is enough to frost between layers and on top, then do a sort of “naked cake” look on the outside. If you want to go heavier on the sides of the cake, I suggest making 1.5x the amount written above.
- To make the frosting, simply add the vegan butter, vegan cream cheese, and vanilla extract to a bowl and mix first for a minute or two using a hand mixer or stand mixer. Then add in the powdered sugar one cup at a time. You can add a pinch of salt to taste. Also as I note above, if you want a thicker frosting but don’t want to keep adding more and more sweetness to it, you can use some cornstarch to get your desired consistency.
- Final note – before frosting my cake, I leveled off the top of each layer to make sure they were flattened for easier building. This is optional.
- Eat and enjoy!