Upgraded Carrot Cake

It's Spring! Easter and Passover are coming up, and this time of year just screams bunnies! What do bunnies like to eat? Carrots! Therefore, Spring = carrot cake!! (If you don't like my math, it's okay...I know you'll like my cake!)


When I was about 8 years old, my grandparents showed up at our house on Easter with two real, live baby bunnies. My parents had no prior knowledge that said bunnies were being given to my brothers and me as gifts. They must have been thrilled! Ha! If anyone showed up at my door with live animals for my children without prior consent, I think my head would spin! Instead, my parents were more flexible than I can imagine being, and they let us keep the bunnies, who were our hoppy little buddies for years to come. 

Besides bunnies, another thing I always think of this time of year is carrot cake! It just screams Spring. For that reason, it's perfect for this month's Recipe Redux theme - sharing a favorite family recipe for springtime celebrations!


Now, this isn't just any old carrot cake recipe I came up with. It's upgraded! When I call something "upgraded", that means i've gotten under the hood and done some tweaking, tuning, and updating to the ingredients to improve the nutrition profile of a pretty typical dish.

Carrot cake, for example, is usually pretty darn rich. Loaded with sugar, oil, cream cheese frosting - you know...normal cake stuff! There's nothing wrong with plain old, totally non-nutritious cake every now and then. Buuuuttt...if I'm in the driver's seat, I'm always going to see what I can do to make those now and then indulgences a little bit better for me and everyone who eats them (without losing the taste and texture we all love and expect.).

So, what are the upgrades I made in this version of a traditional carrot cake recipe? 

  • Only whole wheat flour is used
  • Applesauce replaces some of the fat, which is much less than typical cakes
  • The only sweetener added is maple syrup
  • There are plenty of extra fruits and veggies added - carrots, pineapple, applesauce
  • No cream cheese frosting - just light, homemade, naturally sweetened whipped cream (this was a little bit of a selfish choice, as I can't stand cream cheese frosting!).

This cake is more on the dense side, rather than the fluffy side. If you'd like it more fluffy, try increasing the baking soda by about 1/2 a teaspoon. I haven't tried this, so I can't vouch for any changes in taste, but based on my food science experience, it should help with the fluff and lift of the cake!

You could also divide this batter between two round cake pans and cut the cooking time in half. You'd get two thinner layers of cake instead and frost between the layers for a different look! If you're up for a little carrot cake adventure, try this out for your next spring time celebration!


Upgraded Carrot Cake

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 55 minutes

Serves 16


Carrot Cake: 

  • 2 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour 
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda 
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 eggs 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 2 2/3 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
  • 1 20 oz can crushed pineapple in juice, drained (or about 3/4 cup crushed fresh pineapple)

Whipped cream frosting

  • 1 cup chilled whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp walnuts for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 inch round pan with butter, line with parchment paper cut to fit in the bottom of the pan, then grease the parchment with more butter and toss flour around in pan to coat the paper lining. Shake out any excess flour.
  2. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients: melted butter, maple syrup, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine throughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is just combined. Careful not to over mix. Add grated carrots, walnuts, and pineapple to the mixture and stir until just combined, again being careful not to over mix.
  4. Pour the batter (it will be very thick) in the prepared pan and spread out evenly in the pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave the pan on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting. I even put the cake in the fridge for about 5 minutes before frosting to help the frosting stick even better. 
  5. To prepare the frosting: In a medium bowl, Beat whipping cream with a hand mixer on high speed until soft peaks form (about 1 minute). Add maple syrup and vanilla extract and beat on high until more stiff peaks form (don't over beat - just 30 seconds or so should do the trick). Spread the whipped frosting over the top of the cooled cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts, if desired.

Chef’s Notes

  • Frosting is best if made and spread on the cooled cake just before serving. If you make the cake ahead, store in the refrigerator and just prepare the frosting when you’re ready to serve. 
  • Toasting the walnuts for a few minutes before adding them to the cake and topping is a nice touch for some added flavor, but if you’re in a hurry, you can skip this step. 
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