This uniquely moist and decadent carrot cake has been passed down through generations. A huge thanks to the Pappas family for sharing this easy homemade carrot cake recipe with me so you can experience the magic as well!
My whole life, I’d been pretty indifferent to carrot cake–until last summer, when my neighbor introduced me to the best carrot cake recipe ever. Made by her childhood neighbors, the Pappas family, this homemade carrot cake was unlike any I’d had before!
Each slice was a thick, textured, cinnamon-forward tangle of carrot and coconut, infused with chunks of dates and the occasional raisin. It was moist without being overly greasy, and rich from crushed pineapple. My favorite part? The sugary buttercream-esque cream cheese icing with the slightest tang to offset the pure sugary sweetness.
This delicious cake placed third in the carrot cake bake off! If you’re familiar with the Silver Palate carrot cake, this recipe is proportionally similar but with additional mix ins (coconut, raisins, dates, pecans and pineapple).
Ingredients to make this cake:
- All-purpose flour: No fancy flour needed here! Both bleached or unbleached will work
- Cinnamon: This cake is simply spiced with cinnamon, no other spices needed
- Neutral oil: I typically bake with vegetable or canola oil, but any neutral oil like grapeseed or avocado oil will also work.
- Shredded carrots: The most efficient way to grate the 4.5 cups of carrots in this cake is using the shredding attachment on a food processor. You can also use the large holes on a box grater. I recommend using freshly grated carrots for the moisture and freshness.
- Sweetened, shredded coconut: Make sure to get sweetened coconut, not unsweetened! The coconut shreds melt into the texture of this cake just as smoothly as the grated carrots
- Chopped dates: I like using Medjool dates for their plump, juicy texture and sweet flavor
- Pecans: I always like using toasted pecans if you have the patience to toast them before adding them to the cake!
- Crushed pineapple with juice: The addition of pineapple in juice to this cake makes it so moist and sweet–don’t skip it!
- Raisins: I honestly hate raisins in most recipes, but they work so well here–the sweetness blends into each slice!
- Full-fat cream cheese: This probably goes without saying, but I always recommend using full-fat cream cheese rather than reduced-fat when it comes to cream cheese icing for carrot cake. Philadelphia is my favorite brand!
In the below recipe, I outline the way I went about making this homemade carrot cake. But I’ve also tried mixing everything together at once and it worked well! It’s truly one of the easiest carrot cake recipes I’ve ever made.
Why you’ll love this recipe:
- Simple to make: this cake doesn’t require any complicated technique–just mix all of the ingredients together, and throw it in the pan. In about an hour, you’ll have a perfect homemade carrot cake!
- Versatility: While the Pappas family generally makes this as a carrot bundt cake, I really enjoyed this as a layer cake. You can bake this cake in pretty much any size pan–just make sure to keep an eye on the bake time.
- Texture: If you love a carrot cake that is jam-packed with texture, this cake is for you! It’s so moist, sweet and perfect with the creamy cream cheese icing.
- Don’t forget the juice! Make sure to include the juice when adding the canned pineapple for the ultimate moist texture
- For frosting, cold is king: Using cold cream cheese may seem unusual, but it will guarantee a smooth icing that won’t turn grainy.
- The perfect texture: If frosting isn’t thick enough, add more powdered sugar until it reaches your desired consistency
Yes, the texture will still be fine without these mix-ins. Though as someone who generally doesn’t prefer nuts or raisins in my cake, I really enjoyed the way they add to the texture and flavor of this cake. I encourage you to try them!
No, the pineapple does not make this a hummingbird cake because hummingbird cakes have banana and no carrot! When using crushed pineapple, it melts into the cake texture, providing extra moisture and sweetness without explicit pineapple flavor.
While you can use store-bought shredded carrots in a pinch, freshly grated carrots are always preferable for the moisture level and fresh flavor! I always grate my carrots using the large holes on a box grater. Grating the carrots any finer may result in a slightly different (mushier) texture.
The best way to measure the proper amount of carrots is to weigh them out. One cup of carrots is 99 grams or 3.5 oz (about 1 medium carrot). The amount of carrot in this recipe is listed by weight since this is the most accurate way! If you don’t have a scale, I would first grate the carrots, then gently pack them into a measuring cup until you reach 4.5 cups. (16 oz = approximately 4.5 cups of carrots)
Since a carrot cake crumb can be quite moist and dense, a “toothpick test” can sometimes be hard to gauge. Make sure that your toothpick is clean or has only a few crumbs stuck to it. The top should also have a nice matte color and the center should be set.
Yes! If you frost your cake while hot or warm, the frosting will simply melt and slip off the cake. I highly recommend letting the cake layers cool until barely warm at room temperature, then refrigerating or freezing them (wrapped well in plastic wrap) until ready to assemble.
Due to the cream cheese frosting, I tend to store any leftover cake in a Tupperware in the fridge for 3-4 days. If you’d like to freeze the cake for later, I recommend wrapping individual slices in plastic wrap and freezing for up to 1 month. Defrost the slices for an hour or so at room temperature before enjoying.
My neighbor’s family friend, Mrs. Pappas, got it in college from a classmate she lived with from South America. When asking for the recipe, I received the recipe card below. There are no instructions because you can really: “mix it any way you want or just all together at once.”
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Other recipes you might enjoy:
- Grammy’s Texas sheet cake
- Number cookie cake
- Milk Bar-style banana s’mores cake
- Milk Bar-style strawberry lemon cake
Pappas Family Carrot Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour 360g
- 2.5 cups sugar 500g
- 3 tsp baking soda
- 3 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups vegetable or canola oil 266g
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 16 oz carrots, shredded (around 4.5 cups) 452g
- 1 1/3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut 113g
- 1 cup dates, chopped 149g
- 1 cup pecans, chopped 100g
- 8 oz crushed pineapple with juice
- 1/2 cup raisins 75g
Cream cheese frosting
- 8 oz cream cheese, cold 227g
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened 113g
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 4 cups powdered sugar 454g
Make the carrot cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a bundt pan or 3 8 or 9" round cake pans.
- Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, salt. Whisk in the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the carrots, then the coconut, dates, pecans, crushed pineapple with juice and raisins until evenly incorporated.
- Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 1 hour (bundt pan) or ~30-45 minutes in the 8 or 9" pans (9" pans may cook slightly faster), or until the tester comes out clean and the cake springs back after being poked. Let cakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack or cutting board. Cool cakes completely before icing.
Make the cream cheese frosting
- Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese until softened and creamy. Add the butter, vanilla and salt and mix on medium until smooth and creamy (about 2-3 minutes). Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time until all the sugar is incorporated, then beat on medium-high for another 5 minutes until white and billowy. Don't skip this step–it'll make your frosting so aerated and smooth!
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