Carrot Cake with Lemon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

An easy delicious and moist layered carrot cake, covered with tangy lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  Perfect for spring brunches and dinners, or to use up that abundance of summer CSA carrots!

a two layer carrot cake covered in lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting and pecans on a white cake stand

What is it about springtime and carrot cakes?  They really do go together perfectly.

Just like the french vanilla lemon blueberry scones I shared early in the week, carrot cake is a perfect addition to spring and summer brunches or a stellar after-dinner dessert.  Fluffy white cream cheese frosting, bright orange specks of carrots – carrot cake is a sure sign that spring has arrived.

I first shared this recipe waaaay back in 2011.  Six years ago – practically a lifetime in food blogging terms.  I generally let my old recipes stay where they are, but I recently remade this carrot cake with lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting and decided the post needed a facelift.

side view of a frosted two layer carrot cake with halved pecans decorating the top of the cake

A few tweaks to the ingredients, some shiny new pictures, and a spot on the front page for a bit.  This cake was just too good to hide away behind six years of recipes!

{And speaking of shiny new pictures, take a look at the pictures that were in the original post. ↓↓↓  Yikes!  Let’s pour one out for the good old days of food blogging, when a poorly lit picture taken on a point and shoot camera immediately got thousands of pageviews from Tastespotting.}

carrot cake with lemon cream cheese frosting picture of cakes in pan and then iced

So let’s just jump on in to this carrot cake recipe, because it’s too good to keep stalling.

The Best Carrot Cake Recipe

There are zillions of different carrot cake recipes, and the best one is the one that meets all your carrot cake requirements.  For me, this means lots of cinnamon, LOTS of carrots, light on the nuts, and absolutely no pineapple whatsoever.  I love you in my fruit salad, but not in my cakes!

I like plain vanilla cakes sky high and light and fluffy.  But carrot cakes?  I always prefer mine to be dense.  I find that cakes that wind up in the refrigerator, like this one because of the cream cheese frosting, hold up much better when dense.

Let’s pause for a second and talk about that refrigeration…

one slice of carrot cake covered with lemon cream cheese frosting being cut and lifted away from the rest of the cake

Do you have to refrigerate cream cheese frosting?

This always comes up with cream cheese frosting.  Do you have to refrigerate it?  How long can it sit out?  It’s time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!

Kitchen Chemistry

Sugar acts as a preservative.  (Think about making jam — it’s the sugar content that allows us to can jam and save it for months at room temperature.)   Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water.  It can draw the water out of dairy , thus reducing the amount of water available for growth of bacteria.  Butter, cream, and cream cheese are stabilized by all the sugar, and thus safe to store at room temperature for up to three days if the sugar content is sufficient.

So, sugar acts as a preservative.  Great! But what’s that about needing sufficient sugar content?

Cream cheese is roughly 33% fat and up to 55% water — that’s a lot of water!  So you need a lot of sugar to draw out all that water to act as a preservative.

You need (roughly) a pound (4 cups) of confectioners sugar per half-pound (8 ounces) of cream cheese to stabilize the frosting enough to let it sit out at room temperature.  This frosting contains 16 ounces of cream cheese and 4 ounces of butter, but only 3 cups of confectioners sugar.  So yes, this cake does require refrigeration!

Whew!  Are you still with me after our kitchen chemistry explanation?

Now that we know we need to refrigerate our cake, we want to make sure it’s a little more dense.  A cake that is dense generally has excess moisture, and more moisture prevents the cake from getting as stale.  Don’t worry, this isn’t pound cake level dense – it’s just not airy.  To make sure it has that extra moisture and density, grate your carrots fresh – don’t buy the bags of pre-grated carrots!

It’s delicious and well worth the extra effort, trust me!

A single large slice of carrot cake covered with lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

Lemon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

The one thing everyone seems to agree on when it comes to carrot cake?  Cream cheese frosting!

Now, look.  I’ll willingly admit that I am not the biggest fan of cream cheese frosting.  It’s just so… sweet.  Tooth-achingly, cloyingly sweet.  We don’t need such a sweet frosting to cover up our delicious carrot cake!

Instead, we’ll add some amazing flavors that aren’t sweet: cinnamon and lemon.  Such a perfect pairing!  The frosting stays light and fresh, but still has that sweet tang you expect for a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

close up photo of a slice of carrot cake with lemon cream cheese frosting on a yellow plate with one forkful of cake removed

Tips and Tricks for a Perfect Carrot Cake

  1. Use room temperature ingredients.  Using room temperature ingredients ensures everything mixes together smoothly.
  2. Beat the butter together until light and fluffy.  We want this cake to be a little dense, but not really dense.  Beating the butter and sugar together really well — at least 3 to 4 minutes — will mix a lot of air into the batter, giving it extra lift while it bakes.
  3. Use freshly grated carrots, not a pre-shredded bag.  As mentioned above, you want the extra moisture from freshly grated carrots.  The pre-grated type dries out too quickly, which will result in a staler cake once it’s stored in the fridge.
  4. Refrigerate the cake after frosting.  Don’t risk the food poisoning!  Take the cake out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving to bring to room temperature, then refrigerate any leftovers after serving. 
  5. To keep the cake fresher once sliced, wrap exposed edges of cake with plastic wrap.  The outside exposed edges of a cut cake will dry out fastest.  Combat this by pressing a sheet of plastic wrap along the exposed side of cake before storing it in the fridge.

overhead view of a carrot cake with lemon cream cheese frosting with two large slices removed

What are your carrot cake preferences?  Nuts? No nuts? Pineapple? No pineapple?  Do you (shudder) add raisins to yours?  Light and fluffy or deliciously dense?  Where do you stand?

I’ve made this cake a few times since my initial cake six years ago.  Every time I’ve brought it somewhere to share, there has been nary a single dense, carrot filled, pineapple free, slightly nutty crumb left.  I’m going to go ahead and call this carrot cake with lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting a true crowd pleaser.

More Layer Cake Recipes:

Carrot Cake with Lemon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot Cake with Lemon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Yield: Serves 14
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

A easy delicious and moist layered carrot cake, covered with tangy lemon cinnamon cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients

FOR THE CAKE:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 3 cups packed freshly-grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

FOR THE FROSTING:

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 16 ounces (2 packages) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line the bottoms of two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk together to blend.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix in the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add half the dry ingredients, all the milk, and the rest of the dry ingredients. Beat after each addition until just incorporated. Mix in carrots and pecans by hand.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack, peel off the parchment, and cool completely before frosting.
  5. To make the frosting, beat together the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Add the lemon juice and cinnamon, mixing until the cinnamon is equally dispersed. Add in the confectioners sugar, half a cup at a time. Once all sugar has been incorporated, turn the mixer to high and beat at full speed for 30 seconds. If frosting is too stiff, add one tablespoon of milk.

Notes

Cake should be stored in the refrigerator after frosting.

A Bunsen Burner Bakery Original Protocol

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 623 Total Fat: 35.6g Carbohydrates: 70.7g Protein: 7.9g
Carrot Cake with Lemon Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting: a delicious and easy layered cake with sweet and tangy, cinnamony frosting. Perfect for spring brunches and dinners or summer carrots. #bunsenburnerbakery #cake #carrotcake #layercakes #creamcheesefrosting