This healthy carrot cake recipe is made with apples, whole grain flour, and naturally sweetened with maple syrup and a honey cream cheese frosting. It's incredibly moist and easy to make. I love to cut it into bars for a snack-size serving to satisfy my sweet tooth!
About the recipe
This healthy carrot cake recipe was developed for one sole and very important purpose: to satisfy my after-lunch sweet tooth. Preferably with a cup of tea. Let's just call it an afternoon delight. Sound good?
I wanted a carrot cake that was unfancy, easy to make, rustic, and somewhat healthy. Something I could feel good about whipping up and enjoying any old day of the week, stocking in the freezer for later, or sharing with a neighbor.
The cake is naturally sweetened with apple sauce and maple syrup and kept incredibly moist with avocado oil and low-fat buttermilk. The cake is baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan because everyone seems to have one of those. And it's topped with a honey cream cheese frosting that tastes just as amazing as one made with powdered sugar.
Trust me, this carrot cake recipe is one that you'll feel good about eating, sharing with family and friends, and want to make over and over again!
- Unsweetened apple sauce
- Avocado oil
- Low-fat buttermilk
- Maple syrup
- Vanilla extract
- White whole wheat flour
- Baking powder + baking soda + salt
- Apple - I recommend Fuji, Honeycrisp, or Pink Lady
- Cream cheese - reduced-fat is fine
- Mix the wet ingredients.
- Mix the dry ingredients.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine.
- Fold in the grated carrots and apples.
- Bake the in a 9 x 13-inch cake pan greased and lined with parchment paper.
- Mix together softened cream cheese and honey for the frosting.
- Cool the cake completely before frosting.
- Frost the cake and sprinkle the top with cinnamon. Enjoy!
Tips for success
- Line the cake pan with parchment paper - this adds an extra layer of protection against sticking. It also helps with easy removal of the cake from the fan, as you just lift the ends of the paper to bring the cake up.
- Finely chop carrots and apple in the food processor. This is so much faster than using a grater. But a box grater will work fine - just be sure to use the small holes for a very fine grate.
- Use freshly-grated carrots and apples. Do not buy pre-shredded carrots for this recipe - the texture will not be the same!
- Cool completely before frosting. Even if the cake is slightly warm, resist the urge to frost it! Any residual heat will melt the cream cheese frosting.
- Make the cake ahead of time. You can make this cake up to 1 day ahead before frosting, which makes it even easier and streamlined. Plus, carrot cake tastes better with time, so it will be even more delicious served the next day.
This healthy carrot cake recipe leaves out the most controversial carrot cake ingredients in hopes that you will add them back in if that's your thing. Have it your way! If you'd like pineapple, nuts, raisins, or coconut, below are my suggestions for adding them in:
- Add pineapple - use 1 cup of well-drained, crushed pineapple in place of the grated apple.
- Add coconut - fold in 1 cup of unsweetened coconut along with the grated carrot and apple.
- Add nuts - fold in 1 cup of toasted, chopped nuts in with the grated carrot and apple.
- Add raisins - add 3/4 cup golden raisins when you fold in the grated apples and carrots.
- Make it gluten-free - this type of 1-layer cake lends itself well to substitution with a gluten-free flour blend. I recommend Cup4Cup as a 1:1 substitute in most baked goods.
- Change the topping - I dusted my cake with cinnamon, but toasted coconut or toasted chopped nuts would also be delicious on the frosting!
Freezing and serving
Once your carrot cake is baked, there are a couple of options for storing, freezing, and serving it:
- Freeze unfrosted - cool the cake completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic. Place in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for 2 hours before frosting and serving.
- Freeze frosted - I like to frost the cake, slice into bars, then freeze between layers of wax paper. When ready to enjoy a slice, place out at room temperature for 30 minutes before enjoying.
- Store unfrosted - you can make the cake up to a day ahead before frosting and serving it. Or, store in unfrosted slices in the fridge for up to 5 days, and frost as you'd like to enjoy a slice.
- Serve and store frosted - serve the cake at room temperature after frosting or chill and serve cold.
Are you ready to make this easy carrot cake recipe? I’m so excited for you to try this recipe. Once you get the chance to make it, please let me know how it turns out for you!
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Healthy Carrot Cake Recipe
For the cake:
- ½ cup unsweetened apple sauce
- ⅓ cup avocado oil
- ½ cup low-fat buttermilk
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¾ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups white whole wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large carrots, peeled and finely grated, about 1 cup
- 1 large Fuji or Honeycrisp apple, peeled and finely grated, about 1 cup
For the frosting:
- 8 ounces reduced-fat or Greek yogurt cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup honey
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a 1-inch overhang on the 9-inch ends.
- To grate the carrots and apples, break into 3-inch pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until they are finely ground. Alternatively, use the small holes of a box grater to finely grate.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce, oil, buttermilk, eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Whisk until just combined; do not overmix.
- Use a rubber spatula to fold in the carrots, apples, and any remaining flour residue. Spread into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the center of the cake is set and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
- Using the parchment paper overhang, carefully remove the cake from the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
- While the cake cools, make the frosting. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese at medium speed for 2 minutes until very creamy. Add the honey and mix on medium speed for 1 minute until combined and smooth. Use to frost the cooled cake or refrigerated until ready to use. Soften chilled frosting for 30 minutes before spreading.