This gluten free Carrot Cake is hands-down the BEST carrot cake I have ever eaten. Moist, nutty, lightly-spiced, with a hint of orange… And slathered in thick, sumptuous cream cheese frosting.
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Gluten Free Carrot Cake… challenge accepted!
This gluten free carrot cake is amazing. Developed at the request of a reader who wanted carrot cake to celebrate a birthday, it needed to be good. And given that a carrot cake recipe was long-overdue for the blog, it was a challenge I took willingly.
I could of course have apologetically said I didn’t have a recipe for this most iconic of cakes. Or referred her to Google to do an alternative search, but I like carrot cake. And I like challenges. I also knew (because I had searched the internet previously myself), that most gluten free carrot cake recipes look either dry, or are written in American (with no metric converter). This cake was more than a requested whim!
Development of the best carrot cake
Carrot cake is a well-known favourite, which means that there is nowhere to hide. When de-glutening popular recipes at GFHQ, the start point is always the traditional wheat version. Why? Because when we make cake, it has to be impossible to know that it is gluten free… Even to the hardiest gluten-eater. Any cake made here has to stand proudly and equally alongside it’s non-gluten free cousins. And not because it is ‘apologetically ‘special’’.
The recipe shared here is version 3 of the development… And yes. We’ve eaten a lot of carrot cake in the last couple of weeks to get to happy. Version 1 was too dry and version 2 too ‘wet’. This recipe on the other hand is the BEST carrot cake. Perfectly moist but still fluffy… Wonderfully nutty, but not over crunchy… Rich, but not overwhelmed with spice… With a glorious citrussy hint of orange and a gorgeous carroty hue. All slathered with a sublimely silky, decadent and lightly tangy cream cheese frosting.
Secrets of the best gluten free Carrot Cake recipe… the key ingredients
Strangely, making a really good gluten free carrot cake was harder than expected… It came down to skilfully balancing the flour, carrot and oil so that the cake was not too wet, but was still moist without being ‘oily’ and heavy. The secret to success? Read on…
Flour for a gluten free carrot cake
The reader request was for a carrot cake recipe that specifically used my Gluten Free Alchemist Rice Free Blend B. Blend B is a home-mixed blend which uses a balance of protein-rich flours balanced with white starches, but without any rice flour. There is some evidence that rice contains concerning levels of arsenic, particularly where it has not been washed out. The difficulty with this is that many gluten free foods contain large amounts of rice flour and thus Coeliacs and gluten-avoiders are likely to be consuming greater amounts of arsenic than the wheat-eating population. Where possible therefore, we increasingly bake with my rice-free blend B, which is still incredibly versatile and healthy, without tasting too much like a health-food!
If you don’t mix your own flours, then this recipe should work equally well with other flour blends, including popular commercial brands found in the supermarket. If you would like to try blending your own flours though, there’s a handy guide on my Gluten Free Flour and Flour Blending Page.
Ground almonds are a godsend in gluten free cake-making because they add structure and moisture, which not only improves the texture, but keeps them fresh for much longer. They are also full of amazing nutrition… From monounsaturated fat, protein and fibre to essential vitamins and minerals. Which means eating cake isn’t all bad!
Ground almonds are a perfect addition to gluten free carrot cake, not only for the above reasons, but because they enhance the depth of flavour of the sponge against the carrot and pair superbly with the pecans.
No carrot cake recipe would be complete without carrot. But recipes vary both in how much carrot is added and how coarsely it is grated. I am of the belief that a carrot cake should have plenty of carrot… Fresh carrot (it’s important… trust me)… Preferably grated so that it is discernibly there, but not so coarse that it sticks in the teeth. Ultimately, how you grate it is a matter of personal choice however.
For the best carrot cake though, you need to think a little ‘outside the box’. The first test cake was too dry and my second was a little too oily. It needed moisture without heaviness. An extra egg didn’t seem to be the answer. The secret to the success of this gluten free carrot cake is to add more carrot… Not grated, but as puree. Mind blown! Both for texture and flavour… Why don’t all carrot cakes use extra puree?
For speed and ease, I used a pouch of pureed carrot (nothing added) baby food from the supermarket.
Like most traditional carrot cake recipes, this one uses oil in place of butter. Which is great, because the sponge is naturally dairy free with no tweaks!
I have tried making it with both sunflower oil and olive oil… both work well. For personal preference, I go for sunflower oil as it is milder in flavour than olive. But the choice is yours. I wouldn’t use coconut oil however as the recipe has not been formulated to manage its particular qualities.
The right spice for the best carrot cake
Carrot cake needs spice… Traditionally, cinnamon and ginger are added, although again, the quantities vary. Some recipes also add any combination of nutmeg, allspice and cloves. For this recipe, I have balanced a good amount of cinnamon with a little ginger and a hint of mixed spice. I tried various ratios in the many bakes used to test the recipe, but this is by far the most delicious.
In addition to the spice, there is some finely grated orange zest and vanilla added for depth and a little citrus back-hit.
Carrot cake add-ins
A basic carrot cake recipe will usually contain some chopped nuts. These may be walnuts or pecans… Some recipes specify fine chopped and some leave them almost whole… Some will be raw and some will be toasted. This particular gluten free carrot cake uses toasted pecans, but you are free to chop however you feel you will most enjoy them. And to sub with walnuts if you prefer. Toasting the nuts is important however, if you really want to enhance the flavour to an almost rich, earthy quality.
While I keep things simple by adding just nuts to make the best carrot cake, other recipes can include other add-ins. From sultanas and raisins to coconut and pineapple. It seems anything goes. So if there is something you feel needs to be in there, don’t hold back! Ultimately, this is your best gluten free carrot cake. I’ve done the ground work… you can pimp it up!
Cream Cheese Frosting
The best carrot cake (gluten free or not) NEEDS cream cheese frosting. It’s a natural marriage that cannot be disrupted. But this is where the fun really starts.
Cream cheese frosting can be a tricky thing. There are literally dozens of recipes on the internet. In the past, I’ve followed many to the letter and failed. Runny messes that cannot be spread, let alone piped. So I’ve learned some secrets to getting cream cheese frosting success on my carrot cake journey…
If you live in the US it seems you have an easier job. Apparently you can buy firm blocks of cream cheese which are clearly more sturdy when making frosting. Enjoy.
For those who don’t have that luxury, the following advice may save your time and money!
Tips for perfect cream cheese frosting
- ONLY EVER use full fat cream cheese. It contains less liquid than its skinny sister and less liquid really counts in cream cheese frosting.
- Therefore, make sure you drain any pooled liquid that is present in the cheese pot when you open it.
- And… avoid adding ANY extra liquid… Absolutely no lemon or citrus juice and no liquid flavourings. For this recipe, I add vanilla as paste or powder. For citrus additions, add finely grated zest.
- Choose your cream cheese with care. I always use Philadelphia, both for flavour and consistency.
- Leave the cream cheese in the fridge until you are absolutely ready to use it… the firmer it is, the better.
- In order to get better stability to the frosting, you need to use a balance of butter and cream cheese. Butter contains a greater ratio of fat and thus is less likely to dissolve the sugar.
- Use real hard butter… NOT the spreadable kind. It will need to be softened enough to beat smooth, but the fat content is important.
- Cream cheese is pretty ambivalent when it comes to icing sugar. It needs a little sweetness for frosting, but doesn’t react well to it. When the liquid in the cheese is mixed with the sugar, the sugar dissolves… the result? Runny icing. And no amount of extra icing sugar will solve the problem.
- Therefore, the order in which you mix the ingredients is really important. Butter first! Beat until smooth. Then add the cream cheese and beat through (just). Lastly add the icing sugar bit by bit and beat until just combined and smooth. Don’t over-sweeten. A little less sugar is better for cream cheese frosting and the cheese flavour will shine better too.
- NEVER over-beat. Over-beating leads to the cheese starting to melt and dissolving the sugar. And we know that leads to runny icing. You have a couple of safer options here… a) beat and fold by hand with a wooden/silicone spoon; b) use a beater paddle attachment rather than a whisk.
- Given that this is a dairy free sponge, you may need a dairy free cream cheese frosting. I personally don’t have a recipe… But Veggie Desserts does. And since she’s successful enough to have books published, I’m guessing it’s probably a good one.
Decoration for the Best Carrot Cake
You can decorate your carrot cake as you wish. Plain chopped pecans are good. Icing carrots are perfect if you can find/make them. The cake in the photos has been decorated with candied pecans and candied carrots.
Equipment used at Gluten Free Alchemist for making Gluten Free Carrot Cake
- Kitchen scales. I love my Heston Blumenthal Dual Platform Scales.
- Mixing bowls : I use a Joseph Joseph nest of bowls.
- Measuring Spoons : like these Tala ones.
- A Good Grater : With lots of carrots to grate, you need a good grater. I am really lucky and have a Zyliss Grater bought by hubbie. To be honest, I don’t use it that often, but it was a godsend for this cake. You can also get a hand-held version, which works on the same principle and looks a lot more practical from a storage perspective.
- A whisk for the cake sponge : Mine is a Kenwood K-Mix Hand Whisk
- A mixing spoon/spatula : When making cakes, I always use my Zing silicone spoon. It’s a spatula as well as a spoon!
- Baking Paper : Don’t cut corners on this one… I always use Lakeland Baking Parchment… It hasn’t let me down yet.
- Cake Tins : The Masterclass are non-stick and have a loose bottom to make cake removal as straight forward as possible.
- A Zester : A microplane zester is an amazing thing for zesting.
Made the Best Gluten Free Carrot Cake recipe?
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Gluten Free Carrot Cake (Dairy Free Sponge)
- Baking tray
- large sharp knife
- zester/microplane/fine grater
- Kitchen scales
- measuring spoons
- 2 x 8 inch round non-stick baking tins
- baking paper
- large mixing bowl
- electric whisk
- large mixing spoon/spatula
- wire rack
- clean tea towel
- 100 g rough-chopped toasted pecans toasted weight
- 350 g grated carrots peeled weight
- 1 large orange finely grated zest only
- 200 g plain gluten free flour blend I use Rice Free Blend B (see NOTES)
- 100 g ground almonds almond meal
- 1 tsp xanthan gum
- pinch fine sea salt
- 2½ tsp GF baking powder
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¾ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- 320 g soft light brown sugar
- 4 large eggs UK large
- 190 g sunflower oil (or olive oil) (approx 200 ml)
- 60 g carrot puree (I used a baby food pouch)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Getting Ready the Ingredients
- To toast the pecans, spread on a baking tray and place in the oven at 180 C/350 F/Gas 4 for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times during toasting.
- Allow to cool completely and rough-chop to desired size. Set aside.
- While the pecans are toasting : Coarse-grate the pre-peeled and trimmed carrots. Set aside.
- Zest the orange and set aside with the carrots.
- Weigh and mix together the flour, almonds, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and spices. TIP : Weigh into an airtight container and shake vigorously to mix. Set aside.
Make the Carrot Cake
- Preheat the oven to 170 C/325 F/Gas 3.
- Base-line two 8 inch (20 cm), non-stick, round baking tins with baking paper.
- Weigh the sugar, eggs, oil, carrot puree and vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl.
- Beat thoroughly for at least 3 to 4 minutes using an electric whisk until well blended, smooth, silky and beginning to pale.
- Add the carrots and zest to the bowl and gently fold through.
- Add the chopped pecans and dry flour-spice mix and gently fold through until just combined and even.
- Divide the mixture between the two cake tins evenly and smooth the tops.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean and the tops are firm.
- Remove the cakes from the tins and transfer to a wire rack to cool, placing a clean tea towel over the top.
- Once completely cool, layer and decorate with cream cheese frosting (see separate recipe sheet).
- You may also wish to decorate with some caramelised chopped pecans and caramelised carrot. See NOTES below
Sumptuous Cream Cheese Frosting
- medium mixing bowl
- Kitchen scales
- electric whisk
- wooden/silicone spoon (or beater attachment)
- 150 g unsalted hard butter block butter only
- ¾ tsp vanilla paste or powder optional
- 250 g cream cheese (recommend Philadelphia)- Keep in the fridge until ready to use.
- 150 g icing (confectioners) sugar sifted
- Soften the butter slightly and beat in a medium bowl until smooth and beginning to pale.
- Add and beat in the vanilla if using.
- Take the cream cheese from the fridge and drain-off any excess liquid.
- Add the cream cheese to the bowl and beat into the butter (preferably with a beater attachment or wooden/firm silicone spoon) until just smooth. Do not over-beat.
- Add the sifted icing sugar about a third at a time and gently beat or mix through. Again, use a beater attachment rather than a whisk or a wooden/firm silicone spoon to avoid over-beating. If you over-beat, the icing may become liquid, so be very careful.
- Place back in the fridge until ready to use.
- When ready to use, if the frosting has become too hard to work, simply leave at room temperature for a short while and fold through.
Gluten Free Carrot Cake shared with :
- Cook Blog Share with Feast Glorious Feast
- Meatless Monday with Confessions of a Mother Runner and A Whisk and Two Wands
- What’s For Dinner #258 with the Lazy Gastronome
- Over The Moon #230 with Marilyn’s Treats and Eclectic Red Barn
- Full Plate Thursday #490 with Miz Helen’s Country Cottage
- Fiesta Friday #334 with Angie and Frugal Hausfrau
- Blogger’s Pit Stop #227