How To Make Perfect Carrot Cake

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Everyone needs a good carrot cake in their baking repertoire, and this is mine. I inherited the recipe from my mom Adele and have been making it for more than 30 years; heaven knows many times this gem of a recipe has been served both at home and professionally.

My mom loved baking and her carrot cake was legendary. It’s rich with spice, imbued with aromatic citrus zest and crowned with a glorious, tangy cream cheese and walnut icing. The recipe is a family heirloom and has been shared countless time with visitors, friends and family who insist on taking home a copy of Mom’s tried and tested recipe. The tangy cream cheese and chopped walnut topping make it fancy enough for celebrations and special occasions, too.

The cake will keep for several days in an airtight container.


Serves 12


3 cups (375 g) unsifted white cake flour

2 t (10 ml) baking powder

1 t (5 ml) bicarbonate of soda

1 t (5 ml) ground cinnamon

½ t (2.5 ml) salt

500g carrots in weight after peeling and trimming

1 cup (250 ml) butter, softened but not melted

1 cup (225 g) light brown (caramel) sugar

1 cup (250 g) white granulated sugar

4 large eggs

2 T (30 ml) grated lemon zest

2 T (30 ml) grated orange zest

2 T (30 ml) lemon juice

2 T (30 ml) orange juice

1 cup (125 g) coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup (155 g) sultanas, seedless raisins or cranberries (optional)

Cream cheese icing:

250 g low-fat cream cheese

1 T (15 ml) lemon juice

1 t (5 ml) grated lemon zest

1 ½ cups (225 g) icing sugar, sieved

1 cup (155 g) coarsely chopped walnuts


  1.  Since the batter is very dense, it’s customary to use a tube cake tin for this as the tube conducts the heat to the centre of the cake, which would otherwise remain raw while the exterior reached doneness. Spray the tin lightly.
  2. Sieve the flour with the baking powder, bicarb, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl.
  3. Mix the citrus zest and juices and set aside.
  4. Wash, peel and grate the carrots coarsely – you need 4 cups in total.
  5. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
  6. Beat the butter and both sugars at high speed in your blender until light and fluffy, for about 4-5 minutes. Stop beating every now and then to scrape the butter off the sides and bottom to reincorporate into the mix.
  7. Keeping the blender running, add the eggs one by one, making sure each egg is thoroughly incorporated into the batter before adding the next. Keep beating a further 3 or so minutes until the mixture is light and thick.
  8. Turn to the blender to low speed and add the flour mixture (in fourths) alternately with the citrus juice (in thirds), beginning and ending with flour. Beat lightly for 1 minute more, until smooth.
  9. Use a metal spoon to fold in the grated carrots, walnuts and sultanas if used. Stir lightly to blend very well, dispersing the additions evenly throughout the batter.
  10. Spoon the batter into the tube cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour, or until a metal skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. (Start testing at 50 minutes’ baking time). Remove from oven and let cool in tin on a wire rack for 20 minutes.
  11. Slide a very sharp knife around the edges between cake and tin to loosen it. Turn cake out of the pan onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
  12. Once the cake is completely cooled down, you can ice it: Beat all the ingredients for the icing except the nuts until very smooth in a medium bowl and keep cool until needed. Spread over top of the cake, scatter over chopped walnuts and serve.
Adele's carrot cake
Adele’s carrot cake Photo by Sean Calitz courtesy RHS
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Celebrating life with food, wine, friends & happiness! Writer, cook and blogger. Author of four cookbooks. Passionately South African, proudly Capetonian.