The Best Carrot Cake – With Cream Cheese Frosting

A slice of carrot cake and a cup of tea by a bright window

I have been struggling with writing this post for over a week.

It’s a recipe post – one of my better recipes if I do say so myself!  Except, it’s not my recipe.

The recipe is from one of the loveliest people I have ever known – a good friend and colleague who was killed in a car accident by somebody who ran a stop sign, while she was on vacation with her husband.

A pile of carrotsI was going to write a post about who she was and what she meant to so many people but I just couldn’t.  It all sounded trite and formulaic and nothing conveyed just how special she was to everyone who knew her.  A “once in a lifetime” person, if you know what i mean. We would all be so lucky to have just one person like her in our lives.  She was a glue person – kept everyone together.

But what I can tell you is, she was a fantastic cook and baker.  She and her husband loved to entertain – she was the queen of the dinner party and was always planning menus and trying out new dishes (often making her lucky co-workers the recipients of her test runs.. hehe!).  Honestly, I could totally have seen her becoming a food blogger.  She would have loved this world!

Toasted cocount and a spatula covered in cream cheese frostingThe one memory of her that makes me smile every time I think of her is of our little group of four.  Four of us girls would go for lunch once a month, totally outside of work, on a weekend.  She always arranged it. (the glue person).  Our ages ranged from early 20’s to late 40’s and we were all at different stages in our careers and lives.  It was almost a little mentor and support group but with friends.  I don’t know how to explain it really.  We tried so hard to keep it up after she left us and we did manage for a little while – always keeping an empty place for her at the table and toasting her with our first drink.  Gosh, I miss her.

Sketch of LoretteThe fellow I was seeing at the time of her death had only known her briefly before she passed.  He was a talented artist and even he had been so charmed and touched by her in that brief time that he insisted on sketching her.  He gave me the drawing and asked that me and my colleagues give it to her family, which we did.




A plate of carrot cake


This carrot cake recipe is hers.  And it is indeed, the best carrot cake I’ve ever had.  Even I can’t screw it up!  And I have a whole company who will vouch for how good it is!

So Lorette.. cheers to you my dear – you are so often in my thoughts :)

Carrot cake, tea, tulips

The Best Carrot Cake - With Cream Cheese Frosting
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Dessert
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups of grated carrot
  • 1 cup of flaked coconut
  • 1 (15oz) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I leave these out and sub raisins)
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 (8oz) package cream cheese (I use light)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • ½ cup toasted coconut (optional)
  1. preheat oven to 350F
  2. grease or spray a 9x13 baking pan
  3. mix sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla and buttermilk in a large bowl
  4. stir in carrots, coconut and pineapple
  5. in a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt
  6. gently stir dry mix into wet mix
  7. stir in chopped nuts (or raisins) and spread the mixture into the prepared pans
  8. bake 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (I found 45 minutes was MORE than enough)
  9. remove from oven and set aside to cool
  10. combine butter, cream cheese, vanilla and icing sugar and blend until creamy
  11. frost cake while still in the pan (this makes enough frosting to do the top and sides of the cake so I actually cut the frosting recipe in half and it makes more than enough to do the top of the cake)
  12. sprinkle with toasted coconut if desired

 Food Photography Tips

Image 1: 100mm, 1/40, f/2.8, ISO500, no exposure compensation.  I shot all of these mid-day in my kitchen with fairly overcast skies.  I used a reflector here, off to the right (foam board actually) and the window light is coming from the upper left.  It was perfect light actually – not too harsh but light enough to give the airy tea party feel I wanted.  I used a tripod for all of the photos in this post.

Image 2: 100mm, 0.6, f/8.0, ISO100, no exposure compensation.  Quite pleased with this – except for a tiny crop and some sharpening it is straight out of the camera.  This was exactly what I wanted.  Light is coming from the top.  I got the aperture just right to get good focus all the way through.  I don’t think I used a reflector for this actual shot although I did experiment with one – it actually made the carrots too bright.

Image 3: 100mm, 1/8, f/5.0, ISO500, no exposure compensation. Except for some sharpening, this was straight out of the camera.  Light was to the left and I didn’t use a reflector.

Image 4: 100mm, 1/10, f/5.0, ISO500, no exposure compensation.  The light was from behind and the reflector was at about 4 o’clock.  Post was some sharpening and tweaking of white balance.

Image 5: 100mm, 1/40, f/2.8, ISO500, no exposure compensation. You can see exactly where the light was coming from in this photos – I have a bank of three vertical windows along that wall that are about 5 ft tall! .  I used a reflector to the right and a lower f-stop to have a smaller depth of field (to create some of that background blur).  Straight out of camera except for sharpening and white balance tweak.

And that’s it – enjoy the carrot cake!

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14 Responses to The Best Carrot Cake – With Cream Cheese Frosting

  1. Amy L February 23, 2012 at 9:01 PM #

    Wow, that cake looks good! I love your photos btw, and it’s nice of you to include tips at the end :) I’ve actually never made carrot cake before but I’ll def give this a try since I have lots of cream cheese at home, haha.

  2. Lisa H February 23, 2012 at 9:43 PM #

    Beautiful tribute to a beautiful person…. May she rest in peace.

    And oh my what a beautiful photos too…

  3. Medeja February 24, 2012 at 1:28 AM #

    I really would like to try it sometimes, seems like you got a really great recipe!

  4. Stephanie February 24, 2012 at 9:05 AM #

    I love everything about this post. It really conveys what sort of person your friend was. Plus your photos are just beautiful.

  5. Chef Dennis February 24, 2012 at 4:02 PM #

    Great job with the cake and the tribute to your friend…there is just no rhyme or reason why thing happen

  6. Lynn February 24, 2012 at 6:07 PM #

    What a thoughtful post. It’s so hard to gets words to do justice to the people we love. You did a great job, and I can’t wait to try the cake.

  7. Rhonda February 24, 2012 at 8:56 PM #

    I have no doubt that this is the best carrot cake and I can see that your respect and admiration for your friend that has passed is unbounded. You translated your depth of respect with out overtly sweet renditions and sentimental reminence. I can’t think of a better way to honor a friend than sharing such a wonderful recipe and photographs to bring it to the level it deserves.

  8. Jessica February 25, 2012 at 12:40 PM #

    What a beautiful post, I understand how difficult it must have been to write about such a good friend. I love the photos and I’m glad you took the time to explain how you executed each photo. I also love shot with the frosted spatula with the toasted coconut. Carrot cake is one of my favourites, so I’ll definitely add this to my “future baking” list.

  9. Jesica @ Pencil Kitchen February 25, 2012 at 9:58 PM #

    i absolutely love your photographs! When i saw it, i thought “oh carrot cake, how rare!”. When I came over and saw more pictures, i thought “Damn, i want to take pictures like these..

  10. brighteyedbaker February 26, 2012 at 11:15 AM #

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend, but I think that you paid tribute to her in as best a way as you could, even though you weren’t sure how to word it right. It really came across to me as a reader that she meant a lot to you and was a wonderful person. It’s funny that I clicked on your photo on Foodgawker and read this post, because Carrot Cake isn’t exactly my favorite treat. It was the beautiful photos, though, that urged me on, and I’m glad I read your post. And still, I have to say, the Carrot Cake looks amazing.

  11. Judit - Corina @WineDineDaily February 26, 2012 at 11:27 AM #

    Such a beautiful tribute! Love your recipe and of course the photos are gorgeous.
    Cheers :)
    J & C

  12. Jodi February 26, 2012 at 9:41 PM #

    You never cease to amaze me..I love this post in every way. I am so glad that our paths have crossed again since we went to highschool (even if it really is just through social media…maybe one day we will get out to photograph together in person).

  13. Cristina March 7, 2012 at 9:41 AM #

    Dearest Melissa – what a beautifully written tribute to your friend, Lorette. Thank you for sharing about her and your treasured recipe from her collection. I have memories and a sweet attachment to carrot cake too, for different reasons…but there are always certain things and people that always come to mind when hearing, reading or eating carrot cake.

    It really goes without mentioning, but I will mention it anyways, that your images are just gorgeous and I luv that you share your settings and lighting setup.

  14. Clairetweet March 8, 2012 at 11:28 PM #

    I don’t know how I missed this when you posted it as I’ve been waiting for you to share this recipe since you first mentioned it. Now I see why you struggled to write it. It’s hard to write about losing people and to feel that you are portraying them the way you want to.

    I shall make the carrot cake in her honour. It would be nice to be remembered as fondly as Lorette.

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