Whole Wheat Carrot Cake with Dairy-Free Frosting Recipe - Pamela Salzman Skip to content

Whole Wheat Carrot Cake with Dairy-Free Frosting Recipe

I was married almost 17 years ago, so I guess it’s not crazy that my husband would have forgotten what flavor our wedding cake was.  I’m just surprised, because he was very involved in all decisions.  I know you’re thinking that it sounds sweet to have your fiance interested enough in your wedding to have a say in everything, but trust me, kind of annoying.  Regardless, we were talking about our wedding cake the other day and my husband remembers it as carrot cake, which it was certainly not.  Of course, there’s nothing wrong with carrot cake for a wedding cake, but ours was a simple white cake with chocolate chocolate-chip buttercream filling.

He probably thinks it was carrot cake because we both love it so much.  And we both agree that carrot cake should be moist and dense and chock full of carrots and raisins and walnuts.  I remember many a date when we shared a large slice of carrot cake for dessert.  You know the kind.  Two or three layers of sweet, nubby cake sandwiched between even sweeter, creamy, tangy icing.  Sounds great until you learn that a huge piece of bakery or restaurant carrot cake contains about a entire day’s worth of calories.  And don’t think they’re using natural sweeteners, friends.  If I were 22 again and doing two hours of step aerobics every day, I could probably get away with it.  But not no more!

Fast forward two decades later when at least one of us is trying to consume desserts in moderation and bake them with less refined ingredients so we can make it to our 50th wedding anniversary and beyond.  Yes, that’s why I make carrot cake in a 13 x9-inch baking dish instead of as a layer cake.  I think it’s super delicious too, but for me at least, one square is plenty.  And before you think I’m no fun at all, don’t think I’m skimping on flavor here.  This carrot cake delivers the same sweet, spiced goodness that you would expect from the traditional.  Ok, maybe not the same sweetness.  When I got motivated to come up with a higher quality carrot cake, I went to my trusty Ina, who uses a whopping 2 cups of sugar in her cake.  Although in her defense, so does everyone else.  In my recipe I use coconut palm sugar and much less of it.  Listen, there’s a whole pound of carrots in this cake and carrots are sweet.  There are also raisins and even diced pineapple if you choose to use it.  And even if you don’t frost this cake, it’s plenty sweet.  Personally, I was happy as a clam with this cake unfrosted, but I knew my students would be expecting something more.  Of course I couldn’t go with a typical cream cheese frosting, because they don’t come to my kitchen for that.   So I am also offering you something very alternative, but perfectly yummy and thick and creamy and won’t make you sick to your stomach after you eat it.  And it’s vegan!

I’m thinking with Father’s Day coming up, this would be a fun dessert to make.  You can even do it in a muffin tin for individual cupcakes.  There are lots of ways you can adapt this recipe to make everyone happy.  Drop the pineapple if you wish.  Use pecans instead of walnuts.  Add some nutmeg or cloves.  Make Ina Garten’s cream cheese frosting if you don’t believe me that this one is great.  Just don’t ask me if you can make this cake without carrots because that question was already asked in my class last month and my answer is “no.”  Instead you have my blessing to go make the white butter cake with chocolate chocolate-chip buttercream filling that you really want.

Whole Wheat Carrot Cake with Dairy-Free Frosting
Serves: makes a 13x9-inch or 2 9-inch round pans
  • 1 ¼ cups coconut palm sugar or granulated sugar
  • 1 ¼-1 ½ cups unrefined oil (I use melted coconut oil, but olive or high-oleic safflower is fine, too)
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ½ cups plus 1 Tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour, divided
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 cup unsulphured golden raisins (or dark raisins if you prefer)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • ½ cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped (or frozen, thawed)
  • Raw Cashew Frosting (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13”x 9” pan.
  2. Beat the sugar, oil and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until thick and sugar has dissolved a bit. Add the vanilla and stir to combine.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together 2 ½ cups flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. In a small bowl, combine the raisins and walnuts with 1 Tablespoon of flour and add to batter. Fold in the carrots and pineapple and mix well.
  5. Pour batter into pan. It should be super thick. Bake for 45–55 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely in pan over a wire wrack.
If you like things very sweet, you can increase the sugar to 1½ cups and the recipe will work fine. I also give a range for the oil. Use 1¼ cup if you plan to eat it all the same day it's made and if you like a lighter cake. Use 1½ cups if you like it a little heavier and if you want it to cake to stay moist for several days. I used 1½ cups in these photos and 1¼ cups in my classes.

Raw Cashew Frosting:

This is a lovely, just-sweet-enough frosting which you can use for lots of cakes and cupcakes. It is dairy-free and if you use maple or agave, it is also vegan. You cannot substitute another oil for the coconut oil, since that’s what helps the frosting become firm and spreadable once it has been refrigerated. I use Grade A maple syrup here, which is less mapley than Grade B.

2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 5 hours

½ cup unsweetened almond milk or water (water is just as good)

¼ cup unrefined coconut oil, melted

3 Tablespoons raw honey, Grade A maple syrup or agave

¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

pinch or 2 of fine grain sea salt

Process all ingredients in a food processor, scraping down the sides if necessary, until perfectly smooth. This can take 5-6 minutes. Or use a high powered blender like a Vitamix for about 45 seconds. Refrigerate to allow it to firm up enough to a spreadable consistency. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.


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  1. My son and I made this last night and it was a hit!! Thank you for a great recipe

    • Yay! And you’re welcome!

  2. THIS IS FABULOUS! I made with almond flour. I have a friend with Crohns disease on the SCD diet so I made this for her, She was so grateful and happy! I was thinking of modifying with zucchini, but do you think not as hardy as carrots? may be more watery. I love zucchini bread from Green Street café in Pasadena so I wanted to make one for my friend on the SCD , for me too. any suggestions?
    P.s. I have been making my own almond milk, from your recipe. Its is so easy and yummier! can I use the almond meal left over form the nut bag ( hee hee) to bake with. I have been storing in freezer after letting the almond meal dry out in fridge in the nut bag..( hee hee) I have a great recipe for PB cookies with almond meal and it makes a great pie crust, like shortbread. thoughts on using almond meat from almond milk as almond meal ?

    • Thanks, Heather! Zucchini is a bit more watery than carrots, but if you give the shredded zucchini a squeeze beforehand, I bet it would work fine. You can definitely use the almond meal in baking, but I believe you need to dehydrate it first. Even at 200 degrees.

    • I would love to try the almond flour as well! Did you substitute it 1:1 or what ratio worked for you?

      • Try this: 3 cups blanched almond flour (I like Honeyville)
        2 teaspoons sea salt
        1 teaspoon baking soda
        1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
        1 cup unsulphured golden raisins
        1 cup walnuts, chopped
        5 large eggs
        1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
        ½ cup 100% pure maple syrup or honey
        ¼ cup unrefined coconut oil, melted
        3 cups grated carrots
        ½ cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped (or frozen, thawed)

        1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9-inch pan or 2 round 9-inch cake pans.
        2. In a large bowl, combine almond flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Stir in raisins and walnuts.
        3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, vanilla, maple syrup and oil until well combined.
        4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine well. Fold in carrots and pineapple.
        5. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake completely before frosting.
        6. Keep cake refrigerated for best consistency.

        • Awesome!! Thanks 🙂

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  4. I was wanting to make this but non wheat flour,could you suggest a different flour that would work,newly diagnosed so I would appreciate it as I am not a baker just a eater!!!

    • Can you have spelt, Pauline? That contains gluten, but not wheat. Otherwise, if you are gluten-intolerant, I would try King Arthur Multi-purpose gluten-free flour mix + 1 teaspoon xanthan gum in place of the wheat flour.

  5. Hi! Just found your recipe and am super excited to make it tomorrow for my friends birthday. Just wondering,I’m making it tomorrow in the morning. Is it okay to put the cashews to soak overnight?
    Thanks, it looks delicious and I am glad to have found a non-cream cheese icing recipe! I’m in Mysore India and there is no cream cheese here to be found it seems. 🙂

    • You can definitely soak the cashews overnight! This frosting will be much more digestible than cream cheese anyway 🙂

  6. Hi Pamela! I finally tried the cashew frosting on my own tonight, along with the cake of course! Both were so delicious!! Even after only soaking the cashews for 3 hours (due to poor planning) I was so happy that they were soft enough to form the frosting. It was perfect because one of my dinner guests was dairy-free. I can’t say it was quite as delicious as when I tasted it in your kitchen, but I was just glad mine was edible 🙂

    • I am SURE your cake and frosting were just as delicious as the one you had in class! Hope all is well 🙂 xoxo

  7. I am really excited to try this frosting for my son’s first birthday. Do you think it is thick enough for piping onto cupcakes? I plan on using all natural blue food coloring and making cookie monster cupcakes. Also, does the coconut flavor stand out in the frosting?
    Thank you!

    • You just need to refrigerate the frosting so that it firms up, so make it the day before the party. If you want it to be firmer than it looks in the photo on the piece of cake, then just decrease the water/almond milk by a Tablespoon or two. I don’t detect a coconut taste at all, but the coconut oil I use (unrefined organic from Whole Foods) is very mild. I don’t think that will be an issue. Also, some areas of the country are blazing hot right now. This frosting, as well as buttercream frostings, don’t hold up well in the sun in 100 degree heat, so keep in the shade or indoors until you’re ready to serve. Have fun!

      • Thank you very much! I can’t wait to try the recipe this weekend. 🙂

  8. Pamela,

    Can I bake this cake in a bundt pan ? Just want a pretty shape to serve at the table. will I run the risk of baking it in the center ?

    Many thanks!

    • I don’t see why not. But since I haven’t done it, I couldn’t tell you how long you would bake it for. I imagine it would be a little thicker and therefore need a few extra minutes in the oven. Use a toothpick to determine doneness. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  9. What could substitute for pineapple to avoid allergic reaction?

    • I would just leave it out altogether.

  10. How long can you keep extra raw cashew frosting in the fridge?
    I have the cake in the oven now, but made way too much frosting.
    Thank you

    • I have successfully frozen the frosting, but you can keep it a week for sure EXCEPT if you use homemade almond milk which has a 4 day shelf life. Supermarket almond milk or water in the frosting allows you to keep it longer. Enjoy!

  11. This looks so yummy!! I cracked up at this post. I too had the fiancee involved in EVERYTHING (and he still is)! What is with these Jewish men:)? Going to try the gluten free version of this? Have you tried it and was it good?

    • Teehee! I have not tried this with a GF flour blend, but I’m sure it would work with King Arthur + xanthan gum. I have done this cake with Honeyville almond flour and it’s amazing, but totally different recipe as you can’t sub almond flour one-for-one. I’ll email it to you!

      • Can you email me the recipe using almond flour also please? Thank you!

        • Sure! But keep in mind I used Honeyville almond flour which is not the same as Bob’s Red Mill or Trader Joe’s almond meal. Almond flour is very fine and almond meal is a bit coarser.

          • Hi Pamela, I adore your website and so do my three kids and hubby, thanks to your recipes! I was hoping you could email the almond flour adaptation. As a treat for my last birthday, I made myself Ina’s version, but would love to try this using the spelt as well as the almond!

            • Happy to, Dina! Let me know if you make it :).

  12. Hi,
    I wanted to try your recipe but make it a muffin tin..How long should I bake them for??
    Thank you!!

    • I should have put that info in the recipe! I would start testing them (with a toothpick) after 25 minutes. Depending on your oven, I’m guessing 25-35. Enjoy!

  13. Sounds and looks delicious. Can’t wait to try it!!

  14. Sounds and looks delicious. Can’t wait to try it!

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I come from a large Italian-American family with 28 first cousins (on one side of the family!) where sit-down holiday dinners for 85 people are the norm (how, you might ask – organization! But more on that later …).

Some of my fondest memories are of simple family gatherings, both large and small, with long tables of bowls and platters piled high, the laughter of my cousins echoing and the comfort of tradition warming my soul.

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