Spiced carrot cake layers infused with maple syrup and topped with maple caramel & cream cheese frosting.
We’re most of the way through August now, which means we’re that much closer to Fall (my fave season), and I really could not be happier.
We’re still in summer mode, so I’m not going to bust out the pumpkin recipes just yet. But I thought it would be a great time to do a seasonal transition cake of sorts, using those fresh carrots from your garden or local farmers market and pairing them with the comforting Fall flavors of maple to make this delicious Maple Caramel Carrot Cake.
I had so many challenges with this cake that at one point I considered the possibility that the universe didn’t want me to make this recipe.
There are too many carrot cake recipes out there already (it said), why does the world need another one?! Nevertheless, I’m glad I persevered, because this Maple Caramel Carrot Cake is truly like no other.
Don’t try to use rainbow carrots thinking you’ll have a pretty, colorful rainbow cake. You won’t.
How to Make this Maple Caramel Carrot Cake
Little known fact (at least to me): purple carrots turn dark green when baked in a cake. True story.
My original vision for this cake involved the pretty rainbow carrots that you can see all around farmers market stalls this time of year. I LOVE them. I thought they would be so pretty in a cake — the contrasts of the orange, yellow, and purple… SO pretty right? Right. Much to my dismay when the cake layers came out of the oven, I knew my perfect rainbow vision was not going to happen.
My research into why this happens led me a bit astray. Everything I found talked about regular orange carrots turning green, and the culprit was baking soda. The orange carrots in my cake were fine though — it was the purple ones that were the issue. I suspect it was probably still the acid in the baking soda, though.
At any rate, cake #1 was scrapped due to dark green worm-like specks through the layers (not pretty). It actually would have been scrapped anyway though, because the layers didn’t bake up as tall or pretty as I wanted, so I needed to tweak the recipe. Just as well, but I was sad to give up my dream of the rainbow carrots!
The next issue was with the maple caramel. I don’t know why, but I always have issues with caramel. It’s easy enough to make (or should be), but it always gives me problems.
Caramel and I are not BFF’s and likely never will be. It’s just one of those things. My first attempt seemed like it was going okay, but something was off and I ended up with a thick, crystallized mess. Attempt # 2 was much better.
How to Make Caramel
I now have a detailed tutorial on How to Make Caramel with all sorts of tips and troubleshooting.
Assembling the cake was no picnic either.
Somehow I was low on powdered sugar. How this could happen still boggles my mind. I am usually so diligent about noting ingredients I am running short on so that I’m never in this situation. I searched and searched for another bag of powdered sugar, but no luck.
So my frosting was 1/2 cup short on powdered sugar (recipe adjusted for correct amounts), which meant that the frosting was softer than I wanted it to be. Normally it wouldn’t be a huge problem, but assembling a cake with soft frosting and soft caramel in 30+°C (85+°F) temps with no A/C posed a bit of a challenge, to say the least.
In the end, it all worked out and OMG is this cake good. Maybe my favorite cake ever. EVER!
Carrot cake is delicious as it is, but something about the combination of the maple and the caramel with the cream cheese frosting is just pure heaven. It’s so good that Ryan won’t even let me give any slices away, so they’re squirreled away in our freezer.
If you’re looking for something a little different, a twist on something traditional, then this is the cake for you! The cake layers are incredibly moist and the maple caramel has a delicious and unique flavor. It really is my new favorite cake recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do. Oh and if you’re into all things maple, be sure to give my Maple Cake a try too!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I convert this recipe?
- The recipe as-is will also work in three 6″ pans. For three 8″ pans, 1.5x the recipe. Baking time may need to be adjusted.
- To make cupcakes, all you need to do is reduce the baking time — start checking at 15mins or so. The recipe will make 18-24 cupcakes depending on size.
- For other conversions go here.
Can I make it in advance?
- The cooled cake layers can be baked ahead of time, double wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 3 months. Take out 2-3 hours before assembly.
- The frosting can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for 1 week for frozen for 3 months. Bring to room temp and rewhip before using.
- The caramel can be made the day before and left at room temperature overnight or refrigerated for a couple weeks (or frozen for longer). You’ll need to bring it to room temperature again before use.
- The finished cake (whole or sliced, stored airtight) can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Can I get the measurements by weight/grams?
- There is a Metric option in the recipe card. If you click it it will convert everything to grams.
- This conversion is done automatically and I cannot guarantee the accuracy but many readers have had success using the metric option for this recipe.
Tips for this Maple Caramel Carrot Cake
- You can use store-bought caramel if you’d like to simplify the recipe, but it won’t have a maple flavor.
- If you refrigerate your caramel, you will need to warm it up a bit before using on the cake. I microwave it in 5 second intervals, stirring in between, until it’s pourable (but not warm).
- It’s best to create a bit of a lip with the frosting so that the caramel doesn’t pour out and over the sides.
- I like to prepare my cake pans using Homemade Cake Release then line with parchment.
- Learn how to keep your cakes moist using Simple Syrup.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, see my Flat Top Cakes post.
Maple Caramel Carrot Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- pinch ground cloves
- 1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 3 cups grated carrots lightly packed,approx. 4 large carrots
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 8″ cake rounds, line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer combine vegetable oil and sugars. Beat until well combined (2 mins). Add eggs one at a time, fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
- Add flour mixture in 3 parts. Add in carrots.
- Spread batter evenly into prepared pans and bake for 55mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
- Place maple syrup in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over med-high heat. Do not stir at any point.
- Reduce heat to medium and simmer until maple syrup starts to brown even more (the bubbles will be very dark brown) or the temperature reads 240F on a candy thermometer.
- Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream while whisking quickly. The mixture will bubble up a lot.
- Return to heat, add butter, and continue to cook for 2-3mins while whisking constantly.
- Cool completely then transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge.*
Cream Cheese Frosting:
- Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy (2 mins). Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Add vanilla and beat until fluffy (3 mins).
- Trim cake layers if needed. Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup. Top with 1 cup of cream cheese frosting and half of the caramel.**
- Repeat with remaining layer and sprinkle chopped pecans on top if desired.