This dairy free & gluten free carrot cake gets a tender, springy crumb from a blend of whole grain flours. Gently spiced with cinnamon and ginger and slathered with vegan cream cheese frosting, this healthy carrot cake is easy enough to bake on a weeknight but dressy enough for spring festivities. Updated March 31, 2021 to include a paleo option. Thanks to Bob's Red Mill for sponsoring this post!
I don't know when or why carrot cake came to be associated with Easter. I'm guessing it's because... Easter bunnies eat carrots? I actually consider carrot cake more of a fall dessert, the season during which spiced cakes, breads, and orange veggies are both de rigueur. But I'm not complaining. Because just like pumpkin pie, I crave carrot cake year-round. And now that I've developed my favorite ever dairy free and gluten free carrot cake recipe, I can have it all the time too.
This cake can be in and out of the oven in under an hour meaning that you can have carrot cake any night of the week. But dress it up in curls of rainbow carrot ribbons and it stars at any gathering – springtime or otherwise!
Questing for the Best Ever Carrot Cake
When I was a kid, I used to buy squares of carrot cake topped with cream cheese frosting and wrapped in cellophane at our local grocer. I have no idea where these squares of spiced goodness came from, but to my young self they were sheer heaven – tender, soft, gently spiced, and slathered in tangy, sugary frosting. I would take this cake over just about any other goody (save chocolate dipped Häagen Dazs ice cream bars) and this memory is the metric to which I measure all carrot cakes.
I've made many a carrot cake over the years and never met one I didn't like. But when it came time to develop a recipe of my own, I knew it would take some trial and error. When I hit upon this formula, which tasted like an elevated version of my childhood obsession, I thought to myself, "I wish all cakes had this taste and texture."
I first developed this gluten free carrot cake recipe for my Alternative Baking column in GFF Magazine. The issue featured oat flour, and though the cake uses a few different flours, the whole wheaty flavor of the oat flour is what stands out the most.
A Somewhat Healthy Carrot Cake Recipe
Carrot cake is already on the healthy end of the spectrum as far as cakes are concerned. In fact, carrot cake became popular in the US during the 1960's when oil was thought to be healthier than butter. Grated carrots add fiber, moisture, and sweetness, meaning that less sugar is needed. Many carrot cake recipes use whole wheat flour, and some add in hearty mix-ins such as raisins, nuts, pineapple, and/or coconut.
My carrot cake recipe straddles the line between healthy and not. On the healthy side, we have half a pound of grated carrots, a relatively small amount of sugar as far as cakes go (just over 1/2 cup in the cake batter and 1 cup powdered sugar in the frosting), and over 50% whole grain flour (oat and millet). Walnuts and sunflower oil add healthy fats, and 3 eggs add protein. You could bake these in muffin cups and serve them with dairy-free yogurt for breakfast if you like.
Ingredients & Substitution Suggestions
This recipe features a blend of Bob's Red Mill gluten free flours. I use this combination in many recipes and it acts similarly to a blend of whole wheat and all purpose flour – versatile, but with a lovely earthy flavor.
- Oat flour – adds loft and fluffiness, plus a nutty, earthy taste
- Millet flour – neutral flavor and fine, powdery texture makes the cake pillow-soft
- Sweet rice flour – fine, sticky texture that helps the cake hold together
- Tapioca flour – makes batter more extensible, trapping air bubbles and making the cake extra soft and fluffy
Organic granulated sugar keeps the color of the cake brighter than brown sugar, and the cake still has plenty of flavor.
This gluten free carrot cake uses 3 eggs for a single cake, which is more than usual. I began testing this carrot cake recipe with 1 egg and half a cup of buttermilk, but it was too crumbly. Since eggs increase both structure and fluffiness in cakes thanks to their high levels of protein, I added an additional egg and decreased the buttermilk to 1/4 cup. Last I tried omitting the buttermilk altogether and using three eggs. This version was the clear winner – sturdy enough to slice and the fluffiest of the bunch. It also made the cake dairy-free and cut out an additional ingredient, so you don't have to buy a whole carton of buttermilk for just a quarter cup. Win win win.
Carrot cakes are traditionally made with oil rather than butter. While I'm a fan of butter, I've come to prefer oil-based cakes, which stay soft and tender even when refrigerated. Oil has the added bonus of needing to be simply stirred into the batter, no softening and stand-mixing required as with butter cakes. Sunflower oil is my go-to neutral oil, but you can use anything you prefer such as canola, grapeseed, or even a light olive oil.
After several trials, I learned that I prefer my carrot cake with just ground cinnamon and ginger. These spices add warmth and flavor depth while still tasting light and bright. Cloves, allspice, and nutmeg all felt heavy or muddy to my palate. I would like to try a variation of this cake with cardamom, but I'm so in love with the flavor as-is I have yet to change it up. I also haven't tried this cake with fresh ginger, despite loving fresh ginger in other carrot cake recipes. And now I'm curious to try this cake with the spice blend hawaij like Molly's!
Baking powder and baking soda play an especially important role in gluten free baking. Sweet rice flour reacts to acidity in recipes, becoming more sticky with more acidity. Adding alkaline baking soda to cakes can sometimes help the crumb be softer and less gummy depending on the other ingredients in the recipe. Baking soda also increases caramelization in recipes and helps this cake turn golden on top when properly baked. I bumped up the amount of baking powder to make the cake extra fluffy since gluten free cakes tend to need a little extra help in that department.
I like a handful of toasted walnuts in my carrot cake, but if they aren't your jam, you can absolutely leave them out. A friend of mine also suggested adding raisins soaked in rum or brandy, which sounds like a capital idea to me!
Dairy Free Carrot Cake
Since this cake recipe uses oil instead of butter and eggs instead of buttermilk in the batter, I wanted to try topping it with a vegan cream cheese frosting to make it completely dairy-free. You can read all about it and get the recipe here.
Paleo Carrot Cake
I recently tested a grain-free carrot cake variation and it worked like a charm! Made with cassava and coconut flours, this version is nut-free as well. Plus it's kosher for Passover! Get the recipe in the notes section of the recipe card below and top it off with paleo cream cheese frosting.
Carrot Ribbon Flair
Ribbons cut with a vegetable peeler from rainbow carrots make a pretty, natural decoration for the top of this cake. I was inspired by a few recipes around the web (here, here, and here) to make a carrot ribbon ombré on top. I wasn't sure how the ribbons would taste, but I found I actually enjoyed some crispy bits of carrot with my slice!
Just peel the carrots, then lay a carrot down and begin peeling big strips from just one side of the carrot to form wide ribbons. I prefer using a T-shaped peeler for more control. You can use whatever color of carrots you like, or get a rainbow-hued bunch like I did here.
Gluten Free Carrot Cake Cupcakes and Carrot Muffins
If little cakelets are what you're after, divide the batter among muffin tins lined with paper cups and decrease the baking time as needed. You should get 10-12 carrot cupcakes or muffins out of one recipe. For muffins, leave off the frosting and top the unbaked batter with an extra handful of walnuts. For gluten free carrot cupcakes, use a piping bag to pipe pretty swirls of frosting on top.
Got leftover carrots? Try these recipes:
- Gluten Free Carrot Cake Pancakes
- Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal from Snixy Kitchen
- Roasted Beet & Carrot Lentil Salad with Feta, Yogurt, and Dill
- Cashew, Carrot, and Chickpea Curry
- Cumin and Honey Roasted Carrots with Ricotta and Gremolata
- Vegan Sushi Bowls with Roasted Asparagus and Pickled Carrot
- Vegan Curried Carrot Soup with Ginger and Coconut Milk
Looking for more healthy cake recipes? Try these:
- Gluten-Free Coffee Cake
- Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Pumpkin Bread with Maple Glaze
- Gluten-Free Apple Cake With Brown Butter and Hazelnut
- Gluten Free Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting
- Gluten Free Red Velvet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting
- Gluten Free Dairy Free Coconut Flour Banana Cake with Ganache
- Gluten Free Chocolate Teff Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
- Gluten Free Maple Pumpkin Pudding Cake (aka Chomeur)
- My favorite gluten-free cake recipes!
*Bojon appétit! For more Bojon Gourmet in your life, follow along on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, purchase my gluten-free cookbook Alternative Baker, or subscribe to receive new posts via email. And if you make this gluten free dairy free carrot cake, I’d love to see. Tag your Instagram snaps @The_Bojon_Gourmet and #bojongourmet.*
Dairy Free & Gluten Free Carrot CakePrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- 1 teaspoon vegan butter or coconut oil, for the pan
- 8 ounces carrots (about 4 medium), grated on smallest holes of box grater (1¼ cups packed)
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons (130 g) organic granulated sugar
- ½ cup sunflower oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
- ½ cup (75 g) Bob's Red Mill sweet rice flour
- ½ cup (50 g) Bob's Red Mill gluten-free oat flour
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (50 g) Bob's Red Mill millet flour
- 2 tablespoons (14 g) Bob's Red Mill tapioca flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ cup (50 g) chopped toasted walnuts or pecans, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 recipe Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting (or Classic Cream Cheese Frosting if preferred, linked in header)
- 1 bunch rainbow carrots (or a couple of regular carrots)
- A few sprigs carrot greens or parsley
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper cut to fit.
- In a large bowl, stir together the grated carrots, eggs, sugar, and oil until combined. Place a medium mesh strainer over the bowl and add the oat, sweet rice, millet, and tapioca flours along with the baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stirring until combined. Stir in the walnuts.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 22-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool 20 minutes in the pan. Turn the cake out onto a serving board to cool completely.
- Spread the cream cheese frosting over the cooled cake. Chill briefly if the frosting is becoming overly soft.
- Peel the carrots. Lay a carrot on a cutting board and begin peeling long, wide strips from one side. Repeat with the other carrots; you’ll have more carrot ribbons than you need for one cake. (Throw them in a salad!) Use your fingers to curl the ribbons into rounds and stick them into the frosting; the frosting will hold them in place. Sprinkle the cake with finely chopped walnuts and decorate with carrot greens.
- Chill the cake until firm enough to slice, 30 minutes and up to several hours, then cut into wedges. Let the cake slices stand at room temperature to soften the frosting and serve. Leftover cake keeps well, refrigerated airtight, for up to 4 days.
Amanda Paa says
Such a pleasure to eat this cake with you and the girls! The best gf carrot cake I've ever tasted, both flavor and texture. And just love the carrot curl decorations. xo
Awwww thanks for your help making the prototype! <3
Jay Doane says
Also makes great birthday cake!
Aw so glad you liked it!
I’ve been craving carrot cake and was inspired to make a double batch of this today in a big rectangular pan. I decorated it with the multi-color carrot slices which were a nice touch. (I forgot to peel them first so let’s say they had a more earthy appearance. Good thing no one looked too closely! I also completely forgot to take photos. Next time!)
Tango class heartily approved! Ratings included “This is the best- the most moist- carrot cake I’ve ever had!” and “How is this frosting vegan? It’s so good!”
One woman found me to tell me the frosting was so deliciously tangy she didn’t want to stop eating it. I agree!
It is another winner. <3 Keeping it in the repertoire.
Amazing!! Thanks so much for trying my recipe and for all the sweet comments - makes my day! <333
Janet Fazio says
I could eat carrot cake every day too! I interested in trying out baking with oat flour. I'm starting to see more recipes using that.
It's one of my favorites - so tender and earthy!
Sarah | Well and Full says
This carrot cake is absolutely stunning! I love how you styled the carrot ribbons on top :)
Aw thanks Sarah! I had way too much fun. :)
Emily R says
I needed a fairly last minute cake to bring to a dinner party, and just happened to have all the ingredients in my fridge. This was super yummy--thank you! I also justified having the left overs for breakfast the next morning because it had so many carrots in it.
I don't own a 9-inch cake pan, so I multiplied all the ingredients by 0.78 to make an 8-inch version. This seemed to work out fine (same cooking time). I used your dairy-full cream cheese frosting, although I'm interested to try out your maple cream frosting from the GFF recipe next. :)
Yay I'm so glad you liked it!
What a lovely and informative post! I have a bad habit of simply skimming through blog posts and jumping straight to the recipe - but this was full of useful information on types of flour (how they impact cake), leaveners and appreciate the comment on oil vs. butter. For years, I tried to make vegetable based loaf cake/muffins with butter thinking it would be better tasting, but I completely agree with your conclusions - oil is best for these recipes. Also, I was thrilled to see the amounts of sugar and oil really are "healthy-ish" as far as cakes go. Often I see a recipe claiming to be healthy because it has reduced the fat but added 2 cups of sugar to compensate or vice versa. Can't wait to try this!!
I'm so glad you found the post useful! Yes I can't stand the taste of overly-sweet desserts. Gag me! I always try to keep the sugar on the low side in my recipes while making sure the taste and texture still feel like a treat. Please let me know how you like this cake!
My husband LOVES carrot cake but can’t have eggs... would an egg substitute work?
That’s a great question. Eggs are tricky to substitute, especially here where there are a lot of them! Some common ones are aquafaba, flax egg, applesauce, sour cream, pumpkin, Just Egg, and egg replacer. One of my readers is egg-free and has had luck using half applesauce and half sour cream in my cake recipes. She says it's often best to use a couple of different substitutes rather than just one. Let me know if you experiment and I’ll do the same!
Diana Law says
Made this for a friend's birthday and it was a hit. I attempted your decorative skills and didn't quite get there, but still got oohs and aahhs. :)
Aw I'm so glad it was a hit!! Thanks a bunch for the sweet note!
Monisha Mittal says
I am curious: if I wanted to add dates or raisins or something would I need to change anything in the recipe? Also (and I'm sure this might cause a groan), any suggestions on how to substitute the egg? I will make it as is to start since I can have egg but really want to share it with a toddler who can't have them (or dairy or soy). Thanks as always. love carrot cake with cream cheese frosting but now need to be dairy free so grateful for this.
Hi Monisha! I think you could add dried fruit without altering the recipe, although they might suck up a little moisture as the cake bakes. Substituting for egg is tricky here because there are quite a few, but one of my readers has had success using equal parts sour cream and applesauce in my cake recipes. You could try a dairy-free yogurt instead of sour cream? Please let me know if you experiment!
Hello! Do you think I can sub the rice and millet flour for cassava? or any other paleo friendly flours? Thanks in advance!
I haven't experimented much with cassava and other paleo-friendly flours. I might try a paleo all-purpose flour mix if I were you. You might want to experiment with a half recipe in case you don't love the results. Please let know what you try and how it goes!
Thank you! Will do)
Hi, I read about turning into muffins and would love to try this method. Anyone else try this? thanks
Cake looks so delicious. I would like to know if I can substitute gluten free flour for all the flours mentioned.
Hi Rama, I haven't tested it that way but I'm pretty sure it will work. Best to sub by weight if you can! I usually recommend Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 flour since it's based on sweet rice flour. Please let me know what you try and how it goes!
Thank you for the Passover version! I do try! Lol!
Haha, you're better than me in that case! Please let me know if you make it. :)
So good! I have made a lot of GF carrot cakes and this one is so fluffy and great. I wanted to make it more of a snack cake so did about 80g of sugar and 12 oz carrots (shredded in the food processor) and it turned out well!
I'm so glad you liked it! Oooh I will definitely try your less-sweet version next time. I could imagine it being nice as a carrot muffin too!
I had some leftover carrots and the urge to bake a cake for New Year's at the last minute. I've been moving away from using all purpose gf flours, so I'm glad I had all of the ingredients in my pantry already. The cake was absolutely delightful, and delicious with or without frosting. I added 1/4 tsp of cardamom as well since I've been experimenting with it. I may add 1/2 tsp next time. I also nixed the nuts because I do not like nuts in cake. I found this recipe to be one of the better gf cake recipes - moist, flavorful, and a really nice texture. Even with grating the carrots, it comes together so quickly!
Carrot cake is one of my absolute favorite cakes, so much so that I used to request it every year for my birthday as the dessert. I had actually forgotten about it as an option since so much of life has gone GF and diet restricted. Recently, I hadn't been able to get it out of my mind, and knew I could check on your recipe array to find something that might work. I ended up supplementing some 'need to be used' parsnips in my fridge for 70% of the carrots in this recipe, and it truly turned into a to-die for cake. Soft, fluffy, sweet and balanced, with a hint of richness, it was the PERFECT ending for a long day of Winter/Early Spring Garden work.
Thank you so much for this amazing recipe and it is going RIGHT into my 'absolute favorites' binder of treats and bakes from your selection. I love your work and hope you enjoy your bakes as much as I do. You inspire me to be a more adventurous alternative baker, Alanna <3
Hi! Hope you are well! What could I do if I wanted to use your original version and just substitute the rice flour for something? You'd think I would know already. More oat flour and tapioca? Guessing here.
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Hi Alene! Yeah, I would try maybe 2 tablespoons more tapioca flour, and then 30 grams more oat flour and 30 grams more millet flour. Let me know what you try!
Hi! I made it just as you suggested. The crumb was perfect and cake-like but it did fall apart a little when I cut a piece. My husband has had 2 pieces already. I did think it could be a little sweeter, but I always think that. My husband said no, it didn't need to be sweeter. What do you think could stop the falling apart? More tapioca or a little xanthan gum? This is day 2, by the way, and it's still fine. Thank you so much!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
I'm so glad it worked and that you two are enjoying it! Yes, I would swap in some more tapioca in place of some millet or oat flour. Or you could try adding a little xanthan gum, that would work too! I try avoid xanthan gum as I've heard it can be hard on the gut lining, but if that's not an issue for you, you could try adding 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon. A little ground flax seed or psyllium could be other options to make it stickier. Let me know what you try!
Jennifer Kohl says
This was an absolutely wonderful recipe! Even family members who aren’t big fans of gluten free “healthy” cakes absolutely loved it! The frosting is a dream! Thank you!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Woohoo! I'm so glad it was a hit. Thanks a bunch for the note and rating!
Hello! I am wondering your thoughts about making this into a 2-layer (birthday) cake. Haven’t made the original version yet and wondering if you have a sense for whether it would be better to slice the single cake into 2 layers, or make a double batch in 2 pans? Thanks for any advice!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
Hi Michelle! Yes this cake will work beautifully as a layer cake. I think it's easiest to make a double batch of the batter and divide it between two pans. If you have a scale you can weight the batter to be sure the layers are even. Please let me know how it turns out!
Thank you so much for your advice! I made the double layer as recommended and it turned out great! (Well, the first time around I didn’t trust my instincts and took the cake out too early - my unreliable oven needed a longer cooking time - but the second try worked perfectly!) Served it for my parents’ bdays last weekend and everyone loved it. Thanks so much sharing your skills and creativity! My sister Lindsay knew you as the friend of a friend in SF and gave me Alternative Baker a few years back. We love everything I have made from it!
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
I'm so glad the cake was a hit! (At least the second time around - sorry the first time was underdone!) Aw I'd love to know which friend Lindsay and I share? How sweet of her to gift you my book! So glad you've been enjoying it. :)
Jennifer Resnick says
This was truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever made! The fact that it’s GF blew my mind. It wasn’t at all heavy or dense, which is how GF cakes usually turn out in my kitchen. Thank you for a wonderful recipe! This one’s a keeper.
Alanna Taylor-Tobin says
I'm so glad you loved it! Thanks so much for the kind note :)