The life artistic – Never Fail Carrot Cake


Another birthday, another birthday cake …

This time it’s my lovely housemate’s birthday, so to celebrate her getting older (but definitely not growing up), she requested a carrot cake.  My go-to carrot cake recipe was handed down from a family friend who happens to be a caterer, and always produces the most amazing, moist, delicious cake.  I was never a fan of carrot cake, and still won’t ever choose it when out, but this recipe I will eat.  All of it.


My main gripes when it comes to shop-bought carrot cake is that it’s usually really dry, and the cream cheese frosting is sickly sweet, which you really don’t need when you have a cake full of sugar and sweet carrots.  This recipe however is just perfect.  You make a citrusy syrup, which is poured over the cake when it comes out of the oven, similar to making a lemon drizzle cake, which keeps it beautifully moist and adds a pleasing citrus kick.  The frosting also doesn’t really class as such, as it contains minimal amounts of sugar and no butter at all, but it does work wonderfully well to balance out the sweetness of the cake.  The original recipe called for fromage frais, but I like to use natural yoghurt to give an extra hit of sourness.  Whichever way, it’s pretty special.

I’ve tweaked the recipe here to transform it from it’s rustic origins into something a little more special for a celebration cake.  I also made some *ahem* entirely intentional changes to the frosting to turn it into a filling (and to make up for the fact that I forgot to put the orange zest in the cake mix).


So here is the recipe for my never fail carrot cake, as I made it on this occasion.  It’s so good that even people who don’t like carrot cake will come back for seconds.  It’s also internationally famous.  I made it as a birthday cake for my cousin when I was visiting family in South Africa, and left behind the recipe only to return several years later and discover that it had done the rounds along with a story about it coming from a fantastic English bakery that I apparently work at!  Not quite sure how that rumour started, but I wish it were true …

Never Fail Carrot Cake

A triple-layer carrot cake filled with orange and pecan cream-cheese frosting, and covered with cinnamon cream-cheese frosting

For the Cake

200g self-raising flour

3 teaspoons ground mixed spice

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

175g soft dark brown sugar

2 eggs

140ml sunflower oil

200g grated carrot

110g sultanas

55g desiccated coconut

For the Syrup

85g soft dark brown sugar

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 1/2 lemon

For the Frosting

600g soft cream-cheese (e.g. Philadelphia)

150g natural yoghurt

3 tablespoons caster sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Grated zest of 1 orange

50g chopped pecans


  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil.
  2. Sift together the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda, then gently fold these into the egg mixture.
  3. Fold in the carrot, sultanas and coconut.
  4. Split mixture between 3 greased and bottom-lined 7″ sandwich tins and bake at 160°C (fan-assisted) for 24 minutes, rotating the pans after 20 minutes.
  5. Whilst the cake is cooking, mix together the sugar, orange juice and lemon juice to make a syrup.
  6. Remove cakes from the oven, prick all over with a fork and spoon over the syrup.
  7. Leave the cakes to cool completely in the tins, then remove, wrap in Clingfilm and refrigerate.


  1. Combine together the cream-cheese, yoghurt, caster sugar and cinnamon and beat until smooth.
  2. Remove 4 large dollops to a second bowl and mix in the chopped pecans and orange zest.


  1. Place the first cake layer face-down and top with half of the pecan and orange frosting.
  2. Place the second layer on top, also face-down and top with the remaining pecan and orange frosting.
  3. Top with the third layer, face-up, and cover the entire cake in a thin layer of frosting to crumb-coat the cake.
  4. Refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up the frosting, then coat sides and top with the remaining frosting (I like to do a swirled pattern).
  5. Finish with a dusting of cinnamon.


This cake needs to be kept in the fridge due to the cream-cheese in the frosting, but is best served at room temperature.

You can make the less fancy version of this cake by adding the orange zest to the cake mix and baking the cake as 2 layers for 30 minutes.  You can then reduce the frosting ingredients to 200g of cream-cheese, 2 tablespoons natural yoghurt, 1 tablespoon caster sugar and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and use this to fill the cake and frost the top.  Finish off by dusting with cinnamon and sprinkling with chopped pecans or walnuts.

Please give this recipe a try and let me know how you get on.  It really is delicious 🙂


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