Lightened Up Carrot Cake (Gluten-Free and Vegan)

For years I didn’t like carrot cake. This judgement was based solely on the idea that if it had vegetables in it, then it must not taste good. So.not.true! My tastes have definitely changed from those picky days. Now I’m an unabashed lover of carrot cake. In fact, I can’t imagine spring without it.

Vegan Gluten-Free Carrot Cake Recipe | Now that I’m gluten-free, it kills me to make my favorite carrot cake not have a bite. But I love it because it’s more like a dense pudding, full of chopped dried fruits, coconut and spices in addition to a lot of finely diced carrots. (I gave up on shredding them.) It was time to convert my favorite recipe to one that’s a bit more healthy – less oil and sugar, no dairy and gluten free. And guess what, my family, who aren’t always fans of my gluten-free baking adventures, couldn’t tell the difference! For reals.

I’ve been experimenting with coconut flour and almond meal to replace the typical GF grain and starch blend I love. I knew it would work here because the cake is so moist (gah, I hate that word) and the flavors would be great all melded together. I cut out a bunch of the oil and used melted coconut oil instead of canola. I also cut out refined white or brown sugar by substituting dark coconut sugar and pure maple syrup.

Light Carrot Cake Recipe | Fortunately, carrot cake doesn’t need to be super sweet since it’s topped with ultra-sweet cream cheese frosting. The only alteration I made to the frosting recipe was to use a coconut oil-based non-dairy cream cheese and non-dairy butter (granted, not super healthy). If you’re not dairy-free, then totally use butter and regular cream cheese. I’m still working on a cashew or almond based cream frosting. If you’re not down with the super sweet powdered sugar frosting, this is a good alternative.

If you make this, know that it behaves a little differently than cake made with wheat flour. It’s a much thicker batter. The boiling water at the end helps thin it out and makes it very moist (there’s that awful word again!). It doesn’t rise up but stays about the same as when you spread the batter in the cake pans. Give it a nice long baking time and you’ll end up with a really great cake.

Handle is very carefully as it is more apt to crumbling – not because it’s dry, but because I didn’t add any gum stabilizers. Still, it held together pretty well and was incredibly delicious. It can also be made in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Coconut flour can absorb a lot of liquid. I added the extra water for that reason. If you substitute another GF flour for the coconut flour, I can’t guarantee that you’ll have the same results. I did search around and notice that some recipes called for 3 cups of almond meal and did not use any water or liquid. Just an FYI on that. Otherwise, enjoy!

Healthier Carrot Cake
Recipe type: dessert, gluten-free, dairy-free
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-12
A healthier version of carrot cake that is gluten-free and dairy-free. Loaded with dried fruit, nuts, and carrots, and topped with a creamy maple frosting.
For the cake:
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup melted coconut oil
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • 5 large organic cage free eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups finely chopped carrots (or grated)
  • ¾ cup desiccated coconut or ground in a food processor
  • 1 cup dried fruit (I used raisins and dried cranberries)
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • 1½ cups boiling water
For the frosting:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese (I used non-dairy)
  • 1 stick butter (or non-dairy alternative)
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar
  • Toasted coconut, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease three 9-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with waxed or parchment paper that has been cut to fit.
  2. Over a large mixing bowl, sift together almond meal, coconut flour, baking soda, sea salt, and spices. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut oil, sugar, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla extract. Add to the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. The mixture will be thick. Add the finely chopped carrots, coconut, dried fruit, and nuts. Stir well to combine. Add in the boiling water all at once and mix well. (Switch to an electric hand mixer if that's easier, but you should be able to combine it with a large wooden spoon or spatula.)
  4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Each one will have roughly 2 heaping cups of batter. Spread it evenly and smooth the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until it feels set. The outer edges will start to pull away from the sides of the pan and it will look drier on top. It will be very moist and looked baked through.
  5. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan. Run a thin knife around the edge of each pan to loosen the cakes. Carefully turn out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  6. Prepare frosting - Beat the cream cheese with the coconut oil and add the powdered sugar until it reaches a spreadable consistency, but is not runny.
  7. To assemble cake - Place one of the cakes on a cake plate or stand. Spread ⅓ of the frosting over the top of the cake. Place another cake layer on top and frost it with another ⅓ of the frosting. Top with the final layer and spread the remaining frosting on top. Sprinkle with the toasted coconut. Chill for 30-60 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.
Keep leftovers refrigerated.
Yield: One three-layer, 9-inch cake to serve 8-12
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes


is the blogger behind Cafe Johnsonia and a Contributing Editor

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  1. Jeanne Schwarzer says

    I don’t think you should include “vegan” with the name since it is NOT vegan as it uses eggs (you could say “vegetarian.” I am allergic to eggs so am always looking for recipes without them. Also, I saw the option you mentioned above for making it vegan but I wonder if it wouldn’t be awfully dry.

  2. says

    This looks absolutely lovely. I am always a bit scared of baking because it often requires so many ingredients which for me feels complicated and expensive. Although I would really like to start getting into baking and would love to try my hand at this! I love the fact that this is a healthy alternative to the traditional carrot cake because I am a HUGE fan of carrot cake (although, like you was skeptical at first). I am wondering though, what your suggestion would be in oder to make this meal entirely vegan – what would u replace the eggs with in order to keep this taste and consistency?

    rae of lovefromberlin

    • says

      Hi Rae! I think you could probably use chia or flax “eggs” for this. I have made GF, vegan carrot cake before, but not with the almond meal and coconut flour using flax eggs. It worked out great using a basic GF all-purpose flour blend I purchased. I can’t say for sure how it would go with the almond and coconut flour, but I’m betting it would work out fine. You may want to use a little extra chia/flax to hold it together. It’s a little crumblier than other cakes. Hope that helps!

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