I would take chocolate over any dessert any time. BUT this raw carrot cake is delicious! Maybe it’s the sweet moist cinnamon-spiced cake. Or the tangy cream cheese frosting. Or the bit of savoriness that comes from the nuts and helps the spices balance all that sweetness. Whatever it is, this raw carrot cake is very similar in taste and texture to the baked version. However, unlike the real deal carrot cake, this recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and refined sugar-free.
Raw cakes are one of my favorite things to make. They come together easily, taste and look incredible, and the possibilities in terms of flavors, colors, and textures are endless.
But what exactly makes a great raw layer cake?
A good question. A lot of it comes down to personal preference. However, many will agree that a great layer cake is about balance. The cake itself should be moist and tender. Whether you are using a light carrot cake or something as dense as a cheesecake crust, nobody likes hard or dry cake layers. Two to three cake layers is the best proportion, in my opinion, but you can stack as many as you like.
The filling and frosting should account for sweetness and decadence. While some might argue that nothing can be too sweet or too rich, you don’t want to overpower the cake layers, or any of the other components, really. For buttercream, cream cheese or fudge types of fillings, try sticking to layers of fillings that are half the height of the layers of cakes. When using something like sweet fruit preserves or rich chocolate ganache, consider using a bit less filling. Or better yet, use a bit of both to balance out the sweet and rich elements. For frosting, use as little or as much as you’d like. If you are not big on sweet frosting, consider only icing the the top of the cake and leaving the sides “naked” for a more rustic look.
Mastering the Basics of Raw Layer Cakes
A great layer cake is a symphony of all its many parts, coming together in one delicious whole. Here are some tips for getting each part right.
The first step in making a raw layer cake is to choose the cake, whether it’s a press-in cookie-like crust, a more distinct shortbread-esque crust, a decadent brownie, or a classic sponge cake. In most cases, the cake is a combination of ground nuts/nut flour, a sweetener (to bind the nuts), and a little bit of coconut oil (to help the cake firm up). The cake layer is usually identical throughout the cake but it’s possible to alternate between different kinds of cake layers as long as they compliment each other.
Now that you have a cake recipe in mind, prepare the cake pans. A good recipe should let you know what type and size of cake pan to use and how to prepare it. Most layer cakes will use 6- to 9-inch round cake pans with at least 2-inch-tall sides. If a recipe instructs you to grease the pan, simply cover the inside of the cake pan with a thin layer of softened coconut oil, avocado oil, or even non-stick spray. If a particular cake is prone to getting stuck in the pan, line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and grease the sides.
Once your pans are prepped, it’s time to make the cake. Raw cakes are typically made in a food processor (ideal) or a high-speed blender. There is no creaming, emulsifying, sifting, or folding involved. Simply pulse all the ingredients until you get the texture you like – coarse, fine, or anything in between. The mixture should be slightly moist to the touch and sticky enough to form a cake (you can test it by pinching it together with your fingers).
The easiest way to shape the cake is to use a springform pan as a guide. (If you’re making a dehydrated cake, using a cake ring is best). The top of the cake layer should be smooth and flat. The sides should be even. Working with layers that are the same size and leveled makes assembling a cake a lot easier.
Finally, chill the cake. As tempting as it may be, don’t skip this step. All you need is 10-15 minutes in the freezer. Chilled cakes are easier to work with and less likely to move around or crack. They also speed up the overall cake assembly process because the filling thickens and sets almost immediately upon contact with the chilled cake.
While the cake layers are chilling, choose the filling. There are several types of filling to select from – buttercream, cream cheese, fudge, ganache, fruit puree, preserve, whipped cream, etc. In some layer cakes, there are a few different kinds of filling in between each cake layer and a frosting on top of the cake. In others, there is only one filling, which also serves as a frosting (it’s used on both the inside and the outside of the cake). Either way, a filling should complement the flavor of the cake.
The base of a raw cake filling usually consists of soaked nuts (typically, cashews or macadamia nuts), coconut cream (to add creaminess), coconut oil or cacao butter (to help the filling firm up), and a sweetener.
To make the filling, you will almost always need a high-speed blender to achieve a smooth and creamy consistency. The most important thing is to ensure each ingredient is at room temperature (unless you’re making coconut whipped cream, in which case you want the coconut cream to be chilled). All it takes is a splash of cold coconut milk or a little bit of frozen fruit, and the filling will turn into a big firm mess. This is because the coconut oil or cacao butter, typically used in raw cake fillings, solidifies very fast when it comes into contact with anything cold. So, take the time to warm things up if necessary, and then blend away.
Alright, so you have your cake and filling ready. Now, it’s time to assemble everything into a gorgeous layered masterpiece.
The easiest way to build a layer cake is to stack the cake layers and filling layers together in the same pan that was used for shaping the cake. This way the cake comes out clean and symmetrical in shape.
Start by placing one of the chilled cake layers into a greased or parchment paper-lined springform pan. Add the filling to the surface of the first layer and use an offset spatula to help spread it into an even layer. To spread the filling in a smaller cake pan where an offset spatula can’t reach, try using a bent fountain soda spoon. Spread the filling all the way to the edges of the pan to create nice even layers without any gaps in between. Tap the springform pan against the counter a few times to smooth the filling out and get rid of any air bubbles. Transfer the cake in the freezer for 10 minutes, so the filling firms up a little and holds up the next layer. Place another cake layer on top and press it down gently to make sure it’s really on there. Repeat the process with the remaining layers.
Once the final layer of cake has been added on top, you will need to freeze the cake. Raw cakes need time to set and chill to easily pull away from the spring form pan. Always wrap the entire cake (still within the pan) in a double layer of cling film to prevent the cake from absorbing any odors from the freezer. Pull the film all the way around the top, bottom and sides of the pan so it is completely sealed. How long it takes to freeze a cake to the point of readiness depends on the size of the cake and the efficiency of your freezer. The larger the cake, the longer it will take to fully freeze.
Frosting a cake can be one of the more challenging steps of the cake-making process. While not necessary, a rotating cake stand is very helpful for getting the frosting evenly distributed and smooth.
The first coat of frosting on a cake is called a crumb coat. This layer is meant to trap stray cake crumbs and prevent them from showing up in the finished cake. Adding a crumb coat also helps fill in any gaps between the cake layers to create a solid surface before adding a smooth, final coat. To crumb coat, pipe a thick layer of frosting all around the outside of the cake. Take a scraper and hold it vertically up against the side of the cake at about 45-degree angle. Hold the scraper still and then spin the turn table towards you scraping off most of the frosting. Now add frosting to the top and use the scraper to scrape that off. (Put the frosting that you scraped off into a separate bowl than your clean frosting because it will likely have crumbs in it and you will not want to use that in your final coat).
Once the crumb coat is applied, let the cake chill for 30 minutes to let the crumb coat set. Then apply a finishing coat of frosting. Start the exact same way you did with the crumb coat. Just don’t apply as much pressure with the scraper this time. You want to keep a nice coat of frosting on the cake.
And that’s it! Now you have a blank canvas for your cake decorating.
There’s nothing wrong with a plain and simple frosted cake. But if you want to add some borders, swirls, drips, and other frippery, here;s how. Some of my favorites include:
- Adding drizzles of melted chocolate or caramel sauce to the top of the cake and letting them fall to the sides.
- Covering the surface of the cake with fresh fruit.
- Pressing chopped nuts or shredded coconut into the sides of the cake to add texture and allude to the flavors inside.
- Dressing up the top of the cake with a light dusting of cocoa powder, citrus zest, chocolate curls, edible flowers, or even coconut whipped cream to turn up the cake’s wow factor.
Now that you know the basics of assembling and decorating a raw layer cake, let’s dive into the actual recipe for raw carrot cake.
Tips for Making Raw Carrot Cake
These key ingredients make this warm, cinnamon-spiced raw carrot cake moist, light, and even a little healthy.
- Carrots are the star of the show. Because this carrot cake is raw, the flavor of carrots is quite prominent and their natural sweetness really shines through.
- Dates naturally sweeten the carrot cake and bind all the ingredients together. Medjool dates work the best here because they are soft, juicy, with a melt-in-your-mouth feel. If your dates aren’t soft, soak them in warm water for 10-20 minutes before you add them to the cake, so they break down easily.
- Walnuts: when you think about walnuts, you probably imagine a complex taste that’s earthy, fruity, and tart — maybe with hints of astringency. Even though walnut flavor is very mild, it does include some sharp notes. However, the astringent taste is great for balancing out sweet dishes. Walnuts have a soft, rich, almost buttery texture, which makes them perfect for recipes that need that light, flaky texture – like raw cakes! If you are out of walnuts, pecans are the best substitute.
- Coconut: desiccated coconut fills this carrot cake with rich, buttery flavor, and adds a chewy texture. I usually use both desiccated coconut and coconut flour to give this raw carrot cake more of a flour-like texture.
- Spices: it’s not uncommon to see carrot cake titled as a “spice cake”. Indeed, a carrot cake does contain a lot of bold spices with heady flavors and scents, including cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger. Make sure the spices are fresh because spices are what you’ll taste the most in this cake.
- Cashews: the most frequently used nut in raw cake fillings and frostings is cashews. The reason is quite obvious. Cashews have a neutral, slightly sweet flavor, and a smooth and creamy texture when blended. Although it can be hard to get exactly the same results when substituting another ingredient for these nuts, macadamia nuts – while more fibrous and not as smooth – are probably the best option.
- Maple syrup: any liquid sweetener works in this frosting. However, if you have access to maple syrup, use it! The reason maple syrup works so well in this recipe is that carrots have flavor affinity for sugars as they are already sweet themselves. They have a woody and herbal notes, which play off the “brown”, caramel-like notes associated with maple syrup, creating the perfect combination.
- Coconut oil is an essential ingredient in raw frostings. It helps the frosting set and creates a texture that melts in your mouth. Coconut oil is also one of the reasons you should keep this cake in the fridge because it becomes liquid at room temperature.
- Lemon juice: lemon is the secret ingredient that makes everything taste better. Acidity cuts heaviness and sweetness, and provides a fresh, bright taste.
How to Make Raw Carrot Cake
- Grate the carrots finely. Finely grated carrots meld seamlessly into the moist, spiced cake, while shredded carrots create a less uniform texture. The finer the carrots, the more evenly distributed they will be, and the more cohesive the cake slices. So, Select the finest holes on a cheese grater and grate the carrots into fluffy pieces. Alternatively, attach a shredding blade to a food processor to grate the carrots faster. Squeeze out any excess juice from the carrots. If the carrots are wet, they will make the carrot cake too dense.
- Pulse the carrot cake ingredients. The order in which you add the cake ingredients into the food processor is important. Walnuts go first to ensure they are finely ground, but still have some texture to them. The rest of the dry ingredients, except the coconut flour, are next to have all the ingredients well combined. Dates come last to bind all the ingredients together. The carrot cake mixture should be a little bit crumbly but stick together when pressed with your fingers. If the mixture is too dry, pulse a little bit more. If it’s too wet, add a little bit more coconut flour.
- Fold in the coconut flour and carrots. By folding as opposed to pulsing the coconut flour and carrots in a food processor, you can keep a lighter, less dense, more “cake-like” texture. If you do not enjoy the texture of grated carrots in a carrot cake, you can add them to the food processor together with the dates. The pulsing action of the food processor will turn the carrots into even smaller, less detectable, pieces.
- Shape the cake layers. To make a traditional style layer carrot cake, you will need at least two cake layers. The easiest way to shape the cakes layers is to use a springform pan as a guide. So, divide the carrot cake mixture in half, and press it into a greased or parchment paper-lined pan (this particular recipe calls for a 6-inch/15-cm tall springform pan). Make sure the sides are even and the top is leveled. If a layer cake seems like too much work, you can turn it into a simple two-layer cake with frosting just on the top.
- Chill the cake. Place the cakes in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. I typically have the cakes in the freezer while I’m making the filling.
- Prepare the filling. Starting with room-temperature ingredients, blend all the ingredients in a high-speed blender until completely smooth.
- Assemble the cake. (See tips above)
Raw Carrot Cake Variations
Carrot cake can be a personal thing. If you like yours with raisins, feel free to fold some into the cake mixture. If you like yours with pineapple, add it in. Love coconut? Sprinkle more desiccated coconut over the frosted cake. I like my carrot cake plain although I always try to add a few decorations to transform the cake into something wow-worthy.
Other than add-ins, you can also choose your cake size and shape. The recipe below makes any of these:
- one 9-inch round cake
- one square 8×8 cake
- a layer cake using two 6-inch/15-cm cake pans (pictured)
- 24 carrot cake bites
If You Like This Raw Carrot Cake Recipe …
… you will probably enjoy other raw cake recipes as well. There are really just a handful of recipe “components” that make up any healthy alternative dessert. I have already covered a raw layer cake, particularly raw carrot cake, in depth. So, now it’s time to explore other raw dessert categories.
Cheesecakes are a classic. They are easier to make than a layer cake, but no less delicious or impressive. This raw lime cheesecake has been a hit with everyone I have ever served it to.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor (Breville Sous Chef) | 2. Blender (Vitamix Pro 750) | 3. Spring-Loaded Pan (6-Inch. Wilton, Coated Steel) | 4. Measuring Cup (2 Cups, Anchor Hocking, Glass) | 5. Mesh Strainers (Set of 3, Cuisinart, Stainless Steel) | 6. Can Opener (Zyliss, Stainless Steel) | 7. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 8. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel)
Nutrition Refined is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites — at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!
Delicious, easy, AND stunning raw carrot cake that tastes like the real deal. Maybe it's the sweet moist cinnamon-spiced cake. Or the tangy cream cheese frosting. Or the bit of savoriness that comes from the nuts and helps the spices balance all that sweetness. Whatever it is, this raw carrot cake is very similar in taste and texture to the baked version. The recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and refined sugar-free.
Prepare the carrot cake. Add the walnuts into a food processor and pulse until the walnuts are finely ground but still have a little bit of texture. Be careful not to over-process the walnuts, Add the shredded coconut, coconut oil, lemon juice and lemon zest, vanilla extract, spices, and salt, and pulse a few times to combine. Once semi-fine meal is achieved, add one date at a time through the feed tube of the food processor while the food processor is running. The carrot cake mixture should be a little bit crumbly, but stick together when pressed in between your fingers. Lastly, using a spatula, fold in the coconut flour and carrots.
Shape the carrot cake. Divide the carrot cake mixture in half. Transfer the first half of the mixture into a greased 6-inch/15-cm springform pan (if you're using using anything other than a springform pan, line it with parchment paper for an easier removal), and press it into an even layer. The top of the cake should be smooth and leveled. Transfer the cake into the freezer and let it chill for a minimum of 10-15 minutes.
Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
Note: if you only have one 6-inch/15-cm springform pan, let the first layer of cake chill first. Then carefully remove the cake from the pan, transfer it into a round cake board, and place it back into the freezer. Clean the springform pan, grease it once again, and repeat the steps above with the other half of the carrot cake mixture.
Prepare the frosting. Add the cashews, coconut cream, coconut oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, and vanilla extract into a high-speed blender, and blend on high until smooth and creamy.
Assemble the cake. With the carrot cake layer still in the springform pan, pour the first half of the frosting onto the cake and tap out any air bubbles. Transfer the springform pan with the cake back into the freezer to let the frosting firm up slightly, about 30 minutes. Then place the second carrot cake layer on top of the frosting and gently press it into the frosting to make sure it's really on there. Pour the second half of the frosting on top of the cake and tap out any air bubbles once again.
Chill. Cover the springform pan with a piece of paper towel (to trap any condensation) and then double-wrap the entire springform pan with plastic wrap for the best chance of preserving the cake's taste and texture. Transfer the wrapped cake into the freezer for about 6 hours, but ideally overnight. The more frozen the cake, the easier and cleaner the removal from the pan.
Serve. Once set, remove the carrot cake from the springform pan. To cut the cake into individual pieces, use a hot, sharp knife. Serve the cake frozen or let it thaw at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before serving.
Store, Leftover carrot cake keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month (ideal).
*I use Bob's Red Mill shredded coconut because it's almost as fine as desiccated coconut.
**Squeeze out any excess juice from the carrots. If the carrots are too wet, they will make the cake too dense.
***Soak the cashews in water for at least 8 hours (or overnight) so they soften up and are easy to blend. To quick-soak cashews, pour boiling hot water over the cashews and soak for 1 hour uncovered. When the cashews are done soaking, drain the water and rinse the cashews thoroughly. (Note: if you do the quick soak, the carrot cake will no longer be raw).
****Place the can of coconut milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator overnight. Make sure not to shake or tip the can to encourage separation of the cream and liquid. Once chilled, remove the can of coconut milk from the refrigerator. Scoop the coconut cream that has risen to the top of the can and leave the liquid at the bottom behind.
*****Prep time does not include soaking the cashews (~8 hours) and chilling the coconut milk (~12 hours).
******Nutrition information is approximate and may contain errors. Please, feel free to make your own calculations.