Double Layer Carrot Cake with Caramelised Walnuts

by Hanelore Dumitrache

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How to make the most delicious and moist double layer carrot cake EVER! The ultimate recipe for a fluffy carrot cake layered with delicious caramelised walnuts and pastry cream. Topped with rich and amazing white chocolate cream cheese. Decorated with cream cheese carrots for the most adorable finish.

Closeup image of double layer carrot cake decorated with cream cheese carrots

It’s official – this is the most delicious, moist and amazing double layer carrot cake EVER! This cake will make you forget your name, follow your dreams and save the Universe. Okay, maybe not the entire Universe – but you seriously need to try it.

If you’re not a fan of carrot cake in general, this double layer carrot cake will change your mind for good! This recipe is perfect for Easter celebrations but also for birthdays or to enjoy throughout the year.

WHAT DOES THIS CARROT CAKE TASTE LIKE?

This carrot cake is unlike any other carrot cake you’ve ever tried. The sponge is incredibly soft, yet very moist and with a hint of crunch from the toasted walnuts. The mix of spices elevated the taste of the cake with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. Although the spices give incredible flavour to this double layer carrot cake, they aren’t overpowering. The walnuts bring out a fragrant earthy taste, which makes this cake absolutely amazing.

In addition to the gorgeous carrot sponge, this cake also has two different fillings: pastry cream and cream cheese. Now we’re not talking about your regular types of frostings, because both of these fillings are NEXT LEVEL. The pastry cream (creme patissiere) has a delicate vanilla flavour and is loaded with rich caramelised walnuts. As well as the flavour, the caramelised walnuts also add a much needed crunch. The cream cheese frosting is also next level because it’s so pillowy soft and scrumptious. Made with white chocolate, the frosting is not overly sweet and works perfectly with the rest of the cake.

The best part of this double layer carrot cake? You can make it advance, as 1-2 days in the fridge will make the flavours even MORE intense and delicious.

INGREDIENT ROUND-UP FOR THIS RECIPE

What makes this double layer carrot cake an absolute star is the unique blend of flavours. From the subtle carrot cake, to rich roasted walnuts, caramelised walnuts and vanilla pastry cream – this cake is a must try! Here’s how all the ingredients work together to create the most exciting carrot cake ever.

Carrots

Always use fresh carrots, preferably organic and grate them yourself. If it seems like too much work to grate them yourself, you can use a food processor with a fine grater.

Pro tip: The best way to test the freshness of a carrot is to try bending it. Does it seem a little ‘rubbery’? Then I’m afraid the carrot is not all that fresh. Does it hold its shape? Ding ding – we have a winner!

Apples

Although this recipe uses only one apple, they play a very important role: add sweetness. I don’t like to overload desserts with too much sugar, so adding a single apple will add natural sugars instead. Go for a naturally sweet apple, such as red lady.

Toasted walnuts

Now, in my mind walnuts and carrot cake are a match made in Heaven. But do you know how you elevate this to the next level? By toasting the walnuts in a pan (without oil). The gentle heat will bring out all the earthy, nutty flavours in the walnuts. Toasted walnuts make this double layer carrot cake go from “YUM” to “OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING”.

Spices

This carrot cake uses a combination of four spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. The first three spices add much needed warmth to the cake, whilst a hint of ginger adds a little zing. Don’t worry, if used in the indicated quantities, the spices do not overpower the cake.

Vegetable oil

All cakes and sponges need some type of fat to make them soft. Vegetable oil is the key to making the carrot cake ultra light. Choose an odourless type of oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed oil.

Slice of double layer carrot cake with hand holding fork

THE COMPONENTS OF THIS DOUBLE LAYER CARROT CAKE

This double layer carrot cake has four components:

  1. Carrot cake sponge with toasted walnuts
  2. Vanilla pastry cream with caramelised walnuts
  3. White chocolate cream cheese frosting
  4. Caramelised walnuts on top

HOW TO MAKE CARROT CAKE

  1. In a large bowl, add the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, sour cream (or heavy) and extracts. Whip them up with a hand mixer until properly aerated.
  2. Separately, mix the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder & soda, spices. Whisk them to combine well.
Mixing wet ingredients with hand mixer
Combining the dry ingredients in large bowl

 3. Add the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to fold in the flour, without over-mixing.

4. Grate the carrots and apple on a fine grater or a food processor. Add them to the batter, along with the chopped walnuts and lemon/orange zest. Use the spatula once again to fold all the ingredients together – do not over-mix.

Mixing wet and dry ingredients with spatula
Adding grated carrots to batter and mixing with spatula

5. Pour the batter into the lined baking tray, then smooth it over with a spatula to make it flat. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

6.  Once baked, let it cool down fully in the tray, then cut it in half along the shorter side.

HOW TO MAKE CARAMELISED WALNUTS

It’s really easy to make caramelised walnuts, and the same process can be used for all other nuts. Caramelised walnuts are really versatile and have a lot of uses. Add them to pastry cream for extra flavour and crunch, sprinkle them over tarts and pies. You can also add them to sponge cakes or make praliné with it. Here’s how to caramelise walnuts:

  1. Make a caramel with sugar and water. You can either use a food thermometer or cook it until it turns a rich amber colour. If using a thermometer, cook until it reaches 118°C (250°F).
  2. Take the caramel off the heat, then add in the walnuts. Mix well to cover the walnuts in caramel, then carefully transfer the mixture onto a lined baking tray. Try to spread out the walnuts as much as possible with a spatula.
Sugar caramel in saucepan amber colour
Walnuts added into caramel

3. Let the walnuts cool down for 30 minutes, then break the larger pieces into smaller chunks.

4. Add the walnuts to a food processor and pulse until it’s like grainy sand.

Breaking caramelised walnuts into smaller pieces
Grainy walnuts after processing them in food processor

ASSEMBLING THE DOUBLE LAYER CARROT CAKE

Putting the carrot cake together is my favourite part! Once all your different components are ready, we can begin assembling the layered cake.

  1. Spread the vanilla pastry cream with walnuts all over the first layer of carrot cake. Use a spatula or cake knife to level the cream and spread it evenly.
  2. Place the second layer of cake on top of the cream, making sure it’s level with the lower layer. Don’t press too much and be gentle so the pastry cream doesn’t seep out.
Spreading vanilla pastry cream with walnuts over first layer of cake
Placing second layer of cake on top of the pastry cream

3. Spread the cream cheese frosting over the top of the carrot cake, smoothing it out with a spatula. Optional: save 4-5 tbsp of the frosting for decorating.

4. Sprinkle the remaining caramelised walnut over the cream cheese. Let the cake chill in the fridge for minimum 2 hours before cutting into it.

Spreading cream cheese frosting over the double layer carrot cake
Sprinkling ground caramelised walnut over the cream cheese

HOW TO DECORATE CARROT CAKE

This step is entirely optional, but it does turn the double layer carrot cake into a mini masterpiece. Plus, it’s really cute for Easter and kids will love it! The best part about it is that the decoration is entirely edible!

  1. Colour half of the remaining cream cheese frosting with orange food colouring. I use this gel colouring for vibrant results. Place the frosting in a piping bag fitted with a 1cm (0.4 inch) round nozzle. Pipe dollops of frosting, pulling the piping bag upwards to create height.
  2. Colour the rest of the frosting green, then place it in a piping bag fitted with a leaf or small star nozzle. Pipe small leaves on top of the orange ‘carrot’, again pulling upwards to create height. Place in the fridge immediately to chill and serve from cold.
Piping orange frosting to make carrot top
Piping green frosting to make carrot leaves

TIPS & TRICKS FOR THE PERFECT CARROT CAKE

  • I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. If possible, use a kitchen scale in grams for accuracy. Even if grams are not a thing in your part of the world, simply follow the recipe for best results. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead. 
  • Don’t add more flour than the recipe calls for. Using too much flour can make your cake very dense and dry.
  • All ingredients need to be at room temperature (unless if explicitly indicated as cold). Mixing warm and cold ingredients will not result in the most homogenous cake batter. If you know you’re baking, remove them from the fridge 1-2 hours before using.
  • Always line your baking tray with baking paper (parchment). The cake is extremely light and also quite thin. If it sticks to the tray, you will have a hard time getting it off.
  • If you don’t like walnuts or are allergic, simply leave them out. The same goes for the vanilla pastry cream, walnuts are not necessary, but recommended.
  • Remember to toast the walnuts for maximum flavour. Simply add them to a hot pan over medium heat without any oil. Keep stirring them for 2-3 minutes or until they start to brown.
  • Use fresh carrots – I cannot stress how important this is. After all, it is called a “carrot cake”, so carrots are the star ingredient. Grate them yourself using a fine grater or a food processor.
  • Let the cake rest in the fridge for 1-2 days to get the flavour more intense. Place the cake in a cake holder or store in a large airtight tupperware.
  • Make sure the cake is cold before slicing into it. This will result in a more precise cut and the cake won’t crumble.
Closeup of carrot cake slices

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

CAN I USE BUTTER INSTEAD OF OIL IN CARROT CAKE?

Vegetable oil can be substituted with melted butter. Melt the butter first before weighing it or using cups to measure the same quantity of oil in the recipe. However, I strongly encourage you try it with vegetable oil and it yields a much softer carrot cake.

CAN I MAKE CARROT CAKE WITHOUT CREAM CHEESE?

Yes, you can use pastry cream or buttercream instead. This recipe features two different frostings, so you can simply use the vanilla pastry cream on top as well. Alternatively, you can make a quick buttercream or even an Italian meringue.

CAN I MAKE CARROT CAKE WITHOUT NUTS?

Yes, you can. Simply leave out the walnuts from the carrot cake sponge, pastry cream and on top. For the top, as decoration you can use crumbled up biscuits like graham crackers.

IS CARROT CAKE HEALTHY?

Not exactly. Carrot cake, although it contains carrots, also has fats and sugars. However, this recipe uses less sugar than most carrot cakes, so it’s a little bit healthier. If you want to make a completely sugar free carrot cake, I recommend swapping up the sugar for erythritol.

WHY IS MY CARROT CAKE CRUMBLY?

The most common reasons for a crumbly carrot cake are: over-baking, over-mixing or having too little moisture in the batter. To avoid over-baking, always test the cake with a toothpick 5 minutes before the recipe time. Over-mixing can be avoided by using a spatula to gently fold in the ingredients in the batter. To ensure you have enough moisture in the batter, use a kitchen scale for more accurate weighing of ingredients.

CAN I FREEZE CARROT CAKE?

Yes, you can freeze the carrot cake sponge, without all the frosting or pastry cream. Wrap up the sponge in a few layers of plastic film, then freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure to thaw it completely before using.

HOW TO STORE CARROT CAKE

The best way to store carrot cake is in the fridge. As this recipe contains both pastry cream and cream cheese, they shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than a few hours. Store in the fridge in a cake holder or tall tupperware for up to 4 days.

Carrot cake slice with piece bitten off

If you love this recipe you need to try these desserts out!

Mini egg chocolate brownies with chocolate ganache

Apple Meringue Cake with Vanilla Custard

Milk Brioche with Chocolate Walnut – Romanian Cozonac

Sweet Pretzels with Sugar and Honey Syrup

If you’ve tried this recipe out, please don’t forget to rate and comment on this recipe. I love hearing from you, so feel free to reach out to me on social media as well and tag me in your posts!

Closeup image of double layer carrot cake decorated with cream cheese carrots

Double Layer Carrot Cake with Caramelised Walnuts

Hanelore DumitracheHanelore Dumitrache
The most delicious double layer carrot cake with caramelised walnuts. Filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with cream cheese frosting.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Course Cake
Cuisine American
Servings 12 slices
Calories 561 kcal

Equipment

  • 35 cm (14 inch) baking tray
  • Hand mixer (or stand mixer)

Ingredients
  

Carrot Cake

  • 120 g soft brown sugar ⅔ cups
  • 200 g plain white flour 1 ⅔ cups
  • 5 g baking powder 1 tsp
  • 8 g baking soda 1 ⅔ tsp
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 120 ml sour cream (or heavy / double cream) ½ cup
  • 120 ml vegetable oil* ½ cup
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract (or lemon)
  • 1 zest of lemon or orange*
  • 90 g chopped walnuts ¾ cup
  • 300 g carrots, peeled and grated 2 ¾ cups
  • 1 large apple, peeled and grated
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger

Caramelised walnuts

  • 150 g chopped walnuts 1 ⅓ cup
  • 200 g granulated sugar 1 cup
  • 50 ml water ¼ cup

Vanilla pastry cream

  • 250 ml milk 1 cup
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 2 egg yolks (large)
  • 25 g icing sugar ¼ cup
  • 15 g corn starch 1 tbsp
  • 15 g flour* 1 tbsp
  • 25 g unsalted butter ⅛ cup

White chocolate cream cheese frosting

  • 60 g white chocolate, chopped ⅓ cup
  • 60 g unsalted butter (cold) ¼ cup
  • 80 g full fat cream cheese (or mascarpone) ⅓ cup
  • 25 g icing sugar ¼ cup
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or extract)

Instructions
 

Carrot cake

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170°C (340°F) with fan and prepare a large baking tray by lining it with baking paper.
  • Place a wide-based pan on medium heat without any oil. Add the walnuts and seer them for a few minutes until they start to brown. Keep stirring to prevent them from burning. This will give the walnuts a more intense flavour. Once cooled, chop the walnuts or crush them with a rolling pin.
  • In a large bowl, add the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, sour cream (or heavy) and extracts. Whip them up with a hand mixer until properly aerated.
  • Separately, mix the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder & soda, spices. Whisk them to combine, then add them over the wet ingredients. Use a spatula to fold in the flour, without over-mixing.
  • Grate the carrots and apple on a fine grater or a food processor. Add them to the batter, along with the chopped walnuts and lemon/orange zest. Use the spatula once again to fold all the ingredients together – do not over-mix.
  • Pour the batter into the lined baking tray, then smooth it over with a spatula to make it flat. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once baked, let it cool down fully in the tray, then cut it in half along the shorter side.

Caramelised walnuts

  • Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until an amber colour caramel forms, viscous in texture.
  • Take the caramel off the heat, then add in the walnuts. Mix well to cover the walnuts in caramel, then carefully transfer the mixture onto a lined baking tray. Try to spread out the walnuts as much as possible with a spatula, then let them cool down for 30 minutes.
  • Once fully cooled, bread down the chunks of caramelised walnuts and place them in a food processor. Pulse until you obtain a grainy sand-like texture of caramelised walnuts.

Vanilla pastry cream

  • In a small saucepan, heat up the milk and vanilla bean paste. The milk should be hot, but just before boiling point.
  • Whip up the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add in the cornstarch, then mix until fully incorporated. Add the flour, and mix once more until fully incorporated. Add 1-2 tsp of the milk if the mixture becomes too stiff.
  • Pour half of the hot milk into the eggs, then use a whisk to mix vigorously. Mix really well to prevent any lumps. Strain the mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk, then return to the stove.
  • Cook the pastry cream over low heat, mixing continuously to prevent lumps. Once the mixture has thickened up, remove it from the heat and add in the butter. Whisk well to melt the butter into the cream.
  • Place the vanilla pastry cream into a shallow bowl, then cover with plastic film. Ensure the plastic is in direct contact with the cream, then let it cool down. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before using.
  • Once fully cooled, whip it up with a hand mixer to loosen up the pastry cream. Afterwards, add in half of the caramelised walnuts. Mix with a spatula to incorporate the walnuts evenly into the pastry cream.

Cream cheese frosting

  • Chop the white chocolate into smaller chunks. Melt it in the microwave in small bursts of 15-30 seconds. Let the melted chocolate cool down fully before using it, for approximately 20-30 minutes.
  • Place the cold butter in a bowl, along with the icing sugar. Whip up the butter using a mixture until it turns creamy. Add in the cream cheese, melted white chocolate and vanilla bean paste. Whip up the mixture until pale and fluffy. Use the cream cheese immediately, without refrigerating it.
  • Optional carrot decoration: take 2-3 tbsp of cream and place in 2 separate bowls. Colour one bowl with orange food colour and the other with green.

Assembling the double layer carrot cake

  • Put the first layer of carrot cake onto platter, then spread the vanilla pastry cream with walnuts onto it. Level out the cream with a spatula to make it even throughout.
  • Add the second layer of carrot cake on top of the vanilla pastry cream. Put the cream cheese frosting on top, spreading it evenly with a spatula or knife. Sprinkle the remaining caramelised walnut on top. Chill the cake for a minimum of 2 hours before cutting it to get clean cuts.
  • Optional carrot decoration: place the orange frosting in a piping bag fitted with round 1 cm (1/2 inch) nozzle. Place the green frosting in a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle. Pipe dollops of the orange frosting on top of the carrot cake to resemble carrots. Pipe the green carrot leaves on top.

Notes

  • I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead. 
  • For best results use an odourless vegetable oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed. 
  • You can use either lemon or orange zest for the carrot cake. Choose according to what you have readily available or personal preference. 
  • In the pastry cream you can also use either only flour or corn starch or both.
  • For ease of preparation, you can use cream cheese frosting for both layers. Alternatively, use the pastry cream for both layers. Please note you will need double quantities if you only use one type of filling. 
Keyword Easter, Sheet cake, Vanilla
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