If you love carrot cake but don't want to bake and frost multiple layers, these simplified Carrot Cake Bars are just what you're looking for.
Crushed pineapple and shredded carrots add sweetness and moisture, ground cardamom and vanilla extract make the cake smell heavenly, and toasted walnuts add a nice crunch to offset the tender cake. And of course, a classic cream cheese frosting makes the perfect finishing touch, along with a sprinkling of toasted coconut chips. (We like Dang brand, which is sold at many supermarkets.)
The bars are made in a 13-by 9-inch baking pan and have a texture that's moist yet firm enough to be sliced into neat squares, making them a great choice to bring to a gathering.
Carrot Cake Bar Ingredients
These are a few of the main ingredients you’ll need to make Carrot Cake Bars.
- Carrots: There's no carrot cake without carrots. Regular orange carrots will do, but for the perfect texture, you’ll need to grate them right. Use the large holes of a box grater to grate your carrots, discarding the ends and any chunks. Thick pieces of carrots won’t cook properly, especially when blended into a batter. Carrots serve to moisten the cake and add taste, but if you don’t prep them properly, they’ll add unwanted crunch.
- Walnuts: The key to adding nuts to carrot cakes is to toast them . Toasting them helps bring out their natural nutty aromas (the same goes for the coconut chip garnish; toasting is the key to bringing out the coconut flavor). You'll also want to ensure they’re uniformly chopped, avoiding pieces that are too large, but also not chopping the nuts into a powder. You want them to provide some texture, but also don’t want to find an almost whole walnut in a slice.
- Canned Crushed Pineapple: Not all carrot cakes contain canned crushed pineapple , but the best ones do, in our opinion. It doesn’t lend a pineapple flavor to the cake, but acts as a tenderizer. The enzymes in the fruit breakdown proteins, and that makes for a more moist and tender carrot cake. It also adds a touch of extra sweetness.
How To Make Carrot Cake Bars
These bars have all the flavor of a regular carrot cake, but are even easier to make.
- Prepare the Batter: Combine the flour, cardamom, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, and half of the vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and whisk until smooth. Fold in carrots, walnuts, and crushed pineapple. Transfer batter to a greased 13-x 9-inch baking pan.
- Bake: Bake in a 350°F oven until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Let the cake cool completely in a pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.
- Make the Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining vanilla, and beat on low speed until combined. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, beating until the frosting is smooth. Turn the mixer up to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Decorate: Spread the frosting on top of the cooled cake and garnish with toasted coconut chips and chopped walnuts. Cut into 12 bars.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I make a moist carrot cake?
There are few tricks to a moist carrot cake :
- The first is not to overmix the batter (overmixing any cake can make it tough and dry). When combining the wet and dry ingredients, only mix until everything is just incorporated.
The other thing to watch for is overbaking the cake. All ovens work a little differently, so keep a watchful eye on your cake starting around 10 minutes before the timer is up. If you notice the cake is already deep brown or know your oven runs hot, check it before time is up with a toothpick or cake tester.
Can I use pre shredded carrots for carrot cake?
You can, but pre-shredded carrots tend to be hard and dry. Fresh grated carrots contain a lot of moisture, which results in a more moist cake. Plus, grated pieces are thinner and incorporate better in the batter for a final cake with a smoother texture than if you used chunkier shredded carrots.
How do you grate carrots without a grater?
You have a few options. First, many food processors have a grater disk that you can attach and use to grate carrots in a flash. If you don’t have a food processor, you can also grate carrots on a mandolin or use a julienne peeler to thinly shave the carrot into strips, which can be cut down into smaller pieces.
Is carrot cake better for you than regular cake?
Let’s be honest with ourselves here. It’s not really any better or worse for you than any other cake. Just because there are carrots in it doesn’t make it healthier.
How To Make Carrot Cake Bars in Advance
The bars and frosting can be made up to a day ahead. Cover them, and store them separately in the refrigerator. Let the frosting come to room temperature before spreading over the bars. After the bars are finished, you can store them covered in the fridge for five to six days.
Can you freeze carrot cake bars?
Carrot cake freezes beautifully and stays really moist when frozen properly.
To freeze, place bars cut or uncut, onto a cookie sheet or large plate and freeze uncovered until firm. Remove from the freezer, and wrap in two layers of aluminum foil or plastic wrap to avoid freezer burn. (To be extra careful you can throw the double-wrapped pieces in a freezer bag as well).
Store in the freezer for up to three months. Defrost at room temperature, and remember to remove the foil or plastic before defrosting.
Editorial contributions by:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup canola oil
4 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract, divided
2 cups cups grated carrots (from 2 large carrots)
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts, plus more for garnish
1 (8-oz.) can or 1 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained (about 1/2 cup drained)
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
Toasted coconut chips
Make cake batter:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together flour, cardamom, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Whisk flour mixture into sugar mixture until well combined and smooth. Fold in carrots, walnuts, and crushed pineapple until combined. Grease a 13-x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray, and pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean and top is deep golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cake cool completely in pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour.
Beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla, and beat on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating on low speed until mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
Evenly spread frosting on top of cooled cake. Garnish with toasted coconut chips and additional chopped toasted walnuts. Cut into 12 bars.