Light Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Carrot cake again? I know, I know, how much carrot cake can someone eat? Well, I've eaten entirely too much of it in the last two weeks. After Hungry Bear made her fantastic carrot cake, I wanted to make a light version while her normal, full-fat version was still fresh on our minds.

The light carrot cake recipe was adapted from Cook's Illustrated (CI). I used all the CI fat reducing steps...

  • Reduced the amount of oil from 1 1/2 cups to 1/2 cup
  • Reduced the number of eggs from 4 to 3
  • Used Philadelphia Neufchatel reduced-fat cream cheese
  • Lowered the sugar quantity in the frosting

Then, I kept the majority of the normal cake's other ingredients to keep the flavors similar, which means pineapples and coconut flakes were included.

Cook's Illustrated's light cream cheese frosting recipe uses 12 oz of reduced fat cream cheese and no butter. I didn't like the idea of buying two 8 oz boxes of low fat cream cheese and not use 4 oz. So, I modified the recipe to use 8 oz of cheese and added a little butter.

The light carrot cake was pretty good. We thought the cake tasted similar to the full-fat version, but Hungry Bear's cake had a superior, more tender texture. The light cake was a little too moist and dense, which was a surprise given only half a cup of oil was used. It was probably due to the moisture of the carrots (3 cups) and pineapples. I actually preferred the light cream cheese frosting over the full-fat version because it was less sweet and rich.

Here's a breakdown of calories and fat per serving for the two cakes...

Carrot Cake Calories Fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Cholesterol (mg)
Normal 564 33 7 80
Light 406 17 5 61

As you can see, the light carrot cake is not a low fat dessert, but with half the fat of the normal recipe, it still tastes great. If someone were to serve me this cake, I wouldn't know it was a light version. If you love carrot cake, eat it regularly, and want a lighter recipe, definitely give this one a try. When I'm craving carrot cake again (it will be awhile), I'll stick with Hungry Bear's carrot cake.

Light Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Light Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe

SND Note: The batter is quite thick before the carrots and pineapples are added, so don't worry. The next time I make this recipe, I would reduce the carrots by 1/2 to 3/4 cup to get a lighter crumb when using pineapples. 3 cups of carrots with pineapples has too much moisture. To reduce calories and fat further, skip the pineapple and coconut flakes (37 calories and 2 g of fat per serving).

Light Carrot Cake Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar (7 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 pound carrots (about 6 medium), peeled and grated (3 cups)
  • 8 ounces canned crushed pineapple, drained (optional)
  • 3 1/2 ounces coconut flakes (optional)
Light Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients
  • 8 ounces Philadelphia Neufchatel (1/3 less fat) cream cheese, softened but still cool
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 6 ounces confectioners' sugar
  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13 by 9-inch baking pan with vegetable oil. Line bottom of pan with parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg; set aside.
  3. Shred carrots using a box grater; set aside. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment (or in large bowl and using hand-held mixer), beat eggs, granulated and brown sugars on medium-high until they turn thick and creamy, 1 to 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the oil until thoroughly combined and emulsified, 30 to 60 seconds.
  4. On low speed, add half the flour mixture over the batter and gently mix in. Repeat once more with the remaining flour mixture and continue to mix the batter gently until most of the lumps are gone (do not overmix). By hand stir in the carrots, pineapple and coconut until well combined. Pour into cake pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert the cake onto a wire rack and remove the parchment paper. Flip the cake right-side up, and cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours, before frosting.
  5. Mix cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium high speed in clean bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment ( or in large bowl using handheld mixer) until well combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix until fluffy, about 1 minute. Using icing spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of cake. Cut into squares and serve.

Makes one 13 by 9-inch cake and 16 servings

[Adapted from The Best Light Recipe by Cook's Illustrated]

[tags]light, lower fat, cake, carrot, cinnamon, coconut, cream cheese, frosting, nutmeg pineapple[/tags]

14 Comments on “Light Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting”

  1. chefjp said:

    Great job on this recipe– I found your blog to be a very enjoyable read– thanks!

  2. I have that book but haven’t cooked nor baked from it yet. This cake looks divine!

  3. Amy said:

    Thanks for the carrot cake recipe. We are dessert fiends in our house so anything to lighten the load and still taste great is always something I am searching for.

  4. Hillary said:

    You can tell how light that is in the photo! Looks fantastic!

  5. Chuck said:

    chefjp, thanks! And thanks for the write-up on your blog!

    Patricia, funny, we’ve had the light best recipes for a few years now and this is the first recipe we’ve made from it.

    Amy, lighter but still tastes great is the definitely the key!

    Hillary, thanks! The crumb will actually be a little lighter without the pineapple.

  6. Dana Zia said:

    Oh boy, I do love carrot cake!! Bunny hop. Bunny hop. In fact right after I read your blog, I bunny hopped into the kitchen and made a even lighter version of carrot cake! Yum! Good idea! I have been working over low fat recipes for carrot cake for a while. After much experimenting I have come up with a rather delightful version that I think you will enjoy. The cardamom Cream Cheese frosting really sets it off! Check it out on my blog,
    Thanks for your delightful blog. It has set a standard in the world of food blogs. In fact I took my own picture this time, inspired by yours. It pales in significance, but happy bunny soul is there. Bunny hop.

  7. Kathy said:

    I’m always looking for a lower calorie version of carrot cake – my favorite cake. I tried this over the weekend and liked it a lot. I reduced the calories a bit further by using Splenda baking blend to replace both the white and brown sugars. And, because I’m a big whole grain advocate I replaced one cup of the flour with whole wheat flour. I also sprinkled a few crushed nuts on top to give it a little crunch. Gave most of it away – the secret to not being an overweight baker – and got rave reviews from my mom and the neighbors. I’m awaiting the review of my adult niece who is a great cook and baker and will undoubtedly have some suggestions on what else can be done to tweak the flavor/texture.

  8. Allen said:

    Either light or full-fat, your carrot cake looks amazing!

  9. i always visit food blogs because i always like to do some home cooked meals `*”

  10. Sarah said:

    Made this cake today, it turned out amazing, it was so light and fluffy, best carrot cake ive made…though for the cream cheese frosting, i used philly light..and so the frosting really didnt hold up and it turned into a glaze..and thats what i used..but it still tasted as good, also the vanilla really took away that lovely whiteness that i wanted..

  11. luoluo123 said:

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  12. J.M. said:

    I made this recipe today. I added 1c raisins & 3/4c chopped walnuts because to me carrot cake must have those two additions! Everyone really liked the cake a lot but it seemed dense to me. I used less carrots as suggested & used the crushed pineapple & omitted the coconut. I had to bake it for almost 1 hour to get the center to set up. Not sure why though
    But it is a tasty cake & I like that it uses a lot less oil than most other carrot cale recipes.


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