Erika Kwee's Spiced Carrot Cake with Candied Pecans and Caramel Sauce


Erika Kwee is one of our 2021 Cooks of the Year.

Erika Kwee's Spiced Carrot Cake with Candied Pecans and Caramel Sauce
Photo: Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner
Active Time:
55 mins
Total Time:
4 hrs 15 mins

Erika Kwee is here to help home cooks gain confidence in the kitchen. On her blog, The Pancake Princess, Kwee conducts bake-offs of some of the Internet's most popular recipes. With a data-driven approach to baking, Kwee has tested baked goods ranging from apple crisp to zucchini bread, gaining almost 50,000 Instagram followers along the way. "Baking multiple recipes isn't that much more work compared to making one, because you have to get out all those ingredients anyway," she says. "And the payoff is better." But luckily, thanks to Kwee's rigorous testing process, you don't have to bake a dozen versions of chocolate chip cookies to settle on the best—she's done all the hard work for you.

Kwee's recipe for Carrot Spice Cake with Candied Pecans and Brown Sugar Sauce considers every last detail. The cake layers themselves are fully loaded with grated carrots, toasted pecans, crushed pineapple, and shredded coconut. With a slight tang from the cream cheese, the frosting is perfectly balanced and spreadable; the candied pecans bring a generous dose of spice, complementing the spices baked into the cake layers.

To spread out the work, the pecans and caramel can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container until ready to assemble the cake.


Cake Layers

  • 2 cups granulated sugar

  • 1 ½ cups vegetable oil

  • 4 large eggs 

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger

  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 pound large carrots (about 6), peeled and finely grated (about 2¾ cups) 

  • ¾ cup chopped toasted pecans

  • 1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in juice, drained well

  • ¾ cup sweetened shredded coconut

Candied Pecans

  • 1 large egg white 

  • 3 cups pecan halves

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar

  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream

  • 1 large egg yolk 

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Pinch of kosher salt


  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Pinch of kosher salt

  • 4 cups powdered sugar


  1. Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a half sheet pan (13 x 18 inches) with cooking spray, and line with parchment paper. Whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl. Whisk in flour until just incorporated. Fold in carrots, pecans, pineapple, and coconut (don't overmix batter). Pour into prepared pan; smooth top.

  2. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted into cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in sheet pan on a wire rack completely, about 1 hour. Chill cake in pan, uncovered, until cold, about 2 hours.

  3. Meanwhile, prepare the Candied Pecans: Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk egg white in a medium bowl until foamy, 1 minute. Add pecans; toss until well coated. Add granulated sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until pecans are evenly coated. Spread in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 300°F until browned and fragrant, about 40 minutes, gently stirring halfway through cook time. (Pecans will continue to crisp up as they cool.) Set baking pan aside to cool completely at room temperature, about 30 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of Candied Pecan halves; roughly chop remaining (about 2½ cups). Set aside.

  4. Prepare the Caramel Sauce: Whisk together brown sugar, whipping cream, and egg yolk in a small saucepan until well combined. Bring mixture to a boil over medium, stirring often. Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in butter, vanilla extract, and salt. Let stand at room temperature to cool completely, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

  5. Prepare the Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running on low speed, gradually add powdered sugar, beating until fully incorporated. Increase speed to medium; beat until Frosting is smooth, about 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape sides of bowl. Transfer Frosting to a large piping bag or ziplock plastic bag with a ½-inch hole cut in 1 corner; set aside.

  6. Assemble the cake: Run a knife along sides of cake to loosen it from pan. Carefully cut cake into 4 (about 8½- x 6-inch) rectangles. Place 1 cake rectangle on a large serving platter. Pipe about ⅓ cup of Frosting on top; spread into an even layer with an offset spatula. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons Caramel Sauce, and sprinkle with ½ cup chopped Candied Pecans. Repeat process 2 more times with 2 cake rectangles, ending with chopped pecans. Place remaining cake rectangle on top. Pipe remaining Frosting over top of cake, and spread into an even layer. Drizzle top of cake with about ¼ cup Caramel Sauce; garnish with chopped and halved Candied Pecans. Serve remaining Caramel Sauce and Candied Pecans with cake slices.

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