Mini Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting is the perfect small batch dessert for Easter and spring time! This cake is super flavorful: studded with chopped walnuts, shredded carrot and the perfect balance of spices. This carrot cake is topped with a brown butter cream cheese frosting that is to die for! SO GOOD! This cake is adapted from the full sheet cake version.
What Is so Magical About Carrot Cake?
I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. And I think it’s a delicious balance of savory and sweet. Freshly grated carrot add so much moisture to this cake, along with brown sugar, warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. And then you have the crunchy walnuts (or pecans). There’s so much going on…but luckily, not too much.
What You Need to Make Carrot Cake
- All-purpose flour. And of course you’ll need baking soda for leavening and some salt.
- Ground spices. I like to add cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. Not too many spices…just the right amount.
- Neutral oil. I don’t love carrot cakes that are super oily. This one isn’t—it’s just right. But oil, undoubtedly, gives cake a lightness to them that is unbeatable. I like to bake with avocado oil as my neutral oil but grape seed and vegetable oil work too.
- Unsalted butter. While I love oil for texture and moisture, I love butter for flavor. I like to add a bit of butter for some balance.
- Granulated sugar and brown sugar. Half and half. It’s needed.
Eggs. Well, we need eggs for leavening and to bind everything together.
- Buttermilk. I like to use buttermilk because it adds a really lovely tang and crumb to baked goods.
- Freshly grated carrots. The sweeter the better. I had some carrots in the fridge from my CSA box and they were delicious!
- Walnuts. You can use walnuts OR pecans. You choose what you like best!
How to Make Mini Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- Whisk together all the dry ingredients. We have all-purpose flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, salt and ginger.
- Cream together the room temperature butter, oil with the sugars (brown and white sugar). You want to cream it until it’s light and fluffy.
- Then crack in the eggs. And beat them until they’re all nice and combined.
- Add in the flour and then the buttermilk. Mix until smooth and combined.
- Fold in the grated carrot and chopped walnuts.
- I like to manually stir the bottom of the bowl just to make sure there aren’t any pockets of flour stuck at the bottom.
- Add the batter to an 8×8-inch cake pan (see other baking pan alternatives below) that’s lined and greased.
- Transfer to the oven to bake until it’s set in the center and a skewer comes out clean.
- Let it cool!
How to Make Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
- Brown the butter. This the most important and delicious step. This is how we know we’re getting somewhere.
- Transfer the browned butter to a freezer-safe container. And place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. It’ll harden to the point of about room temperature texture.
- Scoop it out and place it in a bowl (or you could do this in a stand-up mixer), along with the cream cheese. Beat until smooth.
- And then add the vanilla, pinch of salt and powdered sugar. Beat until combined.
- Next, add the heavy cream and beat it for a full 2 minutes. This really does make frosting super fluffy and delicious.
How to This Cake Ahead
Carrot cake is a great cake to make ahead because it stays moist for SO LONG. You can make it up to 2 days before serving. Allow it to cool completely and then wrap it in plastic wrap. When you’re ready to serve, unwrap it, decorate and serve.
You can also freeze carrot cake by allowing it to cool to room temperature. Wrap it in plastic wrap and then freeze for up to 3 months.
Buttermilk Substitutions for Mini Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting
Here are some options in case you don’t have buttermilk:
- Milk + acid – You could use 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon cow’s milk and mix it with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar OR lemon juice. Let it stand for 5 minutes, mix it up and use.
- Kefir – In theory this should work. You can use the full 1/3 of a cup
- Powdered Buttermilk – Most kitchens don’t have this but if you do, use it! Follow the directions on the back of the package that will give you 1/3 a cup of buttermilk.
- Greek yogurt – You could use 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt and mix in enough water so it measures to a total of 1/3 of a cup.
Of course, all of these alternatives won’t give you the EXACT result you see pictured but it’ll be pretty close. Obviously the powdered buttermilk and milk and acid trick will be the absolute closest.
8×8-inch Cake Pan Alternatives
Some of you have said you don’t have an 8×8-inch square cake pan–no problem! Here are some other pans you can use:
- Option #1: You can use a single 9-inch round cake pan that’s 2-inches in height. Bake time will be about 5 minutes less. I would check it at the 25 minute mark.
- Option #2: 9×5-inch loaf pan. Obviously it’ll now be a carrot loaf cake vs. looking like a cake! Bake time will likely be longer. I would check it at the 30 minute mark.
- Option #3: Cupcakes! You can bake these as cupcakes. It’ll yield 6 cupcakes. Bake time will likely be shorter. I would check it at the 20 minute mark.
If you make this Mini Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting recipe, lemme know on Instagram!
Decorating Ideas for Carrot Cake
I decorated this with piped out carrots. I piped them out onto a flower nail and stuck them in the freezer. A MUCH easier way is to pipe them onto the cake directly.
This frosting is very soft due to the cream cheese and it was kinda stressful moving them (even when they were super cold), so I say pipe them directly onto the cake.
Other readers/makers, sprinkled their carrot cakes with a dusting of walnuts, sprinkles, crushed up Cadbury candy…the options are endless!
If you make this recipe, let me know on Instagram!
Looking for more spring dessert recipes? Here are some favorites:
- Strawberry Sheet Cake
- Cadbury Chocolate Cookies
- Overnight Cinnamon Rolls
- Berry Crinkle Cookies
- Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies
- Cadbury Skillet Cookie
- Strawberry Shortcake Biscuits
- Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, (such as avocado, grape seed oil or vegetable oil)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/3 cup buttermilk, shaken
- 1 1/4 cups grated carrots
- 3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
- 5 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups + 6 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
- 2 teaspoons heavy cream
To Make the Cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8x8-inch baking pan. I also like to line my baking pan with a parchment just to make sure nothing sticks.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and ginger. Set the dry mixture aside.
- In the bowl of a stand-up mixer, with the paddle attachment, add the butter, neutral oil, white sugar and brown sugar; beat until nice and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Crack in the eggs; beat until combined.
- Alternating between the buttermilk and the dry mix, add them to the butter mixture, until just combined. Lastly, add the carrots and walnuts and mix until thoroughly distributed throughout the batter. Grab a spatula and scrape the bottom of the bowl just to make sure there aren’t any flour pockets.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and transfer to the oven to bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow to cool in the pan for about 5 to 10 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool before adding the frosting.
To Make the Frosting:
- Cube up butter. In a small saucepan, set over medium heat, add the cubed butter. Once it’s melted, it will begin to foam up and bubble a bit. Allow it to cook until you begin to see lightly browned specks beginning to form. Give it a stir and cook until it’s browned. You should also start to smell its nutty aroma. Pour it in a freezer-safe bowl and stir to cool it down.
- Transfer it to the freezer to chill, for about 10 minutes. We want it to be around room temperature butter. After it gets to that room temperature butter-firmness (it can be a bit softer—that’s ok), transfer it to the bowl of a stand-up mixer (or bowl using an electric mixer). Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth.
- Sift in the 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and add the vanilla extract, salt and heavy cream. Beat the frosting for about 3 minutes. The fluffiness from the heavy cream really lightens up this frosting so be sure to beat it for the full 2 minutes. If the frosting is too loose, feel free to transfer it to the fridge to chill for about 10 minutes. Then beat it one last time.
To Make Mini Frostings for Decoration (Very Optional)
- Scoop out two tablespoons of frosting and add it to a small bowl. Repeat this with another two tablespoons of frosting. You'll have two bowls of frosting.
- Add 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar to each bowl (for a total of 6 tablespoons). And mix in it in. This will thicken up the frosting a bit so it's easier to pipe.
- Add two drops of orange food coloring gel to the first bowl. Mix. And then add two drops of green food coloring gel to the second bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined.
- Divide the frostings amongst two piping bags fitted with #2 piping tip (a small round tip). Now, I did this on a small flower nail but it proved difficult to move. SO, I'm suggesting that you pipe the carrots directly onto the cake.
To Assemble the Cake:
- Pour all of the frosting on the cooled sheet cake and spread it around, creating cute swoops as you go.
- Using the orange color, add a squiggly line, attempting to make it resemble a carrot. (For more visual representation, look at my IG Highlights "Carrot Cake") And then add the "carrot top" by taking the green colored frosting and piping on little lines.
- Add as many or little carrots on top, as you like!
- Cake will stay moist for about 3 to 4 days when wrapped properly.
- Milk + acid - You could use 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon cow's milk and mix it with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar OR lemon juice. Let it stand for 5 minutes, mix it up and use.
- Kefir - In theory this should work. You can use the full 1/3 of a cup
- Powdered Buttermilk - Most kitchens don't have this but if you do, use it! Follow the directions on the back of the package that will give you 1/3 a cup of buttermilk.
- Greek yogurt - You could use 1/4 cup of Greek yogurt and mix in enough water so it measures to a total of 1/3 of a cup.
- Option #1: You can use a single 9-inch round cake pan that's 2-inches in height. Bake time will be about 5 minutes less. I would check it at the 25 minute mark.
- Option #2: 9x5-inch loaf pan. Obviously it'll now be a carrot loaf cake vs. looking like a cake! Bake time will likely be longer. I would check it at the 30 minute mark.
- Option #3: Cupcakes! You can bake these as cupcakes. It'll yield 6 cupcakes. Bake time will likely be shorter. I would check it at the 20 minute mark.