Carrot Cake with Pineapple and Pecans
Carrot Cake with Pineapple and Pecans is a masterpiece of flavors and textures. Made with toasted pecans, crushed pineapple and freshly shredded carrots, this cake is packed with delicious ingredients. Complete with a toasted pecan cream cheese buttercream filling and a rich cream cheese frosting, this is the best carrot cake recipe around!
Adding fruits and vegetables to cakes and breads can be a great way to sneak in something healthy! Try my Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread for example! It’s packed with tons of shredded zucchini. If you want a chocolate chip-free option, then you’ll love my Lemon Zucchini Bread. Making an Easy Banana Bread can also be a great way to use up fruit!
Why This Recipe Works
- A texture masterpiece. I love everything about the textures in this cake! The carrot cake with pineapple and pecans has tons of added flavor, moisture and texture. The grated carrot weave beautifully throughout the cake layers. The toasted, chopped pecans adds a nice bite to the cake, but not a hard crunch. The crushed pineapple adds a nice flavor profile and a rich moistness to the cake.
- Toasted pecan buttercream filling. The filling is made by setting aside some of the cream cheese buttercream and adding toasted pecan paste to it. The freshness of the toasted pecans in the filling really enhances that flavor throughout the cake.
- An elevated old fashioned carrot cake recipe. I love a good carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! But this recipe takes that delicious dessert and really puts it over the top. The additions of pecans and pineapple makes a world of difference. The combination of spices really ensures a warm flavor, and the oil, eggs and liquid from the pineapple in the cake produces an incredibly moist texture! It’s basically perfection on a plate.
- Vegetable Oil: Using vegetable oil in cake is going to give a more moist crumb texture to the cake. This is because oil is a liquid at room temperature. If you notice a cake recipe calls for butter (which is a solid at room temperature) in the cake, you’ll know that the cake won’t be as moist as a cake made with oil.
- Crushed Pineapple: Lightly drain the can of pineapple. You don’t want all the juice in there or else it will change the texture and bake of the cake, but you also don’t want to squeeze out all the juice so the pineapple is dry.
- Light Brown Sugar: Using light brown sugar in addition to granulated sugar will give a texture that is a bit more moist, is chewier and has a richer flavor.
- Eggs: This recipe calls for 6 eggs. That probably seems like a lot! But the main job of eggs in baking is to create structure with the flour. Since there are a lot of elements to this cake (including shredded/grated carrots, pecans, and crushed pineapple), adding more eggs will ensure the cake forms a nice structure to hold everything together.
- Spices: The best thing about carrot cake is the delicious warm spices used! The combination of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, and ground ginger bring in a warm flavor that pairs nicely with the pineapple pecan carrot cake.
- Carrots: To get the best results, use freshly shredded/grated carrots. The juices from the carrots will seep into the cake while baking and make an even softer crumb.
- Pecans: The toasted pecans will be used in the cake layers and in the pecan buttercream filling that will go between the layers.
- Unsalted Butter: When making buttercream, you want the butter to be slightly softened but still cool to the touch.
- Cream Cheese: The cream cheese in the buttercream will make the frosting a lot softer. Use the fridge to help set up the frosting a little so it is easier to work with.
- Powdered Sugar: Use sifted powdered sugar to ensure a smooth buttercream texture.
- Heavy Cream: The heavy cream helps keep the buttercream light and fluffy. When it is beaten up, the heavy cream will create a whipped texture in the buttercream.
- Toast the pecans. Spread the pecans (the ones for the cake and the ones for the buttercream) evenly on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven at 350° F for 3-7 minutes. They’ll smell nutty and have slightly browned. Be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn! Set aside to cool.
- Prepare the cake pans. Spray three 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottom with parchment paper, and spray again.
- Make the cake batter. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices together until combined. Set aside. Mix the vegetable oil, crushed pineapple, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer for 2 minutes. Slowly add the dry ingredients while the mixer is on low. Remove from the stand and fold in the shredded carrots and chopping pecans.
- Bake. Divide the cake batter evenly among the three pans. Bake at 350° F for 23-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs on it. Let the cake cool in the pans for 10 minutes then turn them out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.
- Make the cream cheese buttercream. Beat the butter, cream cheese and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer until it is light in color and texture. Add the vanilla and powdered sugar a cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add heavy cream a tablespoon at a time to keep the frosting smooth. Once all the powdered sugar is added, beat for 1-2 minutes until well combined and light in texture. Set aside 2 cups of the buttercream.
- Make the pecan buttercream. Add 4 oz of the toasted pecans to a food processor and process until it forms a paste. Add the paste to the 2 cups of buttercream and mix until combined. Store both buttercream in the fridge.
- Assemble the cake. About 40 minutes prior to decorating, remove the buttercream frostings from the fridge and let soften slightly. Beat to return to a smooth and light texture. Put a dollop of the cream cheese buttercream on a cake board and place the first cake layer on top. Spread 1/2 of the pecan cream cheese buttercream on top. Place the 2nd cake layer on top and spread the rest of the pecan buttercream on top. Place the 3rd cake layer (bottom side up) on top.
- Add the crumb coat. Apply a thin layer of the cream cheese buttercream around the entire cake (this is called the crumb coat) and freeze for 15-20 minutes or until firm.
- Frost and decorate as desired. We pressed chopped toasted pecans around the bottom of the cake.
Getting the correct doneness when baking the cake layers is so important. If they’re under baked, they’ll be too soft in the middle and sink. If they get over baked, the cake will turn out dry. Watch the cakes closely when they’re approaching the end of the baking time to ensure they’re baked just right.
I give a good little tap on the oven door and if I see the centers of the cake jiggle a bit, then I know they aren’t done quite yet. Another good rule of thumb is to add time on to the bake time in one minute increments. Even just two minutes more could be the difference between just baked and over baked.
Cream cheese buttercream is softer than other buttercream frostings, so the fridge and freezer will be your best friends as you’re decorating this cake. If the buttercream is getting too soft and not holding its shape, refrigerate for about 20 minutes so it can get more firm again. If the frosting between the cake layers is starting to bulge on the sides, put the cake in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to help it firm up and stop bulging.
When making cakes, mix the wet ingredients together really well. But when it comes to adding in the dry ingredients, you want to mix until just combined. Over mixing the batter after adding the dry ingredients will result in a tougher cake texture.
If you want enough frosting to add swirls or frosting decoration on top of the cake, make 1/4 more off the cream cheese buttercream recipe.
Make Ahead, Storing, and Freezing
To make this cake ahead of time, bake the carrot cake layers first. You can wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in the fridge for 1-2 days and then finish the cake.
To make the buttercream ahead of time, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days. Then remove and let sit for about 10 minutes. Then beat it again in the stand mixer to return it to the fluffy and light texture.
Store cake layers covered (I usually do two layers) in plastic wrap on a flat surface in the fridge or freezer. If you need to store the cake layers for longer than 2 days in the fridge, I would recommend freezing them. If you need to freeze the cake layers for longer than 7 days, I would wrap them in an additional layer of aluminum foil. If freezing, remove the cake layers from the freezer and let thaw in the fridge (still covered). Cake layers will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Freeze the buttercream in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 2 months. Remove and let thaw in the fridge.
You can store the decorated carrot cake with pineapple and pecans in the fridge overnight. No need to cover it. If needing to store longer, then flash freeze the decorated cake in the freezer until the buttercream is solid. Then wrap twice in plastic wrap and store in the freezer for up to 7 days. If storing longer, wrap in an additional layer of aluminum foil.
Keep in mind, since this recipe is made with cream cheese buttercream, the buttercream won’t set/freeze like a traditional buttercream frosting will. It will still be slightly tacky to the touch. If you need to make and decorate this cake ahead of time, just note that when it comes to wrapping and freezing it.
I would stick with crushed pineapple. I haven’t made it with the chunky pineapple so I’m not sure if the bake will be affected. Using the crushed pineapple brings in the flavor, provides a slight difference in texture, but you don’t get pockets of pineapple.
A good substitute for pecans is walnuts. You can toast them the same and make them into a paste for the buttercream filling between the layers. If you want to exclude the nuts altogether, that is just fine too!
Yes you can. The only difference you’ll get is a richer color and flavor since dark brown sugar is richer in color and flavor 🙂
More Cake Recipes
Moist Carrot Cake (with pineapple and pecans)
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup canned crushed pineapple - lightly drained
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup light brown sugar - packed
- 6 large eggs - room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 4 cups freshly shredded carrots - lightly packed
- 1 cup toasted pecans - chopped
Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 2 cups unsalted butter - slightly softened
- 16 oz cream cheese
- 8+ cups powdered sugar - sifted
- pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 4 oz pecans - toasted, about 1 cup of toasted pecan halves
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast the pecans (you can also toast the ones you’ll need for the buttercream at the same time). Spread the pecans evenly over a sheet pan and toast in the oven for 3-7 minutes, or until they smell nutty and have slightly browned. Be sure to keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn! Set aside to cool.
- Prepare three 8-inch round cake pans by spraying with nonstick spray and lining the bottom with parchment paper. Spray on top of the parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the vegetable oil, crushed pineapple, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the mixer and mix until just combined. Fold in the shredded carrots and chopped pecans.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three 8-inch pans and bake for 23-28 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a couple crumbs stuck to it.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out of pans onto a cooling rack until they’ve cooled completely.
- Level cake layers, if needed.
- If making the layers in advance, wrap completely with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for 1-2 days, or the freezer for 2-3 weeks.
Cream Cheese Buttercream
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and salt until it’s smooth and light in texture and color.
- Add the vanilla and powdered sugar, a couple cups at a time, mixing well before each addition. Add a tablespoon of heavy cream as needed to keep the frosting smooth and not too stiff. Repeat until all the powdered sugar and cream are added. If the frosting is too soft when it’s cold, add more powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments to thicken it.
- Set aside 2 cups of the prepared buttercream.
- To a food processor, add 4 oz of toasted pecans and process until a paste forms. Scrape the sides of the food processor as needed.
- Add the toasted pecan paste to the 2 cups of prepared cream cheese buttercream and mix well.
- Store the pecan buttercream and the plain cream cheese buttercream in the fridge. About 40 minutes before decorating the cake, remove the buttercream from the fridge. Once the buttercream has slightly softened, use a stand mixer and beat it on medium speed to make it smooth and spreadable.
- Put a small dollop of buttercream on a cake board and place the first layer of cake on the board.
- Spread half of the pecan cream cheese buttercream over the top of the first cake layer. Place the next cake layer on top of the pecan buttercream and spread the rest of the pecan buttercream on top.
- Lay the third cake layer, flat side up, on top of the cake and apply a thin layer (crumb coat) of cream cheese buttercream to the entire cake and freeze for about 15-20 minutes, until the buttercream is firm.
- Once the buttercream is firm, add the final layer of frosting around the cake, decorating as desired. We gently pressed chopped, toasted pecans around the bottom of the cake using an offset spatula.
- Getting the correct doneness when baking the cake layers is so important. If they’re underbaked, they’ll be too soft in the middle and sink. If they get overbaked, the cake will turn out dry. Watch the cakes closely when they’re approaching the end of the baking time to ensure they’re baked just right.
- Cream cheese buttercream is softer than other buttercreams, so the fridge and freezer will be your best friends as you’re decorating this cake. If the buttercream is getting too soft and not holding its shape, refrigerate for about 20 minutes so it can get a little more firm again. If the frosting between the cake layers is starting to bulge on the sides, put the cake in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to help it firm up and stop bulging.