Carrot cake bars are a simple way to enjoy all the flavors of classic carrot cake with cream cheese frosting in a fun and casual way! Enjoy a soft, moist, and perfectly spiced bar for a quick snack, a breakfast treat, or an easy dessert!
Table of contents
Carrot Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
These carrot cake bars are moist, fluffy and brimming with delicious spices and flecks of fresh carrots. It’s an easy way to turn a layered carrot cake into the best sheet cake that can be cut into squares for easy entertaining!
We’re not using any raisins or walnuts, but you can add those in for extra crunch and texture. This carrot cake bars recipe is nice and simple.
It’s less involved than a traditional carrot cake but the ingredients are the same so there is no skimping on the signature taste for the carrot cake lovers in your life! It’s topped with a luscious cream cheese frosting which is fun and yummy but totally optional. Much like my carrot cake loaf, dessert bars are meant for dessert AND breakfast!
For the cake
- Baking staples. All-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt.
- Spices. The ground cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground nutmeg
- Butter. Bring it to room temperature beforehand so it’s soft enough to cream easily.
- White & Brown sugar. We’re using both white and brown sugar for sweetness, but the brown sugar adds moisture and a deeper color and flavor.
- Eggs. Used to bind the ingredients together and adds to the moisture and texture.
- Vanilla extract. A warm flavor that pairs well with all of the incredible spices and brown sugar.
- Carrots. I’m a big proponent of using freshly grated instead of pre-shredded from a bag. It’s much fresher, contains more moisture, and overall tastes better.
For the cream cheese frosting
- Cream cheese, softened. Bring it out earlier on when you take out the butter. It’s difficult to cream hardened and cold cream cheese.
- Butter, softened. See above!
- Pure Vanilla extract. Cream cheese is quite tangy and tart, so the vanilla humbles and softens it a bit.
- Powdered sugar. Also known as confectioner’s sugar, it’s finely ground sugar with the addition of cornstarch which allows it to blend smoothly. It also helps to thicken the frosting.
- Orange and green food coloring. Optional if you want to use some of your cream cheese frosting to make decorations for Easter!
How to Make these Homemade Carrot Cake Bars
This recipe will come together with just 15 minutes of prep time and yield about 16 bars. It’s my go-to when I’m craving a bite of carrot cake!
Step 1. In a medium bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients except the sugars. In a separate large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs and vanilla and beat until just mixed in.
Step 2. You’re going to add half of the flour mixture into the bowl with the wet ingredients and beat until combined. Then add the remaining flour mixture and beat until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated. Do not overmix!
Step 3. Fold in the shredded carrots and stir them. Make sure the shredded carrots are evenly dispersed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into a prepared dish and bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes.
Step 4. Allow the cake to cool for 5-10 minutes before moving it to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Making the Frosting
Step 1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add a cup of powdered sugar to the cream cheese mixture and beat to combine before adding another cup. Continue adding powdered sugar by the cup, beating between each addition and scraping down the sides with a spatula, until creamy.
Step 2. If you are decorating, remove about ½ cup of frosting into two separate bowls. One for green, one for orange. Drop about 2-3 drops of coloring into each one and continue adding any drops until the desired color is reached. Transfer each color to a piping bag.
Decorating the Carrot Cake Bars
- Spread the rest of the frosting slathered across the top of the entire cake. Cut into 16 slices and use the piping bags to decorate individual pieces.
- Use the piping bag to make squiggly lines, or make carrots and fill them in with orange frosting. Make leaves with the green or play around with it until you’ve landed on your very own creation!
Pro Tip: These carrot cake bars are best kept at room temperature to lock in the moisture. This can’t be done with the cream cheese frosting, so if you know you’re not going to eat all the bars right away, think about keeping a portion of the cake unfrosted. Then frost each square as you eat it.
- Raisins and/or nuts. Add ½ cup of raisins to the batter or ½ cup of chopped pecans or chopped walnuts for a crunchy element.
- A different topping. You could also sprinkle chopped nuts on top of the frosting in place of decorating if preferred.
- Make it healthier. Substitute ½ cup of unsweetened applesauce for the butter for a lower calorie alternative.
- If you have festive sprinkles you want to use instead of coloring the frosting, use them! Green and orange sprinkles would be super cute.
- Shredding your carrots is the preferred method over buying already shredded carrots. Use a food processor with a grater attachment or a box grater.
- Use gluten-free flour if preferred. Bob’s Red Mill One-to-One flour is an option.
- All white sugar can be used if preferred. The moisture in the cake will differ slightly, but it will still taste great.
- Use a 9×13 baking pan and reduce the cooking time to 25-30 minutes.
- If you don’t have piping bags, use a plastic zip closure bag and snip the corner of it.
Carrot cake bars can be kept in an airtight container on the counter for up to 1 week without frosting. If they are frosted, they’ll last up to 3 days on the counter. If you’re worried about the cream cheese frosting, by all means, keep them in your fridge.
The sugar does a good job stabilizing it for a few days out of the fridge, so it’s up to you how you want to store them.
It’s up to you which type of food coloring you use. Gel food coloring is generally more expensive but it’s also more concentrated which means you need less to get a vibrant color. Liquid food coloring is cheaper, however, the opposite applies. You’ll need more to get the same level of coloring.
Carrot Cake Bars
For the cake:
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ cup butter softened
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup shredded carrots
For the cream cheese frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese softened
- 4 tablespoons butter softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- Orange and green food coloring optional
- Preheat oven to 350° F and line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper (or spray with nonstick cooking spray)
- n a medium mixing bowl, add the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, and nutmeg and stir to combine.
- In a separate mixing bowl, add the butter, sugar, and brown sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs and vanilla and beat just mixed in.
- Add half the dry flour mixture and beat until combined. Then add the remaining dry ingredients and beat until flour is mixed in. (careful not to over-mix or cake will become more dense)
- Add in the shredded carrots and gently stir them into the cake batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes then remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Making the frosting
- After the cake has completely cooled, add the softened cream cheese, butter, and vanilla to a medium mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until combined.
- Add one cup of powdered sugar and beat until just combined. Then add in another cup of powdered sugar and beat until combined, continue adding one cup at a time and beating between each until creamy.
- If decorating the tops, spoon about ½ cup of frosting into 2 small bowls and add 2-3 drops of orange food coloring to one and 2-3 drops green food coloring to the other. (more until desired color is reached). Mix until the color is completely mixed in and then transfer to a piping bag or plastic zip closure bag with a corner snipped off.
- Spread the remaining frosting evenly over the entire cake and cut the bars into 16 slices.
- Decorate the top of each cake bar with a carrot using the orange frosting and green frosting for the carrot leaves. You can do the squiggly lines like shown here or draw a carrot shape and fill in the center with frosting. Be as creative as you wish!