The Ultimate Birthday Carrot Cake

One of the top comments I got for this cake was from someone who doesn't really like cake. They said "gosh that was tasty". So, I'm pretty proud of this one. Other pleased consumers included my wonderful Mum whose birthday warranted the making of this delicious cake, as well as other family and friends.

I made this cake gluten-free as I do for most bakes where family are the key demolishers. Gluten-free cakes are notoriously not very good at rising and some of my previous bakes have definitely come out of the oven looking like very sad pancakes. Thankfully, the selection of gluten-free flour available in the supermarket has improved dramatically with the rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet, which means getting results similar to gluten-containing cakes is now much more achievable. However, sometimes minor recipe adjustments are needed to help things along.

Having made the carrot cake element of this cake quite a few times before, I have found I tend to get a better result using gluten-free self-raising flour as well as half a teaspoon of baking powder rather than using plain flour, as the original recipe I used to follow suggests. If you don't plan to make this cake gluten-free then you could just use plain flour with one teaspoon of baking powder instead.

I had originally planned to use Swiss meringue buttercream, a lighter, more stable and less sweet option to simple sweet buttercream, for decorating the cake. Sadly, after my first attempt at making Swiss meringue buttercream for my Toffee Brownie Cupcakes (see the recipe HERE) worked a dream, of course my second attempt would turn into a nightmare.

I'm not entirely sure what happened but I think some of my butter might have been too cold and some of it too warm when I added it to the meringue, because I ended up with a lumpy and soupy mess, which is unusual as it normally tends to be one or the other. Neither suggested fixes for soupy (refrigerate/freeze to allow the mixture to harden) or lumpy (placing the bowl over a pan of simmering water to allow the butter to soften) seemed to work, so I had to admit defeat. If I had had enough eggs to try again I would have, but I didn't so I settled with making a simple sweet buttercream out of icing sugar and butter instead.

If you would like to use Swiss meringue buttercream for your cake instead of simple sweet buttercream, you can use the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe - minus the crushed oreos - in my Toffee Brownie Cupcakes blog post HERE and follow steps 6-10 before coming back to this blog post for some decoration tips.

This was my first attempt at piping buttercream flowers and bearing this in mind, I'm pretty pleased with the results! I ordered a nifty little set from Amazon which included piping nozzles, bags, couplers and flower nails along with a few other bits and pieces to help me create the buttercream flowers and leaves.

You can find the set I ordered HERE. You definitely don't need all these bits and pieces, I just decided to buy the set as the price was good for such a great selection of decorating equipment that I will most likely use for other bakes as well. See the utensils list below for the key pieces of equipment needed to create the buttercream flowers.


  • Cheesecake: One 20cm / 8in loose-bottomed cake tin, tin foil, electric hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, larger baking / roasting pan (to use to make the bain marie), grater / zester.

  • Carrot Cake: Two 20cm / 8in loose-bottomed cake tins, non-stick baking paper, scissors and baking spray / butter / oil for greasing, grater.

  • Buttercream & Decoration: Electric hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, sieve, 3-5 small bowls to divide the buttercream into, 3-5 piping bags (I find disposable bags easiest to use), couplers (to allow you to easily change piping tip on the bags when they still have buttercream in them), small petal piping tip (Wilton 104), small leaf piping tip (Wilton 352), small round piping tip (Wilton 2), large petal piping tip (Wilton 406), flower nail, lots of small squares of baking paper, a large plate or baking pan to transfer the flowers onto which will fit into the fridge, cake board, turntable (not essential), palette knife.

Top Tip: Don't attempt to make this cake all in one day otherwise you will most likely end up with a sloppy mess because the cheesecake filling won't have had time to set. As with other big cakes I've made in the past, I used the 'three-day rule' for this one. This gave me plenty of time to fix any mishaps and come up with a plan B after the nightmare-ish Swiss meringue buttercream incident. Day 1 = Make cheesecake and allow for adequate setting time. Day 2 = Bake carrot cake layers and allow for adequate cooling time, make Swiss meringue or simple sweet buttercream, pipe and refrigerate flowers. Day 3 = Assemble the cake layers and flowers on top of the cake. If you're pushed for time you could manage this bake in 2 days by baking the cheesecake first thing in the morning, and baking the carrot cake layers and making the Swiss meringue or simple sweet buttercream in the afternoon of the same day. You could then pipe and refrigerate the flowers in the evening of the same day or early the next morning before assembling the cake.


Cheesecake Filling

680g cream cheese 210g caster sugar 25g plain flour (ensure gluten-free if desired) 230ml soured cream 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Zest and juice of 1 small or 1/2 of 1 large lemon 4 large eggs

Carrot Cake Layers

300ml sunflower oil

300g soft light brown sugar 3 large eggs

300g self-raising flour (ensure gluten-free if desired)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

300g carrots, grated

100g pecans, chopped

50g glacé / candied orange and lemon peel, chopped

Sweet Buttercream*

250g unsalted butter, softened

500g icing sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

A few different food colourings of your choice (I used these gel food colourings but you could use whatever colours you can find in the supermarket if you don't want to buy a full set of colours)

*If you would like to use Swiss meringue buttercream for your cake instead of simple sweet buttercream, you can use the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe - minus the crushed oreos - in another one of my blog posts HERE and follow steps 6-10 before coming back to this blog post for some decoration tips.


1. Make the cheesecake: Preheat oven to 150°C. Line the entire inside of a 20cm / 8 inch loose-bottomed cake tin with tin foil. Press the foil firmly into the tin, making sure it is as flat as possible against the inside of the tin.

2. Using an electric hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment on a low speed, beat the cream cheese, sugar and flour together until combined (using a low speed ensures less air gets into the cheesecake mixture which reduces the likelihood of the cheesecake cracking).

3. Add the soured cream, vanilla extract and lemon juice and zest and mix again on low speed until combined. Then add the eggs one at a time using a low speed until all are well incorporated.

4. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the lined cake tin and place inside a larger baking / roasting pan. Fill the outside pan with enough warm water to reach halfway up the side of the cake tin. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour and avoid opening the oven door unless absolutely necessary.

5. After 1 hour has gone, turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven with the oven door closed for half an hour. Then, open the oven door slightly and leave the cheesecake in the oven for another half an hour. Doing this helps to ensure the cheesecake doesn't crack (though as it is going in the middle of the cake, it's not the end of the world if it does crack). Finally, take the cheesecake out of the oven and leave to cool on the kitchen side in the cake tin until it is cool enough to go in the fridge. Leave to set in the cake tin in the fridge until firm (ideally overnight or for at least 5 hours).

6. Make the carrot cake layers: Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Using a hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, mix together the oil, sugar and eggs together until fully combined. Gradually add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla extract and salt and mix until well incorporated.

7. Stir in the grated carrots, chopped pecans and chopped orange and lemon peel by hand with a wooden spoon, making sure they are evenly distributed throughout the mix. Divide the mixture evenly between your two prepared cake tins and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched.

8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack in the tins until the tins are cool enough to handle. Turn the cakes out of the tins and leave to cool on a wire rack until completely cold. Store in an airtight container in a cool place until you are ready to assemble the cake.

9. Make the buttercream*: Ensure your butter is nice and soft before making the buttercream. Using an electric hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, cream the butter on a medium speed for a minute or two until it looks smooth. Sift the icing sugar using a sieve to make sure there are no lumps, then add the icing sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking until well combined before adding the next tablespoon and repeating until all the icing sugar is incorporated. Finally, add in the vanilla extract and mix until combined.

*If you would like to use Swiss meringue buttercream for your cake instead of simple sweet buttercream, you can use the Swiss meringue buttercream recipe - minus the crushed oreos - in another one of my blog posts HERE and follow steps 6-10 before coming back to this blog post for some decoration tips.

10. Depending on how many colours you want to use to make the buttercream flowers / leaves, divide the buttercream equally between 3-5 small bowls. Add a drop or two of your preferred food colourings (I used these gel food colourings which you only need a tiny amount of but you could use whichever food colourings you like) to each of the bowls and beat with a spoon until the colour is consistent throughout the buttercream.

11. Next, set-up your piping bags with couplers and piping tips before filling the bags with the different coloured buttercream. If you're not sure how to do this, follow this step-by-step video. If you want two-toned flowers, fill one side of the piping bag with one colour and the other side of the piping bag with another colour.

12. Once your piping bags are assembled, prepare your work station. Alongside your piping bags make sure you have to hand a flower nail, lots of small squares of baking paper and a large plate or baking pan to transfer the flowers onto which will fit into the fridge.

13. Pipe your buttercream flowers: Rather than me explaining how to do this, I think it would be more useful for you to watch this step-by-step video by the talented Vanessa of Cake Style which clearly shows you how to pipe a couple of different types of flowers. I used this video as I was piping and whilst my flowers definitely do not look quite like hers, I found her instructions easy and stress-free to follow.

14. Once you have piped enough flowers to fill your plate / baking pan, pop them into the fridge to set (either overnight or while you are assembling the cake layers). Make sure to reserve some of the buttercream to use to stick the flowers to the cake and to pipe leaves onto the cake later on.

15. Assemble the cake layers: Before assembling, make sure your carrot cake layers are even in height and flat on the top. Slice the tops off with a serrated knife if needed. Spread a small amount of buttercream in the centre of your cake board and then place the first carrot cake layer, cut side up, on top, making sure that it sticks to the cake board. Use the tin foil to lift the cheesecake out of the cake tin, remove the foil and place the cheesecake on top of the cake. If the cheesecake seems a bit soggy, use kitchen roll to gently blot the moisture off the cheesecake. Place the second carrot cake layer on top of the cheesecake layer, cut side down.

16. If you have a turntable, place your cake onto the turntable and rotate the turntable whilst running a palette knife around the sides of the cake. Doing this helps to smooth the cheesecake layer so that it falls nicely in line with the carrot cake sides. If you don't have a turntable, you will just need slowly rotate the cake board by hand whilst smoothing the sides.

17. Decorate the cake: Start by covering the top of the cake with a light dusting of icing sugar. Using a piping nozzle or a palette knife, apply a small amount of buttercream onto the cake where you plan to stick the flowers to. Then, arrange your flowers as you wish on the top of the cake. Finish by piping little buttercream leaves using your leaf piping tip and adding flower centres to the flowers that need it using your small round piping tip. Again, you could watch the end of this step-by-step video which shows you how to do all of this.

18. Give yourself a good old pat on the back and marvel at your masterpiece.

Storage: Store in an airtight container or wrapped in clingfilm / tin foil in the fridge. Allow to thaw for about 15 minutes before serving. Cake is best for 2-3 days but will keep for up to 5.

#glutenfree #wheatfree #cake #carrot #cheesecake