The History of Carrot Cake

History of Carrot Cake

carrotmuseum logo
History Wild Carrot Today Nutrition Cultivation Recipes Trivia Links Home Contact

Carrot Cake History

Origin of carrot cake (also pudding)  (more on carrot puddings history here) (world records)

According to the food historians, our modern carrot cake most likely descended from Medieval carrot puddings enjoyed by people in Europe. Historic evidence suggests Arab cooks of the Carrots are an old world food. imported to the Americas by European settlers. In the 20th century carrot cake was re-introduced as a "healthy alternative" to traditional desserts. The first time was due to necessity; the second time was spurred by the popular [though often misguided] wave of health foods. Is today's carrot cake healthy? It can be. It all depends upon the ingredients.

"In the Middle Ages in Europe, when sweeteners were scarce and expensive, carrots were used in sweet cakes and desserts. In Britain...carrot puddings...often appeared in recipe books in the 18th and 19th centuries. Such uses were revived in Britain during the second World War, when the Ministry of Food disseminated recipes for carrot Christmas pudding, carrot cake, and so on and survive in a small way to the present day. Indeed, carrot cakes have enjoyed a revival in Britain in the last quarter of the 20th century. They are perceived as 'healthy' cakes, a perception fortified by the use of brown sugar and wholemeal flour and the inclusion of chopped nuts, and only slightly compromised by the cream cheese and sugar icing which appears on some versions."

---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 141)

The origins of carrot cake are not absolutely clear. Published in 1591, there is an English recipe for "pudding in a Carret root".  (A Book of Cookrye: Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin. Edward Allde, 1591). That recipe is essentially a stuffed carrot with meat, but it includes many elements common to the modern dessert: shortening, cream, eggs, raisins, sweetener (dates and sugar), spices (clove and mace), scraped carrot, and breadcrumbs (in place of flour). 

To make a pudding in a Carret root.

Take your Carret root and scrape it fair, then take a fine knife and cut out all the meat that is within the roote, and make it hollow, then make your pudding stuffe of the liver of a Goose or of a Pig, with grated bread, Corance, Cloves and mace, Dates, Pepper, Salt and Sugar, chop your Liver very small, and perboile it ere you chop it, so doon, put it in your hollow root. As for the broth, take mutton broth with corance, carrets sliste, salt, whole Mace, sweet Butter, Vergious and grated bread, and so serve it forth upon sippets (=a small piece of bread or toast, used to dip into soup or sauce or as a garnish). - Source;idno=A14584.0001.001

Many food historians believe carrot cake originated from such carrot puddings eaten by Europeans in the Middle Ages, when sugar and sweeteners were expensive and many people used carrots as a substitute for sugar. Variations of the carrot pudding evolved to include baking with a crust (as pumpkin pie), steamed with a sauce, or moulded in pans (as plum pudding) with icing.

There are some clues from 10th century Arabian cookery  T'Khabis al-jazar (Carrots): (A carrot pudding)

"Choose fresh tender and sweet carrots. Peel them and thinly slice them crosswise. For each pound of honey use 3 pounds of these carrots. Boil the honey and remove its froth. Pound the carrot in a stone mortar. Set a clean copper cauldron with a rounded bottom on a trivet on the fire, and put in it the skimmed honey and carrots. Cook the mixture on medium fire until the carrots fall apart. Add walnut oil to the pot. For each pound of homey used add 2/3 cup of oil. Pistachio oil will be the best for it, but you can also use fresh oil of almond or sesame. Add the oil before the honey starts to thicken. However you do not need to stir the pot. You only scrape the bottom gently when mixture starts to thicken to prevent it from sticking to it. To check for doneness, use a stick or a spoon to see whether the pudding is thick enough or not yet. When pudding becomes thick, put the pot down, and spread the dessert on a copper platter. Set it aside to cool down before serving. It will be firm and delicious."

Source: The Book of Cookery preparing Salubrious Foods and Delectable Dishes extracted from Medical Books and told by Proficient Cooks and the Wise/Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq

Cake is a term with a long history, the word is of Viking origin from the old Norse - "Kaka". Cake denotes a baked flour confection sweetened with sugar and honey; it iscarrot cake mixed with eggs and often, but not invariably, with milk and fat and it has a porous texture from the mixture rising during cooking. The distinctions between bread, bun and biscuit are blurred as techniques for baking and leavening developed and eating patterns changed.  Some Roman breads were enriched with eggs and butter and much have reached a cake-like consistency although still named as breads.

The first written evidence of “cake” dates from the 1300’s. The term cake, when used, seems to refer most specifically to forms of bread that are enriched and flat, with flatness being the key distinguishing characteristic. One early definition of cake is given by John de Trevissa in1398, where the crucial feature distinguishing cake from bread seems to be that it is turned over during baking and if therefore flat on both sides: “Some brede is bake and tornyd and wende at fyre and is callyd …. a cake”

The term "carrot cake" first appeared in 1827 (see below)

According to food historians, our modern carrot cake most likely descended from Medieval carrot puddings enjoyed by people in Europe. No one really knows where carrot cake came from, It looks like it did evolve from the Carrot Pudding of medieval times, during the middle ages sugar and other sweeteners were difficult or expensive to come by in Britain and carrots had long been used as sugar substitutes. Carrot Pudding history hereFood timeline's Carrot Cake history here. 

An informative essay on the evolution of carrot cake here:

Carrot cake and its precursors took several forms including baked in pastry, like pumpkin pie steamed and served with sauce, like plum pudding baked in pans and served with icing, like cake.

Recipes for carrot pudding can be found as far back as the10th century Arabian cookery book -  T'Khabis al-jazar (Carrots): - A carrot pudding. Then in 1591 A Booke of Cookrye, John Evelyn's 'Discourse of Sallets' in 1699,  Receipts (recipes) of Pastry and Cookery For the Use of his Scholars, By Ed. Kidder (1720-1740) and Hannah Glasse's 'Art of Cookery' of 1747, but no reference to carrot cake until the 19th century.

Original Pudding Recipe in 'The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy' by Hannah Glasse, 1747 (Glasse 1747);

To make a carrot pudding.

You must take a raw carrot, scrape it very clean and grate it. Take half a pound of the grated carrot, and a pound of grated bread, beat up eight eggs, leave out half the whites, and mix the eggs with half a pint of cream: then stir in the bread and carrot, half a pound of fresh butter melted, half a pint of sack, and three spoonfuls of orange-flower-water, a nutmeg grated. Sweeten to your palate. Mix all well together, and if it is not thin enough, stir in a little new milk or cream. Let it be of a moderate thickness, lay a puff-paste all over the dish, and pour in the ingredients. Bake it; it will take an hour's baking. Or you may boil it, but then you must melt butter and put in white wine and sugar.

A second carrot pudding.

Get two penny loaves, pare off the crust, soak them in a quart of boiling milk, let it stand till it is cold, then grate in two or three large carrots, then put in eight eggs well beat, and three quarters of a pound of fresh butter melted, grate in a little nutmeg, and sweeten to your taste. Cover your dish with puff-paste, pour in the ingredients and bake it an hour.

Original Receipt in 'English Housewifry' by Elizabeth Moxon, 1764 (Moxon 1764 full title English Housewifery Exemplified      In above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions for most Parts of Cookery)

27. CARROT PUDDING another Way 

Take half a pound of carrots, when boil'd and peel'd, beat them in a  mortar, two ounces of grated bread, a pint of cream, half a pound of suet or marrow, a glass of sack, a little cinnamon, half a pound of sugar, six eggs well beat, leaving out three of the whites, and a quarter of a pound of macaroons; mix all well together; puff-paste round the dish-edge. 

Sauce. Wine and sugar.


Take three or four clear red carrots, boil and peel them, take the red part of the carrot, beat it very fine in a marble mortar, put to it the crumbs of a penny loaf, six eggs, half a pound of clarified butter, two or three spoonfuls of rose water, a little lemon-peel shred, grate in a little nutmeg, mix them well together, bake it with a puff-paste round your dish, and have a little white wine, butter and sugar, for the sauce.

Unknown Ladies Cookbook, 1690-1830 - To Make Puddings of Carriotts

First cut the roots hollow as children scoope appels. Take out all the pale yellow. Take greated bread, 4 eggs, beat them well, some pounded cinnamon, sugar to yr taste, some currants. Mix all together. Stuf yr carriots. Put in the piece you cut of the top again. Boyle them in clariot & strong greavy & a little sugar, a stick of cinnimon. When the are boiled thicken yr sauce with the whites & yolks of 2 eggs. So serve them. If for a change you may boyle them in water & nothing else. Serve them in butter, sack & sugar for sauce. Besur[e] serve them hot. This is the first course.

In her New York Cookbook (1992), Molly O'Neill says that George Washington was served a carrot tea cake at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. The date: November 25, 1783. The occasion: British Evacuation Day. She offers an adaptation of that early recipe, which was printed in The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook (1975) by Mary Donovan, Amy Hatrack, and Frances Schull. It is quite close to the carrot cakes of today.

"George Washington's carrot tea cake

 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon 2 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 3/4 cup canola oil 2 cups sugar 4 eggs 2 cups grated carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs and carrots, and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan 2 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to finish cooling."

Carrot Cake Recipes Through the Ages 

The Art of French Cookery, 1827, A B Beauvilliers.The Cook's Dictionary, 1830, Richard Dolby

carrot cake

carrot cake dolby

Top right recipe also appeared (word for word!!) in "The Household Encyclopedia",1858, By An association of heads of families and men of science. Plagiarism is nothing new!

Original Receipt from the 'Leeds Intelligencer' - Saturday 06 May 1843

 Carrot Pudding. - Half a pound of flour, half a pound of suet, chopped very small, half a pound of currants, the same of raisins, and half a pound of grated carrot. These ingredients to be well mixed up together, without any liquid tied up tight in a cloth and boiled five hours. A little grated lemon peel improves the flavour, and sweet sauce is an agreeable addition. That the proof of the pudding is in the eating every one knows, and wherever tlie carrot pudding has been tried it has become a favourite, and generally preferred to those plum puddings which are made with eggs, milk, and sugar.- The Magazine of Domestic Economy. &c.for April.

German national cookery for American kitchens, Henrietta  Davidis,1904, included a recipe for Mohrentorte.

See Carrot Pudding recipes through the ages here - carrot puddings.

The confusion occurs because the term "cake" is fairly recent, probably 13th C and it could be that many puddings were in fact cakes - solid pudding. This is a typical example from the late 17th century.  

"Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets" - John Evelyn 1699

"26. Pudding of Carrot. Pare off some of the Crust of Manchet-Bread, and grate of half as much of the rest as there is of the Root, which must also be grated: Then take half a Pint of fresh Cream or New Milk, half a Pound of fresh Butter, six new laid Eggs (taking out three of the Whites) mash and mingle them well with the Cream and Butter: Then put in the grated Bread and Carrot, with near half a Pound of Sugar; and a little Salt; some grated Nutmeg and beaten Spice; and pour all into a convenient Dish or Pan, butter'd, to keep the Ingredients from sticking and burning; set it in a quick Oven for about an Hour, and so have you a Composition for any Root-Pudding."

The Food timeline gives a lot more here.

A few Americans claim to have "invented" carrot cake in the early 20thC using recipes from "back home", usually Germany, Russia, Poland etc. My mother was Polish and recalls her grandma teaching her about adding carrots (and other stuff, based on availability) to cakes. So I suspect the eastern Europeans have had it from the 19thC at least. Of course country folk passed on these recipes through word of mouth so documentary evidence is sketchy.

According to Gil Marks in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”, the first appearance of the term “carrot cake” in an American source came from “The Neighborhood Cook Book” by the council of Jewish Women, published in Portland, Oregon in 1912.

One-half pound sugar, one-half pound almonds, blanched and chopped, one-half pound carrots, boiled only till they can be grated, juice and grated rind of one lemon, four eggs. Cream the yolks and sugar; whites beaten to snow, added last; add three or four bitter almonds; beat for one half hour before adding whites of eggs. Butter spring form and sprinkle with grated zweibach. Bake in a moderate oven one and one-quarter hours, till loosed from pan.

Richard Auffrey's blog "The Passionate Foodie"  shows research which pre-dates the above 'first US reference' (blog here)

Through my research of some newspaper archives, I found several sources concerning carrot cake that predate the publication of this cookbook in December 1912.

First, The Detroit Times, December 19, 1908, had an article about doctors in London living on a diet of carrots, including "carrot cake." This is indicative that American readers were at least familiar with carrot cake, though the article is discussing London.

Second, the Norwich Bulletin, November 19, 1909, has an advertisement for the Haile Club restaurant, in Connecticut, which mentions "carrot cake" on their menu. So, we then see that at least one American restaurant was serving carrot cake, and there isn't any indication that this is a unique occurrence. There isn't any explanation of "carrot cake" either, so they seem to assume that readers would understand what they meant.

Third, The San Francisco Call, February 25, 1912, has a letter from a woman seeking a recipe for a "good carrot cake."

And finally, and most significantly, there is a reference which provides a carrot cake recipe. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 21, 1912, printed a recipe for "Crocus Carrot Cake," which was sourced from the Ladies Home Journal. I'm not sure why "crocus" is used in the name as that plant has nothing to do with the recipe. Though this recipe appears to be simultaneous with the The Neighbourhood Cook Book, the original recipe appeared in the Ladies Home Journal, November 1912, predating the recipe from The Neighbourhood Cook Book.

world war two carrot cake - usa

A recipe for “War Cake” found in an anonymous cookbook from the 1940s in the New-York Historical Society Library’s Manuscript collection. It boasts: “no butter, no eggs, no milk, delicious.” 

Image courtesy of New-York Historical Society Library's Manuscript collection.

Recipe for “War Cake”

2 cups castor sugar,2 cups hot water,2 Tbsp lard1 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon cinnamon,1 teaspoon cloves,1 package seedless raisins.

Boil all together. After cold, add 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water. Bake about one hour in a slow oven (300-325°F).

Original Recipe in Ministry of Food 'War Cookery Leaflet No.4'. July 1943;

During the Second World War, when sugar was rationed to 8oz (230g) per week, carrots where used to naturally sweeten cakes and biscuits. The sweetness of the carrots replaced some of the sugar used in the original recipes.

Carrot Cake

6 ozs flour,1 level teaspoonful baking powder,3 ozs fat, 3 ozs oatmeal,3 tablespoonfuls raw grated carrot

1˝ tablespoonfuls sugar, 1 tablespoonful dried fruit, 1 dried egg (reconstituted),1 dessertspoonful syrup, water to mix

Rub fat into flour, add dry ingredients and carrots and mix thoroughly. Add the syrup, reconstituted egg, and sufficient water to form a fairly stiff consistency. Place in a greased tin and bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour. (full WW2 leaflet here).

The Germans have a long tradition of cakes, torts etc and I would guess that would be a strong candidate for a likely origin. If anyone knows more do please contact the curator. click here

When did the cream cheese icing appear? The earliest American print references to frosting carrot cake with cream cheese are from 1960's:  Some eastern European cultures, have cream cheese cakes and it could well have developed from this, and a lot earlier.

Mary Berry's (UK) Carrot and Banana Cake recipe.

Singapore Deep Fried Carrot Cake here

Carrot Cake Porridge

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cooking time: 5 minutes serves two

INGREDIENTS: 80g whole rolled oats; 400ml sweetened almond milk; Pinch of finely grated nutmeg;1 large carrot, peeled and grated;1 tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)

METHOD:  Put the oats, almond milk and nutmeg into a pan and simmer the porridge over a medium – high heat for three to four minutes, stirring frequently. Stir through the grated carrot and sultanas and cook for a further minute. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with a little more nutmeg, if you like, and enjoy immediately.

Another variation - Carrot Pancakes

Carrot cake pancake recipe

Yields 14-16

Ingredients: •1-1/2 cups flour •1/3 cup brown sugar •1/2 teaspoon salt •1 teaspoon baking powder •1 teaspoon baking soda •1 teaspoon cinnamon •1/2 teaspoon nutmeg •1/4 teaspoon ground ginger •2 eggs •1-1/2 cups whole milk •3 tablespoons melted butter •1 teaspoon vanilla •2 large carrots, peeled, grated and pressed between stacks of paper towels •1/2 cup raisins •1/2 cup walnuts

Directions: 1.Preheat a grilled or large skillet, spray with cooking spray. 2.In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ground ginger. 3.In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, whole milk, melted butter and vanilla. 4.Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. 5.Stir in the carrots, raisins and walnuts. 6.Pour 1/4 cup batter onto a hot griddle. 7.Cook until the edges start to look dry, and the underside is golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side until cooked through.

Purple Carrot Cake Recipe  - "A healthy version of regular carrot cake: just as moist, still huge on flavour but with reduced sugar, less oil and full of surprising health benefits to help fight the winter blues!" - MadAboutMacarons blog -  here

Carrot mugcake recipe (serves 2) Carrot cake is the ultimate Easter bake.

Lightly spiced with cinnamon, studded with juicy sultanas and sandwiched together with a creamy filling, it's a wonderful seasonal treat to make. Known for her super quick and easy recipes, Instagram foodie @Cakeontherun has shared her take on the springtime classic.Made in the microwave, in a mug, it serves two people (or one if you don't want to share) and takes just two minutes to cook.


 40g self raising flour; 40g caster sugar; 40g margarine; 1 egg; 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon; 1 tbsp sultanas; 1 tbsp grated carrot

Plus for the filling: 2 tbsp yoghurt; Sprinkle caster sugar;Pinch of ground cinnamon


Put margarine and sugar into a large mug and mix with a spoon until smooth and creamy.

Add all of the other ingredients except for the flour and mix until combined. It will look a bit curdled but don't worry. Then add the flour and mix until smooth and creamy. Pop the mug in the microwave on high for two minutes.Use a sharp knife to ease the cake out of the mug and turn it out onto a plate.

Once cooled slightly so it's easy to touch, use the knife to cut the sponge in half.For the filling, mix cinnamon with yoghurt and spread on top of one of the halves.Sandwich the two halves together then sprinkle over some caster sugar and more cinnamon. Tuck in!

Chinese New Year white carrot "cake"

Makes one 9x2 inch round cake

1.5 kg (about 3 big ones) WHITE carrots (ONLY WHITE carrots give the right taste!) 300g rice flour (may use all-purpose flour, but never tried it though) 25 Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked overnight in water 10 dried scallops, soaked to soften overnight --OR-- 6 Chinese sausages, chopped into small pieces **a handful of dried shrimps, soaked overnight (OPTIONAL) 8g five spices powder 2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp chicken powder 1 tbsp white pepper 2 slices of ginger 2 tbsp oil 1 tbsp oil

(NB: all the above dried seafood (eg. Chinese mushroom, shrimps, scallops and Chinese sausages can be found in Chinese seafood stores, in Chinatown definitely)

(1) if using scallops, spread the soaked scallops into shreds. (if using Chinese sausages instead, chop into small pieces)

(2) Chop all soaked, softened and drained mushrooms, Chinese sausages, shrimps (if using) into small pieces. set aside.

(3) shred white carrots, set aside. (Shredding is the part which takes most of the time)

(4) Heat wok [or a large skillet] HOT with 2 tbsp oil. Fry chopped mushrooms, sausages, shrimps or/and scallops shreds for 1/2 min. Dish up and set aside.

(5) Add 1 more tbsp oil, fry ginger a bit. Then add shredded carrots, toss constantly for about 3 mins. (DON'T REMOVE ANY WATER left)

(6) Add spice, salt, chicken powder, white pepper, toss until evenly distributed.

(7) TURN OFF HEAT. Add rice flour on top, now use a chopsticks to toss and mix flour evenly with carrots (about 2 mins).

(8) Remove carrots flour mixture onto a greased 9x2 inch deep round cake pan.

(9) Clean wok or large skillet, boil a wok/skillet of water. Steam the pan of carrots on a round wire rack on LOW-HEAT/FIRE for 45 mins. (can use a large bamboo steamer if u have)

(10) Slice into pieces and serve hot!! OR cool on wire rack before covering with plastic firm and put in fridge.


History Wild Carrot Today Nutrition Cultivation Recipes Trivia Links Home Contact SITE SEARCH