Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting (+ Cream Cheese Frosting Tips!)

Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


It’s. All. About. The. Frosting. I happen to love the cake also, but I’m not going to lie to the cake part, like heyyyyy you’re important too. I would never patronise carrot cake in that way.


Carrot cake knows the score. It’s like Beyonce’s all-girl band. They know that they will never outshine Beyonce (who in this example represents cream cheese icing) but they’re also pretty psyched to have such a sick gig (supporting Beyonce, like carrot cake supports cream cheese icing).


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


Beyonce’s all girl band is actually a perfect symbol for this cake, because it’s not just ANY carrot cake. It’s studded with sexy green pistachios, and it’s got a lil’ olive oil in the batter.


So it has depth and crunch and flavour, in addition to carrot cake’s usual lightly spiced, moist crumb. {I refuse to apologise for the word moist – it’s apt}


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting 4


Even though this carrot cake is pretty special, and there would be plenty of people who would love it plain or with a little icing sugar, I also know that if I really want to bring in the crowds, I’m going to give the people what they want.


It’s not quite 50/50 cake and frosting, but dang, it’s close.


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


I did a lot of testing for this recipe, because I don’t know about you, but I’ve eaten some pretty average carrot cakes in the past AND I’ve had some cream cheese frosting disasters.


The cake is actually super straight forward, and indeed, so is the frosting, but there are a couple of helpful hints I have for you which will avert disaster.


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


Have you ever made cream cheese icing, totally followed the recipe, and then inexplicable ended up with a ridiculously runny slop that’s pretty much good for nothing? Me too. From what I can deduce, the reason for this is that cream cheese separates, causing liquid to leach out and dissolve the icing sugar, ergo runny frosting. Cream cheese can split from either over-beating, or becoming too warm. SO…


Cream Cheese Frosting Tips:

  • Use full-fat cream cheese. It contains the least amount of liquid and is therefore least likely to split and fail.
  • Soft, but not warm cream cheese is what you’re after. So get it out of the fridge before you start – you want it soft and spreadable, but still cool to the touch.
  • Beat the butter first, until completely light and fluffy, and then add the cream cheese and mix until just combined in a short, but high-speed burst.
  • Finally add the sugar and any flavorings (nothing too liquid) and beat until everything just coheres in a frosting.


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


The ratio of butter to cream cheese to sugar in this recipe makes for a not-too-sweet, and fairly thick frosting. Something that will stand up fairly firmly, which allowed me to do the cool, straight-sided edge on this cake.


And there you have it! Now tell me, carrot cake, are you a fan? Or are you really just in it for the frosting? Be honest!


xx Sarah.


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting // The Sugar Hit


Pistachio Carrot Cake with Thick Cream Cheese Frosting
A dense, sweet carrot cake, studded with pistachios and topped with a thick layer of cream cheese icing.
Serves: 7 inch (18cm) cake
For the cake:
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup (170g) caster sugar
  • ½ cup (125ml) canola oil (or other flavourless oil)
  • ⅓ cup (85ml) olive oil
  • 3 medium carrots, grated (about 1 + ½ cups grated carrot)
  • 1 + ½ cups (225g) plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ¾ cup pistachios, chopped (or a mix of pistachios and another nut, like almonds or pecans)
For the frosting:
  • 1 stick (115g) butter, softened
  • 4 oz (200g) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 + ½ cups (250g) icing sugar
  • vanilla extract
  • Optional: extra chopped pistachios and sliced dried apricot, to decorate.
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F and grease and line a 7 inch / 18cm cake tin (an 8 or 9 inch tin will also work, but your cake will be flatter, and cook times will be shorter).
  2. Place the eggs and sugar into a large bowl (or stand mixer) and whip them for about 2 minutes or until light and creamy, with the consistency of a thin custard - they shouldn't be so thick that they hold a ribbon, though.
  3. Whisking slowly, stream in the canola and olive oils, until they're combined. The mixture will thicken slightly.
  4. Now, switch to a wooden spoon, or paddle attachment, and add in all the remaining ingredients, stirring until everything is just combined.
  5. Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until springing back when touched, and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the tin, and leave to cool on a rack, completely.
  6. To make the frosting, place the butter into a large bowl, or stand mixer, and beat with a wooden spoon or paddle attachment, until very soft and visibly lighter in colour.
  7. Add in the cream cheese and beat for a few seconds only, until it is JUST combined into the butter - do not overbeat.
  8. Add in the icing/confectioner's sugar and the vanilla in one go, and beat until everything comes together in a smooth, thick icing - again, be careful not to overbeat.
  9. Pile the frosting onto the completely cool cake, and frost as you like. I spread it all over the top, with a slight overhang around the edge, and then used a palette knife to smooth the edges and top.
  10. Decorate with chopped pistachios and sliced dried apricot, if you like.


  • hi
    I made a cream cheese frosting yesterday with blueberries sauce, the sauce made the frosting more runny and I tried to add more icing sugar to make it more dance and putting it in the fridge but it’s not working. Any more Tips That I can use?

    • I have no magic bullet solution unfortunately! In my experience, once the frosting is lost, there’s no bringing it back. Maybe throw that sucker in some glasses with a crushed up biscuit base and call them frosting shots? Sorry I couldn’t help!

  • I really need to make this carrot cake soon! I love a little pistachio crunch on top too. I totally agree that once cream cheese frosting has gone runny it’s all over. I found a combo of cold cream cheese and room temp butter processed in a food processor works best for me. I did have my fair share of failures too. Your unapologetic cake to frosting ratio made me laugh, Sarah!

  • I LOVE carrot cake, but it has to have frosting, it’s the combination of the two that makes the cake. Courgette cake is the same, it has to come with a cream cheese frosting.

    I always have trouble with my frosting, either too runny, or little lumps of butter no matter how much I beat it beforehand!

    I’ll try this method. Thanks, the cake looks uh-mazing!

  • I am in it for the carrot cake AND the cream cheese frosting! Seriously, I love them both. This recipe looks phenomenal!

    • Hi Luis – absolutely! I would give them 15 minutes, and then check them. All up, I’d say they’ll probably be done in 18-20 minutes max.
      Let me know how it goes!

  • You have nailed the cake/frosting ratio here!
    And I agree, cream cheese is totally tricky. My biggest breakthroughs have come from using name brand full-fat cream cheese (not super cheap store-brand stuff) and using it when it is soft but not completely squishy and room temp. And it’s still sometimes a roll of the dice! Tempermental bugger.

  • I’ve made a couple of things from your site lately and am not sure if the oven temps are fan-forced or not?

  • can i use granulated sugar as an alternative for caster and icing sugar?
    can i get rid of the olive oil and use all canola oil instead?

    if yes, will there be any adjustment or changes in measurements?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Kiko – yes you can swap the olive oil for canola oil, that’s fine, the cake will just have a milder taste. You can also use granulated sugar in place of caster sugar in the cake, no problem. But you need icing sugar (also known as powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar) for the icing – it cannot be substituted. The measurements for the granulated sugar and oil will stay the same.


  • This carrot cake is spot on! And the cream cheese frosting is perfect without being too sweet like many cream cheese frostings are. Follow frosting instructions exactly to get a perfectly thick frosting.. I put my kitchenaid on the highest setting for not even 10 seconds to whip in the cream cheese. I made in a 9 inch pan and the cook time was about 35 minutes. I made the same amount of frosting, but if I remake in my 9 inch pan I will probably 1.5 the amount to get a nice thick latyer!

    • Hi Steven! I haven’t tried it myself, but carrot cake is famously adaptible to most arrangements, particularly sheet-style cakes. You would need to double the batter and the frosting, and then bake for 55-65 minutes (the best way to test will be by gently pressing the top – if it springs back it’s ready, if it’s squishy it needs longer). Let me know how it turns out! xx

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