Carrot cake lovers are a particular bunch. They seem to know what it takes to make a carrot cake work, from the concentration of carrots to the ratio of spices to the balance between cake and frosting. Even finding unexpected ingredients like raisins or coconut in the mix can take the recipe in new directions, something true carrot cake connoisseurs are sure to critique. And when you bypass homemade carrot cake in favor of picking up a store-bought version, the challenge of finding one that works can become a scavenger hunt through the world of grocery store baked goods.
We pondered about which store-bought carrot cakes might make a prime purchase for special occasions or just a tempting dessert. Our curiosity took us to several grocery stores and big-box retailers, where we found bakeries offering their best takes on the classic combination of spiced carrot-loaded sponge and creamy frosting. Then we fired up our palate and tasted each one to determine which outlet offered the best, following criteria we further outline below.
If we originally presumed that all carrot cakes taste alike, our sampling set us straight; carrot cake is an entire spectrum, with both subordinate options and superior selections. It was sweet work as we sifted through the lot one bite at a time to zero in on our choice for the top of the pile.
We never thought there would be a way for a carrot cake to make us sad. Even at its worst, carrot cake is still cake. But it turns out that if you search hard enough, you'll find a bummer of an offering that could make you question your taste for pastries if you don't stay guarded and keep faith. Just Desserts carrot cake cupcake is one such discovery. Sold at Target Superstore locations for about $3.29, depending on location, this handsome sweet plays the part, sitting in its plastic bubble with a tartan ribbon wrapped down the front like a necktie. Even the full coif of frosting sits high and proud, covering nearly the entire top of the cake. Once you split the ribbon and crack open the case, you'll find out how deceiving looks can be.
How many different things could be wrong with a carrot cake? For starters, the cake is dry — like, dry–dry, the kind that frosting can't salvage. This also means the cake is crumbly, so it's a mess to eat, especially if you try to break it into smaller pieces rather than smashing it all into your face at once. Maybe this is due to storage issues or shelf life, even though the label suggested the cake inside would be fresh and tasty. But the flavor is so artificial that even if it were moist enough to be appealing, it would still be a loss.
Bakery Fresh Goodness
Kroger stocks the bakeries of all its retailers with baked goods that are generally top-tier. We've enjoyed everything from classic donuts to craft cheesecakes and we're always impressed with the quality of ingredients, execution, and flavors. So when sampling a full-sized Bakery Fresh Goodness carrot cake from our local Fry's Food Store left us feeling less than charmed, we were stunned. Where was the lush texture of the sponge, the creamy consistency of the frosting, the bright spice flavor that makes carrot cake a warm wonder of a confection? Maybe it had all been used up in the other bakery items because none of it was present in this carrot cake.
The disappointment was even greater considering the sweet decorations on top. The ivory buttercream frosting came garnished with sharply defined rosettes and a squat orange carrot in the center. The whimsical display suited the diminutive round cake, which contains six portions. If only the taste and texture were suitable for serving someone who loves carrot cake. We wholeheartedly agree with the two-star average across a dozen or so reviews shown on Fry's website and won't be considering this lesser version for a second purchase.
Fans of bite-sized cupcakes in carrot cake form will be elated to know that Lucky Spoon packages four tiny treats per clamshell package and sells them at Sprouts for around $7.29 , depending on your location. The adorable format of these mini cakes each topped with a puff of frosting is enough to make your teeth ache. The idea of popping one in your mouth while you sip your morning coffee might inspire you to pick up a package to add a little early-day dessert to your morning routine.
But it seems that, aside from nutmeg, the flavor has been left out of this concoction. The frosting does its best to perk things up a bit, but there are no add-ins nor could we find any discernible carrot pieces in the sponge. Yes, they're small, but even shredded carrots would present an extra bite to prove the carrot cake concept. We're not asking for anything earth-shattering like chocolate-frosted Brazilian carrot cake, just a bigger swing on the quintessential favorite. Maybe mini-cupcakes are too small to present a full blast of carrot cake flavor. In our opinion, there should be more than spice present in a bake that wears the banner "carrot cake" across its plastic case.
For the well-stocked bakery section that natural grocer Sprouts boasts, having carrot cake as part of the selection makes total sense. Rubicon Bakers provides miniature tiered carrot cakes that catch the eye with their decorative flair and winsome size, perfect for a party of four at most. The temptation to grab one just to take home and unwrap it is pretty powerful. We recommend thinking carefully before doing that.
Rubicon's imagining of a carrot cake recipe results in a version with very little character. Sure, it's carrot cake, but it isn't carrot cake enough to be memorable. If we hadn't taken notes when tasting, we surely would have forgotten what it was all about. The frosting is nice and sprightly at least, and there's a central layer to break up the tiers, as well as a cake crumb shell around the exterior for a rustic garnish. But the crumbs are as blah as the cake beneath the frosting. And this little treat costs $8.50 or so, depending upon location — not exactly money well-spent. The lesson here is clear: Don't eat with your eyes; eat with your taste buds and find a better cake to indulge in.
The baked goods at Sam's Club are always impressive to behold, if not always delicious to eat. It may be due to the constant demand for the bakery department to churn out fresh products throughout the day, or it could be the recipe chosen by corporate bigwigs that keeps the Member's Mark carrot cake from being more of a sensation. It may be one of the prettiest cakes on the block, but the post-slice engagement is a near-flavorless letdown.
The sponge is so subtle, there's almost no discernible spice flavor or carrot texture. It's a blend so delicate it's bland, with just a wheat-like taste in desperate need of a cinnamon-ginger one-two punch. The frosting is no more fantastic than the sponge, something of a stiff vanilla buttercream that adds nothing to the overall effect. The sprinkling of walnut pieces that adorn the top is the strongest taste that comes through.
If you pass by the refrigerated bakery case in Sam's and spy this tuxedo-style carrot cake, you'll be captivated by its appearance: a long bar of three bare-sided layers, with frosting between each as well as on top. But don't be fooled by this pretty pick or its 12 servings priced at about $16.98, depending on location. It's one of the less tasty carrot cakes in the patch. Warehouse shoppers can likely find a better carrot cake at Costco come Easter instead.
Nothing Bundt Cakes
Nothing Bundt Cakes is known for offering premium bundt cake creations in various sizes, all adorned with a spider-shaped drapery of frosting or a sweet star-shaped puff. Of all the flavors in the catalog, carrot cake stands out as a unique offering — not decadent and showy like double chocolate or red velvet, but homey and comforting instead. Anyone looking for a workable take on carrot cake will find the recipe recognizable and even a refreshing rebalancing of the usual flavors. Our taste test revealed a very light honey-flavored sponge topped with subtle buttercream rather than an overpowering cream cheese frosting. The dense moistness of the bundt shape made it easy to enjoy a hefty slice, even with our smaller Bundtlet-sized sample.
We were hoping Nothing Bundt Cakes would offer a more exciting bite, considering the $5.75 or so price tag , depending on location, for a cake that serves two at most. Shopping at a non-grocery store for this carrot cake might seem like a bit of a cheat, but since you have the option of shopping for a premade carrot cake here, we consider it fair game. Sadly, there are better options available elsewhere at more attractive prices.
Albertson's Artisan Bakery
Albertsons offers an elevated version of carrot cake swanky enough to warrant the word "artisan" in the title. In this case, it isn't just an advertising ploy. Our oversized single slice of three-tiered cake was as lovely as anything created for a wedding, displaying richly colored sponge layers with heaps of creamy frosting between. Crumb coating around the edge added a decorative touch while breaking up the outer frosting texture just enough. Though we found a single-slice serving at our Albertsons, availability may vary by region and location.
Then, we tasted it and discovered the flavor was almost as special as the appearance. Albertsons' carrot cake concept leans heavily into the molasses end of the spectrum, creating a uniquely caramel-like essence that felt decadent. The frosting capitalizes on vanilla lavished with coconut for a combination that seems to have gone missing in our other carrot cake contestants. The additional texture was welcomed, considering the softness of the sponge and the lush fluff of the frosting. All in all, this is a fun spin on carrot cake that could maybe use a bit more carrot, but nothing else.
Kroger's signature brand Private Selection aims to elevate the idea of store-label products, including baked goods like one of the best carrot cakes we could find. A wholesome array of packaged treats is sold under the name but the carrot cake is a stand-out that deserves its fair share of dessert acclaim. It may not be our list-topper, but it's definitely the next best thing.
Do we begin by heaping praise on the incredibly moist, dense texture? Or maybe we applaud the inclusion of raisins and walnuts in just the right sizes and concentrations? We could begin by extolling the virtues of the carrots, enough to be assertive but not so much that you can't enjoy the spices in the sponge. Of course, we could describe the generous quantities of tangy frosting pressed between the layers and slathered on top, decorated with a tasteful touch of caramel drizzle. But the truth is, it all works incredibly well together, which makes it impossible to choose a single aspect to start with. It's best if you head to Kroger, pick up a single-slice serving, and find out for yourself.
The unassuming presentation of Albertsons' single-slice carrot cake lets this power player make a sneak attack. Flying higher on the radar might clue more carrot cake devotees in on the sweet revelation. We're glad we picked up on it at our neighborhood location so we could bring it into our lineup.
The frosting is a little more yellow than expected, and the carrot on top is tiny and a bit drizzly, but none of that matters once you take a bite. The sponge is prominently flavored with cinnamon, frosted with a light buttercream flavor and just a bit of cream cheese tang. There were also enough chopped nuts scattered throughout the cake to keep our teeth busy while accenting the cinnamon with a nutty warmth.
Truth be told, we needed a few bites before we could reach a conclusion. Every next taste helped us realize how much we liked this well-done iteration of a carrot cake baked fresh daily. Depending on where you are, you may find this great cake priced at just $2.99 for a well-proportioned slice.
What a sweet surprise to learn that the Walmart bakery creates a fully favorable carrot cake. Even the plump carrot decoration on top had more style than expected. The flavor included enough carrot to make itself known without giving the impression that it was showing off or taking over the whole slice. The sponge itself was tender and very cinnamon-forward, an element we found missing in most of the other desserts on the list. It was enough to remind us that the best carrot cakes make proper use of spices as well as carrots. Getting a center slice meant that frosting adorned only the top of the cake, providing just enough moisture and tangy flavoring to be satisfying.
Walmart sells full-sized versions of this cake too, though the single slice could be split in halves or quarters and still be enough for a modest dessert or snack. At our location, we found it affordably priced at $2.44 for a single slice, though if you have a bit more to spend, you can pick up a 5-inch round for around $5.98 that serves six or a two-layer round for around $11.98 that serves 12.
The modest to low reviews shown on the website listings for these cakes are mystifying. We found this carrot cake delightful and would gladly buy it again in any size available.
The biggest surprise in our carrot cake challenge comes from Carlo's, a brand we found at Walmart sold as a boxed third-party cake among the in-house baked goods. The single-slice packaging was deceptive upon first viewing; the triangular plastic case looks like something you'd find a deli sandwich stuffed into. It wasn't large enough to hold the slice without squishing it, which gave the impression of a low-quality product. How could something packaged like this be worth trying?
Well, not only is Carlo's carrot cake worth trying, but it blows the others on the list away by a delicious country mile. This makes more sense once you know that Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo's Bakery, is TLC's original Cake Boss! The deep, rich flavor of the cake was nearly overpowered by the moist texture. Luckily, they helped keep one another in balance. The frosting was cream cheese perfection, doled out generously enough for total satisfaction.
We thought a bite or two would be enough to make the determination, and to be fair, it was. But it wasn't enough to make us happy, so we kept eating until the oversized three-tier slice was gone. Then we stared longingly at the empty package and considered heading back to Walmart for another slice, or even the full-sized round. Now we understand why carrot cake was so popular in the '70s. There's no question about it. When it comes to store-bought carrot cake, Carlo's is the best of the bunch.
How We Chose Our Carrot Cakes
Since carrot cake is something of a specialty item, we were only able to find it in grocery store bakery sections -- no freezer or refrigerator-based versions were found in the vicinity. This worked to our advantage, as every selection had been freshly made within days of purchase. Some bakeries had two different styles, so we chose both to make sure we covered all the bases. Nothing Bundt Cake is a specialty chain rather than a store, per se, but we kept it in our selection so we could round out the list with a comprehensive comparison. The aspects we looked for were freshness, balance of spices, texture of both sponge and frosting, ratio of frosting to cake, add-ins like nuts and raisins, and overall carrot cake essence.
Read the original article on Mashed.