Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare three 8" cake pans. Add a parchment round to the bottom of each pan using a dob of butter to hold in place then butter and flour the sides.
Beat the sugar, oil, eggs, apple sauce, and vanilla together in a large bowl.
In another bowl, sift together dry ingredients and whisk together.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix together until just combined and scrape the bowl down.
Toss the toasted pecans with 1 tablespoon of the dry mixture.
Fold the carrots and pecans into the batter.
Divide the batter evenly into a three buttered 8" pans lined with parchment paper.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow the layers to cool completely in the pan. Set over a wire rack.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
Cream the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the vanilla until well combined, scrape the bowl down then add the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth.
For the Buttercream (optional)
Use a spatula to fold in the powdered sugar into the butter a cup at a time until it forms a thick pipable paste. Divide into two batches, a larger one will be colored orange the smaller will be green.
For the Assembly
Pipe a thick layer of the cream cheese frosting onto the first cooled layer, add the second then repeat the process until the cake is built. Because cream cheese frosting tends to be soft it's best to chill the cake for a bit so it stabilizes.
Cover the cake in cream cheese frosting then smooth the side and top.
Press the chopped toasted pecans onto the lower part of the side.
Us a 1a (large round) tip to pipe the carrots on top then use a grass tip to pipe the green tops.
Measure your flour correctly! Adding too much flour to the recipe is the most common mistake. The best and easiest way to measure flour is by using a scale. If you don't have one then fluff your flour with a spoon, sprinkle it into your measuring cup, and use a knife to level it off.
Make sure you prepare your cake pans properly so the cake will release easily.
The nuts can be omitted. I love the crunch and depth of flavor they add though. Walnuts and pecans work well in this cake so use whichever you prefer.
If you haven't toasted nuts before it's super-easy! Just spread out on a baking tray and bake at 350F for about 10 minutes or until they smell nice and fragrant. Remove from the oven after 5 minutes and move around on the baking sheet so they toast evenly.
It's important to lightly dust the nuts in some of the dry mixture before folding them into the batter. This stops the nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
No apple sauce? you can use chopped pineapple instead.
I use the fine side of a box grater to grate my carrot but you can also use the larger holes if you want. Alternatively, you can shred the carrots in a food processor.
If your frosting is runny then add more powdered sugar a cup at a time until the consistency thickens up. You can also chill the frosting slightly so it firms up.
After filling the cake layers with frosting I prefer to refrigerate the cake for 15-20 minutes to give the layers a chance to firm up before frosting the whole cake.
Make sure all your refrigerated ingredients are at room temperature for the best results.
Cake strips will help you get a nice flat top after baking so you can stack the layers without trimming.
If you want to change the flavor you could add raisins, shredded coconut, or chocolate chips if you like.
You can also adjust the spices to taste or add in extras such as allspice and cardamom.
When making your cream cheese frosting it's a good idea to cover the stand mixer with a kitchen towel to stop the powdered sugar from escaping.
You can make the buttercream carrots really easily with a large round tip nozzle and a grass tip nozzle. These really help you to create cute little carrots and don't require any technical baking skills.