This incredible coconut cake recipe combines a simple, light and fluffy coconut-flavored cake with a creamy coconut cream cheese frosting, all topped up with shreds of sweetened coconut flakes. This ultimate coconut cake is the most decadent dessert for any coconut lover.
Easy Coconut Cake Recipe
Coconut Cake, a Southern classic cake, is an incredibly moist cake similar to a standard vanilla cake recipe amped up with lots of coconut flavor.
In this recipe, instead of using the standard creamy coconut buttercream frosting to frost the cake, I decided to use a sweet and extra creamy cream cheese frosting infused with the flavors of coconut milk, vanilla bean and coconut extracts. I think you’ll agree with me when I say that this beautiful and decadent coconut cake is every coconut lover’s dream!
Besides the amazing flavor and beautiful look of this stunningly perfect coconut cake, one has to notice the texture and moist crumb of each cake layer. Although a lot of coconut cakes rely on the poke method to make the cake moist, this homemade coconut cake comes out perfectly moist thanks to the inclusion of coconut milk and sour cream in the batter.
Why You’ll Love This Coconut Cake Recipe
- Easy: The straightforward recipe is easy to follow and requires no fancy techniques to make it.
- Versatile: Whether you are celebrating a holiday such as Easter, a special birthday or any other type of celebration, this show-stopping cake is a welcome addition to any dessert table.
- Convenient: All of the ingredients are easy to find at your local store if you don’t already have them in your kitchen.
What is Traditional Coconut Cake?
While coconut cakes can come in many shapes and sizes, traditional Southern Coconut Cake is usually a layer cake with traditional buttercream or meringue. This made from scratch coconut cake is a three layered cake packed with sweet coconut flavor. In between each tier or layer of cake there’s a thin layer of coconut cream cheese frosting that adds flavor and sweetness to this delicious dessert.
Texturally, this cake is a winner too. While the cake itself is fluffy and moist, the frosting is incredibly creamy and the shredded coconut adds just a slight bit of much needed crunch.
Coconut Cake Ingredients and Substitutions
There are three parts to this cake: the cake itself, the frosting, and a simple garnish of shredded coconut. While these are all of the necessary ingredients, you can find exact quantities on the recipe card below.
- Cake Flour: Using cake flour (instead of all purpose flour) helps to make the cake light, soft and delicate.
- Baking Powder: This leavening agent helps the cake to rise and creates the perfect light texture.
- Baking Soda: The combination of baking soda along with sour cream results in a super moist cake.
- Salt: Just a little bit of salt is all you need to bring out the flavors of the rest of the ingredients in the cake.
- Unsalted Butter: Although I prefer unsalted butter for baking, if you only have salted butter, use it. Allowing the butter to soften to room temperature make it easier to mix with the other ingredients.
- Granulated Sugar: I use plain white sugar for this cake (which also keeps the cake pretty white!)
- Egg Whites: Only egg whites and not egg yolks are used to make this cake. Use large eggs and allow them to come to room temperature before making the cake batter. Using fresh eggs and not egg whites from a carton is a must!
- Sour Cream: Makes cake super moist and gives it a much needed tang to cut through all the sweetness. I use full fat sour cream and allow it to come to room temperature. You can also use Greek yogurt.
- Pure Vanilla Extract: Investing in high quality pure vanilla extract is a must if you want to achieve a natural vanilla flavor.
- Coconut Extract: This extract imparts more coconut flavor. If you don’t have coconut extract, use a bit of almond extract.
- Coconut Milk – I use canned coconut milk not sweetened cream of coconut. For better mixing, keep it at room temperature. In a pinch, whole milk could be used although you won’t get the richness and flavor that coconut milk imparts.
- Shredded Coconut: I use sweetened shredded coconut for the cake batter which is not dry like unsweetened shredded coconut. The moisture of the sweetened coconut helps keeping the cake moist. Unsweetened desiccated coconut can be used to decorate the cake but not for the cake batter.
- Cream Cheese: For richness and the absolute best texture, I use full fat cream cheese from a block of cream cheese.
- Confectioners’ Sugar: Or powdered sugar gives the frosting its silky smoothness.
How Do You Make Coconut Cake?
Here’s the quick version of how to make this easy coconut cake. Find all of the details on the printable recipe card below.
To Make the Cake:
- Preheat the oven and grease and line baking pans.
- Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
- Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer or in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.
- Add the remaining wet ingredients, egg whites, sour cream and extracts. Mix until combined. The mixture may look a bit curdle at this point.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients and coconut milk and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
- Using a rubber spatula, fold the shredded coconut into the cake batter.
- Pour batter into the prepared round cake pans and bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean with just a few moist crumbs.
- Transfer the cakes from the oven to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely in the pans.
To Make the Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
- Add the cream cheese and butter to a bowl and beat until creamy.
- Turn the mixer down to low speed and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar followed by the coconut milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt.
- Once all ingredients are added, turn the speed up and beat until fluffy and smooth.
Assemble and Decorate
- Using a sharp knife, slice off the tops of the cakes.
- Place the first layer onto a cake plate.
- Spread frosting over the top of the cake using an offset spatula.
- Place the second layer on top and frost the top of it, as well.
- Place the third layer on top of the second layer and frost it.
- Add shredded coconut to the tops and sides. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Common Questions About Coconut Cake
Why is My Coconut Cake Dry?
If your cake is not moist, you may have used too much flour or baked it for too long. To fix a cake that is dry, you can use a pastry brush to apply a little bit of simple syrup or coconut milk to the cake.
What Makes a Cake Light and Fluffy?
Properly beating the butter when creaming it with the sugar will help the cake to be light and airy. Using cake flour helps to make a fluffy cake as well.
Can I Leave Coconut Cake Out Overnight?
Since the cream cheese frosting has dairy in it, coconut cake should be kept in the refrigerator.
What to Serve With Coconut Cake
We like to serve this amazing and moist cake with fresh fruit, ice cream, or a hot cup of coffee.
Storing and Freezing Coconut Cake
Refrigerator: Store cake on its original serving platter or cake stand for up to five days, covered with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Or, store slices in an airtight container.
Freezer: Use a freezer-safe container to store slices of coconut cake for up to three months.
Tips for the Perfect Coconut Cake
- Use Cake Flour: Cake flour makes the best soft cakes! If you don’t have any cake flour, make your own homemade cake flour by taking off – 2 tablespoons of flour out of 1 cup of all-purpose flour and replacing them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
- Coconut Extract: If you don’t have coconut extract handy in your pantry, use1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon of almond extract in this recipe.
- Sweetened Coconut: keep the texture of the cake moist by using sweetened shredded coconut for the cake batter.
- Frosting consistency: To thicken a frosting that is too thin, mix in more confectioners’ sugar. To thin the frosting if it is too thick, stir in more coconut milk.
- Refrigerate immediately: To help make the cake easier to slice, refrigerate directly after frosting for at least 20 minutes.
- Coconut Sheet Cake: Use a 9×13 inch pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.
Take A Look At these Other Amazing Cake Recipes:
- Butter Pecan Cake
- French Apple Cake
- Lemon Blueberry Cake
- Lemon Loaf Cake with Lemon Glaze
- Easy Almond Cake Recipe
- Pink Champagne Cake
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Best Coconut Cake
For the Cake
- 2 1/2 cups (285g) cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 2/3 cups (330g) granulated sugar
- 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 cup (240 ml) canned coconut milk shaken, at room temperature
- 1 cup (80g) sweetened shredded coconut
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
To Decorate the Cake
- 2 cups (160g) shredded coconut, sweetened
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C) and grease three (9-inch) round cake pans then, line them with parchment paper rounds, and then grease the parchment paper with baking spray or cooking spray. Set aside.
To make the cake:
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl using a handheld mixer cream the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy and smooth. With a spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
- Add the egg whites and beat until combined. Add the sour cream, vanilla extract, and coconut extract and beat until combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. The mixture may look curdled at this point.
- With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients mixture and the coconut milk and beat until combined. Fold in the shredded coconut with a spatula until combined. The batter will be slightly thick.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between the three (9-inch) cake pans and bake for in the preheated 350ºF oven 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.
Make the frosting:
- To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle or whisk attachment or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and cream cheese together for about 2-3 minutes or until smooth and creamy.
- With the mixer on low speed, add the confectioners’ sugar, coconut milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt. Scrape the sides and bottom of the pan as needed. With the mixer on high speed beat the mixture for about 3 minutes or until or until light and fluffy.
Assemble and decorate:
- To assemble the cake, with the help of a serrated knife or cake leveler, remove the domes from the top of the cool cakes so that they’re flat. Place one layer on a cake plate or stand. Using an offset spatula, spread about 1 1/2 cup of frosting over the top of the layer, taking care to spread it all the way to the edges. Top with a cake layer and repeat with the frosting. Add the remaining cake layer and smooth the remaining frosting neatly over the top. Sprinkle coconut on top and sides.
- Refrigerate cake for at least 20 minutes before slicing so it holds it’s shape better when cutting.
- If you don’t have coconut extract, use 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.
- If the frosting is too thin, add more confectioners’ sugar if the frosting is too thick, add additional coconut milk.
- Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- For best texture, use cake flour.
- If you only have two 9-inch baking pans, you can make a two-layer cake. Adjust baking time to 24 to 27 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Make this cake in a 9×13 pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Room temperature ingredients mix together easily and evenly. All refrigerated ingredients should be at room temperature.