Lemon Coconut Cake
Lemon, coconut, buttery, moist, tender… this is the cake of your dreams!
I never imagined loving a cake as much as I love this lemon blueberry layer cake.
But I do now.
Lemon coconut cake, as in 3 deliciously moist buttery coconut cakes combined with homemade lemon curd, toasted coconut flakes, and cream cheese frosting. Finished with a “what just happened in my mouth because that was the best cake I’ve ever had” moment.
This lemon coconut cake, which you must make for every occasion this spring because of its massive crowd appeal and towering magnificence, is everything to my tastebuds. And your tastebuds will agree after that first slice.
Let me help you make the best possible lemon coconut cake. I strongly suggest you read through these details as well as the recipe notes below– some are repeats in case the following details are missed!
5 Lemon Coconut Cake Details
(1) 3 layers of coconut cake, which are completely from scratch using sweetened coconut flakes, coconut milk, cake flour for an unbelievably soft crumb, eggs for richness, and a mess of butter for flavor/moisture/buttery goodness
Diet food? This is not. Eat without regrets.
(2) You’ll need 5 whole eggs. Sounds like a lot, but keep in mind this cake is massive, serving at least 12 people. Eggs are a cake texture’s BFF.
(3) Speaking of texture– let’s get back to that cake flour. Do NOT use all-purpose flour. Your cake will be unbelievably solid and heavy, like a cake brick of sorts. And sift that cake flour to aerate it (aka fluff it up, rid all lumps). Can’t exaggerate the sifting enough!
(4) Use coconut milk and buttermilk for the best possible texture and flavor. The coconut milk I am referring to is the canned kind. Super thick. I actually used “light” coconut milk– this stuff to be exact. Find it in the thai/asian section of your grocery store. Buttermilk is used for moisture, as well as in conjunction with the baking soda. (Read more on that right here!)
(5) Always room temperature everything. And here’s why.
Let’s ignore the super chunky batter for a sec. Covers eyes. I had to snap a picture of it to show you. Do not be alarmed by its completely unglamorous appearance. It’s that lumpy from the coconut.
Luckily the finished cake looks 900x better than the batter. What a relief, right?
Homemade lemon curd and a thin layer of cream cheese frosting find their way between each coconut cake layer. I always tear up when I see lemon curd bought from the store– but I, the crazy crying lady in the jam aisle, am absolutely guilty of buying it when I’m in a pinch. Homemade lemon curd requires only 5 simple ingredients that you probably have on hand, so I encourage you to give it a try. And there is no flavor comparison between homemade and store-bought! In fact, store-bought barely deserves to share the same name.
The frosting is of the cream cheese variety, aka one of my favorites. One thing to note, and I am asked about this all the time, is that you must use brick-style cream cheese. Not the kind sold in a tub that you spread on your bagels. The kind that is sold in a little box. Do not use low-fat or fat free unless you want your cream cheese frosting to melt off the cake and/or taste like socks. A drop of coconut extract takes the cream cheese frosting up a level, but that’s completely optional.
Back to the cake. What I love about this lemon coconut cake, besides the flavor, is the dense and fluffy texture. I know the two contradict each other, but I swear I haven’t completely lost my mind. Or have I? The truth is that this lemon coconut cake has an unbelievably light crumb, but there is A LOT of dense flavor in each buttery bite. It’s not as fluffy as cake mix cake– understandably so since it is homemade– but it’s not a cake brick. See #3 above for cake brick clarification.
Add it to your Easter/spring baking extravaganza.
Lemon Coconut Cake
To make the best possible lemon coconut cake, make sure to read my notes in the post and below before beginning.
- 3 cups (300g) sifted cake flour (spoon & leveled)1
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (120ml) coconut milk, at room temperature2
- 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temperature2
- 1 and 1/2 cups (345g; 3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 Tablespoon (15ml) vanilla extract
- optional: 1 teaspoon coconut extract (I prefer the cake without it, but it's still tasty!)
- 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (about 2 loosely packed cups)
- 1 and 1/2 cups homemade lemon curd (full recipe)
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces (225g) full-fat brick style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3 cups (360g) confectioners' sugar
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) coconut milk or heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- topping: toasted (or not!) sweetened shredded coconut and lemon slices for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spray or lightly butter three 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
- Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine the coconut milk and buttermilk together in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
- With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes until creamed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract and the coconut extract (if using). Beat on medium-high speed until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
- With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Use a whisk to rid any large lumps, if needed. The batter will be slightly thick. Finally, fold in the coconut. The batter will be lumpy. See photo above for a visual.
- Spoon/pour batter evenly into each cake pan. Bake for around 22-25 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. Remember to rotate the pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
- Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners' sugar, 1 Tablespoon coconut milk/cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add 1 more Tablespoon of milk/cream to thin out, if desired.
- Assemble and frost: First, using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard (or crumble over ice cream!). Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with a thin layer of frosting, then half of the lemon curd. Top with 2nd layer and evenly cover the top with a thin layer of frosting, then the remaining lemon curd. Finish with the third cake layer and spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Garnish the top with coconut and/or lemon slices. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cutting or else the cake may fall apart as you cut.
- Slice, serve, enjoy!
Make ahead tip: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. Assemble and frost the cake the next day when you are ready to serve. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving/decorating. Honestly, it tastes much better fresh though!
The batter makes a perfect sheet cake! Simply spread into a 12x17 inch half sheet/jelly roll pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through.
To increase the lemon flavor, feel free to add the zest of 1 lemon to the coconut cake batter. Keep in mind that this will take away from the cake's coconut flavor. Also optional for more lemon flavor: beat zest from 1 lemon into the cream cheese frosting.
To increase the coconut flavor, feel free to use the optional coconut extract listed. And/or you can add 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract to the frosting.
- Do NOT use all-purpose flour in this coconut cake. Your cake will be too-dense, solid, and heavy. Make sure you are sifting the cake flour before measuring to aerate it and rid lumps. I strongly encourage you to just buy cake flour, but as an alternative you can make a DIY cake flour. For every 1 cup of flour in this recipe, remove 2 Tablespoons of it and add 2 Tablespoons cornstarch in its place. Sift at least 3-4 times, then use in the recipe.
- This recipe has been tested with equal parts coconut milk and buttermilk. If you can't get ahold of coconut milk, you can use 1 cup of buttermilk instead. For a DIY version of buttermilk, add 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar to a large liquid measuring cup. Then add enough regular room temperature milk (whole, skim, 1%, 2%) to make 1/2 cup total. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes. This soured milk can be used in the recipe.
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You’re obviously going to love my glazed lemon poppy seed bundt cake, too!