Fluffy & Moist Coconut Cake

This perfect coconut cake sets the bar for homemade cakes everywhere. It’s supremely moist with a soft fluffy crumb and intense coconut flavor. For success, follow this recipe carefully including using cake flour, egg whites, sour cream, and canned coconut milk.

Slice of coconut cake on plate

At the request of many readers, let me introduce you to the best coconut cake I’ve ever had. Homemade with love for coconut lovers everywhere, this cake exceeds my expectations. Complete with silky coconut cream cheese buttercream, she’s absolutely perfect and juxtaposes bold flavor with a light crumb.

I endlessly tested this cake recipe. In fact, I’m pretty sure my head turned into an actual coconut during the process. Is there shredded coconut caked into the crevices of my kitchen floor and backsplash? Yes.

*Worth it.*

 

Coconut cake on cake stand

5 Reasons to Love This Coconut Cake Recipe

  1. Not Dry: This coconut cake is mega moist. There’s no point wasting your time (or calories!) on dry cakes.
  2. Intensely Flavorful: Using coconut milk, shredded coconut, and coconut extract, you are guaranteed an intensely flavorful coconut cake.
  3. Soft & Fluffy: Following the recipe carefully, as well as using the power ingredients described below, you are guaranteed a soft-as-silk coconut cake crumb.
  4. Any Shape: Use this cake batter for coconut bundt cake, coconut cupcakes, a 2 layer cake, 3 layer cake, or a coconut sheet cake.
  5. Gets Along With Everyone: Use the frosting recipe below or try strawberry frosting, lemon frosting, brown butter cream cheese frosting, champagne frosting, chocolate buttercream. And don’t forget to drizzle salted caramel on top!

Coconut Cake Video Tutorial

This recipe sets the bar for homemade cakes everywhere. It’s simply exquisite.

Coconut layer cake

How to Make Coconut Cake

I adapted this recipe from my favorite white cake. Its pristine crumb, fluffy texture, and stick-to-your-fork moisture guarantee cake success. In fact, I have the recipe memorized and even used it as the base of pistachio cake and strawberry cake. The recipe is cake gold and I knew it would be the perfect starting point for a fluffy and moist coconut cake.

Your coconut cake journey begins with 2 mixing bowls. Whisk the dry ingredients together in 1 bowl, then, using a mixer, beat the wet ingredients together in another bowl. Combine the two in your mixer, along with coconut milk and shredded sweetened coconut. That’s it! Your coconut cake batter is ready to bake.

Creamed butter and sugar provide a solid base for this cake recipe. Use room temperature butter and remember that room temperature is cooler than you think.

Another tip: Use all room temperature ingredients, including the eggs and sour cream. Why? Ingredients bond together very easily when they’re warmer, which creates an evenly textured baked good. Cold ingredients do not emulsify together. Period. 

Coconut for coconut cake

Coconut cake batter

Use These 6 Power Ingredients

Cake is literally nothing without its ingredients and these power players are the difference between dense dry cake and light moist cake.

  1. Cake Flour: Cake flour produces the softest cake. If you don’t usually buy cake flour, make the exception here. It’s sold in the baking aisle with the other flours. You can use leftovers in any of these cake flour recipes.
  2. Egg Whites: Egg yolks are wonderful for moisture, but they’re heavy and weigh down cakes. To keep the coconut cake light and fluffy, use only egg whites. We’ll add the moisture back with sour cream.
  3. Sour Cream: The moist maker! This cake melts in your mouth.
  4. Coconut Extract: I tested this recipe with and without coconut extract. We loved it both ways, but coconut extract is necessary for best coconut flavor. It’s in the baking aisle near the vanilla extract.
  5. Canned Coconut Milk: Canned coconut milk is a cooking ingredient, not a beverage. It’s creamier and thicker than regular milk and usually found near the Thai food products. Do not use refrigerated carton coconut milk because the two are very different.
  6. Sweetened Shredded Coconut: I recommend using sweetened shredded coconut. It’s moister than unsweetened coconut and that makes a big difference in the cake’s texture. I reduced the added sugar in the cake batter to make up for the sweetness. Sweetened coconut is sometimes sold as long skinny shreds, a size some find off-putting in cake. Therefore, I recommend pulsing them in a food processor so they’re smaller.

Cream cheese buttercream frosting on whisk

Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

What do you love about vanilla buttercream? It’s buttery, sweet, and smooth.

And what about cream cheese frosting? It’s creamy, silky, and tangy.

Let’s combine the two, then add coconut milk and coconut extract. Be prepared for the creamiest, silkiest frosting that glides onto the cake seamlessly. (Which is a happy bonus because decorating a layer cake can be quite the task. See more below.)

I know you appreciate wispy frosting swirls like I do. ♥

Frosting coconut cake on cake stand

Coconut cake slice on white plate

How to Frost a Layer Cake

Alright, let’s do this.

  1. Cool cakes completely. Sounds obvious, but even the tiniest bit of warmth will melt the frosting. As a result, the layer cake will slip, slide, or even cave in!
  2. If your cakes have a dome on top, level them off with a cake leveler or serrated knife. Flat-topped cakes ensure a straight and sturdy layer cake.
  3. Choose a serving plate or cake stand. Here is the cake stand I use in these pictures!
  4. Place the bottom layer on the cake stand. Using an icing spatula, spread 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting in an even layer on top. Bring the frosting just over the edge of the cake; this will be helpful when it’s time to frost the sides.
  5. Place the 2nd layer top-side-down on top. Make sure it aligns with the bottom cake layer.
  6. Spread 1 and 1/2 cups frosting evenly on top, just as you did with the bottom layer.
  7. Place 3rd layer top-side-up on top. Again, make sure it’s perfectly aligned.
  8. Divide the remaining frosting in half. (I usually just eyeball it.) Dollop half of the frosting on top of the cake and use an icing spatula to smooth it to the edges. Apply *some* of the remaining frosting all around the sides of the cake, then use a bench scraper to smooth it in a thin layer. Apply the rest of the frosting on the sides of the cake, then bench scrape to smooth it all out.
  9. Wipe any excess frosting off of the cake stand.

You can watch me decorate this coconut cake in the video tutorial above. Don’t stress, if you take your time and make sure the cake layers are totally straight, you’re all set.

But I Don’t Want To

Skip the drama and make a coconut sheet cake instead! Sheet cakes are easier to frost because they’re only one layer. See my recipe note about different size coconut cakes.

Overhead shot of coconut cake with buttercream roses

What About The Buttercream Roses?

Let’s give my assistant, Stephanie, a round of applause. This was her first time making the “3D” buttercream roses and look how beautifully they turned out! She made the buttercream roses at my house and I froze them until it was time to decorate the coconut cake. She followed this video tutorial. Keep in mind that the cream cheese buttercream WILL NOT work for the intricate buttercream roses. Instead, use my vanilla buttercream and add 1 extra cup of confectioners’ sugar. You need very stiff buttercream for these roses. You also need small squares of parchment paper and:

Loosely cover the roses, then freeze or refrigerate them until ready to decorate, up to 1 week. No need to thaw prior to decorating the cake. Peel off parchment square and place the buttercream rose on the cake. If you’re traveling with the cake, I recommend securing the roses with a tiny dollop of cream cheese buttercream underneath.

Looking for something easier? Use Wilton 1M piping tip for these easy buttercream roses.

Coconut cake

More Classic Cake Recipes

Flavor is the name, moist is the game. These are some my favorite classic cake recipes!

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Coconut cake

Coconut Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: 12 servings
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

This perfect coconut cake sets the bar for homemade cakes everywhere. It’s supremely moist with a soft fluffy crumb and intense coconut flavor. For success, follow this recipe carefully including using cake flour, egg whites, sour cream, and canned coconut milk.


Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/2 cups (275g) sifted cake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 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 and 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 (240ml) canned coconut milk, at room temperature*
  • 1 cup (80g) sweetened shredded coconut

Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • one 8 ounce block (224g) full-fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature*
  • 5 cups (600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) canned coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups (160g) sweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans.
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the egg whites until combined, then add the sour cream, vanilla extract, and coconut extract. Beat until combined. Mixture will look curdled as a result of the varying textures and solid butter combining. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients and coconut milk. Beat on low speed until combined, then add the shredded coconut. Whisk it all by hand to make sure there are no butter lumps at the bottom of the bowl. The batter will be slightly thick.
  4. Pour batter evenly into cake pans. Weigh them to ensure accuracy, if desired. Bake for around 21-23 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  5. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, coconut milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more confectioners’ sugar if frosting is too thin, more coconut milk if frosting is too thick, or an extra pinch of salt if frosting is too sweet.
  6. Assemble and decorate: 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, cake turntable, or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with 2nd cake layer and evenly cover the top with about 1 and 1/2 cups of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. I use and recommend an icing spatula to apply the frosting and bench scraper to smooth the sides. Sprinkle coconut on top of the cake and apply it to the sides. This can get a little messy and you can watch me do it in the video tutorial above. See blog post above about buttercream rose decoration.
  7. Refrigerate cake for at least 20 minutes before slicing. This helps the cake hold its shape when cutting, though it’s still a pretty fluffy cake!
  8. Cover leftover cake tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: 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. When ready to decorate, let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 15 minutes, then give it one more mix with the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute before frosting cake. 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 decorating/serving.
  2. Cake Flour: For the best results, I strongly recommend sifted cake flour. Sift before measuring. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. If you cannot get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY version from all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Measure 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Remove 2 Tablespoons. Mix in 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch. Sift it. Measure 1 cup. This sifted 1 cup equals 1 cup of cake flour. I suggest doing this 3x, then remove 1/2 cup since you need 2 and 1/2 cups in this recipe.
  3. Egg Whites: Egg whites (no yolks) are KEY to the cake’s fluffy texture. Here are recipes using leftover egg yolks.
  4. Canned Coconut Milk: Canned coconut milk is a cooking ingredient, not a beverage. It’s usually found near the Thai food products. Do not use refrigerated carton coconut milk. You need 1 cup for the cake, not the entire can. You use 2 more Tbsp in the frosting. There will be a little leftover in the can.
  5. Sweetened Shredded Coconut: I recommend using sweetened shredded coconut. It’s moister than unsweetened coconut and that makes a big difference in the cake’s texture. If desired, pulse the coconut shreds in a food processor to chop them up so they aren’t as long inside and outside of the cake. Chopping the coconut is optional.
  6. Cream Cheese: Use block cream cheese, not cream cheese spread. If desired, you can use this vanilla buttercream instead (no cream cheese). Use canned coconut milk instead of milk and add 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract.
  7. 9×13 Inch Cake: Simply pour the batter into a greased and lightly floured 9×13 inch pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  8. 2 Layer Cake: Prepare two 9-inch cake pans in step 1. Divide batter between pans and bake for 24-26 minutes or until cooked through.
  9. Bundt Cake: This cake batter will fit into a greased 10-cup or larger bundt pan. I’m unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.
  10. Cupcakes: Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full. Bake at 350°F (177°C) for 19-21 minutes. Yields about 2-3 dozen. Or try my vanilla cupcakes recipe and substitute canned coconut milk for whole milk, 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract for the vanilla bean, and add 3/4 cup (60g) of sweetened shredded coconut.
  11. Why is everything at room temperature? All refrigerated items should be at room temperature so the batter mixes together easily and evenly. Read here for more information.

Keywords: cake, coconut cake, coconut

164 Comments

  1. Sally, this cake is outstanding! I used the coconut cake layers for a coconut cream pie cake I was making as a dessert to bring along to dinner at a friend’s house. Everybody loved it, and it received rave reviews! I piped a whipped cream border around the edge of the cake layers before filling with your coconut cream pie custard. I frosted the whole cake with coconut whipped cream, and garnished with shredded coconut. It looked and tasted amazing, and I can’t wait to make this cake again! Great recipe! 🙂

  2. As usual, your cakes come out wonderfully! Best coconut cupcakes ever, your recipe made 26 cupcakes with plenty of frosting. Your recipes seem to be my go to when I’m looking to wow my family and friends! Thanks!

    1. I made this cake to celebrate mother’s day early and my whole family rated this recipe 5 stars!! I made it as a 2 layer cake and it came out so light and fluffy and great coconut flavor. My husband said a layer of raspberry would have been so yummy in the middle too since I decorated the top with raspberries. Next time!! Thanks for a wonderful recipe, Sally!

  3. Love love this cake , made it a couple weeks ago . Wondering if this Can be make in 2 10 inches round pans instead of 3 9 inches . Thanks sally .

  4. I made your 6 inch cake into a semi-naked cake for the first time flavoured with this coconut cake (baked for 20 minutes 2 layers) adding in raspberries and raspberry jam to the filling making a cake dam (like you did with your blackberry lavender cake) and topped with toasted coconut…it tastes amazing and I was happy to have a bunch of ideas in one blog place. Thanks Sally!!

  5. Sally, I made this cake for Mother’s Day today. The whole family raved about it – I’m currently cleaning up the crumbs as we speak!

    This recipe is perfection Sally! My hunt for the perfect coconut cake is finally over.

  6. Made this for my mom today. 2 layer with a dark chocolate ganache between the layers. Wasn’t sure if it would hold because it was so soft but it did. Buttercream, toasted coconut and chocolate shavings on top. Wish I could add a pic. Best coconut cake I’ve ever made or eaten!

  7. This cake looks so delicious and simple. I can’t wait to make this cake some day. Can I substitute butter with shortening?
    Also, can this cake and other cakes be made as cupcakes? i hope you understood.

  8. Sally, First time at your site, and I love all the description and info you provide, and this cake looks perfect. I’ve decided to try it for my daughter’s graduation picnic Sunday. I have an 11×15 pyrex pan, which I’d like to use, in order to serve 20 people. By volume, that’s just under 1.5 times bigger than a 9×13. Do you have any recommendations for adjustments you would make, other than multiplying ingredient list by 1.5X? I plan to use Just Whites, so I can even get egg whites at 1.5. Would you adjust baking soda or powder? Use a little less batter so it cooks in middle, or change oven temp? I’ll keep a close eye. I know you may not be able to say if you haven’t tested, but any advice appreciated. I’ve done this before with other recipes, so I’m not afraid to try!

    1. Hi Kimberly, Welcome to the blog!! You are right, I haven’t tested this recipe in that size pan – but I would keep the recipe at exactly 1.5 times. Don’t fill your pan any more than 2/3 full and if you have left over batter you can make a few extra cupcakes with it! Keep your oven temperature the same and with such a large cake you might need to loosely cover the top with foil if you notice the top or edges getting brown before the center is completely baked. Let me know how it turns out!

  9. Would this cake be ok as a 2 tier cake? My sister would love this cake, especially with a lime buttercream filling but not sure if it would hold up with a 2nd tier on top?

    1. Hi Marianne! This cake batter could be used for a tier cake, yes. When baked, it’s sturdy enough to hold. You can always use cake dowel rods too.

  10. Hello,
    Could I add lemon rind and juice to this to make a lemon coconut cake? I can’t find a good recipe for one anywhere and this sounds delicious, thank you 🙂

  11. I had trouble with the frosting because it was runny and goopy even though I ended up adding an entire additional cup of confectioners’ sugar. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract, and I used instead coconut flavor – which is oil-based I realize – because that’s what I had at hand. Would a substitution of such a small amount have made such a difference? Would just 1/2 teaspoon have made such a difference? Or should I have put the frosting in the refrigerator for a while? Thanks for any ideas!

    1. Hi Ro! Refrigerating always helps solidify and thicken frosting. I recommend it.

      Are you using brick style cream cheese? Also, make sure the butter is cool at room temperature. That’s KEY when making frosting– the butter shouldn’t be overly soft or greasy. The oil-based coconut flavor you used wouldn’t make a difference.

  12. Oh My! This cake is outstanding! I have been searching for a moist and light coconut cake recipe and had no luck until now. Truly Amazing.

  13. The cake batter is divine. The best fluffiest I’ve ever tasted but the frosting is a nightmare! Super duper sweet to the point where it’s gross and inedible in order to get the correct consistency or else it does not spread right.

    I too am in the pursuit of the best coconut cake recipe and tried all the ones on New York Times recipe. The batter, supreme but next time will go with a different frosting recipe.

  14. This was crazy good. I honestly had not seen your blog before but was looking for a coconut cake recipe and gave this a whirl. Used 2 9-inch pans – cook time was a little longer than specified but it turned out amazingly good. All my guests raved. And now that they’re gone, I can’t stop opening the container and breaking off bits to snack on.

  15. This is a great recipe, clear instructions. My daughter requested coconut cake for her birthday, so I decided on this one because all the recipes I’ve tried on your site have worked out well. I didn’t use coconut extract and we all thought it had enough coconut flavor. I used coconut sugar instead of refined. I also used unsweetened shredded coconut and it’s a good thing because it was VERY sweet! That is my only issue……..super sweet!

  16. Made this cake over the weekend. Like someone above I used Sally’s coconut cream pie filling between each layer. Also baked it in 3 8″ pans for 17 minutes. Turned out fantastic! Also used salted butter for the frosting and left out the salt called for in the recipe. Covered the sides with shredded coconut and the top with toasted shaved coconut pieces. Beautiful. Wish I could share the picture!

    1. That sounds SO delicious!!! You can always email me a picture, post it to my Facebook page, or tag me in an Instagram photo…I’d love to see it! 🙂

  17. Can i substitute the sour cream with greek yogurt or anything else? Because it is hard to find sour cream here at my place, thank you for the recipe

  18. Hi sally, thanks for this recipe. Can I use homemade coconut extract. I shredded coconut and added spirit (calypso to be precise because of the coconut flavour it has. Do you think this will work well or should I leave out the extract. Thanks.

    1. Hi DD! If you’ve used the homemade coconut extract in other baked goods and it tastes right, you could definitely use it in this cake! I would love to try homemade coconut extract someday.

  19. Sally,
    This cake looks amazing!
    Can I freeze the cake layers for easy assembly at a later time? Does this adversely affect the cake in any way?
    Thanks,
    Pat

    1. Hi Pat! Yes, absolutely. I often freeze cake layers. Make sure you wrap them up tightly in plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil. Thaw at room temperature, then assemble.

  20. Hi Sally,
    Am not getting the Organic unsweetened canned coconut milk. Please is it okay to use a normal canned coconut milk?

  21. Hello! I am making this recipe for my dad because coconut cake is his favorite and I’m so excited to taste it! I will be traveling with this cake and I need to take it already frosted. I am not sure what the refrigerator situation will be like when we get to our location. We will be eating it the day after we arrive. Can you tell me how the decorated cake should be stored? Thank you! Always love your recipes!

  22. Hi Sally!
    I will be trying to make this cake next weekend. I would like to add some fruity flavor and was thinking of combining the coconut with pineapple. Do you think adding crushed pineapple to the cake batter is a good option or would you advice something else? Thanks in advance!

  23. Hi Sally! I made your other coconut cake with lemon curd recipe and got rave reviews. If I wanted to keep the lemon curd aspect would you recommend this recipe and just adding the lemon curd or stick with the other recipe? Thanks!

  24. My sister made this cake and it was beautiful and absolutely delicious! Sally, your recipes are always spot on. Love your blog!

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