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, burnt sugar caramel 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 or you can use this cake flour substitute.
  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!

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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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 can’t get your hands on cake flour, you can make a DIY cake flour substitute. 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 is usually unsweetened, so make sure you’re using unsweetened. 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


  1. Can I use cake strips when baking the cake layers to make flat cakes? Will I have to increase baking time or change the temperature?

    1. Hi Grace, I haven’t used cake strips when making this recipe. If you do, let me know how it goes!

  2. This cake was so delicious thanks so much!

  3. Would it be possible to layer this cake with a lemon curd in-between? Im thinking of doing this cake with 3 layers and your Swiss meringue buttercream (with coconut flavoring) but ideally want to add a tart element like a lemon curd. Would that work? Is the cake robust enough?

    1. Yes! Lemon curd between the layers would be delicous – you can see how I layer it in my lemon coconut cake and you can follow the same assembly method with this recipe.

  4. I accidentally picked up canned coconut cream instead of coconut milk–argh! Will this be too heavy for the cake?

    1. Hi Carol, it’s best to use canned coconut milk (which contains a top layer of coconut cream), not pure coconut cream.

  5. Are you supposed to whip the egg whites first (softpeak) ? how do they add volume if they are added unwhipped ?

    Thank you !

    1. Hi Ali, It’s not necessary for this recipe. The yolks would weigh this cake down so leaving the out guarantees a lighter cake. Enjoy!

  6. Chantelle Asare says:

    Hi I only have two 9.5 inch cake tins I would like to replicate this recipe with x2 9.5 inch cake tins.

    Can you please list all the measurements in grams based on this?


    1. Hi Chantelle, The metric weight measurements are in parentheses in the ingredient list. To help you calculate how much batter you will need you can use my post on Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions. Or simply make as written, fill your pans 2/3 full (bake time will likely be longer) and then use the remaining batter to make a few extra cupcakes 🙂

  7. Hi sally
    I am from south africa and sweetened coconut isnt a popular baking ingredient
    What should i do to ensure success with the recipe

  8. I just made this cake for the other tenants in my building (5 apartment in an old victorian house in Montpelier, VT) and everyone agreed that it was the best coconut cake they’ve ever had. I’ve been trying to bake a new cake every week as a treat for everyone and this is the favorite! Thanks so much!
    Mary Muncil

    1. I’m thrilled this cake was such a hit, Mary!

  9. Kate Wilson says:

    My husband asked for a coconut cake for his birthday, and I chose this one because your recipes have never let me down. This was no exception. THIS CAKE WAS AMAZING! I added raspberry filling to the frosting between the layers (per DH request) and everyone loved it! My son has already requested this for his birthday which is in October! This cake was super moist and the coconut flavor was just right. And the frosting? Wow. This frosting was smooth and delicious. Thank you so much for sharing yet another great recipe!

  10. Rochelle Lewis says:

    I can’t seem to find coconut extract? What should I use instead, or can I omit?

  11. Andrea Thomas says:

    Hi Sally!
    Could you make recommendations on how to make this a Key Lime Coconut Cake?
    This is my friends favorite flavor of cake and I wanted to surprise her! I love your recipes so much I wanted to start here in my endeavor.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Andrea, You can use this cake and layer lime curd between the layers. Use my recipe for lemon curd but use limes instead.
      Or you can use my recipe for lemon coconut cake and use but use limes. Let me know how it turns out!

  12. Is it possible to half this recipe? My dad wants a coconut cake for Father’s day but unfortunately no one else in the family like coconut. I wanted to make a small 6″ cake for him and then a chocolate cake for the rest of my family.

    1. Hi Roxanna! You can use my coconut cupcakes batter for 3 6 inch cake pans. (Skip the caramel filling and chocolate frosting.) You can halve this frosting recipe instead.

  13. Sally this is the best cake I ever have eaten! Even my husband loved it and all who shared in the enjoyment.
    I could have eaten the whole thing!
    Light and fluffy and the taste!!! I had never eaten a coconut cake before.
    I’m in Love
    Thank you for your kindness and sharing with everyone!
    I’m not on any social media except when I need a recipe or I’d share!
    It’s so pretty too!
    Carol Rose

  14. What’s is the best name brand of coconut milk to use or does it matter? Just wondering if different ones effect the taste of the cake? Also does it matter if it is sweetened or unsweetened

    1. Hi Sarah, I used the Wegmans organic unsweetened coconut milk (photo of the can is in the above post). However the brand really does not matter. I hope you love this recipe!

  15. Do you have a recommendation for coconut extract?

    1. If it’s available I really enjoy using McCormick brand extracts.

  16. Hey Sally,

    Have you tried using fresh grated coconut? I like that it is moist and a fine texture. I’m not sure how to adjust the sugar. Thoughts?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Jenn, I haven’t tested this coconut cake with fresh coconut. You may want to shred the coconut meat and dry it out in the oven (slightly) before using in the batter. Let me know how it goes!

  17. Theresa Rattray says:

    This truly is the best cake recipe I have ever tasted. The flavor, the texture and the appearance of this cake is exquisite. My cake looks identical to Sally’s. I can’t wait to make it again.

  18. Ms. T. Brown says:

    As a professional cake baker, decorator and designer for almost 30 years, I must admit that this is absolutely the BEST COCONUT CAKE RECIPE! It is fool proof and well executed. This cake has a very moist but fluffy texture. You will not and I repeat, you WILL NOT be disappointed with this one! Yes, I baked it and it is AWESOME!!!!!

  19. Gerardo Pavone says:

    This coconut cake recipe is really perfect. Soft and delicate texture, perfect coconut flavor and easy to prepare. Thanks for sharing it

    Esta receta de torta de coco es realmente perfecta. Suave y delicada textura, sabor perfecto del coco y facil de prepararla. Muchas gracias por compartirla.

  20. Hi Sally,

    Can I make this in (3) 8 inch pans instead? I don’t have 9 inch pans.

    1. Hi Violet, This cake works as written for three 8 or 9 inch cakes with no changes necessary! Bake time and temperature will remain the same. Enjoy!

  21. I made this for my moms birthday and she absolutely loved it! The cake has a great coconut flavor to it. I made this as a two layer cake in 9in pans without changing any measurements. I used frosting that ended up being leftover to decorate the cake and made flowers on top. Looked and tasted lovely! If coconut is your favorite than you need to make this cake!

  22. Hi there! I made this cake yesterday and while the coconut flavor is fantastic and the frosting is divine, my cake did not turn out fluffy and moist at all, rather dry actually. I’m pretty sure I followed the recipe to a “T” and removed the cakes from that oven right at 21 minutes using the toothpick test. Any advice? A friend had this cake somewhere and said it was amazing so I think I want to give it another shot. ; )

    1. Hi Lori, thank you so much for reporting back– I’m concerned this cake was dry. Did you use unsweetened coconut that was particularly dry? I recommend sweetened shredded coconut which is very moist. I actually wrote a very in-depth post about how to avoid dry and dense cakes which could help you here too!

      1. Sally, yes I did use sweetened shredded coconut. I’ll read the post your attached and give it another try soon. Thanks!!

  23. I made this last night for a friends birthday at work. Made 9 x 13 because it’s easier to transport. The cake was outstanding, not a bite left. My previous recipe was good but quite dense. This cake is so much lighter and overall delicious! Thank you!!

  24. Hi Sally! If I halve this recipe would it work for a two layer, six inch round cake?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Janet, There would likely still be too much batter. You can cut the recipe in half, fill your pans 2/3 full and then use any remaining batter for a few extra cupcakes. Or if you wish you can use my post on Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions to calculate the amount of batter needed.

  25. Hi Sally, I am die hard fan of you and all your recipes. I have tried this recipe before and absolutely love it. I would like to make it into a taller caker by using 4x6inch pans. Is this recipe enough and do u suppose it will hold up with 4 layers.
    Waiting to hear from u soon xoxo

  26. Hi,
    I’m hoping to make this for an outdoor picnic but am worried about the cream cheese frosting not being stable enough or melting in the heat. Do you think it will be find or would it be safer to use a Swiss meringue some how flavoured with coconut? What would you recommend, sticking with the cream cheese, thickening it somehow, or Swiss meringue (how would I flavour it)?
    Also, how should I adjust the bake time if I only have two 8 inch circles?

    1. Hi Sam, if you’re worried, I would choose a more stable frosting such as Swiss meringue buttercream. Feel free to add some coconut extract to it for extra flavor. There’s a little too much batter for two 8-inch cakes. You can fill the pans halfway then use any leftover batter for a couple cupcakes on the side. The bake time for the 8 inch cakes will be shorter and you can use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  27. Hi Sally, sour cream is not available in my location. Can I substitute with unsweetened unflavoured yorghurt for this recipe?

    1. Yes, Plain yogurt is the best substitute for sour cream. Enjoy!

  28. Hi, We will be eating this tomorrow for a birthday party and I ended up using two 9 inch pans as 3 would have been less than 1/2 inch batter per pan. I followed your exact measurements so not sure what happened. Yes pans were for sure 9 inch.

  29. I made this cake for my husband’s birthday recently, and we loved it. The cake freezes beautifully! I used Rose Levy Berenbaum’s white chocolate cream cheese frosting and then added shredded coconut. I think your combination of shredded coconut, coconut milk and coconut extract was perfect. Thanks for another terrific recipe, Sally!

  30. Oh my goodness…this has to be the best thing I’ve ever baked. I made it exactly as written for my mother’s birthday, and selfishly I want to keep it all to myself. It is moist, flavorful, and a beautiful crumb. I never leave reviews for recipes, but for this I just had to. Absolutely incredible…11/10!

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I’m Sally, a cookbook author, photographer, and blogger. My goal is to give you the confidence and knowledge to cook and bake from scratch while providing quality recipes and plenty of pictures. Grab a cookie, take a seat, and have fun exploring! more about Sally