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 with buttercream flower on white 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 on wood and marble cake stand

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. Dry ingredients in one and wet ingredients in another (see full recipe instructions below). 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. 

2 images of coconut in food processor and coconut milk for coconut cake

Coconut cake batter in glass bowl

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. ♥

2 images of frosting coconut cake on cake stand from overhead and side angles

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.

slice of coconut cake on plate

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 on a wood and marble cake stand

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 (285g) 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 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

785 Comments

  1. Sally as you know I am a fan of all you make !!! I have a question , I wanna make up your banana cake and was hoping to frost it with your amazing coconut cream cheese frosting . Do you think this will go good ? Any suggestions ? I pretty much I want a banana coconut cake .
    Thanks !!!

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Natalie, this coconut cream cheese frosting would be delicious with our banana cake! YUM!

  2. the Best Coconut Cake! I’ve made it as a layer cake and a sheet cake. Both were amazing, moist and light and coconutty.

  3. How about coconut cream? It’s a little thicker than coconut milk – will it work in this recipe? Thanks so much!

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

  4. Roger T. Groover says:

    WOW was it easy to make, just followed the great directions in the recipe! Eating it tonight for my moms 79th birthday! Thanks!

  5. I followed the direction “mix all dry ingredients in a bowl”, so I included the sugar. Then directions said to cream butter with sugar. Unfortunately I had to waste all the dry ingredients and start over.

    1. Connie Scoggin says:

      Sugar is a liquid because it melts.

  6. Unfortunately, after following all the steps and using all required ingredients, I realized that recipe for the frosting uses too much sugar and butter. I will definitely not recommend this recipe for the people who are looking for moist and soft coconut cake. The only ingredients I was able to taste was butter and confectioners sugar (not cream cheese or cake itself), and the amount of butter and sugar made the layers very dry and hard. Very unfortunate, but wanted to get the word out to let the bakers know.

  7. The bomb cake recipe. My family loves it. Never lasts more than 2 days.

  8. Alexandra Tiano says:

    So excited to try this recipe! Would cook time differ for a 6″ cake pan? Thank you 🙂

  9. Connie Scoggin says:

    I just made this as a 3 layer cake and it is wonderful!! I use several of your recipes! Keep it up!! Thank you!! ❤

  10. Mary Anne Anne Tribble says:

    This is WONDERFUL. Thank you also for all of your tips for successful baking.

  11. Gretchen Cole says:

    I never leave reviews of anything. By unanimous consensus of my entire family and the three friends we delivered slivers to because we had to share but didn’t want to share too much then we’d have less ourselves – this was the most delicious cake we have ever eaten!!! Wow. It’s light, moist, flavorful, delicate and beautiful to look at. I made it with my young adult sons who have never baked a cake before and creating this may have inspired them to become bakers. We did two steps differently – toast the coconut for the outside because we love the nutty flavor of toasted coconut and put 1 cup less of sugar in the frosting as we found it too be very sweet after the 4th cup. When we make our next one, we thought adding a layer of lemon curd would take it to different and fantastic level as well. Thank you for this fantastic recipe. It will be in our rotation forever.

  12. I was very pregnant during quarantine and craving coconut everything. I sent my husband to 5 grocery stores until he found the coconut extract. This cake was everything I was dreaming of – absolutely divine.

  13. Hi Sally,
    Is there any way I can make this without the eggs? I’m allergic and would love to try this recipe after reading your description and many of the reviews but since there are 5 of them I’m wondering if it would be possible and what I could use instead? Thank you

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rohini, We have not tested this recipe with an egg substitute but let us know if you try anything.

  14. I can only find coconut flakes at the store rather than shredded. Can I substitute flaked for shredded without changing any measurements?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Ashley, You can use coconut flakes with no changes. If desired, you can pulse the coconut flakes in a food processor to chop them up so they aren’t as long inside and outside of the cake!

      1. Thanks! Sorry last question—I could only find coconut extract paste (which has substitution instructions for regular extract) or coconut flavoring at the store :(. Would you recommend either or omitting altogether?

  15. Yum!!! Just made this last night but I had a question while in the grocery store. I had to make a choice because there was either “evaporated canned coconut milk“ or “sweetened condensed canned coconut milk”. I chose evaporated. Did I choose right?

  16. Delorise Poston says:

    can i use fresh coconut

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Delorise, We 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 us know how it goes!

  17. Hi Sally, This cake is our new most favorite cake. Super moist, scrumptious. How would I make this into a chocolate coconut cake? I look forward to your suggestions.
    Thanks so much, Denise

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Denise, We haven’t tested this exact cake with chocolate. If you don’t wish to test anything, you could definitely add sweetened shredded coconut to this chocolate cake batter.

  18. Hello!!

    I’m about to try this recipe now and I thought that I had Coconut milk in my cabinet and it was coconut cream ‍♀️

    Can I use it in place of the milk?

    1. Hi Lori, coconut cream is too thick for this cake batter. I recommend the canned coconut milk, which is part coconut cream.

  19. Loved the flavor and textured. I tried this recipe today it was my first time doing a cake from scratch. All went well but one of the cakes broke a little. Wonder what went wrong.

  20. Hi,

    Could you do this with just 2 layers? If so how does that change the measurements?

    Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jazmine, See recipe note #8 for a 2 layer cake. Happy baking!

  21. Can you use this recipe for a bundt cake?

    1. You bet! See recipe note 9 for details.

  22. Delicious! I made this for my husband’s grandfathers 80th birthday. Coconut cake is his favorite. This was the best coconut cake ever. My husband hates coconut and he ate a second piece. Loved by friends and family alike. “Delicious doesn’t do it justice” and “That’s the best coconut cake I’ve ever had” came up frequently. Thanks Sally, your recipes never let me down.

    I did reduce the amount of baking time for a three layer cake to 15 minutes per cake and added a little more of each extract to the icing, came out perfectly.

  23. Hello Sally,

    Unfortunately, this cake turned to be really bad. I have followed your instructions and at the end it was like a stone (not fluffy at all), too much taste of butter and no much taste of a coconut. I see that a lot of people succeeded to do the cake well, so I would like to get your help to find out what could go wrong and how other readers could avoid my mistakes.

    Thank you very much in advance

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lyuba, We would love to help you troubleshoot what went wrong. Make sure you are using sifted cake flour, that you are not making any ingredient substitutions, and that your ingredients are all at room temperature. You can visit the post How to Prevent a Dry or Dense Cake for more tips. If you wish, feel free to send us a note at [email protected] and we can chat more there thanks so much!

  24. Hi!
    I have made many of your recipes (which are all fantastic!), and I am excited to try this one for Christmas. Quick question for you – I am taking this is a family party and don’t totally trust myself yet to make cake from scratch. Do you have any tips on how to doctor up boxed white cake mix? I plan to use your homeade frosting as listed in this recipe.

    Thank you!

  25. Hi Sally! Will this cake stay together if I add lemon curd between layers?

    Thanks’

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tracy, we’d recommend following our Lemon Coconut Cake — complete with a lemon curd filling. We hope you enjoy it!

  26. Hi if I wanted to make this a 2 layer sheet pan cake would I need to double the recipe or will there but enough for ?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brandy, The batter as written, fits nicely into one 9×13 inch pan. See recipe notes for details. For two layers we recommend making the recipe twice instead of doubling. For different size pans you can use this guide to Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions to help calculate how much batter you would need. I hope this helps!

  27. Hi Sally,
    Could you tell me how many cups of batter goes into each 9 in pan, if I use 3?
    Kindest Regards,
    Kendra

  28. LESLIE DRICKEY says:

    First time making a coconut cake. Freaking amazing. Buttery coconut flavor, moist, cannot say enough how much everyone loved it. I’m the cake baker for events in my family and two more folks have requested this for the future. Thank you for this amazing recipe!

  29. I have never made a coconut cake before but man am I glad that I made this one. I decided to make it for Christmas and it was a hit. The cake was moist and very tasty! The icing was delicious. I did use one less cup of sugar in the icing and it was plenty sweet. My family LOVED the cake. I will be making it again and it may just reign supreme for the Christmas Holiday! Thank you for the great recipe!

  30. This cake is absolutely amazing! I made it for my mom’s birthday, and it was a hit. Coconut isn’t my favorite flavor – I won’t refuse it, but I don’t seek it out. But THIS cake? Dang! Delicious!

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