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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.

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 and is sure to be one of your favorite spring dessert recipes.

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, cookies & cream cake, espresso 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.)

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 1x
  • 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 (285g) 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 cake flour. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it.
  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

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. The first time I made this cake it was perfect. Best coconut cake I’ve ever had. I made it last, but this time I wanted to cut the layers in half to add a manjo curd, so I baked them in 2, 9 inch pans. If you do this make sure you have the 3 inch depth pans. It spilled out all over the bottom of my oven, made a huge mess, took about 32 minutes to bake and fell in the middle to about 1 inch high. I had to toss them.

  2. Hi, I want to make this cake but have bottle egg whites. What is the weight of 5 egg whites? Thanks

    1. Hi Samantha, Yes, you can use carton egg whites. The carton should give measurements for substituting for real egg whites. Egg whites can vary, but a large egg white is usually about 30 grams.

  3. Hi Sally
    I am in the process of making this cake and am a tad confused. You say this makes 3 9” cake layers. However i was only able to get two layers…. Each baked to about 1” thick. Cant see how it would make 3 layers unless I double the recipe. More like 3 6” pans would seem more reasonable?

    Flowed the recipe to a tee

    They are light and fluffy however so I am sure this will taste great just disappointed that it only yielded 2 9” layers

    1. Hi Tony, we recommend evenly distributing the batter across the three pans. They are thinner layers, and for slightly thicker layers you can make them in only two pans as you did. This will be too much batter for 3, 6 inch pans, but our coconut cupcake recipe would be perfect for that if you ever need it!

  4. I just have to say THANK YOU !!!
    This recipe is just awesome !
    It was my husband 50’s birthday today and I did your coconut cake recipe and he loved it ( and I did Too )
    I will definitely keep this recipe for special events or event just like that because it’s so good !

  5. Hi there. Is there a way to leave the cream cheese out of the icing, or sub a different icing recipe but still include the coconut in it?

    1. Hi Erin! You can replace the cream cheese with more butter for a coconut buttercream! Enjoy!

    1. Hi Saz, for best taste and texture, we recommend making two separate batches.

  6. Looking forward to making this this week! Would you recommend any changes to the quantity of frosting for a sheet pan cake?

    1. Hi Brittany, For a 9×13 cake you can cut the frosting recipe in half. Enjoy!

  7. Just want to make sure I am reading it correctly – the 2 cups sweetened coconut does not go into the frosting? That is for decorating? Thanks!!

    1. Hi Niecey, You can simply leave the coconut extract out. Happy baking!

  8. reading all comments and looking fwd to making this. is it fresh grated coconut or dessicated coconut used? can i also use bits of tender coconut in the cake mix?

    1. Hi there! We use shredded coconut that you find in the baking aisle at grocery stores. We haven’t tried adding bits of fresh coconut to the cake, but would caution against it as it may add too much additional moisture to the matter. Hope you enjoy the cake!

  9. I made this cake last night, the recipe was easy to follow with the hints and tips but didn’t turn out to be as expected.
    The cake itself wasn’t as fluffy as a normal cake, it was quite dense and didn’t have much air inside for that sponge feeling. It did taste really good but not a recipe I would do again.
    I am currently trying different recipes to make my babies first birthday cake and this isn’t going to be the one.

  10. I used to try different websites when looking for a baking recipe, but now I only use Sally’s. Her cakes are always moist and the frosting is beautifully creamy but never too sweet. Her coconut cake is hands-down the best I’ve ever eaten. My nephew, who doesn’t like cake, actually liked this and came back for seconds. I’m taking one today for a family birthday party. My niece said, can you please bring your wonderful coconut cake?

    1. Thank you so much for this positive feedback, Darlyne. We’re thrilled this cake was a hit for you and your family!

  11. You mention freezing frosted cake above. I’m assuming you mean the complete, frosted cake? If so, what are the directions for defrosting whole cake, and any other tips? I have an out of town event we are being asked to bring cakes to, so if that’s a possibility it would be perfect! Thanks!

    1. Hi RJ! The frosted cake can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.

    1. Hi Dori, you can add pineapple slices between layers. You may want to blot some of the excess moisture to prevent the cake from getting too wet. You might also be interested in our pineapple coconut cake, too!

  12. Hi Sally. I really want to try this recipe, but I have a problem. I live in Germany and I cannot find sweetened coconut here. There is desiccated coconut, and that is unsweetened. Can I use this in place of the sweetened? Or is there someway to sweeten it?

    1. Hi Jessica, you can use the unsweetened coconut here with no other changes to the recipe. The cake will still be plenty sweet!

  13. This cake is amazing but I would like to make a little smaller one for a few people. Can it be done with 8 inch pans and if so, how long to bake it? I have made this twice and everyone loved it but It was for a larger group of people, would like to make it for 4. Thanks for all your recipes, every one had been great!

    1. Hi Debby, you can use your 8 inch pans with no changes to the recipe. The bake time will about the same for 8 inch pans, but use a toothpick to test for doneness.

  14. can i freeze
    the coconut cake frosting? I am sure it needs to be beaten when defrosted before using???

    1. Hi Debbie, You can freeze the frosting! After freezing, thaw in the refrigerator then beat the frosting on medium speed for a few seconds so it’s creamy again. After thawing or refrigerating, beating in a splash of heavy cream or milk will help thin the frosting out again, if needed.

  15. Hi there

    I would like to make a TALL 6 inch cake and want to make 6 layers.
    Would you recommend doubling the recipe to fit 6 x 6 inch pans? And also baking times? A little bit less?

    1. Hi Christina, Doubling the batter would be too much batter for 6 6 inch pans. You can reference our guide for cake pan sizes and conversions to find out how much batter you’ll need. You can also reference this 6 inch cakes post for baking times. This is a delicate cake, and 6 layers may be a bit heavy – cake dowels may be a good option to help support the cake. Let us know how it goes!

  16. Slightly confused.. made this last night in 2 9in pans.. they came out incredibly flat.. beautifully evenly cooked, but barely any cake.. a 1cm of cake all around maybe.. truelly strange since I followed the recipe to a tea. I can’t imagine the batter being enough for 3 9 inch pans. Am I mistaken?

    1. Hi Susan! How strange – these are definitely thinner layers (as you can see in the photos), but not as thin as 1 cm. How is the texture? If it is dense, we recommend you make sure your baking powder and soda are fresh. We find they lose strength after just 3-4 months. Here’s a helpful post about preventing dense cake as well.

  17. I am thinking about making cupcakes and is it going to affect the result if I omit shredded coconut into the batter?

    1. Hi Koffee! See recipe notes for cupcake baking instructions. No need to adjust the batter. Enjoy!

  18. I baked the cake the night before and it seemed moist and soft when they came out from the oven. However the layers became very dense the next day and looked undercooked as I cut the slices out. Did I over or under-mix? Or was it the coconut milk? I used creme fraiche instead of sour cream. Flavor wise it’s amazing!!

    1. Hi Tina! It sounds as if your cake may have been too wet. Did you use full fat canned coconut milk? Creme fraiche is usually thinner than sour cream which could have contributed as well. We’re thrilled you loved the flavor.

  19. How accurate are the gram measurements as I don’t use cup measurements. Website conversions are showing different measurements.

  20. Oh, Sally, how can I thank you enough for such a wonderful recipe?
    I wanted to make a cake for my 10 year wedding anniversary that was reminiscent of our beach wedding. And coconut just brought the tropical vibes (I’m from the Caribbean) so I knew I wanted to make a coconut cake.
    Let me just say – this cake is impressive! Great coconut-y flavour, love the creamy frosting, and as it was such a special occasion, I went through the process of a triple layer cake.
    And it was a hit! It really brought back the memories…. thank you again!

    1. We’re so happy to hear that this cake was a hit for you, Reahana! Thank you so much for trusting our recipe for such a special occasion and happy anniversary to you!

  21. What a GREAT cake!! Made as directed and it was perfect. Will make again…soon!!

  22. How many cups of batter does this make? I’d like to make this in an 11×17 sheet cake pan for a crowd. Trying to decide if I should do 1.5x or double the batter. Would like a thicker cake as I plan on slicing and filling w mango curd.

  23. In the oven now… I misread the recipe and accidentally put 2 cups of shredded coconut in the batter. Is there anything I should do to combat the extra sweetness, like using only 1 cup of shredded coconut on the outside?

    1. Hi Elizabeth, you can certainly reduce the coconut on the outside of the cake if you’d like. The texture of the cake might be a bit off with the added coconut in the batter, but we hope you still enjoy this cake!

  24. You are my go to baking website. Your recipes are absolutely delicious. Thank you for sharing!!! This coconut cake did not disappoint. It was sooooo moist and just the right amount of coconut flavor. Delicious!

    1. Thank you for making and trusting our recipes, Mona — we’re so glad you enjoyed this coconut cake, too!

  25. Best cake I’ve even made (or eaten) and this comes from me, a chocoholic, who would normally always pick a chocolate cake over anything else. My family thanks you as well as they now only request I make this cake for b-days, special events, or just a Sunday night dinner. THANK YOU!

    1. We’re so glad you loved this coconut cake, Michele! Thank you for giving it a try 🙂

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