This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

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 and Easter brunch recipes. Talk about a show stopper!

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!

clock clock iconcutlery cutlery iconflag flag iconfolder folder iconinstagram instagram iconpinterest pinterest iconfacebook facebook iconprint print iconsquares squares iconheart heart iconheart solid heart solid icon
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. This recipe is amazing! Moist, flavorful, and simply delicious! I only made one slight modification. I brushed the layers with a thin layer of simple syrup flavored with a bit of coconut extract to avoid dryness. I have a hot oven and while I cook for the minimum amount of time sometimes my cakes are still dry. I learned this from Sally as well. Served it as part of my Thanksgiving meal and it was a hit. Thanks Sally! This is my coconut cake recipe from now on.
    Another tip: read the various tips on how to bake a perfect cake. That’s how I learned about the simple syrup tip. Sorry for the long post but that’s how perfect this recipe is!

  2. Hi Sally. This is my family’s favorite cake. How might I convert this into a 6” cake? Is there a trick to the conversion? I’d love to convert the “my favorite carrot cake” and “German chocolate cake” as well!

    1. Hi Jessica, Our cake pan sizes and conversions guide will be helpful for scaling cake recipes, but our cupcake recipes are also conveniently the perfect amount of batter for 3 layer, 6 inch cakes! You could use our coconut cupcakes, carrot cake cupcakes (leave out the coconut if you’d like), and chocolate cupcakes (then halve the coconut filling from the German chocolate cake). Hope this helps!

  3. I made this cake for my daughter for a birthday because she loves coconut cake. I was so embarrassed and devastated when we went to eat the cake it was so dry not moist at all. I followed the recipe to a T. And baked the layers for the lesser amount of time as well.

    1. Hi Lyn! How disappointing to have a dry cake – we completely understand the frustration. It could be several things, but it’s likely the cake was over baked a bit (your oven may run a bit hot). Thankfully, that’s an easy fix for next time! You might also find this post on how to prevent a dry or dense cake helpful. Let us know if we can help troubleshoot further!

  4. This is the BEST coconut cake ever!! Will this coconut cake work as a roulade (rolled cake)?

    1. Hi Shawn, We are so happy you enjoyed this cake. We’ve never tested this exact recipe as a cake roll before. You would need to use a smaller amount of batter and bake in a 10×15 or 12×17 inch pan. You can see all of our tips on how to roll a cake in this post for Strawberries and Cream Cake Roll. If you try anything let us know!

  5. This was absolutely the best coconut cake. The flavor was the perfect coconut flavor–so delicious and moist. I made this for Thanksgiving and it was a hit. I can’t wait to make it again soon! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  6. I realize that I bought coconut cream instead of coconut milk. Can I substitute this and perhaps use less sour cream?

    1. Hi Rachael, Coconut cream is too thick for this cake batter. We recommend the canned coconut milk, which is part coconut cream.

  7. This recipe is absolutely the best!!! Very moist and flavor is so coconuty and yummy! I have a couple of groups who request this from me every time “potluck “ comes into play. Gonna make another one tonight!

    1. Hi Felicia, no need to beat the egg whites before folding into the batter. See step 3 — “Beat in the egg whites until combined, then add the sour cream, vanilla extract, and coconut extract.” Hope you enjoy the cake!

  8. Can you freeze the buttercream? I’d like to make as many components ahead of time as possible.

    1. Hi Tracy, yes! Freeze up to 3 months in the freezer. After freezing, thaw in the refrigerator then beat the frosting for a few seconds so it’s creamy again.

  9. Would this cake go well with a Coconut Swiss Meringue Buttercream if I make it into cupcakes?

  10. I am completely blow away by how amazing this cake turned out. It’s insanely moist and fluffy. The flavor of the cake is heavenly, hints of coconut and vanilla, the icing is perfectly sweet yet a hint of tartness from the cream cheese. I did everything as written in this recipe and wouldn’t change a single thing.

  11. Hello! I would like to make this fantastic cake in a couple of days and I would like to add the alcoholic coconut liquor Batida de Coco. Should I use it in the frosting instead of the coconut milk? Or how would you recommend it?
    Can I also sprinkle it on the baked batter before filling the cake with frosting? Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Roxi, adding it to the cake batter would require testing so it may be easiest to use it in the frosting to replace the coconut milk. Let us know how it turns out.

  12. My mom is diabetic so I was wondering if I could use Stevia Raw sweetener instead of sugar? Will it come out the same?

    1. Hi Tammy! We’d love to help but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes. Thank you!

  13. This cake was amazing!!!! I followed it to the T!!! It was a major hit! Thank you Sally!!

  14. Love this cake. Made it as shown for Christmas last year and will be making it again this year, but wondering – how would Sally’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream fair with this cake? I loooooove that frosting and kinda wanna try it with it. Thoughts?

  15. One of the best cakes I’ve baked! It was just the right amount of coconut flavor and lovely moist cake! I received so many compliments.

  16. The most delicious cake I’ve ever baked, and one that wows everyone who tries it. Your instructions are thorough and easy to follow.

  17. I am an obsessive cook but have never baked a cake before. I did this recipe for the ladies at the Hospice I work for and they adored it with everyone wanting to get the recipe! What is even better is that I don’t really like coconut much myself and yet even I wolfed down a slice! Do you have a newsletter or similar?

    1. Hi David, We are so glad you gave this a try and it turned out so well! To receive new recipe updates, sign up for our general email list. Happy baking!

      1. My cake turned out fabulous. And very moist, i will make this again for sure

    1. Hi Terica, No need to whip the egg whites separately first. Enjoy!

  18. WoW! The most delicious cake! I followed the recipe and instructions, step by step. The Coconut Buttercream was Excellent! The only change I made was make a Pineapple filling instead. Everyone enjoyed the cake even our Non-coconut lovers.
    Thank you for sharing!

  19. Hi!

    Im looking at making this recipe but I am not a cream cheese frosting person. What is a good substitute frosting for this cake ? Also, the sour cream you can’t taste it right ?!?

    1. Hi Rylee! You can replace the cream cheese with more butter for a coconut buttercream. The sour cream adds moisture to this cake, but it won’t taste like sour cream. Enjoy!

      1. Hi Trina!

        Thank you for your response! Would you recommend replacing the cream cheese with an additional stick of butter or a half of a stick?

      2. Hi Rylee! Replace with the same amount – 1 cup of butter instead of 8 oz of cream cheese (so two cups or 4 sticks total).

  20. I made this cake for Christmas Eve to rave reviews, even though the cake consistency was closer to pound cake than fluffy or moist. My oven does run hot, so I baked for exactly 20 minutes. I may have over beated the batter, would that have caused it? Would folding in beaten egg whites have helped? Would like to try this cake again, it was so delicious. I filled it with guava paste filling (Iberia/Amazon), melted on stovetop with a few tablespoons of water, using a hot wet tablespoon back to spread on the cake. The uppermost layer was guava red and smooth with cream cheese border rosettes, very festive and delicious. Anything else I can do to get the cake moist? Add more wet ingredients?

  21. Hi there,

    I have one more question… is it better to have fresh buttercream the day you are going to serve the cake, or can I try to prep in advance and bake the cake, cool and even frost and decorate it about a week in advanced? Trying to plan ahead for the best cake experience… Does it matter if you frost and decorate like 5 days before it is served?

    1. Hi Rylee! It’s best to frost cakes as close to serving as possible.

    1. Hi Moni, a plain, full-fat yogurt will work in place of the sour cream.

  22. We love coconut cake. We use to visit La Madeleine’s in San Antonio, Texas because they make the best coconut cake hand’s down… it’s also a French restaurant. My granddaughter requested a coconut cake for her birthday two years in a row. May I tell you this cake is all that, it’s moist and flavorful. I knew when I was mixing the batter it was going to be a good cake. I don’t like homemade cakes that are dry, like a really bad homemade dress, sewing gone wrong, just saying!

    My daughter made the icing for the cake, and kept saying this icing is yummy…she dances when the food is good. Put the icing on the cake, voila a masterpiece, so so good. We saved this recipe for the future.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Judith, we are SO glad you and your family loved this cake! Happy baking!

  23. Hi! Thanks for this most amazing recipe. I baked it for New Year’s Day and it was a hit for my family and me. I will bake this one over and over and over. I would like to scale the recipe for a little higher layers without doubling the recipe and having too much batter. Any suggestions? For right now, I might use 8″ pans to have a higher cake, but I prefer 9″ pans. Again, thanks for sharing the recipe to the best coconut cake …..EVER!!!!

    1. Hi Monette, We are so glad you loved this recipe. See the note for making a 2 layer cake with 9 inch pans, which would result in thicker layers. 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. Happy baking!

  24. Just made this cake for my birthday with your Swiss meringue buttercream, and it was so delicious! In the future I might like to cut the sugar a bit. How much do you suggest ?

    1. Hi Desiree, so glad you loved this cake! Sugar is used for moisture and texture in baked goods as well as taste. You can certainly try reducing the sugar, but the resulting texture will be different than intended.

Leave a Review!

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe rating

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.