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!

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Coconut cake

Coconut Cake

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

Description

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


Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/2 cups (275g) sifted cake flour* (spoon & leveled)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1.5 sticks; 170g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 and 2/3 cups (330g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (120g) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 cup (240ml) canned coconut milk, at room temperature*
  • 1 cup (80g) sweetened shredded coconut

Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream

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

Instructions

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

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The cake layers can be baked, cooled, and covered tightly at room temperature overnight. Likewise, the frosting can be prepared then covered and refrigerated overnight. When ready to decorate, let the frosting sit at room temperature to slightly soften for 15 minutes, then give it one more mix with the mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute before frosting cake. Frosted cake or unfrosted cake layers can be frozen up to 2-3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before decorating/serving.
  2. Cake Flour: For the best results, I strongly recommend sifted cake flour. Sift before measuring. You can find cake flour in the baking aisle and I have many more recipes using it. If you 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

287 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,
    It’s hard to come by the sweetened shredded coconut in my area. What I usually get is the fine dessicated coconut. Please is it okay to use it and with that do i increase the sugar

      1. Since dessicated coconut is unsweetened, do I need to add sugar or clear Karo syrup or something and if so, how much??

  2. There are some issuers with the instructions. The Ingredients 2.5 cups of flour have the wrong weight of 275g. They weigh more. It is like a half cup at least short at 275g.
    Also the Instruction miss out when to add the flour. Most people familiar with sponges would know, but I am an older male and I don’t know.

    1. Hi Roger, 2 cups of sifted cake flour weighs about 275g. You can find where you combine the flour with other dry ingredients in step 2, then when you add to the wet ingredients in step 3.

      1. I made this cake for my father-in-laws 81st Birthday, and it was a hit I’m adding this cake to my holiday collection of cakes

      2. I’m thrilled this recipe was a hit with your family! Thanks for your positive feedback 🙂

    1. Hi Lorna! Most of my recipes do have metric weights- in this recipe, you’ll find the metric conversions in parentheses next to each ingredient!

  3. This was a truly a wonderful recipe. I subbed sour cream with whole fat yogurt, used whole wheat flour instead of cake flower, used two whole fresh farm eggs instead of just the whites, and added less butter and sugar and made a thin glaze frosting rather than a thick cream cheese one, and it STILL turned out perfect. People, don’t be scared to manipulate the list of ingredients a little to suit your palate (unless you have no idea what you’re doing). Thank you!

  4. Can’t wait to make this cake! For the frosting, I don’t went it to be overly sweet, can i reduce the amount of sugar? Will it affect the texture of the frosting?

    1. Hi Milan! Yes, the texture will change. You can reduce the amount of sugar slightly, but if you don’t add enough, the frosting will taste and look greasy. You need confectioners’ sugar to soak up the fat. 🙂

  5. This cake is moist and delicious. I will be making this cake again for family and friends. I decided to use two 6 inch pans to make a smaller cake. With the left over batter I made one 3×3 inch mini cake. Both cakes turned out perfect.
    I didn’t add the coconut the coconut extract and I decided to toast the 2 cups of coconut to sprinkle on the top and sides of the cake and the coconut flavor was perfect. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  6. I’ve never made a cake from scratch in my life. I made it this weekend for my Mom’s birthday (she LOVES coconut!) and it was delicious! I brought a couple pieces to work today to share and it was a hit here too! Can’t wait to make the strawberry cake next!

  7. Hi Sally,

    This recipe looks delicious! I was wondering if its possible to use this recipe and make them as cupcakes?

  8. I’m going to make this cake for a birthday and am thinking about adding food colouring to give it a bright marble on the inside. Would this work on this kind of batter?

  9. This is a very moist cake. The cake flour and egg white makes it nice and light. I followed the recipe, with one tiny change… Since I didn’t have coconut extract, I used just a little bit, less than 1/8 teaspoon, of almond extract. Brought the cake to a family gathering and it was a huge hit. “So moist.” “Great cake.” “Did you make this? Wow!” This recipe is a winner!

  10. I cook a lot, including deserts, but rarely make cakes (which I consider to be a delivery vehicle for frosting yum yum). . .in fact its probably been 15 years . . . so I had some trepidation when my grandson asked for a coconut cake. This post had so much information to go with the recipe, it made me feel safe about choosing this one among the recipes I found. WHAT A HIT!!! Omg The cake is moist, and so very flavorful. Definitely liked that it was three layers (so more frosting per forkful of cake!). I followed the instructions closely. My batter was a bit thicker than the video . . . but it still cooked up fine. Also, my frosting was the opposite and was a bit runnier. I didn’t watch the full video till afterward, or would have added more sugar to thicken it up just a touch. All and all any errors were my own, but the flavor was foolproof delicious. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS RECIPE

  11. This is hands down the best (and easiest!) cake I’ve ever made. It’s fluffy and just the right amount of coconut

  12. I made this cake ( 8-22-19) because I have a really good coconut cake recipe already and wanted to see how this one would compare. It was BETTER! Very, very moist and I needed a very thin knife to cut it because of how moist it was. Very coconutty. I was worried about the layers being “short” but stacked with the frosting makes the cake standard cake size. It was a huge hit at my family party.

  13. I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday yesterday. It was a sensational success. I’ve made several coconut cakes but this is the first time I added the flakes to the batter by mixing it into the coconut milk and pulsing it in the blender. Amazing coconut flavor throughout. It’s a very well made cake, just a beautiful crumb.

  14. Planning to make a few 6 inch cakes for a bake sale. How many 6 inch cakes can I get from this recipe? Also, if not at least two, should I double, triple recipe. Thanks.

    1. Hi Mary, what a fun treat for a bake sale! I’m not sure if you are trying to make single layer cakes or not but this is the pan size chart I often refer to when suggesting different sizes: https://www.joyofbaking.com/PanSizes.html
      Also, I always caution against doubling a cake recipe. It’s usually too much batter to work with at once and you risk over or under-mixing leading to a dense cake.

  15. Sally,
    My oven does not fit 3- 9 inch cake pans on the same level. Would you switch to convection bake at 325 F, or bake it in two layers. 3- 8 inch can’t fit either unless they are touching the sides of the oven.

    1. You can bake two layers first and then bake the third. Or try convection if that’s an option – I never bake on this mode but other bakers do with lots of success!

  16. Hi Sally,

    I love your recipes! I have made quite a few and this will be my first time making the coconut cake. Would doubling the recipe make enough batter for an 11 x 15 pan? And if so, how far up do I fill it as to make it as tall as possible without overflowing? I want to make a layered sheet cake using one pan instead of two.

    Thanks,
    Missy

    1. I don’t recommend doubling this recipe. Instead make it twice. Doubling any cake recipe often leads to under or over-mixing which results in a dense cake.

  17. Tried this recipe today and the cake was wonderful – moist, fluffy and tasty 🙂 I did find it a little sweet but will adjust my sugar measurements when I bake it again. Thanks Sally!!

  18. Hello.
    I want to make this cake for my son’s first birthday. But i want to make it in baby shark shape and cover it with marshmallow fondant.
    So I was just wondering, is this cake suitable for marshmallow fondant over it?
    I love to bake, I’m good at it, but I don’t have a lot experience at baking cakes.

    1. I haven’t tried this cake in a fun shape pan but it should be ok with fondant. Have fun and I hope it’s a great birthday celebration!

  19. This cake was fabulous! I made it last weekend for my son’s birthday, and it came out perfect! So moist, full of coconut flavor! He loved it so much, that he asked me to cut several slices and set aside for him. He wanted to make sure he got his full birthday share! 🙂 Thank you for another wonderful recipe and perfect directions!

  20. Hi Sally!
    I am planning to make this for my husbands birthday this week – it’s my first time trying out a layer cake! Just had a few questions:
    – What is the best way to store the frosted cake overnight? (as I will be making it the day before)
    – My family prefers less sweet cakes, what is your recommendation on how to reduce the overall sweetness of the cake? ie. Where can I make changes with having the least amount of impact on the quality?
    – You mention to cool the cakes in the tins on a rack until they are completely cool. Is there no need to take them out of the pan and cool directly on the rack?

    Thank you so much for your help and your wonderful recipes, they are always a hit!!! 🙂

    1. Hi Lakshmi, Since this is a cream cheese frosting I recommend storing the frosted cake covered in the refrigerator overnight. Just bring it back to room temperature on the counter before serving for the best texture!
      Yes, cool the cakes in the cake pans until completely cool.
      This is not an overly sweet cake – but as you make the frosting taste it and if it’s too sweet for you try adding a pinch of salt.
      I hope you all enjoy it!

  21. I made this cake for work and so many people loved it and asked for the recipe. I just made it again for a second time. I loved your recipes and plan on making more.

  22. Hi- 2 questions.
    1. in the video, you add oil to the wet ingredients yet oil is not listed in the recipe? which is correct?

    2.i’ve been testing a bunch of recipes for a 2 tier cake for a baby shower. 10″ 3 layers and 8″ 3 layers. will this cake be too soft for stacking? of course i’ll use cake words and owls, but will three layers work?
    thx!

    1. Hi Lisa, There is no oil in the video – maybe the egg whites looked like oil to you?
      I have not tried to stack this cake into tiers but as long as it’s properly supported it should work! Enjoy!

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