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

586 Comments

  1. Hi Sally! I want to make one of your coconut cakes for our Easter celebration this year. I had planned to make your Lemon Coconut cake with the lemon curd, but then I found this cake. I love the lemon/coconut combo, but I’m looking for a super light and fluffy cake like this recipe describes. Can I use this cake recipe instead of the one in the Lemon Coconut cake recipe? Or is it too light to use with the lemon curd and cream cheese frosting? Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Megan, You can certainly make this cake and then use the lemon curd and cream cheese frosting between the layers. Enjoy!

  2. How tall is their cake completed the layers didn’t rise much. Or how tall is each layer?

  3. Should the egg whites be whipped separately to a soft peek or anything ?

    1. Hi Lea, It’s not necessary for this recipe. Enjoy!

  4. Brendi Rivera says:

    What can I do with the 10 egg yolks left out from this recipe?

    1. Hi Brendi! This recipe calls for 5 egg whites. See my recipe note for suggestions for leftover egg yolks.

  5. Third time making this…first time requested as a birthday cake! Delicious!

  6. The coconut milk in the cake says 1 cup (240ml) – but a cup = 250ml. Which is the correct amount for the cake? Thanks!

    1. Hi Beth, thanks! 1 liquid cup is about 240ml (even closer to 236ml). I recommend 240ml.

  7. Hi Sally. I’m wanting to try your recipe but I’ve been making coconut cream cakes for years and this it the first recipe I’ve seen that doesn’t call for pecans. Have you tried it with pecans?

    1. I don’t normally add pecans to regular coconut cake, but that sounds delicious! I’d try about 1 cup of chopped pecans.

  8. First, my batter was NOT thick. This always concerns me but going over the ingredients I used everything that was called for and the mixture was not lumpy at all. The cake turned out very flat. It kept me awake all night! It dawned on my that maybe I was supposed to whip the egg whites prior to adding to the mixture but when I got up did not see that in any instructions. What went wrong? Ideas? VERY disappointed! 🙁

    1. Hi Melanie! No need to whip the egg whites. I’m concerned that your batter was thin. Did it resemble the photo at all? Did you make any ingredient substitutions or leave out the coconut?

      1. I checked over the ingredients twice to make sure that I added everything. I made no substitutions, use cake flour, sour cream, coconut milk in a can, egg whites… And at the end I added a cup of coconut! It looks more like a coconut brownie and a coconut cake!

  9. Saundra Loving says:

    I have a question. I don’t see any oil in the batter. That seemed unusual to me. Is it because of the 1/2 cup of sour cream. Just wondering. I am making this cake for Easter tomorrow. Hope you are well and Happy Easter to you and your family

    1. Thanks Saundra and same to you! No oil necessary for this cake; it would weigh it down.

  10. Celebrating Easter as a party of one a d really want to make this cake. Would it be possible to half it and bake in a 9×9 pan? Thanks

    1. You can definitely try it. My Cake Pan Sizes & Conversions page will be helpful.

  11. Hi Sally! I’m so excited to try this recipe! I am unable to get the sour cream at the moment and I was wondering if I can use plain yoghurt as a substitute with the same measurement? Thanks!

    1. Hi! Yes, same amount of plain yogurt works.

  12. Great recipe, although I subbed 1/4 cup applesauce and 1/4 cup canola oil for the 3/4 cup butter to reduce trans fats. I also cut sugar down to 1 cup. I usually only do 1 cup sugar for 2 cups flour as a rule. Sweet enough for me. The cake is beautiful and delicious!! I would have preferred a little more coconut extract.

    For frosting I used 1/3 reduced fat cream cheese, powered sugar and vanilla and coconut extracts. No butter.

  13. Oh My God!
    I made this cake and it was an absolutely delicious, super moist and full of flavor coconut cake.
    Thank you so much for the great recipes♥️

  14. I cheated and tasted the batter, it is sweet but ohh so delicious!
    I am considering using unsweetened coconut for the frosting, thoughts?

  15. I made this cake last night, I’m new at cake baking and was apprehensive. I followed the recipe to the letter with no subs and checked for doneness at the “21 minute” mark. The cake turned out perfect!!! It is absolutely delicious and beautiful!!! Very moist, fluffy and sweet. Thanks for the great recipe.

    One word of caution…this cake cooks very fast at 350 degrees. Not sure if it’s the combination of ingredients or the temp. You should definitely check and consider removing at 21 minutes.

  16. Becky L Hellman says:

    Hi, Sally. I have a tradition and bake coconut cream cakes for special birthdays. About once a year. Though I’d been doing Keto for some time. I baked your recipe for my birthday, with no alterations! Fabulous. Exception was that I didn’t use sweetened coconut. But toasted 2 cups wide unsweetened coconut flakes from the health store, for about 5 minutes at 325, until dark golden brown. Then toasted 2 cups raw sliced almonds. When I was spreading the frosting in layers & top & sides, I pressed the toppings into the icing. All the different textures, and full flavor was an incredible treat. My skinny son, who’s not keen on pies/cakes…ate at least a third of the cake, in 2 days.

  17. I made this cake for Easter this year. I don’t have a cake flour so I used a substitute. The cake is so moist and not too overly sweet.. My kids gave me a thumbs up on this cake. This recipe is a keeper.

  18. Made this exactly as the recipe called, minus the roses for Easter & it is SO SO delicious & super moist!!!! I appreciate the extra tips @ the end. My Mom’s bday is in May, I am already planning on making her one.

  19. My daughter made this for Easter. This is a great recipe and she will definitely make it again! Thank you!

  20. Awesome cake!
    But i dont like cream cheese frosting!
    So i used a coconut buttercream recipe. Perfection!
    I didnt have coconut milk so i used unsweetened coconut cream.
    I also used UNSWEETENED shredded organic coconut.
    Still a little too sweet, but still the best coconut cake ive ever had.
    Yes, the cake has a really nice texture!

  21. When I made this my cake was still jiggly in the middle at 21 minutes and I checked on it every 3 minutes with a toothpick and after around 10 additional minutes it came out clean but now there is a hard crust all over the cake:/

  22. This cake is amazing! I had to make a few edits that worked out perfectly. I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and I omitted the coconut extract completely (it was still plenty coconut flavored). I was worried about it being too rich/sweet so I used sweetened shredded coconut in the cake only, and unsweetened shredded for the outside. I also cut the butter in half for the frosting and added a little more coconut milk instead, then just added confectionary sugar until it reached a good consistency (not sure if I used the full 5 cups). It came out perfect! Very moist cake but not sickly sweet.

  23. Hi Sally,
    I don’t have sour cream and no plans on going to the market until next week. Would buttermilk be an option as an alternate for the sour cream?

    1. Hi Brenda! I don’t recommend more liquid in this cake batter. Replacing with plain yogurt is the best option.

  24. Hi! I made this cake last year for Easter and I’d like to make it again this year, but for a much smaller crowd aka me and my mom. Is there anyway I could halve this recipe?

    1. Hi Eva, I’m so happy you enjoyed it last year. You should be able to cut the recipe in half.

  25. Colleen Finnegan says:

    Perfect! I followed the instructions to a T with the exception of coconut extract which I didn’t have. The cake was delicious- the best coconut cake recipe I have ever made!! Thank you for the great instructions. Next I’m deciding between making the chocolate mousse cake and the chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. How would u describe the differences? Thank you so much

  26. Any suggestions for how (or if we need to adjust) to use fresh coconut for the shreds? We got a small one as a mistake in a grocery order and I saw this recipe and decided we needed to make a cake with it. We’ll supplement with some canned coconut milk (not enough in the coconut itself) but I’d love to shred our coconut and use it instead of buying sweetened flakes. Not sure if I’d need to dry/cook them first or how we’d adjust if we were not using sweetened ones? Thanks – looks so yummy!

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

  27. Made this as a semi naked cake for my daughters first bday. I personally don’t love a lot of frosting. This is the first cake I have ever made that’s not from a box! Was so easy and soooo worth it!

  28. Would the finished cake need to be stored in the refrigerator if I did not use cream cheese in the frosting?

    1. That’s completely up to you. I usually keep frosted cakes out for up to 1 day, but refrigerate them after that. I store them in cake carriers. (The best for storing! See my 10 Baking Tips for Perfect Cakes post.)

  29. Sally, great recipe! I made the sheet cake version and actually messed up the coconut milk amount LOL (mixed up the 2 tablespoons for icing for the cake batter part ‍♀️). AND on top of that I didn’t shake up the can before opening and just had to improvise — despite these blunders the cake STILL came out decently moist/fluffy. I will say I am an expert creamer tho … maybe that’s what saved it haha. Will get it right next time

  30. So good!! My family loved it.

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