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A reader favorite recipe, lemon coconut cake features deliciously moist coconut cake layers, homemade lemon curd, toasted coconut, and cream cheese frosting. It’s buttery, moist, and tender– the cake of your dreams!

overhead image of lemon coconut cake garnished with coconut and a lemon slice on a teal plate

Today’s lemon coconut cake recipe combines everything we love about lemon cake and coconut cake in one. Sandwiched between three deliciously moist and buttery coconut cake layers is homemade lemon curd and tangy cream cheese frosting. It’s sweet, bright with citrus, indulgent, and a must make for any occasion.

slices of lemon coconut cake on a white plates with a fork

Why You’ll Love This Lemon Coconut Cake

What I love about this lemon coconut cake, besides the flavor, is the dense and fluffy texture. It has an unbelievably light crumb, but there is A LOT of dense flavor in each buttery bite. And readers all around the world agree– giving this cake rave reviews.

Here’s why you’ll love it, too:

  • Not just for spring– this cake brightens up cold and gloomy winter days
  • Great for all occasions
  • Mega flavorful
  • Extra buttery
  • Moist and soft
  • Simple yet impressive
  • Completely from scratch
  • Filled with lemon curd
  • Topped with cream cheese frosting
  • Garnished with toasted coconut
2 images of coconut cake batter and butter and eggs

How to Make Lemon Coconut Cake

  1. Make lemon curd. We use 1 full batch for this cake. Let it cool while you make the cake.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together.
  3. Combine the milks. Set aside.
  4. Cream the wet ingredients together.
  5. Add the milk and dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Alternate additions.
  6. Fold in the coconut. The batter will be lumpy– don’t be alarmed by this.
  7. Pour the batter evenly into 3 prepared cake pans.
  8. Bake. About 22-25 minutes.
  9. Make the frosting.
  10. Assemble and frost.
  11. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. This ensures the cake will stay intact as you cut it.
  12. Slice, serve, enjoy!
lemon curd in a glass jar with a spoon

Lemon Curd Filling is the Best

You’ll find homemade lemon curd between each layer of this elegant spring dessert. It’s light, fresh, citrus-y, pairs wonderfully with coconut, and adds so much delicious flavor. Made with only 5 simple ingredients, homemade lemon curd is best and incredibly easy to make. No crazy ingredients either– you likely have them in your kitchen already. There is no flavor comparison between homemade and store-bought!

Lemon curd is too liquid-y to use by itself, so we pair it with a layer of cream cheese frosting. But not just any cream cheese frosting, coconut cream cheese frosting. Let’s add coconut milk and heavy cream to make it extra thick and creamy, and a drop of coconut extract (optional) to kick it up a notch. You’ll never want to use regular cream cheese frosting again!

cream cheese frosting and lemon curd in between layers of coconut cake on a teal plate

4 Lemon Coconut Cake Success Tips

For the best results, follow my tips for success.

  1. Use cake flour. Cake flour is key to this cake’s soft and light crumb. Do not use all-purpose flour in this recipe unless you’re making this cake flour substitute.
  2. Use coconut milk and buttermilk. Why both? For the best possible texture and flavor. I use canned coconut milk– it’s super thick. Buttermilk is used for moisture, as well as in conjunction with the baking soda. (More about baking soda vs. baking powder here.)
  3. Use brick-style cream cheese. To make cream cheese frosting, you must use full-fat brick-style cream cheese. The kind that is sold in a little box– not the kind sold in a tub that you spread on your bagels.
  4. Use room temperature ingredients. Your coconut milk, buttermilk, butter, eggs, and cream cheese should all be at room temperature before beginning. Room temperature ingredients truly make a difference– there is science and legitimate reason behind it!

In short, no ingredient substitutions. For 3 moist, soft, and flavorful coconut cake layers, make the recipe using the ingredients listed. I don’t recommend substituting any of these– the cake’s wonderful texture and flavor will change.

slices of lemon coconut cake on a white plates with a fork

More Favorite Lemon Recipes

slice of lemon coconut cake on a white plate

If you simply can’t get enough of this flavor combination, try these lemon coconut shortbread cookies next!

Print
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overhead image of lemon coconut cake on a teal plate

Lemon Coconut Cake

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 35 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours
  • Yield: serves 1214 1x
  • Category: Cake
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Lemon coconut cake features deliciously moist coconut cake layers, homemade lemon curd, toasted coconut and cream cheese frosting. It’s a family favorite recipe! To make the best possible lemon coconut cake, make sure to read my notes in the post and below before beginning.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 cups (315g) sifted cake flour (spoon & leveled)*
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) canned coconut milk, at room temperature*
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temperature*
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (345g; 3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 Tablespoon (15ml) pure vanilla extract
  • optional: 1 teaspoon coconut extract (I prefer the cake without it, but it’s still tasty!)
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (about 2 loosely packed cups)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups homemade lemon curd (full recipe)

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 ounces (225g) full-fat brick style cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 cups (360g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) coconut milk or heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • topping: toasted (or not!) sweetened shredded coconut and lemon slices for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Grease three 9-inch cake pans, line with parchment paper rounds, then grease the parchment paper. Parchment paper helps the cakes seamlessly release from the pans. (If it’s helpful, see this parchment paper rounds for cakes video & post.)
  2. Make the cake: Whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine the coconut milk and buttermilk together in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set aside.
  3. With a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed in a large bowl until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes until creamed. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed. With the mixer running on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract and the coconut extract (if using). Beat on medium-high speed until combined. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
  4. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the milk mixture and mixing each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix. Use a whisk to rid any large lumps, if needed. The batter will be slightly thick. Finally, fold in the coconut. The batter will be lumpy. See photo above for a visual.
  5. Spoon/pour batter evenly into each cake pan. Bake for around 22-25 minutes or until the cakes are baked through. Remember to rotate the pans halfway through baking to ensure even baking. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow cakes to cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack. The cakes must be completely cool before frosting and assembling.
  6. Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk or paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners’ sugar, 1 Tablespoon coconut milk/cream, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add 1 more Tablespoon of milk/cream to thin out, if desired.
  7. Assemble and frost: First, 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 or serving plate. Evenly cover the top with a thin layer of frosting, then half of the lemon curd. Top with 2nd layer and evenly cover the top with a thin layer of frosting, then the remaining lemon curd. Finish with the third cake layer and spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Garnish the top with coconut and/or lemon slices. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before cutting or else the cake may fall apart as you cut.
  8. Slice, serve, enjoy!

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. Assemble and frost the cake the next day when you are ready to serve. Frosted cake can be frozen up to 2 months if you have room in the freezer. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving. Honestly, it tastes much better fresh.
  2. Flour: Do not replace the cake flour with all-purpose flour. Your cake will be dense, solid, and heavy. In a pinch, you can use this homemade cake flour substitute which is a careful ratio of all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
  3. Milk: This recipe has been tested with equal parts coconut milk and buttermilk. I recommend using full fat canned coconut milk, the kind you use for cooking. If you can’t get your hands on canned coconut milk, you can use 1 cup of buttermilk instead. You can make your own DIY version of buttermilk if needed. Add 2 teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to a liquid measuring cup. Then add enough whole milk to the same measuring cup until it reaches 1 cup. (In a pinch, lower fat or nondairy milks work for this soured milk, but the cake won’t taste as moist or rich.) Stir it around and let sit for 5 minutes. The homemade “buttermilk” will be somewhat curdled and ready to use in the recipe.
  4. More Lemon Flavor: To increase the lemon flavor, feel free to add the zest of 1 lemon to the coconut cake batter. Keep in mind that this will take away from the cake’s coconut flavor. Also optional for more lemon flavor: beat zest from 1 lemon into the cream cheese frosting.
  5. More Coconut Flavor: To increase the coconut flavor, feel free to use the optional coconut extract listed. And/or you can add 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract to the frosting.
  6. Sheet Cake: The batter makes a perfect sheet cake! Simply spread into a 12×17 inch half sheet/jelly roll pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until cooked through. It also fits nicely into a 9×13 inch cake pan. Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until cooked through.

Keywords: lemon coconut cake, cake

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Just made this recipe for my daughter’s birthday and it was a hit! I made a lemon cream cheese frosting though as she wanted more lemon! I will definitely be making this cake again and again! Do you happen to know the approximate nutritional values as I would love to serve this for my mom and she has to track her carb count for diabetes.

    1. Hi Sherri! We’re so glad you love this cake. We don’t usually include nutrition information as it can vary between different brands of the same ingredients. Plus, many recipes have ingredient substitutions or optional ingredients listed. However, there are many handy online calculators where you can plug in and customize your exact ingredients/brands. Readers have found this one especially helpful: https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp

  2. This cake’s texture is by *far* the best of the many coconut cake recipes I’ve tried over the years. Flavor’s delicious but very sweet–I recommend unsweetened coconut. I needed more frosting than this recipe made because the texture of the coconut made the frosting stick & could not make a truly thin coat between layers. Biggest issue was construction–like several other reviewers I had difficulty with sliding due to the slickness of the lemon curd. I’d love some technical tips on construction–will make again, would rather avoid holding together with dowels!

    1. Not sure if this will completely solve the sliding (it was a little wobbly going into the fridge) but I split my layers and applied the lemon curd to the cut side . I made sure not to go all the way to the edge so the frosting had something to catch onto . I did find this frosoto be very soft and I think that might be contributing to the problem. Maybe chilling it well would help

  3. I need help with the measurements, I am used to 1 cup = 250g per my measuring cup. With the cake flour it says to add 3 cups (315g). Do I stick to the 315g of flour instead of 750g (3 cups using my measuring cup)?

    1. Hi Beatrice! Great question. Cake flour is much lighter than regular flour. So, for the same volume (1 cup) the cake flour measurements will be lighter. For best results, we recommend sticking to the 315g as written in the recipe. Hope this is helpful!

  4. I don’t know what I did wrong but the cake was very dense and one layer completely broke apart into 4 parts when I tried to assemble it. Everything was cool so not sure why this was a failure. Also didn’t seem to have nearly enough icing to cover the cake had I been able to put it together. Disappointing!

  5. Hi Sally,
    I am wondering if you have an adjustment to your recipe for high altitude? I live at 7000 feet. I have made this cake twice and both times it came out Dry. The second time I cooked for less than the least amount of time suggested and it came out a little better. I love this recip, just want to figure out how to make a moist cake in high altitude.
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Holly, I wish we could help, but have no experience baking at high altitude. Some readers have found this chart helpful: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html

  6. Hi! Would it be possible to substitute the lemon curd with mango curd?

    1. That sounds like a delicious flavor combination, Sandy! Let us know how it goes for you.

  7. Hi Sally,
    I couldn’t find sweetened shredded coconut here in Australia. There is only plain shredded coconut available. What is the alternative?

    1. Hi Ann, you can use unsweetened shredded coconut instead — the cake should still be plenty sweet. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Ruth, canned coconut milk is typically sold as unsweetened — that’s what we recommend here. Enjoy!

  8. Hi Sally,
    Lovely recipe. Few questions though – how will the bake time differ if using 3 – 6″ pans? Is this a overly sweet cake? or more citrusy with a coconut flavor? Lastly, does cake flour really make a big difference to using a cake flour substitute? Thanks!!!

    1. Hi Sam! You can reference our cake pan sizes and conversions guide to find out how much batter you’ll need for your smaller pans. You can use this 6 inch cakes post for baking times. This is a sweet and citrusy cake. Cake flour is key to this cake’s soft and light crumb. Do not use all-purpose flour in this recipe unless you’re making this cake flour substitute. Hope you love it!

      1. Thank you! For reference though, what size pan has been used in the recipe above? It says pour batter into 3 tins but doesn’t specify the size. Thanks again.

      2. Hi Sam! This recipe is written for 9 inch cake pans (see step 1). Enjoy!

      3. Last question – I promise! I only have 1- 9″ pan, do you know the total weight of the batter? So I divide by 3 and pour equal amounts without having to eyeball the measurements. Thanks!

      4. Hi Sam, we don’t have the weight of the batter – so sorry I can’t help more!

      5. If want to divide the batter precisely be three ( or whatever), you can measure the batter rather than weighing it. So if you have (say) 6 cups of batter and 3 pans, you would put 2 cups of batter in each pan. I’m late to the convo, but I hope this helps.

  9. Hi! Can I make the icing 2 days in advance and store in refrigerator? I understand the day I assemble the cake the lemon curd and icing should also be at room temperature correct?

    1. Hi Cindy, the frosting should be just fine in the refrigerator for two days. You may need to add just a splash of coconut milk or heavy cream and beat it again to help bring it back to a softer consistency. Yes, bring both back to room temperature before assembling. Hope you enjoy the cake!

  10. Hi Sally, can I omit the shredded coconut? Will it affect texture too much? Thanks

    1. Hi Lindsey, feel free to omit the coconut in the cake with no other changes. Enjoy!

  11. Hi Sally,
    Can you use Cream of Coconut, instead of coconut milk in the cake batter?

    1. Hi Jennifer, We use and recommend canned coconut milk (not the coconut milk beverage), which is pretty thick after you shake it up. Coconut cream, also canned, is different. That’s a little too thick for this batter.

  12. Hello Sally-

    I’d like to try this recipe in two 9 inch pans instead of three. Would I need to reduce any ingredients so I don’t have an overflow? Thanks.

    1. Hi Brenda! The cakes will be quite tall and take quite awhile in the oven because they’ll be super thick. Keeping that in mind, you can give it a try!

  13. Assembling my cake has been very hard, all of it keeps sliding and the filling is running out. What have I done

    1. Hi Kay! Did you completely cool the cake layers before assembling? How is the consistency of your frosting? You can always add more powdered sugar if it seems too thin. Also make sure to use full fat block style cream cheese – any other cream cheese (that comes in a tub) will be too thin to make a proper cream cheese frosting. Letting the cake sit in the fridge for 15-20 minutes should help things firm up again if they’re simply getting too warm. Hope these tips help!

      1. Thank you cake tastes very good just doesn’t look good but will definitely try again

  14. The cake is delicious. The lemon curd is fantastic. And the frosting is yummy. The problem is that, like many others, assembling three 8-inch cakes on top of each other is almost impossible. I cut the tops off and went slowly, but I still ended up with a two-layer cake and a trifle made with broken cake and leftover curd and icing.

    I have been baking for many years and this wasn’t my first layer cake. But something needs to be changed with this recipe as it doesn’t work as written when it comes to stacking the cakes.

  15. My cake ended up being very dry even though the only ingredient I omitted was the coconut milk, instead adding a cup of Buttermilk. The cake was split into two pans instead of 3 & it was perfectly baked. Any clues as to why it is dry & crumbly?

    1. Hi Kristin! How did you measure the flour? Too much flour will lead to a dry cake. Make sure to spoon and level (instead of scooping) to avoid packing in too much flour into your measuring cups – or use a kitchen scale. You can read more about properly measuring baking ingredients in this post. Here are more tips for baking perfect cakes!

  16. I made this cake in January and it was delicious! I followed it to the letter other than adding a bit of lemon zest to the frosting. I removed one star because it was a disastrous assembly. Lemon curd and icing was flowing out from between the layers and onto the counter. I’m making this again this weekend, and I’m going to try chilling the curd and icing a bit first. It might be more difficult to spread while cold, but that would be better than a quarter of it ending up on my counter again.

  17. Moist and Delicious! Second time baking this cake – can you possibly suggest an alternative to the cream cheese frosting? I’m making it for my daughter’s birthday, and while she absolutely loves lemon and coconut, she doesn’t care for cream cheese frosting. I know that the texture of the frosting is important to holding the layers…do you think buttercream would work? I’ll be making it in four rectangular layers so it’s important that the layers hold up well. I’m assembling and decorating it tomorrow. Sorry for the last-minute question!

    1. Hi Britt, vanilla or lemon buttercream would be delicious (you can use coconut milk instead of heavy cream/milk in the vanilla recipe like in this recipe). Either buttercream frosting will hold the structure of your cake better than this cream cheese frosting would. Let us know how it turns out!

  18. Hi Sally, I want to make this cake for my husband’s birthday as lemon and coconut are his favourites, but we don’t have the cream cheese blocks here in UK, we only have the spreadable ones. Do you have any tips or adjustments if I used the spreadable one or another icing that would pair well with the cake( he doesn’t like the American buttercream because it is too sweet) Thank you!

    1. Rania, I think Swiss Meringue Buttercream would be your best choice. Definitely do not try the cream cheese based frosting if you don’t have the thick blocks because your frosting will end up being liquid!

  19. Hi Sally, I’m wanting to make this cake for my mom for Mother’s Day but only have a 9×13 inch cake pan. Can I still layer the lemon curd on top of the baked sheet cake followed by the cream cheese frosting? Thanks!

    1. Hi Mikayla, we’d actually recommend the other day around! It might get a bit messy trying to spread the frosting on top of the curd, so we’d do frosting first and then drizzle / spread the frosting on top. Hope it’s a hit!

  20. Hi Sally, would this recipe be okay in a tube cake (bundt) pan? If so, would I reduce the flour and what other ingredients? It’d be great if you could put a tube cake pan adaptation in the notes of this recipe 🙂 I really appreciate your baking recipes! I haven’t tried this recipe yet but it sounds absolutely delicious!

    1. Hi Kath, we haven’t tested it, but this cake batter would fit into a greased 10-cup or larger Bundt pan. We’re unsure of the exact bake time (likely around an hour), but use a toothpick to test for doneness. Same oven temperature.

  21. Hoping to make this cake for a bridal shower soon. However, I’d want to make the layers ahead of time. Would it be possible to make them more than a day ahead and freeze them before assembling? Or would they last a couple of days if I wrap them tightly and refrigerate?

    1. Hi Michelle, you can absolutely make these layers ahead of time. Here’s everything you need to know about freezing cakes.

  22. Delicious, moist, and dense. One issue: I was going to use 3 8 inch round pans because I only have 2 9 inch pans, and make a couple of cupcakes with any leftover batter. The batter fit into only 2 8 inch pans, filling each pan about 2/3 full. I had to increase the baking time, checking until the cakes passed the toothpick test .They were fully baked, and tasty, but very dense. I shifted and measured the flour as instructed, bit mixed the batter hand. I think the batter simply didn’t reach the full volume it would have with an electric mixer.

  23. A delicious & lovely cake. I put some frosting in a pastry bag & after applying a thin coat of frosting on top of the layer, I created a “dam” around the edge w/the frosting in the pastry bag & spread the curd in the center. I placed that layer in the freezer for under 10 minutes. Repeated for the next layer. I only had enough frosting for basically a heavy crumb coat on the sides. But I covered the sides with toasted coconut & it looked perfect! The curd took 25 minutes of whisking but set up quickly when I added COLD butter cubed. I used 8 inch pans , total baking time was 25minutes Definitely a new family favorite!! Thank you Sally for another wonderful recipe!!

  24. Hi Sally, I was curious as to what you thought about adding your lemon curd recipe to your “fluffy and moist coconut cake” recipe and wondering why the recipes for the cake layers is different in these two coconut cakes. Thanks again for sharing amazing recipes with us!

    1. Hi Isa! Just two different cake bases. The coconut cake doesn’t have lemon flavor and it’s a bit fluffier than this cake. You can certainly add some lemon curd in the layers of that cake just as you do here!

  25. This sounds delicious and I would like to make this for my son’s birthday, but based on reviews sounds like it can be a bit tricky to assemble. Do you think it would work/ help to freeze the cakes and spread the lemon curd and icing while still frozen, then stick them in the refrigerator to thaw or bring them to room temperature just in the house? Thanks!

    1. Hi Liz, You shouldn’t need to freeze them, but placing them in the refrigerator can help with assembly. Let us know if you give it a try!

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