Lemon Coconut Cake

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

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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 12-14
  • 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

  • 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). Spray or lightly butter three 9-inch cake pans. Set aside.
  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

328 Comments

  1. Brenda Nicholson says:

    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!

  2. 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. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      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

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

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

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

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

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