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

111 Comments

  1. This cake sounds very intriguing! I am not a fan of coconut, however. Do you think I could have a great tasting cake minus coconut flakes? I have made a cake before using coconut milk and the cake didn’t taste like coconut. I do make my own lemon curd. Maybe I just need an alternate recipe of yours instead of making changes?? Thanks Sally!

    1. You can absolutely leave off the coconut flakes and also do not use the optional coconut extract. Definitely make your own lemon curd!! The recipe is linked above!!

  2. Malinda Lesniak says:

    Sally, You have outdone yourself again! I am amazed about where you come up with these recipes! You are right, this is a dream cake. Everything I have made from your blog has been over the top delicious! I am so glad I found you! Thanks for the inspiration! -Malinda

    1. Thank you for such a kind comment, Malinda! I’m so happy you enjoy this cake as much as I do!

  3. When separating the mixture into two cake tins, the cake was only a few inches thick and had a large dome in the middle. Do you think i could just put all the mixture in one tin and just cook it for longer?

    1. Hi Nellie! This cake batter fits wonderfully in a 9×13-inch cake pan or a jelly roll pan. See my recipe note.

  4. Hi Sally! Would love to bake this for a wedding cake. Would it be ok to bake and freeze the cakes in advance and then ice and decorate a day or so before the wedding? Also would this hold up ok under fondant if i used buttercream instead of the cream cheese frosting?
    Thanks
    Taranum

    1. Hi Taranum! Yes, baking and freezing the lemon coconut cakes in advance is no problem at all. Thaw and decorate 1 day in advance and refrigerate until the day of, if possible. Fondant may be used on top of a buttercream. Have fun baking the special cake!

  5. I made this for my middle school daughter’s birthday. I only used the coconut milk since I was concerned that the flavor would be too strong with the oil or shredded coconut. I was mistaken. The coconut flavor is mild to nonexistent. Maybe it will develop overnight. I will add more flavor via the icing. The texture is lovely; cake flour is a must based on previously baking a coconut cake using all purpose flour. Thank you for the recipe.

  6. BarelycanbakeBob says:

    I’ve had this cake before with the memory of the best cake I ever ate. I will make this and subscribed because of this recipe. And this coming from a true chocoholic.

  7. What is cake flour? I’ve never heard of it. Can you identify are more correct and technical term for it. What its called in the supermarket. We don’t have anything called cake flour. We have plain flour and self-raising flour. We have wholemeal flour and we have bread flour. We have 00 flour. But no cake flour.

    1. Hi Andrea! Cake flour is a light flour that is lower in protein content; it’s ideal for cakes. If unavailable, you can make your own cake flour. See my note. You can use plain flour instead of all-purpose in that substitution.

  8. I’ve been using your recipes for far too long to go without commenting anymore! I made this lemon coconut cake for my mother’s birthday recently and it turned out fantastic. I used lemon zest in the sponge and decided to forego extra coconut extract. The combination of the lemon curd and the coconut is a perfect balance! If you want to have a greater amount of cream cheese icing I suggest maybe doubling the recipe because I had the right amount of icing to thinly cover the cake enough to put toasted coconut on, but without the coconut it would have looked a little bit thin in my opinion. Overall, a wonderful recipe and a real crowd pleaser!! Thanks for another great one, Sally.

  9. Hi!

    I made this cake for my moms bday and it came out so good! Thanks for sharing! Lemon coconut is her favorite cake and I felt ambitious and wanted to make it from scratch. It came out great!

  10. Hi Sally! Already made the cake and it turned out AMAZING! It’s really buttery and even my dad ate it, he’s not a big fan of fruits, but he liked it! Loved it and I will do it more times, always changing something to make it even more amazing! Thank you for this recipe!

  11. This looks so good! Two of my favorite flavors in one place. Could I make these in cupcakes instead? Would that work out okay?

    1. Absolutely! I recommend about 20-22 minutes bake time.

  12. Could this be made in a 10” springfoam pan?

    1. Hi Jenna! This is too much cake batter for a 10-inch springform pan. I recommend sticking with 3 9-inch cake pans.

  13. Sally, this cake looks gorgeous! I adore lemon, and I adore coconut, so obviously this cake is a definite YES 😉 I’m curious as to why you prefer the cake without coconut extract; is it just a personal preference, or does the extract alter the flavor to leave an aftertaste or something? I have a bottle of imitation coconut extract that I’d like to use up, but I know that it’s pretty potent, and I wouldn’t want to ruin such a beautiful cake…although, I find that coconut extract is fabulous in coconut scones! Also, I’ll probably be making this as cupcakes, since I want to bring them along to our weekly connect group and cupcakes are easier to serve. What would the baking time be for the cupcakes? Thanks, Sally! 🙂

    1. I left out the coconut extract because it’s not as readily available to some, though you can certainly add it! I’d say up to 1 teaspoon should be plenty. If doing so, you can reduce the vanilla extract down to 2 teaspoons. Cupcakes would be great! I’m unsure of the exact amount this recipe would produce– likely 3-4 dozen.

  14. Been dying to make this – so decided to make it Sunday in honor of my birthday!! It was so good!! Cake was awesome but I had alot of trouble with the layers “sliding” with the lemon curd. Am thinking I didn’t cook it long enough – don’t think it was think enough. Next time might try it with your lemon buttercream icing or even the coconut frosting from the coconut cake. Didn’t like this one as much – very sweet and I think maybe should have had less vanilla? Regardless – it was awesome and will be keeping the recipe! Love everything!

    1. Be sure your cake layers are nice and level before stacking them to avoid them slipping and sliding! This cake will certainly work with another frosting! I hope you had a great birthday!

  15. If I make this as a sheet cake, how would you recommend using the lemon curd and frosting? Frost the cake then swirl on the lemon curd? Put lemon curd on cake then frost? I’m not sure what would be best. Thanks!

    1. Hi Courtney! When I made this cake as a sheet cake, I frosted with cream cheese frosting then swirled some lemon curd into the frosting. It was delicious– and easier than a layer cake!

  16. Hi Sally,
    I was just wondering, why you suggest using whole eggs rather than only the egg whites in this recipe? Will the texture still come out fluffy like your other cake recipes?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Estefania! I’m not looking for a pristine white or exceptionally fluffy cake with this recipe. Super soft and moist, yes, but not light-as-air like my white cake recipe where I only use egg whites.

  17. Wanda Graham says:

    Made this cake. Looks exactly like your photo. But, as you said, very dense. I am thinking I can turn the rest into a trifle so cake part is more moist. Beautiful looking cake!

  18. Hello Sally
    I just want to say a big thank you for the recipe, I made 1 1/2 of the batter to get three glorious, huge, light and fluffy layers of coconut heaven! I’ve put them in the freezer and still going to make your Lemon curd and then decorate with Italian meringue buttercream etc., for my daughter’s baby shower on Saturday. I’m certain it will be a winner because I had to ‘level’ the cakes slightly and could not resist trying the ‘offcuts’ – this recipe will definitely become a favourite. I will try and post a photo of the completed cake next week but thank you again!

  19. Leslie Byron says:

    The lemon curd was exceptional, the icing was great, but the cake layers seemed a bit dry and crumbly. I thought they should be lighter.

  20. Hi! How can I adjust this recipe to utilize 6 inch pans?

    1. Hi Christina, See my full post on Cake Pan Sizes and Conversions to help when changing the size pans of any cake.

  21. Absolutely loved this cake! The lemon curd was to die for. Next time I will make a double batch of icing as I found it was only enough for a very thin layer and I like a lot of icing. Thank you for an amazing recipe!

  22. Hi Sally !
    Happy (early) Mother’s Day!
    All I have On hand is cake flour that comes with the salt and baking powder already sifted in.
    Have you ever used that?
    If so ( or even if not ) would you suggest I even attempt this recipe, or wait until I am
    able to get plain cake and pastry ( that’s what it’s called here in Canada) flour?

    1. Hi Deneen, thank you! I don’t recommend using that in this cake recipe unless you test it with varying amounts of added leaveners– the cake would likely need some in addition to the baking powder in the cake flour you have. For best results, stick to the recipe.

  23. Hi Sally! Just baked this cake but it sank. I did not over mixed and used an oven termomether at 350 F and didn’t open the oven until it was done… any clue what might have happened? 🙁

  24. I am wondering if some fresh blueberries could be added to the cake batter before baking

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Annette, blueberries would be delicious! I’d use 1 and 1/2 cups.

  25. OMG OMG OMG! this cake is heavenly! i love lemon desserts and this cake was too good. I did this cake 3 times this year since i discovered it. The lemon curd came out perfectly and i didn’t even had a double boiler. I’ve put half the sugar in the frosting since my mom doesn’t like sweets but it still came out perfectly and we ate it in the same day.Once i measured the butter wrong with 100g less and once I also put less coconut , but both times it still came out really good. I never leave reviews but this one definitely deserves one. Thank you Sally for all your wonderful recipes!

  26. Hi Sally!
    You mentioned that no substitution with the ingredients but I couldn’t get buttermilk here in the philippines,especially, im living in an island far from the main city. I usually make homemade buttermilk (milk+vinegar/lemon). Would that be ok?

    * I love your recipes! I learn a lot from your site. . Especially the tips!
    Bim

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Yes, you can! See recipe notes for details.

  27. Found this recipe today and thought how delicious it sounded. Wow it’s amazing and huge ! I may have to reduce it next time for the sake of the waistline but really loved it and will be my go to recipe in the future, thank you

  28. I want to try this, but you say in the comments that you use coconut milk because it is ultra thick, but coconut milk is thin like regular milk, coconut CREAM is thick – two different products. So which do you actually use in this recipe? Thanks so much for your time and response.

    1. Hi Ella! I 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.

  29. I made this yesterday and it came out quite good. One of the eggs from the batter rolled away and hid while I was making the batter. I only found the lost egg when the cake was in the oven. The cake ended up being a teeny tiny bit crumbly (but not dry) but I can only imagine that the texture would’ve been absolutely perfect had it not been for the missing egg.

    I did half the sugar in the icing and if I were to make the cake again, which I definitely will, I would make more icing and I would also use less sugar in the lemon curd (just my personal preference as to sweetness).

    I would like to mention that it took me about half an hour to get my curd nice and thick in my homemade double boiler (I started cooking it on low as mentioned in the recipe for the first 5 mins but 20-25 mins of the time was spent between medium and medium high). Perhaps the people whose layers were sliding with the lemon curd did not let their curd cook and thicken up enough before removing from the heat.

    All in all a beautiful recipe that I’m looking forward to making again with 5 eggs 🙂

  30. Wow Sally I love ALL your recipes! Can this cake be made with a mango curd? I have some mango on hand that I want to use. Wondering how it would taste…

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

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

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