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Coconut Cake

Coconut cake is a classic Southern dessert that pairs two layers of coconut-infused cake with rich frosting and even more shredded coconut. It’s always a hit with coconut lovers!

Slice of coconut cake standing upright on plate

Coconut Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Coconut cake ranks up there in the pantheon of old-fashioned Southern cake recipes, alongside Hummingbird Cake, German Chocolate Cake, and Caramel Cake.

I found this particular recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home. With my love of cream cheese, I was instantly smitten with the idea of using a cream cheese frosting on a coconut cake. It’s a break from the traditional, but hard to resist—cream cheese frosting works for carrot cake and red velvet, so why not coconut cake, too?

The coconut cakes I’ve had in the past have always been very light and moist. This cake is a bit more dense than usual, but it still has a nice, tender crumb. The dense, moist cake is the perfect foil to that ethereal cream cheese frosting, making for a coconut cake that’s a little unexpected, but every bit as delicious as the classic!

Overhead view of coconut cake ingredients

What You’ll Need

If you bake often, you probably have many of the ingredients for this coconut cake on hand in your kitchen!

For the cake:

  • Unsalted butter – Let this sit room temperature for about half an hour to allow it to soften properly.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs – These should be left on the counter to come to room temperature.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Almond extract
  • All-purpose flour – Here’s how to measure flour for baking.
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Kosher salt
  • Milk – Whole milk is always best for baking, but reduced fat (2%) will do in a pinch.
  • Sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • Cream cheese – Let this come to room temperature so it’s easy to beat into a creamy frosting.
  • Unsalted butter – The butter should also be room temperature.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar – Sift this first to ensure there are no lumps in your frosting!
  • Sweetened shredded coconut

What Can I Substitute for Almond Extract?

If you don’t have almond extract on hand, have an allergy, or can’t find it at your grocery store, you can use more vanilla extract instead. I do recommend using almond extract if you can find it, though—it adds a unique flavor and aroma to recipes that’s one-part cherry, one-part floral, and all-around amazing!

Is Shredded Coconut the Same as Coconut Flakes?

No, coconut flakes are much larger pieces than shredded coconut. While you can use coconut flakes to decorate the outside of the cake, you’ll need shredded coconut for the cake batter.

How to Make Coconut Cake

Although this recipe strays from the traditional with a cream cheese frosting, the method of preparing this coconut cake is very much the same.

To make the cake:

Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease two 9-inch round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease the paper and dust it with flour to ensure easy cake removal.

Mix the wet ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, until they’re light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, followed by the extracts. The mixture will look a bit lumpy and curdled, but this is fine!

Finish the batter. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into another mixing bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk. Fold in the coconut.

Overhead view of cake batter in 2 round cake pans

Bake. Divide the batter among the prepared pans, smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the tops of the cakes are browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Cool. Cool the cakes in the pans for 30 minutes, then carefully remove them and let them finish cooling on wire racks. (Learn more: Why Every Baker Needs Wire Cooling Racks)

To make the frosting and assemble:

Make the frosting. Use an electric mixer on low speed to beat together the cream cheese, butter, and extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until the frosting is smooth.

Frost the cake. Spread the frosting on the top of the first layer. Place the second layer on top of the first and frost the top and sides. Sprinkle coconut over the top of the cake and gently press it into the sides.

Side view of whole coconut cake on cake stand

Should I Refrigerate Cake Before Frosting?

You don’t have to refrigerate coconut cake layers before you frost them, but you do need to wait until they are completely cool. Your cream cheese frosting will melt (or slowly fall off the sides of the cake) if the cake layers aren’t cool enough.

Tips for Success

Here are some hints and tips to help you make the perfect coconut cake!

  • Weigh the batter. If you want to ensure your layers are perfectly even, you can weigh your mixing bowl before starting the recipe, then weigh it again once the batter is done. Take the difference between the two numbers, divide it by two, and that’s how much batter should go in each pan.
  • Evening out the cake layers. If your cakes are a little bit domed in the center after baking, you can use a serrated knife to shave off the excess and create a flat surface for frosting.
  • Use a lazy Susan for assembly if you have one! Frosting the sides of a cake is effortless when you have a lazy Susan that you can slowly turn as you frost.
Slice of coconut cake on plate with rest of cake in background

How to Store

Because this coconut cake has cream cheese frosting, it will need to be stored in the refrigerator. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap or transfer leftovers to an airtight storage container. The cake will keep for 3 to 4 days.

Can This Cake Be Frozen?

You can freeze coconut cake for up to 3 months. If you want to freeze a whole cake or a large portion of leftovers, I recommend placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freezing it uncovered. Once the frosting has frozen through, wrap the cake tightly with a few layers of plastic wrap. Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight container.

Let the cake thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

View of cut coconut cake on cake stand, showing layers

Coconut Cake

Yield 12-16 servings
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 55 minutes

This old fashioned coconut cake is the ultimate coconut dessert. Fluffy coconut cake topped with a vanilla cream cheese frosting and shredded coconut flakes is hard to beat!

Slice of coconut cake on white plate

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 & 1/2 cups (339g)) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (236ml) milk
  • 4 ounces (113g) sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • 16 ounces (454g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 16 ounces (454g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces (170g) sweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round cake pans and line each with parchment paper. Grease the paper and dust with flour.
  2. With an electric mixer on medium speed, mix the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes). Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the extracts and mix. The mixture will look a bit lumpy.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the dry ingredients in three portions, alternating with two portions of the milk. Mix just until combined. Fold in the coconut.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans. Smooth the tops of each. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Then, remove from the pans to finish cooling on wire racks.

To make the frosting:

  1. Using an electric mixer on low speed, combine the cream cheese, butter, and extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix just until smooth.
  2. Spread the frosting on the first layer. Place the second layer on top and frost the top and sides. Sprinkle the top and sides with coconut.

Notes

Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home.

How to store: Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap or transfer leftovers to an airtight storage container. The cake will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

How to freeze: You can freeze coconut cake for up to 3 months. To freeze a whole cake or a large portion of leftovers, I recommend placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freezing it uncovered. Once the frosting has frozen through, wrap the cake tightly with a few layers of plastic wrap. Leftovers can be frozen in an airtight container. Let the cake thaw in the refrigerator before serving.

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    51 Comments on “Coconut Cake”

  1. I love coconut everything! The cake looks great!

  2. The cake looks terrific. Nice photos. I have been wanting to make a coconut cake for a while.

  3. I’ve tried several from scratch coconut cakes, but my favorite is still a 4-day coconut cake that starts with a white Duncan Hines cake mix.

    This one looks yummy though–I’m a coconut freak, and you have stirred my addiction!

  4. Oh, now I have a wicked craving for coconut cake! Maybe that’s what I’ll do this afternoon! Mmm…yum!

  5. OMG that looks absolutely to die for! I love coconut cake and that is coconut heaven!

  6. OHHHH MYYY! I want a piece right now!!! YUM!

  7. Have you ever had the $6 slice of cake from Balthazar’s in New York? I might even tackle an old lady for the last slice…it is simply divine! Yours looks like perfection and I would do anything for a piece…..

  8. Yum. It looks great, I love how you used the big flakes of coconut on the cake. I’ve seen Ina make that cake, she always just uses the shredded. And wow, a whole cake to yourself! 😉

  9. Mmm I love dense cakes, coconut and cream cheese! This cake looks perfect for me.

  10. This is such a good coconut cake recipe! I’ve made it before (in cupcake form) to serve at Easter brunches and people always love it (even coconut haters).

  11. The coconut pieces on the cake are beautiful. It’s really a gorge cake!

  12. Coconut cake is one of my favorites. Yours looks delicious with those giant coconut flakes! It’s a lovely cake!

  13. What is it with boys and their coconut aversions? I think it’s the scratchiness they don’t like, not the flavor. Either way, their loss. This looks delicious.

  14. Oh yum, I love coconut, and have been wanting to make coconut cupcakes…but no one in my house eats it but me…your cake is killing me.

  15. I love all things coconut, but none of my friends or family do so I never really use it – but now I’m thinking I should make this and eat the entire thing myself…

  16. I’m making a coconut cake for my mom on Mother’s Day! I hope it comes out as good as yours. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Photos are awesome! I love coconut cake also. Thanks for the info about the density. I think that kind of info is important.

  18. Beautiful photos. Great info on the density of the cake. This type of info is important.

  19. This Seriously looks like a peice of heaven.

  20. Looking at the recipe I’m thinking that its missing 1/4 cup of liquid; the recipe that I use calls for 1& 1/4 cup of liquid. When I make my coconut cake (and I am always looking at a new way of making it) I replace 1/4 cup of liquid with coconut milk. Some times I use Kahlua or even rum when I make the adult version of cakes.

  21. Have you tried “Jamie’s Coconut Cake” from Paula Deen’s show? My stepmom made it and said it was perfect! It was made with 7-minute frosting, but I bet the cheesecake frosting you made would pair up nicely with the Jamie Cocunut Cake.

    Beautiful photos as always!

  22. I love coconut. This looks heavenly

  23. Love this for Mother’s Day. Gorgeous!

  24. looks gorgeous as always!

  25. It’s beautiful; and ditto – my husband won’t touch coconut with a ten-foot pole. I, however, have always liked it. Even plain.

    My mom makes coconut cakes at Christmas for the neighbors. You bake the cake, then cool and pour a milk and sugar mixture over it. It has a whipped topping and sprinkles of coconut on top. It’s of course refrigerated. And it fabulous.

  26. IT’S fabulous, that is. (Sorry. I’m a copy editor by trade.)

  27. I love coconut but no one else in my family does. Because of that, I always go for the cocnut cake whenever there is a choice at a restaurant or dinner party.

  28. This cake looks incredible. I love a dense coconut cake. My husband made Emeril’s for me for my birthday one year. It was absolutely delicious. But this one is a must to try!

    And Catherine Mincy, where can I find the 4 day cake recipe? Sounds interesting!

  29. How can anyone not love coconut? Apart from vanilla it is my absolute favourite cake flavour.
    I could eat all of your wonderful looking cake in one sitting!

  30. This cake looks terrific. And your pictures are amazing as well. I absolutely love coconut and seeing those little flecks of coconut on that slice of cake melted my heart.

  31. I did a cream cheese frosting with coconut over it too for a Hummingbird Cake. Have you tried it? Its amazing. Like a pineappley, bananaey, sweet cake. The coconuts and the cream cheese divine. It called for some fancy cream cheese – Neufchâtel – which I couldn’t find. Anyway, your food photography is great! What do you do with all these baked goods you make? Who eats them all?

  32. Jennifer, I love Hummingbird Cake! I must make one of those soon. Neufchatel is sold as reduced-fat cream cheese. I actually give away the vast majority of the things I bake. I have some very willing volunteers. 😉

  33. Jennifer, you might like the coconut cake I posted about (recipe is here: http://scratch.typepad.com/scratch/2009/05/triple-coconut-cake.html)
    Made with egg whites, cake flour and coconut milk, it’s very soft and light. The recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Weddings…

  34. Oh my, this looks beyond delicious! Coconut Cake is my all-time fave! Love your photos too!

  35. How pretty! I especially like the large coconut shavings. Looks much more special than the thin shreds.

  36. Thanks for saving me the time. It sure looks pretty, though.

  37. love the thick chunks of coconut.

  38. I’m drooling right now, got to try your recipe… Thanks a lot for sharing!

  39. This looks fantastic! I’ve been meaning to make Alton Brown’s coconut cake, and now I think I might have to do it real soon!

  40. wow. this is the most beautiful coconut cake that i have ever seen. where did you find coconut shavings like that, or did you start with a whole coconut? i just recently started a cooking blog and will add this to my list of things to bake!

  41. carolyn, I found the coconut at Nuts Online.

  42. I agree that this frosting is delish! I tone down the almond extract a bit, and use it for loads of cupcake flavor combos. Yum!

  43. Gosh, I ‘m in love with this cake. It looks really yummy and sounds easy to make. I’m glad though I won’t have to buy the coconut shavings.There’s a lot of coconut trees where I’m at!

  44. I love anything coconut! That shaved coconut looks amazing!!

  45. This coconut cake looks so beautiful with the colors, I’m sure it’ll be a big hit with the kids! Nice colors! Although I’m to a big fan of coconut cake, this sure looks yummy! I’m normally the one that will say no to coconut cake. thank you for shearing your post.

  46. This coconut cake looks fantastic!!!! I love coconut….

  47. A friend just sent me the link for your german chocolate cheesecake & i was soo impressed I started browsing your site. I have been on a coconut cake kick for the last year or so… I can’t seem to get enough of it! You should try Alton Brown’s coconut cake… all the coconut stuff is from scratch – it is sooo good. The frosting wasn’t my fav, but if you like coconut cake, you should check it out. Tons of work, but well worth it!
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/coconut-cake-with-7-minute-frosting-recipe/index.html

    the coconut milk/cream is: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/coconut-milk-and-cream-recipe/index.html… Read More

  48. I was wondering. The recipe for the frosting says to add confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Does this mean you may not use the entire pound? How much frosting does it yield and do you use the entire batch to frost the cake? Thank you for this recipe. Coconut cake is my mother’s favorite and she deserves a little spoiling.

    • Klarisa, I’d use all of the confectioners’ sugar. Just add it gradually and mix it until the frosting has a smooth consistency. It should take the whole batch for frosting.

  49. I love coconut cake too! I have only recently discovered it but now it’s one of my favorite cakes. My favorite recipe has Southern Comfort in the cream cheese frosting; it is like putting the cherry on top so to speak. If you are interested, you should stop by my blog.

    http://mixingwithmadison.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/coconut-southern-comfort-layer-cake/

  50. I made this cake with a boyfriend but with a twist : we put strawberries in between the layers and instead of coconut shavings on the outside, we used white chocolate flakes. It was absolutely perfect

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