This easy Coconut Sheet Cake features a delicate coconut flavor in both the cake and the whipped frosting. Top with toasted coconut for a simple, pretty finish.
Single-Layer Coconut Cake
I have such nostalgia for a very simple coconut cake that my mother used to make. It was a one-layer cake topped with whipped cream and sweetened coconut. It wasn’t an over-the-top showstopper, but rather a no-fuss cake with a delicate coconut flavor.
I am most decidedly a from-scratch baker, so adapting some recipes from my cake-mix-loving mother’s collection has been a labor, albeit a labor of love. And after several attempts for this particular one, I’ve arrived at this coconut cake recipe that brings back memories of a favorite dessert.
This coconut cake recipe is my best effort at recreating that favorite cake. It’s made with coconut milk in the cake as well as in the topping. And, of course, it’s topped with plenty of coconut to finish it.
If you’re a coconut lover like I am, you’re sure to enjoy this cake. It’s perfect for so many occasions, and it’s really easy to make. That’s always a winning combination!
What You’ll Need
See the recipe card at the bottom of this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions. Here are some helpful notes about the ingredients you’ll need to make this coconut cake recipe.
For the cake:
- All-purpose flour – Measure by weight or the spoon and sweep method for best results. Learn more: How to Measure Flour
- Baking powder
- Baking soda
- Unsalted butter – Allow the butter to soften before mixing. Learn more: How to Soften Butter
- Granulated sugar
- Eggs – Set these out along with the butter to allow them to come to room temperature.
- Vanilla extract – Use almond extract or coconut extract for a different flavor.
- Coconut milk – Measure the coconut milk for the cake to let it sit at room temperature before mixing, and return the rest to the refrigerator to use in the frosting. Use canned coconut milk instead of the kind in the carton, which is diluted. Stir the milk well if needed.
For the topping:
- Heavy cream – Either heavy cream or heavy whipping cream works best. Be sure your cream is cold before whipping it.
- Coconut milk – The coconut milk should be cold as well.
- Confectioners’ sugar – I’ve listed a quantity range so you can dial the sweetness of the whipped cream to suit your tastes.
- Sweetened shredded coconut – I prefer sweetened coconut for this cake, but you can use unsweetened coconut if you want something a bit less sweet. While it’s not a necessity, I prefer to toast the coconut for both its flavor and aesthetic.
How to Toast Coconut
You can toast coconut in the oven or on the stovetop. To toast coconut in the oven, place it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake (stirring occasionally to prevent burning) at 350°F for about 10 minutes. To toast coconut on the stovetop, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the coconut is toasted. Learn more: How to Toast Coconut
How to Make Coconut Sheet Cake
This no-fuss cake comes together quickly and easily. Be sure to allow time to cool the cake completely before adding the topping.
Make the Cake
Prepare for baking. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9″ x 13″x 2″ baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly grease the paper and any exposed parts of the pan. If you don’t want to line the pan, then be sure to grease (or butter and flour) the pan.
Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Combine the wet ingredients. With an electric hand mixer or stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs one at a time, and mix well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
Finish mixing. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the coconut milk. Mix just until combined.
Bake. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and spread evenly. Gently tap the pan a few times on the countertop to displace any large air pockets. Place the pan in the oven, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake should be golden brown, and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean.
Cool. Place the pan on a wire rack, and allow the cake to cool completely.
Make the Topping
Begin mixing. Place the cream and coconut milk in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer with a whisk attachment to whip the cream. Start at low speed and gradually work up to high speed over a minute or so.
Add the sugar. When the cream begins to thicken, sprinkle the powdered sugar over the top of the cream. Continue whipping until stiff peaks form.
Frost the cake and add the coconut. Use an offset spatula to spread the whipped cream over the cooled cake. Sprinkle the coconut over the top of the cake, and then press down gently so that the coconut sticks to the topping.
Tips for Success
This is an easy cake to make, but here are some tips to make sure yours turns out perfectly.
- Don’t over-mix. Too much mixing of the cake batter will lead to a tough cake.
- Cool the cake completely. Be sure the cake has cooled all the way to room temperature before adding the whipped cream topping.
- Temperature matters. Make sure your ingredients are either room temperature or chilled as described above. Softened butter and room-temperature eggs and coconut milk will create a fluffier cake. Cold cream and coconut milk will whip much better for the topping.
- Want to make ahead? For best results, wait to make the whipped cream until the day you’re serving.
Ideas for Variations
If you’d like to change things up a bit, here are some simple variations for this coconut cake recipe.
- Add more coconut flavor. If you’d like a bolder coconut flavor, substitute coconut extract for the vanilla extract in the cake and add about 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract to the whipped cream topping.
- Try a different frosting. This cake has a subtle coconut flavor, which can be complemented by many other frostings like the cream cheese frosting from Hummingbird Cupcakes or the chocolate buttercream frosting from my Chocolate Sheet Cake.
- Make a flavored whipped cream. There are SO many ways to add more flavor to your whipped cream, from extracts to liquor to jam. Get plenty of ideas here: How to Make Whipped Cream
How to Store
Because of the topping, this coconut cake needs to be stored in the refrigerator. Cover the cake tightly and refrigerate up to 3 days. Make extra sure it’s covered well, as cakes tend to become dry when refrigerated. The whipped cream will be at its best the day it’s made, but it will keep for a few days. Serve the cake chilled, or let it sit at room temperature briefly before serving.
How to Freeze
If you want to make the cake in advance and freeze the entire thing, I recommend doing that without the topping.
I find that people get mixed results freezing whipped cream, so keep that in mind if you want to freeze the frosted cake. Place the remaining cake or individual servings on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze until the topping has frozen solid. This should take 3 to 4 hours. Then, wrap the cake in two layers of plastic wrap and place in a freezer-safe sealable bag or container. Thaw the cake overnight in the refrigerator.