This is the best coconut cake you’ll ever try! The cake is flavored with canned coconut milk, coconut extract, and sweetened shredded coconut, and then topped with a rich coconut buttercream frosting. Coconut lovers, rejoice!  

A coconut cake with coconut buttercream frosting and toasted coconut on a wooden cake stand.

This coconut layer cake isn’t lacking in pure coconut flavor in the slightest.

The light and fluffy cake layers are made with canned coconut milk, coconut extract, and sweetened shredded coconut to really drive home the coconut flavor. 

The coconut cake frosting contains both coconut milk and coconut extract. And because I can’t resist dressing up a layer cake, I added some toasted coconut to the frosted cake, but that’s an optional step. 

There’s nothing artificial tasting about this cake. It’s a sweet and fluffy layer cake that the coconut lovers in your life will gobble right up, guaranteed.

An overhead view of the ingredients needed to make a coconut cake from scratch.

Key Recipe Ingredients 

Although this is an easy coconut cake recipe, it does call for some ingredients you might not keep on hand. However, everything is easy to find at the grocery store. 

Here are some of the key ingredients to be aware of before making this recipe: 

  • Canned Coconut Milk: Make sure to use full fat canned coconut milk and not the kind in a carton. Coconut milk can separate in the can, so it helps to shake your coconut milk first or whisk it together in a bowl before measuring it out.
  • Coconut extract: There’s 1 teaspoon each in the frosting and the cake batter. Don’t add more than the recipe calls for, as the coconut milk is also very flavorful. 
  • Sweetened shredded coconut: This ingredient is optional, but highly recommended. It amps up the coconut flavor even more while also adding texture to the cake. 
  • Egg Whites: Make sure your egg whites are at room temperature before mixing them. This will ensure that they reach their full volume and give you a softer, fluffier cake. If you need to get your egg whites to room temperature quickly, place the eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 to 10 minutes, then separate them.

How to Make Coconut Cake

Making a coconut layer cake requires a few extra steps, but it’s still very easy to prepare. The basic steps for this recipe are: make the cake batter, bake the cake layers, prep the frosting, then assemble the cake. 

  • Prep the cake pans: Spray two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. This will prevent the cake from sticking to the pans. 
  • Combine the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 
  • Combine the wet ingredients: In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, coconut milk, vanilla extract, and coconut extract. 
  • Cream together the butter and sugar: I like to use my stand mixer for this step. Beat the butter until smooth, then add the granulated sugar and cream until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes. 
  • Add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture: I recommend adding the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the wet ingredients. Always begin and end with the dry ingredients. 
  • Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form: You’ll need to do this in a separate, clean mixing bowl. Once they’ve been beaten, gently fold them into the cake batter. This makes for an ultra light and fluffy coconut cake. 
  • Bake the cake layers: This will take about 30 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of your cake pans. 
  • Cool completely: Once the cake layers are fully baked through, remove them from the oven. Let the cake layers cool slightly in the pans, then remove them and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

An overhead view of a frosted coconut layer cake on a cake stand. Three slices have been cut.

  • Make the coconut buttercream: Beat the butter until smooth, then mix in the powdered sugar. Add the coconut milk, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. 
  • Assemble the cake: I’ve given detailed instructions on how to assemble this two-layer cake in the recipe card below. The most important thing is to let the cake layers cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake, otherwise the frosting will melt off. 

A side view of a coconut cake that's been sliced to show the interior.

Recipe Substitutions 

There are a few ingredients substitutions you can use in this recipe without negatively affecting the final product:

  • Cake flour: If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can make your own DIY substitute in just a few minutes.  
  • Buttermilk: Likewise, you can make a buttermilk substitute with just milk and either vinegar or lemon juice. Or you can substitute the buttermilk in the cake batter with an equal amount of whole milk.
  • Sweetened shredded coconut: Feel free to omit it from the cake batter, if desired. You may also use unsweetened shredded coconut if you prefer.
  • Canned coconut milk: Is a must in the cake batter. However, the canned coconut milk in the buttercream frosting may be replaced with heavy cream.

Storage & Freezing Instructions 

  • At room temperature: This cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. You can also store the cake in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you chill the cake, allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
  • In the freezer: The cake layers and frosting will also freeze well for up to 3 months. Wrap the cake layers tightly with plastic wrap and store the frosting in a large freezer bag. When you’re ready to assemble the cake, bring everything to room temperature and frost the cake. You may also wrap slices of the cake tightly with plastic wrap and freeze them for 2 to 3 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.

A piece of frosted coconut layer cake on a white speckled dessert plate with a fork.

Baking Tips 

  • Be sure to spoon and level the cake flour when measuring it out, rather than scooping it straight from the container. If you scoop it directly from the container, you’ll likely measure out too much by mistake. 
  • Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before getting started. This includes the buttermilk (or milk), coconut milk, butter, and egg whites!
  • If any egg yolks sneak into your egg whites, they won’t whip up properly. I recommend cracking each egg white in a separate small bowl, then adding it to your mixing bowl. 
  • Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter. This is what makes the cake ultra light and fluffy! 
  • I decorated my cake with a little bit of toasted coconut. You can find my tutorial on how toast coconut here.

More Coconut Desserts You’ll Love!  

Coconut Cake Video

A coconut cake decorated with toasted coconut on a wooden cake stand.

Coconut Cake

5 from 1 rating
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 35 mins
Cooling Time: 2 hrs
Total Time: 3 hrs 35 mins
This is the best coconut cake you'll ever try! The cake is flavored with canned coconut milk, coconut extract, and sweetened shredded coconut, and then topped with a rich coconut buttercream frosting. Coconut lovers, rejoice!  

Ingredients

Servings: 8 slices

For the cake:

  • 2 ¾ cups cake flour spooned & leveled (310 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk or whole milk at room temperature (120 ml)
  • ½ cup canned full fat coconut milk at room temperature (120 ml)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature (230 grams; 2 sticks)
  • 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (350 grams)
  • 5 large egg whites at room temperature
  • ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut optional (50 grams)

For the coconut buttercream:

  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter softened (340 grams; 3 sticks)
  • 4 ½ cups powdered sugar (540 grams)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons canned full fat coconut milk or heavy cream (45 to 60 ml)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

  • To make the coconut cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray two 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper, and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together until well combined. Set aside.
  • Combine the buttermilk, coconut milk, vanilla extract, and coconut extract in a large mixing bowl or measuring cup and stir until well combined. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth, then slowly mix in the granulated sugar. Once all of the sugar is added, increase to medium speed and continue mixing for another 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and sugar in three additions alternating with the buttermilk mixture (begin and end with the dry ingredients) on low speed. Mix in each addition until just combined, making sure not to over mix the batter.
  • In a separate clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold half of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining egg whites until just combined. Gently fold the shredded coconut into the batter.
  • Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared cake pans and spread around into one even layer.
  • For 8-inch cake pans, bake for 33 to 38 minutes. For 9-inch cake pans bake for 28 to 33 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for about 20 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • To make the coconut buttercream: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter until smooth.
  • Mix in half of the powdered sugar on low speed. Then mix in the remaining half of the powdered sugar until fully combined.
  • Add the coconut milk or heavy cream (start with 3 tablespoons and add a little more if needed), vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt and continue mixing on low speed until everything is well combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • To assemble the cake: Level the tops of each cake with a knife or cake leveler.
  • Add a tablespoon of buttercream to the center of a cardboard cake round, a large plate, or a cake stand to help the cake stick to the surface and not move around.
  • Place the first layer of cake onto your work surface. Scoop about 1 cup of frosting onto the first layer of cake and spread it around into one even layer.
  • Place the second cake layer upside down on top of the frosted cake layer.
  • Use the remaining frosting to frost the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with toasted coconut, if desired.

Notes

Storage Instructions: This cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days or in the fridge for up to four days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.
Freezing Instructions: Cake layers and frosting will also freeze well for up to 3 months. Wrap the cake layers tightly with plastic wrap and store the frosting in a large freezer bag. When you're ready to assemble the cake, bring everything to room temperature and frost the cake.
You may also wrap slices of the cake tightly with plastic wrap and freeze for 2 to 3 months. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Canned Coconut Milk: Make sure to use full fat canned coconut milk and not the kind in a carton. Coconut milk can separate in the can, so it helps to shake your coconut milk first or whisk it together in a bowl before measuring it out.
Cake flour: If you don't keep cake flour on hand, you can use my homemade cake flour substitute.
Buttermilk: You can make a buttermilk substitute with just milk and either vinegar or lemon juice. Or you can substitute the buttermilk in the cake batter with an equal amount of whole milk.
Cuisine: American
Course: Dessert
Author: Danielle
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