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!
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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
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
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 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.
This is a question rather than a comment. Why are there no egg yolks in this recipe? The last time I made a cake with only beaten egg whites it was too dry and dense. Not moist and cake=like. I am reluctant to try this recipe because of my past bad experience. Can you explain why this won’t happen to this cake? I mean a dry, dense cake? I LOVE coconut and otherwise would leap to try your recipe. That’s why I am bothering you with this probably stupid question. Thank you.
Most coconut cakes use a white cake base, which only use egg whites. Any cake that’s made with egg whites that are beat to stiff peaks and folded in should always be soft, never dense. If you had issues with another white cake turning out dense, it was either the recipe or it wasn’t made correctly (not mixed correctly, etc.). This cake also uses a good amount of fat (from the butter and coconut milk) and buttermilk to help keep it moist.
Dear Danielle, I made the Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream frosting this past Monday. It was E X C E L L E N T!!!! My husband who is hard to please RAVED over it. I’ve made coconut/pineapple cakes before, and was concerned that since there was no pineapple, it might be boring…but this cake was R I C H with flavor – not too rich, but just right. I truly appreciate the way your recipes are carefully written, concise, yet great for a beginner. THANK YOU! For no on – you are my GO-TO BAKING WEBSITE! Also, I have held onto “5 Baking Shortcuts Every Baker Need to Know!” over the years. YOU ARE A GEM.
Thank you, Audrey! That means a lot to me! I’m so glad you and your husband enjoyed the coconut cake!
First of all, Every. single. recipe of yours that I have made has been fabulous! You have become my go-to for any and all things baked! My family is very happy I have discovered you! I am wondering, can I make this coconut cake with gluten free all purpose flour? I haven’t been able to find gf cake flour in the area where I live. Thank you!
Thank you, Rose! I appreciate that so much! I think it would probably be fine to use gf all-purpose, just keep in mind that the cake may not be quite as tall or soft. You could also search online for a homemade gf cake flour blend and try to make one instead.
Can you please make a basic moist orange cake because you are a master
I will add it to my list of recipes to work on!
I cannot wait to try this cake!! I have to tell you that I’m a baker and you are my go to for every cake I make! Thank you for your genius recipes!! You’re amazing! Thanks again! I’ll report back after I make this, can’t wait!!
Thank you, Ann! I’d love to hear how the coconut cake turns out for you!
Hi Danielle can I make this as a 9 x 13 and cupcakes? Any idea of baking times also? Can wait to try this.
Yes, both would be fine! For a 9×13 cake, baking time should be 35 to 45 minutes. For cupcakes, I would only fill each liner about 2/3 of the way full. I imagine it will make about 30 to 34 cupcakes, the baking will probably be 16 to 20 minutes. I hope that helps!
I use your recipes all the time and love them! I followed this recipe exactly, but my cake was dry. Any ideas what may have happened? The flavor and icing were both amazing, but my cake was so dry. I appreciate any suggestions to what may have happened.
Sorry the cake turned out dry for you, Emily. If you’ve made several of my recipes I’m assuming you either spooned & leveled the flour or weighed it. Did you make sure to use full-fat canned coconut milk and large egg whites? If so, over baking the cake layers can dry the cake out as well. Have you checked your oven temperature with an oven thermometer?
Having made your amazing Lemon cake this is the next one I have baked. I followed the recipe exactly for the cake, except for the coconut. I couldn’t get shredded so used dessicated instead. This cake didnt disappoint, it is delicious, light, moist and full of coconut flavour. I made it in 2 8″ tins and it took 32 minutes to bake to perfection. I took some to friends last night and they claimed it was the nicest sponge cake they have ever had. I made the coconut buttercream but added fresh raspberry reduction and it goes so well with cake, slightly tart but devine with the sweet coconut cake. I will definitely be baking my way through all of your cake recipes from now on and think Vanilla will be next on the list. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Jayne! The raspberry reduction sounds like a fantastic addition. Hope you enjoy the vanilla cake as well!
Can I substitute coconut cream for coconut milk in the recipe?
I recommend coconut milk for this recipe. Coconut cream is much thicker and it would likely change the texture of the cake.
What is coconut extract?
It’s an extract (like vanilla extract) but made with natural coconut flavors. You can omit it from the recipe, but the coconut flavor won’t be quite as strong.
Why do you use granulated sugar instead of caster sugar
Granulated sugar is easier to find in my grocery store and in the US. Feel free to use caster sugar if you prefer though.
Hi! Would the amount of ingredients be the same for 2 6-inch tins?
I would probably cut the recipe in half for two 6-inch cake pans. Or you could make the full recipe and use any leftover batter to make cupcakes.
Really delicious looking cake, but just want to confirm, 1 TABLESPOON baking powder? Seems like a lot. Is this a typo? Thanks
It’s correct. It may seem like a lot, but baking powder is not nearly as strong as baking soda so you need more of it.
I made this cake this past Easter and it was simply MARVELOUS! I love how you write your directions step-by-step, it was so easy to follow! Thank you!
Next up, I am making your Lemon Cake for Mother’s Day!
Thank you, Stacy! Hope you love the lemon cake too!