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Your search for the best Coconut Cake recipe stops here! With three layers of moist, fluffy cake smothered in a rich, creamy frosting, this old-fashioned coconut cake is the ultimate Southern dessert! Whether it graces your Easter dessert buffet, finishes off your Christmas dinner, or just adds a festive touch to your next celebratory meal, this homemade cake is always a showstopper!
Old Fashioned Coconut Cake
A classic, old-fashioned Southern Coconut Cake is one of my all-time favorite desserts, so I’ve spent years testing recipes and searching for the perfect slice. Now that I’ve nailed it and finally landed on the best coconut cake recipe ever, I can confidently share the details here with you! It checks all of the boxes, since this cake has:
- A light, moist, fluffy crumb;
- Rich, creamy frosting;
- Just the right amount of sweetness, without being too sweet;
- Plenty of coconut flavor — but not that overpowering fake coconut taste;
- An easy and simple recipe that every home cook can successfully follow.
This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need to make the best coconut cake recipe. As always, the specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.
- Butter: keeps the cake moist and adds a lot of rich flavor to both the cake and the frosting.
- Granulated sugar: for just the right amount of sweetness.
- Eggs: give the cake structure.
- Cake flour: this flour has a lighter texture than all-purpose flour, which creates a softer, lighter cake with a tender crumb.
- Baking powder: the leavening agent that helps the cake rise.
- Salt: to enhance the flavors in the cake.
- Whole milk: the fat in the milk is essential for the best texture, so don’t substitute with skim milk or non-dairy milk alternatives.
- Canned coconut milk: this is a cooking ingredient, not a beverage. You can usually find it on the international foods aisle near both the Asian and Mexican ingredients. Do not substitute with a refrigerated carton of coconut milk beverage — they are two very different products. I like either the Thai Kitchen or the Goya brands.
- Vanilla extract and coconut extract: for flavor!
- Cream cheese: for a rich, creamy frosting. Use blocks of cream cheese (not tubs).
- Confectioners sugar: to sweeten the frosting.
- Sweetened shredded coconut: use the sweetened variety rather than unsweetened coconut, because the sweetened version is more soft and moist than its unsweetened counterpart. Some folks like to mix shredded coconut into the frosting itself, but I prefer a smooth frosting with just a dusting of the coconut on top.
How to Make Coconut Cake from Scratch
This cake gets its coconut flavor from three different sources, which gives it a nice balance — not too much of that “fake” coconut taste that we sometimes get with coconut extract alone. You’ll love the moist, fluffy layers of coconut-flavored white cake that are frosted with a coconut-flavored cream cheese frosting and dusted with plenty of shredded coconut. The canned coconut milk, sweetened shredded coconut, and coconut extract all come together beautifully in this crowd-pleasing dessert that will be the star of any celebration!
- Mix the cake batter.
- Divide the batter evenly between three 9-inch round cake pans.
- Bake in a 400°F oven for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Mix the coconut cream cheese frosting.
- Use a large serrated knife to slice the domed top off of each cake so that you have flat surfaces to work with.
- Frost the top of one layer.
- Add the second cake layer and spread with frosting.
- Place the final cake layer on top, and spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake. Use a bench scraper or a large offset spatula to get the icing nice and smooth on the sides.
- Sprinkle shredded coconut on top of the cake and gently press it into the sides. This gets messy, so don’t worry about it and just clean up the counter when you’re done!
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving.
Bake the cake ahead of time, cool, and wrap tightly. Store the cake at room temperature overnight, and then frost before serving. You can also freeze the unfrosted cake layers for up to 2 months.
Make the frosting in advance and store it in the refrigerator overnight. The frosting will need to sit at room temperature to soften slightly before you spread it on the cake.
Store the cake covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can also freeze the frosted cake for up to 2 months. Just make sure that it’s wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Tips for the best coconut cake recipe
- Make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature. This helps them blend together more easily and smoothly.
- Use whole milk and full-fat canned coconut milk. The fat in the milks is essential for the best texture and flavor in your cake.
- Refrigerate the cake for at least 1 hour before slicing and serving. The cream cheese frosting will be quite soft when first spread, so you’ll have a cleaner cut if you give the cake time to firm up.
- Sift the confectioners sugar to avoid any lumps in your frosting.
- Use full-fat block-style cream cheese for the frosting. The cream cheese frosting will be thin and runny if you substitute with low fat cream cheese or cream cheese spread from a tub.
The Best Coconut Cake Recipe
FOR THE CAKE:
- 1 ⅓ cups salted butter, softened at room temperature
- 2 ⅔ cups granulated sugar
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 4 cups cake flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ⅓ cups whole milk, at room temperature
- ⅔ cup canned coconut milk (shake the can well before opening)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
FOR THE FROSTING:
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, softened at room temperature
- 16 ounces (2 blocks) cream cheese, softened at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon coconut extract
- 2 lbs. confectioners sugar, sifted
- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Grease and flour three round 9-inch pans that are lined with parchment paper.
- In the large bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Scrape the bowl again.
- Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, coconut milk, vanilla extract and coconut extract.
- With the mixer on low, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until combined.
- Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl; mix on medium speed for about 5-7 minutes.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared pans. Tap on the counter once or twice to release any air bubbles.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then remove from the pans and cool completely on wire racks.
PREPARE THE FROSTING:
- Once the cakes are completely cool, prepare the frosting.
- Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl.
- Add vanilla extract and coconut extract; beat for 1 more minute.
- With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the confectioners sugar. Scrape the bowl, as necessary, to make sure that all of the ingredients are completely combined. Once you’ve added all of the sugar, beat on low for 3 more minutes.
- Using a large serrated knife, slice a thin layer off the tops of the cakes to create a flat surface. Discard the extra cake.
- Place one cake layer on your cake stand or plate. Evenly cover the top with a layer of frosting. Top with the second cake layer and evenly cover the top with another layer of frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides. Use a bench scraper or offset spatula to get the icing nice and smooth on the sides. Sprinkle coconut on top of the cake and gently press it into the sides. Refrigerate for at least one hour before slicing and serving.