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Three layers of moist coconut sponge are filled with a decadent coconut filling and covered in frosting and toasted coconut for the ultimate coconut cake!

Close up image of a slice of coconut cake on a white plate.

This particular recipe has a storied history in my family.

The first time I made this coconut cake, it was to celebrate my cousin’s undergrad senior art show. My family loooooooves coconut, so I knew this cake would be a total hit – and I was right!

Several years later, I made this same cake for my best friend’s engagement party. She loved it so much that she asked me to make it as her wedding cake.

Now friends, I am not a wedding cake decorator, so I panicked at first. But she had a very talented friend lined up and ready to decorate the cake – all I had to do was make the cake layers themselves.

I love my friend and her now husband a whole lot, so I said yes. And I have never in my life seen a wedding cake get devoured so fast! There was nary a crumb left by the end of the night.

So, needless to say, this cake is always a big hit. And with good reason: it really is the very best coconut cake.

Cake server lifting a slice of coconut cake from the cake stand with the rest of the cake.

The Best Coconut Cake Recipe

Here is what a coconut cake is NOT: a coconut cake is not a plain old white cake with some coconut stuck to the outside. Nonono.

To me, a coconut cake needs to have elements of coconut running throughout the entire cake, and that’s exactly what we have here. 

This recipe is made up of a perfectly moist cake flavored lightly with coconut milk, layered with a coconut filling, covered in buttercream made with a splash of coconut milk, and topped with toasted shredded coconut.

That, my friends, is what makes this the best coconut cake I’ve ever had. And it’s the reason it gets such rave reviews every time I make it!

Serve it for a holiday dinner alongside other family favorites such as grilled lamb chops, maple glazed carrots, pineapple pecan cheese ball, and French 75 cocktails.

Fork cutting a bite from a slice of coconut cake on a white plate.

How to Make My Coconut Cake

Now, I’ll admit it to you: This cake takes a bit of time to make. But so do most layer cakes, including my peanut butter cake.

(If you’re looking for a quick and easy cake, I suggest trying my homemade yellow cake or my danish apple cake instead.)

But I can also promise you that this coconut cake is totally worth the effort. Plus, it feeds a crowd, so it’s perfect for any party.

Ingredients you’ll need

There are three components to this recipe: The sponge, the filling, and the frosting.

For the cake itself, you will need:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Ingredients for coconut cake layers arranged on a gray countertop.

This type of cake is often known as a “1-2-3-4” cake because the base is made up of 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, and 4 eggs. 

In place of whole milk, I use coconut milk in this sponge. You will want to use canned coconut milk, which can be found in the international foods aisle of the grocery store. Do not use the coconut milk that comes in a carton in the refrigerated section.

When measuring the flour for this or any baking recipe, make sure you first fluff the flour, then spoon it into the measuring cup. Finally, level the flour using the back of a knife.

The coconut filling is the best part of this cake. For that, you will need:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Ingredients for coconut filling and coconut frosting arranged on a gray countertop.

Sweetened flaked coconut can be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store. 

Note that I have not made this filling with unsweetened coconut, so I can’t attest to how it would taste without the added sweetness from the coconut itself.

For the frosting, I like a simple buttercream style made with a bit of coconut milk. For the frosting, you will need:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

You can frost the cake and decorate it as you desire, but I always like to finish my cake with toasted coconut on the outside.

Making the coconut cake layers

This recipe makes a 3-layer 9-inch cake, so start by buttering and flouring 3 9-inch cake pans. I also like to add a circle of parchment paper to the bottom of each pan. Set these aside.

Wet ingredients for coconut cake batter in a stand mixer.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. This will take about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat to incorporate after each addition.

Now sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Add this to the butter and egg mixture in 4 parts, alternating with the coconut milk and the vanilla. Make sure you begin and end with the dry ingredients.

Once the batter has just come together, divide it evenly between your prepared pans and bake the cakes for 20-25 minutes. They’re done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for 20-30 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

Making the filling

While the cakes are cooling, make the filling.

Add the milk, sugar, and flour to a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and bubbly.

Thick milk mixture for coconut filling in a metal sauce pan.

This process will take about 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the coconut and the vanilla. Cover the filling and allow it to cool to room temperature before assembling the cake.

Coconut filling in a metal sauce pan.

Making the frosting

Before assembling your coconut cake, make the frosting.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or an electric hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar and salt, mixing on low speed until just combined. Add the vanilla and coconut milk and increase the speed to high, beating until light and fluffy. This will take 2-3 minutes.

If you need a thinner frosting, add a splash more milk. If you need a thicker frosting, add a spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

Assembling the coconut cake

Now it’s time to assemble your cake.

If needed, use a large, serrated knife to level the tops of the cooled cake layers. Divide the coconut filling in half, spreading it over the tops of 2 of the cake layers.

Stack the cakes with the filling on them, then top with the third cake layer. Spread the frosting onto the top and sides of the cake.

If using, immediately press toasted coconut onto the tops and sides of the cake.

Storage and Freezing

Cover the cake and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let the cake come to room temperature before serving.

This cake freezes well. You can freeze the undecorated cake layers by wrapping them in a layer of plastic followed by a layer of foil; freeze for up to 2 months.

You can also freeze leftover slices for later. Place the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the freezer for 1-2 hours.

Once the slices are frozen, wrap them in plastic wrap and store them in a zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to a month.

Coconut cake covered in toasted coconut on a white and wood cake stand.

Recipe FAQs

Use canned full-fat coconut milk for this recipe. You can find canned coconut milk in the international foods aisle of the grocery store.

When you open the can, you will likely need to whisk the milk well to combine the liquid with the coconut cream that will have collected at the top of the can.

Do not use coconut milk that comes in a carton in the refrigerated section of the store.

I like to toast coconut in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir the coconut frequently as it toasts and remove it from the pan as soon as it is to your liking. 

My friend Jamie has a post on how to toast coconut using 3 different methods, any of which can be used here.

Absolutely. You can make and freeze the cake layers up to 2 months in advance. You can also freeze the frosting in an airtight container for up to a month.

Thaw the cakes at room temperature and thaw the frosting overnight in the refrigerator. Bring the frosting to room temperature and whip it with a mixer for a few minutes before adding it to the cake.

You can also make the coconut filling a day in advance. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the cake. 

Slice of coconut cake on a white plate with the rest of the cake in the background.
Slice of coconut cake being lifted from the whole cake.

Coconut Cake

Three layers of moist coconut sponge are filled with a decadent coconut filling and covered in frosting and toasted coconut for the ultimate coconut cake!
5 from 14 votes
Print Pin Rate
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Cooling Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours
Servings: 16

Ingredients 

For the cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For the frosting:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter softened
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • Toasted coconut for garnish

Instructions

Make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and lightly flour 3 round 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Add to the butter and egg mixture in 4 parts, alternating with the coconut milk and vanilla, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cakes comes out clean.
  • Allow cakes to cool for 20-30 minutes in the pans, then remove from pans and allow to finish cooling on a cake rack.

Make the filling:

  • In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, sugar, and flour until thoroughly combined. Turn heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add the coconut and vanilla. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature.

Make the frosting:

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Add in the powdered sugar and the salt, whisking on low speed until combined. Add the vanilla and the coconut milk, beating on high speed until light and fluffy and slightly increased in volume, about 2-3 minutes. Add more milk or powdered sugar as necessary to achieve your desired spreading consistency.

Assemble the cake:

  • Divide the filling in half, spreading over the tops of two of the cake layers. Stack the cakes, then frost the tops and sides of the cake with the frosting. Immediately press toasted coconut onto the tops and sides of the cake.

Notes

Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Let come to room temperature before serving.
Makes one 3-layer 9-inch cake.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 603kcal | Carbohydrates: 84g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 96mg | Sodium: 197mg | Potassium: 147mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 62g | Vitamin A: 698IU | Vitamin C: 0.2mg | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 2mg

72 Comments

  1. First off beautiful cake! Second off, have fun at the bake sale, wish I could be there! Thirdly, of course I have to go with my Mom as my fave lady! She may not say what I want to hear all the time, but I still love her and depend on her for a lot!

  2. These days (my mother is gone) it’s all about my mother-in-law if the call goes out for some awesomeness. She’s al ways there for our family, cheerful, undaunted yet practical. What a wonder!

  3. My Mom is my favorite woman because she always listens to me. She will let me ramble on the phone about a problem for hours until I figure it out. She’s the best!

  4. My mother is one of the most awesome women I know. She always has allowed us to be who we are, which explains how all of the siblings are so different from one another. Her love for her family goes above and beyond.

  5. I love that you’re promoting fair trade products, lady…this is so important. What makes my mom (my favorite woman) special is her ability to sympathize with everyone. She always makes people feel welcome and never makes anyone feel small or unwanted. She’s the bommmmb! Coconut caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake ugh your killing me! I love that you put coconut milk in the cake batter…this probably made it the moistest most delicious cake on the planet!

  6. I always knew that my mother was special but was overwhelmed listening to people some knew her whole life and some she had only met once during her calling hours. It was amazing to know that I had a chance to share my mother with so many other people and see how much she touched and inspired people.

  7. This is a beautiful cake! I love coconut!

    My Mom is by far my favorite lady in the world….I am a little biased but she’s the best Mom ever! 🙂

  8. If you’re interested in a box of fair trade products delivered to your door quarterly, check out Trade as One. It’s an easy way to make fair trade products part of your everyday life.

  9. Hi, I was just wondering how I would be able to convert this recipe into a cupcake recipe without completely mucking the whole thing up.
    I just need help with the conversions, I’m terrible at changing measurements! I’d like to make about a dozen cupcakes, and I’m not sure how the filling part is going to hold up in cupcakes.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi! I actually made this same cake and frosting recipe into cupcakes, you can see that post here: https://www.stephiecooks.com/2013/05/21/coconut-mango-cupcakes-cupcake-couture-blog-party/

      That batch made just shy of 2 dozen cupcakes, so you will probably want to halve the recipe. For those cupcakes I used a mango preserve for the filling, but you could still use this coconut filling. I would follow the same filling method that I use for those cupcakes (use a paring knife to take out the middle, then fill that little hole with your filling). You’ll probably need no more than half of the filling, maybe even a little less.

      Hope it works for you!

      1. 5 stars
        Thank you so much for your prompt reply! My whole family hates coconuts, except my mum and I. So I can never make anything with it 🙁
        But my boyfriend and HIS family don’t seem averse to it, and so I’m going to try and bake these for them and hopefully impress! 😀 Thanks again!

      2. Hey, that sounds like a keeper of a boyfriend! 😉 I am sure that you will impress with the best of them, cupcakes or no cupcakes! Although, in my experience, baked goods are always appreciated. (I may or may not have baked my boyfriend’s family a pie the first time I met them and it pretty much sealed the deal.)

    1. Hi Pam- If you’re going to make it far ahead of time (a day or night before), it might be good to keep it in the fridge just to be safe. Pull it out a solid hour before you need to serve, though, to let it take the chill off.

  10. 5 stars
    Were you able to buy toasted coconut or did you make your own?
    I had another recipe that used it and ended up making my own because I couldn’t find it anywhere? This cake sounds delicious. Coconut cake is my favorite!

  11. Hi! I just wanted to thank you for posting this recipe, I love coconut cake but they never turn out moist enough! This was delicious – I made a lime buttercream filling as my husband has a weakness for lime 🙂 and it went down a treat! Looking forward to trying out some of your other recipes too!

  12. We are not usually big cake people, but THIS looks amazing. I love how you are using coconut milk in the cake and that the flavor of the coconut is not just on the outside. My daughter is not a chocolate kid (ack!) and my son will eat any type of dessert – so this would be perfect for us!!! I am saving this because I think it has to be made. Stat.

  13. 5 stars
    I just made this coconut cake for the first time, and holy bananas it is amazing. Thanks for all of the time you take to create these amazing recipes, Stephie! They are worth it every. single. time.

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