Southern Coconut Cake

A light and tender white layer cake with the flavor of coconut through and through.

Southern Coconut Cake

It’s been somewhat of a stressful week in our house, or at least it started out that way. John is nearly a year old now and has never been a good sleeper. Part of that is because of him, part of it is because of me. I’ve indulged in his bad nighttime behavior for far too long. But last weekend I had had enough.

I finally got around to reading the book my pediatrician recommended months ago and found the inspiration and motivation I was looking for. And so we let him cry it out.

Southern Coconut Cake

And that’s why it’s been a long week. For 3 nights we tried to sleep while he was in the next room screaming. It was horrible. Those of you who have gone through this know what I’m talking about.

Then on the fourth night something magical happened. He slept through the night for the first time in his life, and I got a full night’s sleep for the first time in a year. I’ve never woken up in a better mood.

And so I baked a cake to celebrate.

Southern Coconut Cake

This coconut cake recipe has been on my site for a few years now and I thought it needed an update. It turns out I didn’t really like the frosting of the original, this coconut cream cheese buttercream is much, much better.

And underneath the coconut buttercream is a tender and airy white cake scented with coconut milk and coconut flavoring, with a light filling of the buttercream mixed with whipped cream in between each layer of cake. All together it’s a coconut lover’s dream come true.

I had a piece of cake this afternoon, and I even gave John a few bites. If tonight goes as well, we’ll share another piece for breakfast tomorrow.

Southern Coconut Cake

baking tip:Why you should use cake flour

Cake flour is high in starch and low in protein. It’s the proteins in all-purpose flour that cause a cake to be tough if the batter is overworked, and cake flour helps to make sure that doesn’t happen. Use cake flour in a recipe when it calls for it and you’ll get tender cakes every time.

If you don’t have cake flour on hand, substitute 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour for 1 cup of cake flour.

Southern Coconut Cake

Southern Coconut Cake

A light and tender white layer cake with the flavor of coconut through and through.


For the cake:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml, 4 fl oz) whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon coconut flavoring
  • 3 cups (340 grams) cake flour
  • 2 1/3 (470 grams) cups sugar
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (237 ml, 8 fl oz) unsweetened coconut milk

For the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:

  • 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups (455 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1-3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk or regular milk
  • 1 teaspoon coconut flavoring
  • 1 cup (85 grams) unsweetened coconut

For the Whipped Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 1 cup of the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (above)
  • 1 cup (237 ml, 8 fl oz) heavy whipping cream


To make the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch (or 9-inch) cake pans and line with parchment paper. (See note)
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites, whole milk and coconut flavoring.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and coconut milk and combine on low speed until moistened. Increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Add the egg white mixture in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and mixing just long enough to incorporate between additions.
  • Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto cooling racks to cool completely.

To make the buttercream:

  • Beat together the butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on medium high speed until light and creamy. Add the coconut flavoring and enough coconut milk (or regular milk) to reach a spreadable consistency. Mix until smooth.
  • Spread the coconut on a sheet pan. Toast in a 350 degree oven until golden, checking every 2 minutes. Watch it carefully, the coconut will burn fast. Let it cool completely.

To make the Whipped Cream Cheese Filling:

  • With a whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream until it starts to thicken. Add 1 cup of the cream cheese buttercream a spoonful at a time while mixing on medium-high speed. Whip to soft peaks.

To frost the cake:

  • If desired, slice the 2 cake layers in half to create 4 layers. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Cover with the whipped cream cheese filling. Repeat with the rest of the layers. Frost the entire cake with the remaining cream cheese buttercream and cover in the toasted coconut.
  • Chill for one hour before serving. Store in the fridge, cake will keep for several days.
Note: I've had some comments about the batter not fitting in two 8-inch pans. My pans are 4 inches deep and can accommodate a lot of batter. If you have only 2-inch deep pans, consider using 3 pans or 9-inch pans.

Have you tried this recipe?

I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, send me an email, or take a photo and tag it on instagram with #completelydelicious.