A light and tender white layer cake with the flavor of coconut through and through.
Welcome to the most popular and best reviewed recipe on my site!
Since I first shared this Southern Coconut Cake recipe in 2010, this cake has been a favorite with my family and friends. Aside from my brown butter chocolate chip cookies, best-ever buttermilk pancakes, and basic pizza dough, it’s the recipe I make the most. Some recipes you’ll find here I make and enjoy just once or twice, but not this cake. We enjoy it all the time!
And over 200 reviewers agree— it really is the best!
The cake layers are extremely light and tender, and flavored with both coconut milk and coconut extract. A thick and creamy whipped cream cheese frosting is the perfect pairing and— you guessed it!— it’s flavored with coconut too. Shower the whole thing with toasted coconut and you have a masterpiece no one can refuse.
It’s a coconut lover’s dream!
Layer cakes are a labor of love and can be a bit time-consuming, but this Southern Coconut Cake is more than worth it. Make sure to read and follow all of my tips below for the most success. I’ve done my homework and fine-tuned this recipe over the last 7 years, and it’s practically fool-proof. Happy baking!
A few notes about the recipe:
- This recipe uses one 13.5-oz can of unsweetened coconut milk. If you don’t see it in the baking aisle, look for it with the Asian foods. You can also use whole milk in a pinch. Just increase coconut extract by 1 teaspoon in both the cake and frosting.
- This cake can be baked in either 8 or 9-inch pans. You can use 2 or 3 pans, depending on the look you’re going for: double layer (2 pans), triple layer (3 pans), or quadruple layer (2 pans, then slice each layer in half). Baking times will vary slightly, and cakes are done with the edges pull away from the pan, the top has started to brown, and the center springs back when gently pressed.
- This recipe uses cake flour to achieve a light and tender crumb. You should be able to find it in the baking aisle next to other specialty flours. If not, you can make your own— measure 1 cup all-purpose flour and remove 2 tablespoons. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and sift together. Use 1:1 for cake flour.
- Since the cake layers are so delicate, handle them carefully. For best results, chill layers completely in the fridge for several hours or overnight so they are firm and easier to work with. See my tips for storing cake layers.
- You can use whatever type of flaked or shaved coconut to decorate the cake, per your preference. I used wide-slice unsweetened coconut for this cake, but I have also used traditional sweetened flaked coconut.
- For extra help building your layer cake, see my tutorials on how to prepare cake pans so they come out clean every time and how to bake flat even cake layers.
Other Completely Delicious recipes:
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Cherry Chip Cake with Whipped Vanilla Buttercream— A homemade version of the boxed cake mix favorite!
Chocolate Fudge Layer Cake— Dark chocolate cake layers sandwiched together with fudge cream filling and covered with easy fudge frosting. A chocolate lover’s dream!
Lemon Olive Oil Cake— Light and tender, this cake is easy enough for casual weeknights, but fancy enough to impress weekend dinner guests.
Raspberry White Chocolate Layer Cake— Layers of yellow cake filled with a creamy raspberry icing and all covered with white chocolate meringue buttercream is worthy of any occasion.
Chocolate Almond Cake— Julia Child’s favorite cake is incredibly rich and decadent. The center is purposefully undercooked, leaving a fudgy center you’ll crave long after the cake is gone.
Southern Coconut Cake
For the cake:
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cup (375 ml) unsweetened coconut milk, divided
- 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, softened to room temperature
For the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
- 8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 4 cups (455 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
- 1-3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk or whole milk
- 1 teaspoon coconut flavoring
- 1 cup (85 grams) flaked or shredded coconut, toasted (see Notes)
For the Whipped Cream Cheese Filling:
- 1 cup of the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting (above)
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two or three 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. (See Notes)
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg whites, 1/2 cup of the coconut 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 remaining 1 cup 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.
- This cake can be baked in either 8 or 9-inch pans. You can use 2 or 3 pans, depending on the look you're going for: double layer (2 pans), triple layer (3 pans), or quadruple layer (2 pans, then slice each layer in half). 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.
- To toast coconut: spread into a single layer on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 3-5 minutes. Watch closely to make sure it doesn't burn. Let cool completely.
Have you tried this recipe?
Recipe originally published in April 2010. Photos have been updated and slight improvements to the recipe have been made.
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