Southern Coconut Cake
This southern coconut cake is the BEST coconut cake. It has light and tender coconut cake layers, a creamy coconut filling, and coconut cream cheese frosting. It’s a coconut lover’s dream come true!
Since I first shared this southern coconut cake recipe in 2010, this cake has been a favorite with my family and friends. Some recipes you’ll find here I make and enjoy just once or twice, but not this cake.
The coconut flavor in this cake really comes through— in the soft tender cake layers, the creamy whipped filling, the cream cheese frosting, and of course the toasted coconut topping. If you’re a fan of coconut you’re going to love this cake!
How to make this Southern Coconut Cake
Layer cakes are a labor of love and can be a bit time-consuming, but this 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 10 years, and it’s practically fool-proof.
There are 4 components to this cake:
- Coconut cake layers
- Coconut cream cheese buttercream frosting
- Creamy coconut filling
- Toasted coconut topping
Coconut Cake Layers
These white cake layers are so soft and very tender. They’re flavored with both coconut flavoring and coconut milk, which adds a lot of richness and helps keep the cake layers moist.
This recipe uses the reverse creaming method, which means all the dry ingredients are beaten together with the butter before the egg whites and coconut milk are added at the end. It’s not any more difficult than using the traditional creaming method, and I like how light the cake layers turn out.
Bake the cake layers in advance if you want (I usually bake mine at least 1 day ahead of when I will assemble the final cake) and store in the fridge for up to 3 days and in the freezer for a month or more. See my tips on how to store cake layers here.
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
For frosting, I’ve taken my classic cream cheese frosting and added coconut flavoring. I love the combo together and it’s the perfect rich topping to complement the light cake layers and whipped filling.
Creamy Coconut Filling
To balance the sweetness of the cake layers and cream cheese frosting, the filling for this southern coconut cake is simply whipped cream folded together with just a bit of frosting. It’s very light and creamy, with a hint of coconut flavor and sweetness.
Toasted Coconut Topping
Toast sweetened or unsweetened coconut in the oven until it’s golden brown and fragrant, stirring and checking it often so it doesn’t burn
It’s the perfect finish for this coconut cake! And together with the coconut cake layers, creamy filling, and cream cheese frosting is a magical coconutty combination. It’s delicious! And I know you’re going to love it as much as we do.
My best cake tips
- If you’re new to baking layer cakes or need a little help, be sure to check out my complete guide for how to build a layer cake. It’s got everything you need to know!
- This recipe uses one 13.5-oz can of unsweetened coconut milk (plus more for the frosting if you want). 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 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.
- You can use either 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans. (These are the pans I have and love.) 8-inch pans will yield a taller cake, 9-inch will yield one that’s wider. You can also use more or less pans for a 2, 3, or 4-layered cake. I baked this cake in 3 8-inch pans.
- Because the cake layers are so tender, you’ll definitely want to line the cake pans with parchment paper rounds to make sure there’s no sticking. Here’s all my tips for prepping cake pans before baking.
- Handle baked cake layers 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.
- If you need a little help frosting your cake like a (semi) pro, see my full tutorial.
- 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.
A few variations
I love this cake so much, I’ve made a few variations that are equally delicious! Be sure to check out my coconut lime cake that uses these same cake layers as a base. I’ve also make this cake, but filled it with homemade lemon curd for a lovely spring dessert.
Other layer cake recipes to try
Now you’re ready to tackle more beautiful layer cakes! Here are a few favorites:
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Recipe originally published in April 2010.
Southern Coconut Cake
For the Coconut Cake:
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk , divided (375 ml)
- 1 tablespoon coconut flavoring
- 3 cups cake flour (340 grams)
- 2 ⅓ cups granulated sugar (470 grams)
- 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter , softened to room temperature (226 grams)
For the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese , softened to room temperature (227 grams)
- ½ cup unsalted butter , softened to room temperature (113 grams)
- 4 cups powdered sugar , sifted (455 grams)
- 1-3 tablespoons unsweetened coconut milk or whole milk
- 1 teaspoon coconut flavoring
- 1 cup flaked or shredded coconut , toasted (85 grams)
For the Whipped Coconut Filling:
- 1 cup of the Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting , above
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (250 ml)
To make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two or three 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans and line with parchment paper. (See Notes)
- In a small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg whites, ½ cup of the coconut milk, and coconut flavoring just until combined.
- 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°F 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:
- Place one cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Cover with some whipped cream cheese filling. Repeat with the rest of the layers. Frost the entire cake with the 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, use 3 pans or 9-inch pans.