Coconut Cake

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Whip up a light and fluffy coconut cake topped with tangy cream cheese frosting, perfect for any special occasion or just because!

slice of coconut cake on white plate.

There’s something truly special about a homemade coconut cake, and I’m excited to share this tried-and-true recipe with you. Made with only egg whites, the cake boasts a lighter texture than those made with whole eggs, allowing the coconut flavor to really shine through. I use the “high-ratio method” for mixing the batter, where the dry ingredients are combined with the fat first. This technique results in an exceptionally tender and fluffy cake, much like the texture of store-bought cake mixes—a quality that’s nearly impossible to achieve with the traditional creaming method. And let’s not forget the crowning glory: a luscious cream cheese frosting. Its tangy richness is the perfect match for the sweet, tropical notes of the coconut—an irresistible flavor combo.

What You’ll Need To Make Coconut Cake

ingredients for coconut cake
  • Canned Unsweetened Coconut Milk: Adds moisture and a rich coconut flavor to the batter.
  • Large Egg Whites: Provides structure and a light airy texture to the cake.
  • Vanilla Extract: Enhances the flavor of the cake and the frosting with its aromatic richness.
  • Coconut Extract: Intensifies the batter and frosting’s coconut flavor making it more pronounced.
  • All-Purpose Flour: Provides the structure for the cake. Measure by spooning it into the measuring cup and leveling it off to ensure accuracy.
  • Sugar: Sweetens the cake and helps create a tender crumb.
  • Baking Powder: Acts as a leavening agent, helping the cake rise and become fluffy.
  • Butter: Adds richness and moisture to the cake and contributes to the frosting’s smooth texture and richness.
  • Cream Cheese: Provides a tangy, creamy base for the frosting.
  • Confectioners’ Sugar: Sweetens and thickens the frosting.
  • Sweetened Shredded Coconut: Blankets the frosting, adding texture and extra coconut flavor.
  • Jump to the printable recipe for precise measurements

Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray with flour. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper circles; lightly spray the parchment.

In a large liquid measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout, whisk together the coconut milk, egg whites, vanilla extract, and coconut extract.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to combine. 

bowl of a stand mixer with flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt

Add the butter.

butter added to mixing bowl with mixture of flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt

Mix on low until the mixture is crumbly and moistened, about 2 minutes.

mixing bowl with crumbly flour-butter mixture

Add the coconut milk and egg white mixture in 3 separate additions.

Mix on medium speed for about 2 minutes after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. 

batter divided into two 9-inch round pans

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

Step 2: Make the Frosting

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt.

Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes.

cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt whipped together in mixing bowl

Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, mixing on low to combine.

Once all of the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute. 

whipped frosting in mixing bowl

After the cake layers have completely cooled, assemble and frost the cake. Place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down. Spread a third of the frosting on the top of the cake. Place the second layer on top, top side up. Then frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.

offset spatula spreading frosting on bottom cake layer

Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides.

hand patting coconut all all over frosted cake

The cake keeps nicely for up to 3 days stored under a cake dome in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Frequently Asked Questions

This mixing method is different than what I’m used to. What is the purpose of mixing the dry ingredients with the fat first instead of creaming the butter and sugar?

Mixing the dry ingredients with the fat first—a technique known as the “high-ratio method”—helps create a fine, tender crumb and a light, airy texture in the cake. By coating the flour with fat, we minimize gluten formation, preventing a tough texture. Adding the liquid ingredients in stages then helps to create an emulsion that incorporates more air into the batter, resulting in a moist and fluffy cake. This method produces a texture similar to fluffy store-bought cake mixes, which is nearly impossible to achieve with the traditional creaming method.

Why are only egg whites used instead of whole eggs?

Using only egg whites in this coconut cake recipe helps achieve a lighter, fluffier texture and a finer crumb. Egg yolks contain fat, which can make the cake denser and richer, while egg whites provide structure and stability without adding heaviness. Additionally, egg whites help maintain the cake’s light color, which complements the delicate flavor and appearance of a coconut cake. This is the difference between a classic white cake versus a classic yellow cake.

Can coconut cake be made ahead of time?

While the frosted cake is best served on the same day of baking, it can be prepared a day ahead of time. Store it in the refrigerator in a cake dome or loosely covered with plastic wrap and let it come to room temperature before serving. If you need to prepare it further in advance, the cake layers can be frozen, without frosting, for up to 3 months. After they are completely cooled, double-wrap them securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place them in heavy-duty freezer bags. When you’re ready to use them, thaw the layers overnight on the countertop and then frost before serving.

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Coconut Cake

Whip up a light and fluffy coconut cake topped with tangy cream cheese frosting, perfect for any special occasion or just because!

Servings: One 9-inch layer cake
Prep Time: 45 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • ¾ cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup and leveled off
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the Frosting

  • 12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon coconut extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

Instructions

For the Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray with flour. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper circles; lightly spray the parchment.
  2. In a large liquid measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout, whisk together the coconut milk, egg whites, vanilla extract, and coconut extract.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds to combine. Add the butter and continue mixing on low until the mixture is crumbly and moistened, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk and egg white mixture in 3 separate additions, mixing on medium speed for about 2 minutes after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto the rack to cool completely.

For the Frosting

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or beaters, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and salt. Mix on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium-high and beat until aerated and light, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, mixing on low to combine. Once all of the sugar is mixed in, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute.
  2. After the cake layers have completely cooled, assemble and frost the cake: place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with a third of the frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the top of the cake with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. The cake keeps nicely for up to 3 days stored under a cake dome in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.
  3. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The cake layers can be frozen, without frosting, for up to 3 months. After they are completely cooled, double-wrap them securely with aluminum foil or plastic freezer wrap, or place in heavy-duty freezer bag. Thaw overnight on the countertop and then frost before serving.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (16 servings)
  • Calories: 521
  • Fat: 27 g
  • Saturated fat: 18 g
  • Carbohydrates: 67 g
  • Sugar: 53 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Sodium: 242 mg
  • Cholesterol: 60 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Made this for my husband’s birthday and he and everyone loved it! Thanks for all your delicious recipes!

    • — Sharon on July 20, 2024
    • Reply
  • Hi,
    Can I use coconut flakes? Can’t find shredded coconut anywhere.

    • — Sara on July 18, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Sara, you can, but it will have a crunchier texture and won’t be sweet. You can also omit the coconut; the cake will still be delicious.

      • — Jenn on July 22, 2024
      • Reply
  • Best coconut cake ever !! I made this for my first time yesterday and got rave reviews. I have to admit the cake was wonderful. Incredible icing, with super flavor. I followed the recipe completely. I put it in the fridge as suggested and found that it was much tastier when left at room temperature. This will definitely be a go to cake recipe. Thanks so much, your recipes are always fantastic !

    • — Marlene on July 16, 2024
    • Reply
  • Can the frosting be made the day before and refrigerated? Thanks for any help.

    • — Denise Wolff on July 13, 2024
    • Reply
    • Sure. Before you plan to frost the cake, bring the frosting to room temperature and mix it briefly in the mixer. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 16, 2024
      • Reply
  • Hi
    I can’t get hold of sweetened shredded coconut. Can I use dessicated coconut instead?

    Thanks

    • — Fatemah Rajah on July 11, 2024
    • Reply
    • Unfortunately, desiccated coconut won’t work here – I’m sorry!

      • — Jenn on July 12, 2024
      • Reply
      • Any other suggestions? I can get frozen grated coconut. Maybe add some sugar syrup to it??

        • — Fatemah Rajah on July 12, 2024
        • Reply
        • I admire your creativity 😊, but I’m not confident it will work. BTW, the cake is still delicious without the coconut exterior.

          • — Jenn on July 16, 2024
          • Reply
  • Thanks for the recipe. This cake smells marvelous already but I have yet to frost it. I have a lot of unsweetened what we call in England dessiccated coconut. It won’t look as pretty as the sweetened flakes but do you think it would work?

    • — Barbara T on July 11, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Barbara, I don’t recommend it — sorry!

      • — Jenn on July 11, 2024
      • Reply
  • Dear Jenn,
    I baked your Coconut cake today. As always, it was delicious. It was light and buttery. It is one I will bake again.
    My daughters and I so enjoy your cookbooks and your website.
    Everything we have ever made has been great.
    Look forward to many more recipes.

    • — Regina on July 10, 2024
    • Reply
  • This cake was AMAZING! Almost tasted like wedding cake. Will definitely make again. I actually kind of like it cold out of the fridge. I made the full batch of icing, but used slightly less when I frosted the cake.

    • — Julie on July 9, 2024
    • Reply
  • Seeing a picture of this cake brought many fond memories of my Dad and his favorite cake! It looked exactly the same but it always had a layer of bananas in the filling along with some icing! My mom always made it for his birthday and it became one of my favorites too! My Mom’s cake though, used whole eggs and regular icing.
    I’ve never considered a cream cheese frosting and wonder how that would work with bananas!
    Thanks for the recipe and idea.

    • — Carole on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn!

    Excited to make this, I absolutely love coconut cake! Question – do you think egg whites in a carton would work for this recipe? I just don’t want to deal with the leftover yolks.

    • — Natalie Sangviriyakul on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Natalie, I do think they’d work. Please LMK how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2024
      • Reply
      • Can this be made in a 9×13 pan instead of 2 round pans?

        • — Susan on July 7, 2024
        • Reply
        • Yep!

          • — Jenn on July 7, 2024
          • Reply
          • Hi Jenn! How long would you bake if 9×13?

            • — Kathi on July 9, 2024
          • Hi Kathi, I’d start checking it at 30 minutes, but it may take up to 40. Please LMK how it turns out!

            • — Jenn on July 11, 2024
  • Hi Jenn,
    This recipe looks amazing! I can’t wait to try it, but I was hoping to use the weight measurements. I don’t see the toggle for metric vs imperial, though. Has that feature been removed?
    Thanks for your help!

    • — Alanna on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Alanna – So sorry, I forgot to include them! Just added – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2024
      • Reply
  • Can easily vouch, this is one of thee Absolute BEST Coconut Cake recipes ever! Bakes up beautifully, it’s Light, Fluffy, Moist, and full Coconut flavor. Have made Sam Champion’s [the news anchor} Coconut Cake recipe since it was on a segment in 2011 (or before :). It was his grandfather’s favorite cake. Only difference in the cake is 2 Cups AP Flour + addition of 1 tsp Vanilla added to this recipe. His recipe uses 2 1/4 Cups Cake Flour. The frosting is different with cream cheese and his also added the extra left-over 4-5 TBSP coconut milk to the frosting…. I’ve also made his recipe into cupcakes & they bake up just as beautifully in liners. (2/3 Full for 20-24 minutes). Happy Baking! And enjoying Lucious Coconut Cake.

    • — Kelli on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
  • I love the look and sound of this coconut cake, but unfortunately the Metric measurement button that is usually available is missing from this recipe. Would you be able to add it, please?

    • — Helen on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Done!

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2024
      • Reply
  • Can this be made with gluten free flour? If so, what modifications, if any, need to be made?
    Thank you!

    • — Susan on July 7, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Susan, I haven’t tried it but I think it should work. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it. 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 7, 2024
      • Reply

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