Coconut Cake

Coconut Cake Recipe

Coconut cupcakes are cute. But a coconut cake commands attention in a way that cupcakes just can’t muster. It’s sorta like that scene in “Bull Durham” where Kevin Costner calls Susan Sarandon cute and her response is “Cute? Baby ducks are cute, I HATE cute! I want to be exotic and mysterious!” I think a lot of cupcakes feel that same way.

To clarify, we got nothing against cupcakes. Especially not the tender, moist, light, perfectly coconut-y cupcakes that this coconut cake recipe is based upon. But there’s a time and a place for everything. Steph, the blogger at Momofukufor2 responsible for this cake incarnation, seems to share this sentiment, having conjured this stunning coconut layer cake from what was a cute coconut cupcake recipe. Her cake version elicits oohs and aahs and gasps from anyone who beholds it for the first time, yet she’s quick to offer up a kind word for the cuter cupcake creation. “This recipe bakes up great as cupcakes as well, but I find cake so much more festive.” So do we, Steph. So do we. Still, if cupcakes are your thing, no judgment here. We’ve got your cupcake variation below the recipe.–Renee Schettler Rossi

How To Make Chic Coconut Curls

Notice those chic coconut curls on the coconut cake in the photo above? (How could you not?!) The graceful ribbon-like lengths lend a little ooh la la to cakes and cupcakes alike. How’d we get ’em? Easy. We bought ’em. Just look for natural coconut flakes at your local health-food store. Or search for those key words online (or, even easier, click here).

Special Equipment: Three 6-inch round cake pans or four 4 1/2-inch round cake pans

Coconut Cake Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • A tall 6-inch or 4 1/2-inch cake or about 20 cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups (265 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
  • 2 teaspoons (8.5 grams) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup (180 grams) canned coconut milk (not low-fat)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces or 170 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pans
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Seven-Minute Frosting
  • About 4 ounces shaved, flaked, or shredded unsweetened coconut, for garnish

Directions

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Line three 6-inch round cake pans or four 4 1/2-inch cake pans with parchment circles cut to fit. Butter and flour the paper and the pans.
  • 2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and shredded coconut.
  • 3. In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk and vanilla.
  • 4. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and egg whites and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, switch to a spatula, and stir just until incorporated. Then add 1/2 of the coconut milk mixture and stir just until incorporated. Repeat, adding 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining coconut milk mixture, and ending with the remaining flour mixture. Do not overmix.
  • 5. Divide the batter evenly among the cake pans. Bake until the top of the cake springs back when pressed lightly with a fingertip and a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes if using 6-inch pans and 30 to 40 minutes if using 4 1/2-inch pans. The cakes will not color appreciably, so don’t rely on its hue as an indication of doneness. Place the cakes in their pans on a wire rack and let cool completely.
  • 6. Working with one cake at a time, place the wire rack on top of the cake pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Then carefully invert it again so it’s right side up. Repeat with the remaining cakes. Using a serrated knife, carefully slice off the mounded top of each cake to create a flat surface. (Reserve the sliced portion for nibbling, making into cake balls, or layering with sweetened whipped cream.)
  • 7. Place a trimmed cake on a cake stand or platter. Spread a generous portion of Seven-Minute Frosting over the top. Place the second cake atop the first cake and very thinly coat the top with frosting. Then stack the third (and, if using, fourth) cake on top and very thinly coat the top and sides of the stack of cakes to seal in the crumbs. This is called a crumb coat. Then generously slather the cake with the rest of the frosting. Quickly sprinkle some of the coconut over the top of the cake before the frosting sets and will no longer let the coconut adhere. Then quickly and gently press the rest of the coconut onto the sides of the cake. Behold!

Coconut Cupcakes Variation

  • When it comes time to divvy the batter between the springform or cake pans, instead spoon it into muffin tins fit with paper liners, filling each fully. You should have enough batter for about 20 cupcakes. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely in the tins on a wire rack. Once the cupcakes are cool, mound frosting on the tops and then quickly sprinkle with flaked or shredded coconut before the frosting sets.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Recipe Testers Reviews
Testers Choice
Ayanna Fews

Apr 18, 2011

The taste and texture of this cake are amazing. I tend to like cakes that are a little denser, but not dry...like a pound cake. This isn't quite pound cake, but I think because of the coconut in the batter the cake is a little denser. It's a cake with some substance. I liked it! With frosting and filling, this ended up being one tall and pretty cake! The cakes baked for about 20 minutes. Each cake baked to the top of the pan, and my pans are 6 by 2 inches, so each cake is about 2 inches tall. I also had enough batter to make one cupcake. The marshmallow frosting (aka Seven Minute Frosting) is a great match—its not too sweet. The cake itself isn't overly sweet, either, so they pair really well together. This is such a GOOD cake. I ate the cupcake and it's quite YUMMY! I didn't measure it, but I'm thinking frosted it's probably about 8 inches tall. I put the coconut on the cake while holding the cake over a bowl so that I can reuse any excess coconut that falls in. It's definitely an impressive looking cake on the cake stand. I think this would be a great Easter cake.

Testers Choice
Vicki Lionberger

Apr 18, 2011

This is a great coconut cake! I made it as cupcakes (I was able to make 18 cupcakes using a No. 16 scoop) and they were really good. The cupcakes were done at 30 minutes. The frosting is wonderful, and makes just enough for the 18 cupcakes. We loved them.

Testers Choice
Elsa M. Jacobson

Apr 18, 2011

I’m so pleased to report myself as pleasantly sated with a generous serving of a 4 1/2-inch diameter version of this cake, which baked up as four cake layers and was turned into two separate cakes each comprised of two layers. The cake easily served 4 happy cake eaters with a little left over, a bit to all of our surprise. The 4 1/2-inch cake is so much more sophisticated than cupcakes, so much less predictable than cupcakes, and, we thought, so much better in terms of the proportion of cake to frosting than cupcakes. It's also visually stunning and it was not at all difficult to achieve the look of the photo, even as non-expert cake bakers. (Anyone who knows me or looks through my reviews will see I am not a big cake fan, making my pleasure with this cake even more impressive and surprising, not only to me but also to my cake-eating friends.) The first two cakes baked for 31 and 35 minutes and the second two for 35 and 39 minutes. Our little cakes did color a little on the sides and minimally on the top. For the first two layers, which comprised the first two-layer cake, I used the Seven-Minute Frosting linked to in the recipe above. We made the frosting and used it immediately as directed. It was beautiful, it was luminescent, and it was easy to use. I found beautiful flaked coconut, which was easy to sprinkle on the cake and was easy to get it to adhere to the frosting. EVERYONE loved this festive cake! It is not only charming, but also tasty! However, the big flakes of coconut that look so great are not to everyone's liking. I had two people say to me that they did not like the mouthfeel of the large flakes of coconut. This did not stop them from eating the cake, however. Using shredded coconut for the frosting cake would greatly reduce the dramatic impact of this cake. It's the combination of the tallness and the smallness of the cake and the large flakes that make this cake work visually. To me, it would not be worth sacrificing that by changing the look. By the way, this would look festive and GREAT on an Easter table!

Testers Choice
Fran Brennan

Apr 18, 2011

These cupcakes got an enthusiastic two-thumbs-up review in our house, and that says a lot. As a lifetime coconut cake devotee, I’ve also turned my husband and kids into aficionados, and I definitely seem to have surrounded myself with friends who share our enthusiasm. Needless to say, I’ve tried many, many recipes for coconut cake in my hunt for the perfect one. Martha Stewart’s recipe will forever be my go-to coconut cupcake recipe. These cupcakes were perfect: sweet, but not cloying, dense and coconutty, yet not heavy or overwhelming, and perfectly frosted. I loved them, my kids loved them, and all of my coconut cake-addicted friends loved them. I went out and promptly bought the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book. I’m so excited to have found the holy grail of coconut cupcake recipes at last.

Testers Choice
Amy M.

Apr 18, 2011

These were light, moist, and mildly coconut-y. I made the recipe as cupcakes, rotating the pans once during baking. There was a nice balance of texture with the airy, marshmallow-like frosting and crunchy coconut flakes. I used the shaved, unsweetened coconut for both the garnish and the recipe, but I didn’t want large coconut shavings in the cupcakes themselves so I ran the flour and coconut through the food processor. The cupcakes were delicious, eliciting excellent reviews from my coworkers.

Testers Choice
Cindi Kruth

Apr 18, 2011

This recipe attracted me because it contained both coconut and coconut milk—a double whammy of one of my favorite flavors. I made this recipe as cupcakes and wasn’t disappointed. Usually I expect 24 cupcakes (my cupcake pan is on the small side, holding about 1/3 batter per cupcake) from a two layer recipe, but I only got 18 this time. They didn’t gain much color even though they were perfectly baked, moist, light, and tender, so don’t look for browning as a guide. It was hard to wait for them to cool to frost and taste. In fact, my husband didn’t. The cupcake—I grabbed a bite—was delicious warm, but it was even better cooled and frosted. The frosting recipe was also just right. Once the sugar dissolved, it took only about 3 1/2 minutes for the frosting to billow into marshmallowy whirls, so maybe it wasn’t exactly “Seven Minute” icing. I especially liked this frosting because unlike some others I’ve tried, it wasn’t cloying. There was plenty to generously ice the cupcakes which I then dipped in a little more coconut. They didn’t really need that, but hey, why not?

Testers Choice
Carol Anne Grady

Apr 18, 2011

I made cupcakes with this recipe, yielding 30 small cupcakes at 2 inches in diameter. They baked for 20 minutes, and I rotated the pans halfway through. Overall, this recipe is easy to put together, including the Seven Minute Frosting—which more accurately should be named Ten Minute Frosting if we’re being picky. The cake was moist, sweet, and full of coconut flavor, and the frosting was sticky, like marshmallow fluff. I’m not sure if this is how the frosting was supposed to turn out, but I thought it was delicious, if messy to work with and store. I topped the cakes with toasted coconut for a touch of color.

Testers Choice
Irene Seales

Apr 18, 2011

The flavor of this coconut cake is really lovely. Using unsweetened coconut and coconut, and not extracts, gives the kind of real coconut taste that I like. The only thing better would be using a freshly cracked coconut after you drink the coconut water from inside. The texture of the cake is rich without being heavy. It has substance. The best compliment came from my spouse, who said, “This isn’t air cake!" The fun part is that you can play with the presentation and make something really dramatic. Small springform pans are not too hard to come by and a set of 4 will handle almost all the batter, with the possible bonus of a pair of cupcakes. The lovely curls of coconut in the picture are probably worth sourcing, although shredded coconut worked fine. I think next time I will use nice large shavings or even use Trader Joe's toasted coconut flakes for a more sophisticated flavor profile. I filled four 4 1/2-inch springform pans plus had just enough batter left for 2 small cupcakes. The baking time was 30 to 32 minutes. The cupcakes came out at exactly 20 minutes. I did get browning, more in the dark pans, less in the one bright finished one. The cakes domed and cracked a tiny bit, but that was all trimmed (and will be excellent for making individual trifles). I lined lightly buttered springform pans with parchment cut round for the bottom and a strip lining the sides. All released perfectly after baking.

Because I couldn't ensure this would be eaten the same day, I opted to not use the Seven-Minute frosting but instead used a buttercream frosting recipe. I liked that vanilla was the only other flavoring in both the cake and frosting. The buttercream recipe covered the cakes with enough left over to frost the cupcakes and a little more. I think I might want to thin it just a bit more (an extra teaspoon of milk would do it) to make the frosting a bit more spreadable and to make it easier to add the coconut flakes to. The finished cake stands almost 6 inches tall. I did sprinkle a tiny amount of coconut on the buttercream between layers. If you knew for certain the cake would be consumed the same day, i am sure the Seven-Minute Icing would be lovely. For making ahead, the buttercream seemed a sensible alternative.

You could play with the pan size, but the tall narrow shape is way too fun! If you are transporting this, and your cake carrier is too wide or not tall enough, take a look at lidded restaurant containers—you can use them upside down, using the lid to hold your cake plate.

Comments
Comments
  1. maile says:

    on first sighting of this coconut cake I hesitated clicking, because thought there’s no way this can be as good as the coconutty heaven that is martha stewart’s coconut cake recipe. but it is. because it is.

  2. Cindy says:

    Could someone tell me how much a stick of butter is? thanks…

  3. Debra M says:

    I’m excited to make this cake for a late Mother’s Day/Birthday celebration. My question is…the photo of the cake looks really tall. Was that made with only 2 layers? It looks more like 3, but I love the shape.

    • David Leite says:

      Debra, yes, it believe it was a three layer cake. We made it a two, as many people don’t have three cake pans.

  4. Barb Hickey says:

    love your site. One suggestion, i like to print out the recipes and put them in a binder. Is it possible to have the option of printing the finished picture of the item. That way, I can remember how delicious it looks and what it is supposed to look like. Thanks so much.

  5. Josh Erickson says:

    I just made this cake last night for my wife and I and it was fantastic… Since I think of myself as a know-all in the kitchen I came to the part in the recipe where it had me divide the batter into the two 9″ cake pans and I figured that there wasnt going to be enough batter to make two seperate 9″ cakes so I just put all the batter into one pan. So at the end of the 45 minutes the middle of the cake was still very moist so I had to turn the heat down and bake for another 30 or 45 minutes. In the end the cake was fantastic, next time I will most likely actually follow the directions and end up with a more decadent looking cake with the layers. Also I did not have unsweetened coconut so I used the half cup of the sweetened and took out a third of the sugar and it worked well. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Glad to hear that despite a few substitutions you were still wowed, Josh!

  6. Caroline Davis says:

    I love coconut cake and want to try this recipe for Easter. It looks like most people made this as cupcakes. I am interested in making it as a cake, but with the recipe calling for only 1 3/4 cup flour I am concerned that the batter volume won’t adequately fill two 9-inch layers and that I will end up with super-thin layers and a short, fat cake. I’d love to hear a report from someone who made it in two 9-inch pans. Maybe two 8-inch pans would work? I want a cake that will be impressive – like the three-layer stunner pictured (are those 6-inch pans?). Any guidance would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Caroline,

      You could certainly use smaller pans to get a grand towering cake- just be sure to watch your timing. Please let us know how it turns out.

      Beth

  7. Diane says:

    What a wonderful cake! I was a little surprised at how thick the cake batter turned out (I had to spread it around the pans with my spatula). I used two 9″ pans, and set the timer for 30 minutes so my DH could get them out of the oven for me. My bad. The cake was done before the 30 minute mark and they turned out a little drier than I would have cared for. However, the flavor was wonderful! I used sweetened coconut and I didn’t reduce the sugar. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly. I was worried that it would be too sweet, but the flavor was perfect to me. The icing turned out like a dream. It was beautiful with toasted coconut on top. Will I make it again? Definitely. Thanks for sharing!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Our pleasure, Diane. Terrific to hear that you liked it so!

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi Diane, I simply adore that frosting. So luscious for such an easy recipe. Enjoy!

      Beth

  8. Lucia Soares says:

    I made cake and cupcakes with this recipe. Simply DIVINE!! For the cupcakes, I infused them with a small amount of apricot jam and it was delicious. Thanks for sharing this recipe! Lucia

    • Julie Dreyfoos, LC Production Manager says:

      So glad you like it Lucia! Sounds wonderful with the addition of the apricot jam.

  9. cucinera says:

    Hi ! May I just ask if the unsweetened shredded coconut is the same as fresh coconut ? Also, I’d like to be guided as to the recommended cooking time if I were to bake it in a single pan (maybe 9 inch round). Much as I would like to indulge in layers of frosting, our sugar level concerns leave us no choice but to lessen if not do away the frosting. Thanks !

    • Beth Price, LC Director of Recipe Testing says:

      Hi cucinera, unsweetened coconut refers to dried packaged coconut without added sweeteners. The recipe calls for 2 9″ cake pans and I would not recommend trying to use just one pan, or halving the recipe. It would be much easier to just omit the frosting between the layers- more cake, yay!

  10. Gertie M says:

    I made this as a cake and found that the batter was thick and didn’t rise much, even though I followed the recipe exactly. I wound up with two 9 inch rounds that were only about 3/4 of an inch thick. The cake itself is nice, but I’d definitely make this in smaller pans next time. Also, if you aren’t using springform pans, it might be easier to get the cake out before it’s cooled completely.

    • Beth Price says:

      Hi Gertie, smaller pans would give you a lovely tall cake. Thanks for your tip about the removing the layers!

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