This coconut sheet cake, topped with a tangy cream cheese frosting and a dusting of desiccated coconut, is the lightest, fluffiest sheet cake we’ve ever tried.
Coconut cake is pure comfort. I didn’t grow up with it, it holds no nostalgic memories for me, so I can’t quite pinpoint why this is. Maybe it’s the simplicity, the fact that there’s nothing but cake and frosting. Nothing complicated, nothing fancy. The frosting is classic cream cheese covered in a heavy snowfall of coconut. It’s coconut squared.–Edd Kimber
Coconut Sheet Cake
For the coconut sheet cake
- 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus extra for the pan
- 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
- 1 3/4 cups superfine sugar (or just blitz granulated sugar in a blender until finely ground but not powdery)
- 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons coconut extract
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup desiccated or shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
Make the coconut sheet cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch (23-by-33-cm) baking pan and line with parchment paper long enough to hang over the 2 long sides.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, combine the butter, coconut oil, and superfine sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a separate large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add the vanilla and coconut extracts to the butter mixture and mix briefly to combine. Then add the egg whites, 1 at a time, mixing until completely combined before adding another.
- Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the coconut milk, starting and finishing with the flour. Fold in the desiccated or shredded coconut.
- Scrape the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly. Bake until the cake springs back to a light touch or a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 27 to 35 minutes.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Use the parchment paper to lift it out of the pan and place it on a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the cream cheese frosting
- In the clean bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth, creamy, and fully combined, about 2 minutes. We can’t overstress the importance of using room temperature butter and cream cheese to achieve a smooth consistency—it makes all the difference.
- Reduce the speed, to low, add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and vanilla, and mix until the sugar is incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high speed and beat until light and fluffy, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and then sprinkle with the desiccated or shredded coconut. (This cake will keep for 2 to 3 days but is best eaten within a day of frosting.)
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Is there such a thing as a perfect cake? If you are a coconut lover, this coconut sheet cake may just fit the bill. It’s perfectly moist, perfectly flavored, perfectly layered cake and frosting ratio—in other words, a perfect cake. I am most familiar with the Texas-style chocolate sheet cake, a guaranteed winner at gatherings, but make this coconut sheet cake and surprise your nearest and dearest as they will not be able to stop after one piece.
We ate this the first night freshly baked and frosted and the following morning with coffee, it was still so moist and softly sweet with a richness from all the coconut components. I will be making this often and add it to my Top 10 Favorite Baked Goods list.
For the eggs, I cracked the eggs all together in a small bowl and used a 1/4 cup measuring cup to add in separately and fully combine before adding in the remaining eggs. I found this easier than separating each egg white one at a time as it saved a bit of time and mess.
I set the timer for the bake time to 30 minutes to start. At this point the skewer came out clean but the cake did not quite bounce back. I baked for an additional 3 minutes, and this was perfect for my slightly bigger size pan.
I cooled the cake for 15 minutes on the rack and an additional 30 minutes before frosting. I wondered about using the coconut extract in place of the vanilla in the frosting but I liked the vanilla combo with all of the coconut flavor in the cake itself.
This coconut cake came out exactly as I imagined it would. Light, fluffy, dreamy. Like floating on a cloud of coconut. A soft, moist cake that’s lusciously light and not overly sweet with a simply scrumptious icing. This recipe is neither too complicated nor too heavy, sweet, and filling. It would be an excellent choice to serve at picnics, dinner parties or potlucks because it’s a sheet cake that can be easily cut into uniformly sized pieces to feed a crowd with the added bonus of fitting comfortably in your napkined hand so you don't lose any of that precious coconut topping.
Although it's quite wonderful if eaten on the same day, I would highly recommend making this at least a day or two ahead not only for the sake of convenience but because the flavors and textures fully develop and improve over time.
The parchment paper was a lifesaver. Otherwise, left to my clumsy, fumbling baking hands, the cake would have cracked. The cake held up with no disasters during the whole lifting process.
Light and fluffy were not words that I thought of when I read the ingredients in this frosting. I had some reservations about the use of cream cheese and butter, thinking it would be too thick and heavy, but trusted the directions and let them come to room temperature. They softened enough. To my delight, they worked perfectly. Timing was imperative here as you will not get that light, fluffy quality if you don't mix the butter and cream cheese long enough.
Watching everything come together this easily was a sheer delight to me. If you don't believe me, just ask my kitty. He loves to be in the kitchen with me when I cook. I talk to him a lot while working recipes out. He knows when I'm very happy and when I'm exasperated. Normally at this point, I'm literally crying and whining loud enough for the neighbors to hear. They must wonder what the heck goes on in my kitchen. Every attempt to make a cake from scratch is an EPIC FAIL! But not this time. This time was a triumph for me as everything went according to plan and the cake turned out perfectly perfect.
It was ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS BECAUSE I ATE A PIECE IMMEDIATELY AFTER FROSTING IT. It had a lemony quality to it that I couldn't quite figure out where or how it was there. Clearly no lemon in the recipe, but it was there. Very pleasant and faint. It got me thinking, however not necessary at all, that if you were to add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice along with the vanilla into the icing and decorate with some thinly sliced lemons and some fresh mint leaves on top it would be very refreshing if served at a picnic on a very hot day.
The cake was even better the second day, which I could not believe. Speechless. After allowing the flavors to fully develop, there was no longer a faint lemony taste, but it was still ever so lovely. Fluffy, light, dreamy, with a not-overly-sweet frosting. The cake was firm yet moist with a delicate crumb and the perfect cake-to-icing ratio. I do not care for overly sweet cakes with gobs and gobs of icing. I actually like to taste the cake and this cake tasted like the perfect yellow cake with just a hint of the coconut and vanilla.
Third day? Again, perfection. Taste is still ever so light, fluffy, and lovely. Magically, the cake seems a bit more tender. Fifth day! Amazingly! It still tastes just like it did on day three.
I do not know exactly why or how this recipe works as the chemistry and science of baking has always eluded me. But what I do know is that I not only loved the flavors and textures of the finished product but I feel this cake baking adventure was quicker (and cheaper) than many hours of therapy as it helped me overcome a lifetime of cake baking failures and subsequent cake baking complexes.
Originally published October 08, 2020