Coconut Layer Cake

This coconut layer cake is made up of three delicate, moist vanilla cake layers, creamy coconut filling, and a fluffy seven-minute frosting. On top is a sprinkling of shredded coconut. An excellent cake for celebrations–like birthdays, Mother’s Day, showers.

A white coconut layer cake, with 7-minute frosting topped with shredded coconut on a green cake stand

Allysa has had this coconut layer cake recipe for years. It’s originally from a woman named Kathy who lives in the Midwest. It’s a wonderful cake and has become one of the all-time favorites among customers at the Magnolia Bakery. This cake is best served the day it’s filled and frosted. (But if I’m to be honest, I’ve had a piece 48 hours later, and it was perfectly fine.) Originally published April 21, 1999.

Coconut layer cake with white meringue frosting topped with shredded coconut on a white cake stand on a red tableDavid Leite

LC Playing Favorites Note

David—you know, David Leite, the namesake guy who started this site more than a decade ago—likes to bake. A lot. But this towering vision of goodness, with its swoops and swirls of frosting, its shower of shredded coconut, its pristine whiteness that’s oh so pretty to behold, just may be his favorite.

Coconut Layer Cake

  • Quick Glance
  • 45 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 12
4.8/5 - 8 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook cookbook

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Ingredients

  • For the cake
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (8 oz), at room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the filling
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • One (7-ounce) package sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the frosting
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • For the garnish
  • Sweetened shredded coconut, for sprinkling

Directions

  • Make the coconut layer cake
  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter and lightly flour three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.
  • 2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add them to the batter in 4 parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract, beating well after each addition. Divide the batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.
  • Make the coconut filling
  • 3. In a medium-size saucepan, whisk the milk with the sugar and the flour until thoroughly combined. Cook and stir constantly over medium-high heat (about 5 minutes) until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and add the coconut. Stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and cool to room temperature.
  • 4. When the coconut cake has cooled, spread half the filling between the first 2 layers of cake, then the other half between the second and third layers. There. You’ve assembled the cake. Set it aside while you make the frosting, which needs to be used to frost the cake immediately after it’s mixed.
  • Make the seven-minute frosting
  • 5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites and the vanilla extract and set aside.
  • 6. In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the water with the sugar and the cream of tartar. As the mixture begins to bubble at the edges, stir once to make sure the sugar is dissolved completely, then let it come to a rolling boll, which will take 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat.
  • 7. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites and the vanilla extract on medium-high speed until foamy, about 1 minute.
  • 8. Without turning off the mixer, pour the sugar syrup into the beaten egg whites in a thin, steady stream. Continue beating constantly on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes or until stiff peaks form but the frosting is still creamy. Frost top and sides of cake immediately, being generous with your swoops and swirls and flourishes. Generously sprinkle the top of the cake with shredded coconut.

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Recipe Testers Reviews

It’s hard to put into words just how wonderful this cake is. It’s moist, sweet, rich, and just pure decadence. I shared a slice with my goddaughter, and she said, “It’s so good that it doesn’t make sense!” It really is! The filling was amazing and the frosting tastes SO good. (And I will admit that I sampled quite a bit of the frosting before it made it on the cake!) You make the frosting like you would an Italian meringue, except you don’t add any butter. It tastes like the best marshmallow you have ever tasted! The recipe was spot on as written; the only deviation I made was to toast the coconut before putting it on the cake, which gave it a somewhat nutty taste that was really well received. I always use a little of the batter to make a single cupcake so that I can taste the cake without having to cut into it, and I can tell you this recipe makes a really nice cupcake, too. I added a small layer of the filling to the top of the cupcake, then I added the frosting and the toasted coconut, and it turned out really cute! I can’t wait for another reason to make this cake again, as this is the kind of cake you need to make with an intent to share, otherwise you could definitely eat this entire cake by yourself!

Comments

  1. For years I’ve tried to find a really soft coconut cake, instead of those heavy and greasy ones. I’ve tried this recipe, and now I also make it as a wedding cake, and it’s a success.

  2. I made this cake for a get together at a friends house…it was wonderful! My only problem was making the frosting, just could not get it thick enough to be of spreading consistency…but I will definately try again. The flavor and texture of the cake were amazing, loved the coconut filling, and the frosting was delicious–like homemade marshmallow…I did not have self-rising flour so I used 2 3/4 cups of cake flour and added 3 tsp baking flour. Perfect.

    1. Hi Denise, so glad you liked the cake. It’s one of my favorites. A few things about the frosting:

      1. Did you let the sugar mixture come to a rolling boil?
      2. Was your mixing bowl impeccably clean? Even a little bit of egg yolk can make the frosting not as fluffy.
      3. Did you use the whisk attachment?
      4. Did you beat the mixture long enough?

      1. Hi David,
        Thanks for your reply! Yes, a few bits of egg yolk did escape when I was separating the eggs..no wonder…to compensate for the sides of the cake, I just added a wall of shredded coconut and left the top of the cake gleaming with the shiny, white icing. It was gorgeous! I will be making this cake again this weekend. I have been looking for the perfect coconut cake and this it! My search is over. Thanks!
        Denise

  3. David I am going to make this cake when I come home this afternoon….was wondering if you add the syrup while hot or do you let it cool? Also, I noticed you added vanilla INSTEAD of coconut extract…do you think the vanilla is better? Thank you so much as I have never made a real coconut cake like this better and it is for a special lady in our church…..

    1. Hello, Donna. You let the syrup cool only long enough to mix the whites (1 minute). Then you pour the hot syrup into the bowl–making sure not to hit the beater, otherwise it will splatter all over. I pour it slowly down the side of the mixer bowl.

      About the vanilla extract: I find it rounds out the flavor of the frosting, giving it more depth.

      I hope your church friend likes it!

  4. Very moist cake and delicious filling. Will skip the wax paper in the pan step next time and live dangerously. Was in the middle of beating my meringue frosting when my teenage son asked, “Are these unpasteurized eggs?” Which they were, and so I poured it all down the drain and made a butter cream frosting instead. I just don’t feel comfortable risking four days of salmonella backlash for my four kids. Which brings me to, would you mind making & posting a frosting recipe with either dry egg whites OR pasteurized egg whites from pasteurized eggs? I assume the cream of tarter amounts will vary… Thank you in advance!!!

    1. Dona, baking is such a precise science, it’s impossible to say without testing it but I wouldn’t try it. Coconut milk has a different fat content, sweetness, and consistency than regular milk and I worry that the results may be too dense, sweet, and flat.

  5. This. cake. It’s my all-time favorite and I like to think that it can convince the most stalwart coconut hater to come to the good side. It’s my daughter’s birthday cake request and never disappoints. And I could eat the frosting with a spoon (and have!). Thank you, David!

    A Magnolia Bakery coconut cake--with meringue frosting and topped with coconut on a white cake stand, on a green tray

    1. Lori, you’re more than welcome. I, too, love this cake. And The One isn’t a big coconut fan–at all–but he does love this. And your photo…well, it’s gorgeous!

      1. Appreciate it – but I had a good subject! Thanks again for the wonderful recipe – I have to make it again this week for another coconut-lovin’ friend. I might try filled cupcakes this time – keep you posted!

  6. This cake was a dream to make. I liked the simple ingredient list (though I had to buy self-rising flour). The cakes themselves baked up beautifully and were easy to slice for layering -the recipe doesn’t call for that but I wanted more layers for smearing lemon curd and coconut filling. I liked that I didn’t need a thermometer to make the frosting, recipes with thermometers make me not want to make them. The frosting was light and smooth and really fun to swirl around the cake. This will be my go to coconut cake from now on :)

    Two photos of Magnolia Vakery's coconut layer cake--left is plain, right covered in shredded coconut

    1. Danielle, superb! I’m delighted you find it so easy to make. And you pictures are knocks out. I can’t decide which version I like best: naked or covered!

  7. Has anyone made cupcakes with this recipe? I love this cake, but am I am wondering if I can use the filling to fill cupcakes instead of making a layer cake. I am making this for work, so cupcakes are just easier.

    Thanks.

    1. Felicia, I personally haven’t, but many people have made cupcakes from the recipe. The filling is quite thick, so you won’t be able to pipe it into the center. You can try thinning the filling with a bit more milk, but we haven’t tested it that way, so I can’t guarantee the results.

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