This is hands down the BEST Coconut Cake recipe you’ll ever make. This classic coconut cake recipe uses fresh coconut and a secret ingredient to make the coconut cake extra moist!
Slice of coconut cake being cut from a three layer coconut cake

The BEST Coconut Cake Recipe

I love this coconut cake recipe and  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it is the BEST Coconut Cake You’ll Ever Make! This homemade coconut cake recipe has been making an appearance as a holiday dessert recipe since I was a little girl. My grandma used to make it for Easter dessert, Thanksgiving dessert, and if I asked extra nice, Christmas dessert. Everyone in my family loves it, even the ones who aren’t a big fan of coconut cake. The secret ingredient is cream of coconut and fresh coconut. It is sooo much better than that dried, sweetened coconut you find in the baking aisle!

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A beautiful coconut cake with fresh coconut on the outside

Coconut cake is a southern tradition (just like this Hummingbird Cake!) and I love my grandma’s version. When I was grown and on my own this was one of the first recipes I called her up and asked for along with her broccoli casserole recipe…yum! Grandma J. wasn’t a from scratch baker (that was my other grandma) and this cake starts with a boxed cake mix but you doctor it up by skipping the instructions and ingredients on the back of the box and instead adding eggs, oil, sour cream and cream of coconut. They make the cake so moist!

Coconut cake with two slices of cake cut and on plates

What is Cream of Coconut vs. Coconut Cream?

Coconut cream is the cream that rises to the top of coconut milk. You can make your own by simmering four parts shredded coconut in one part water.

Cream of Coconut is coconut cream that has been sweetened like sweetened condensed milk in coconut form. It is most often used in cocktails and has a super intense and sweet coconut flavor. This recipe calls for cream of coconut and you should not substitute coconut cream. You can find cream of coconut with the other drink mixers at the grocery store. The most common brand is Coco Lopez.

Slice of coconut cake being cut from a three layer coconut cake

Where Can I Find Frozen (Fresh) Coconut:

The thing that I think makes it so much better than a lot of store bought coconut cakes is that it is coated in fresh coconut. None of that shredded coconut you find on the shelves. Fresh coconut is usually shaved and can be found in the freezer section near the frozen fruit at the grocery store.

Goya, Bird’s Eye, and Harris Teeter are the brands of fresh frozen coconut I have used. I have found them at Harris Teeter, Food Lion, Trader Joes (it comes in chunks you will need to shred yourself), Asian markets.

Do I thaw the fresh coconut before putting it on the cake?

I usually take my frozen coconut out of it’s bag and break it apart in a small bowl. Then I let it sit there as I frost the cake. It only take a few minutes to thaw. It will be very moist because it is fresh coconut. You can pat it with a paper towel to remove some of the excess moisture if needed.

This coconut mango cupcake recipe is a tropical cupcake with a sweet coconut cake and filled with a tart mango curd. The homemade mango curd recipe is a perfect compliment to these cupcakes and also delicious as a thin mango filling in between layers of a cake.

What goes best with coconut?

If you’re thinking about adding a little extra flavor to your coconut cake you can add a filling in between the layers. The flavors that go best with coconut are lemon (check out my how to make lemon curd), lime, strawberry, orange or mango. I’ve used a mango curd filling with this coconut cake recipe and with my coconut mango cupcakes and it was a huge hit!

A slice of three layer coconut cake with fresh coconut

Can you freeze coconut cake?

Yes, you can freeze coconut cake. Actually, the thing that I love about this cake is that you should make it at least a day ahead of time and put it in the freezer. At least that’s what my grandma said and you really should always listen to grandma. It’s pretty great because for the holidays you can make it ahead of time and then pull it out a few hours before your party and have an amazing dessert.

How to Freeze Coconut Cake:

  1. Assemble the cake, frost it and add the fresh coconut on the outside.
  2. Then you wrap it with two layers of plastic wrap to seal in the freshness.
  3.  Cover it with a layer or two of aluminum foil to insulate the cake and keep it from getting freezer burn.
  4. Place the coconut cake in the freezer until you are ready to use.
  5. Remove the coconut cake at least 4 hours before you are ready to serve to give it time to thaw.

Note: This is NOT required. The cake will still be delicious if you don’t freeze it ahead of time.

Slice of coconut cake being cut from a three layer coconut cake

 What you will need to make Coconut Cake:

  • 3 9-inch cake pans – I like having 3 identical cake pans so I can divide up the batter and bake everything at one time.
  • Cake Boards – Placing your cake on a cake board before frosting makes it much easier to wrap it up and store it in the freezer.
  • Cake Carrier – You’re going to need to take this cake to all of your events from now on!

This cake is a really special memory for me. Grandma doesn’t get to cook for us during the holidays anymore but I know she’d be happy to hear that I’m baking her cake! I hope you try it and if you do I hope you love it as much as I do.

THE BEST COCONUT CAKE RECIPE
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Servings: 20
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 2 hrs

The Best Coconut Cake You'll Ever Make

This is the best coconut cake recipe I’ve ever made. This easy coconut cake is moist and delicious and uses fresh coconut!
A slice of three layer coconut cake with fresh coconut
Print Recipe
4.07 from 550 votes

Ingredients

Cake

  • 2 (15.25 oz) boxes White cake mix
  • 16 ounces Sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable oil
  • 6 Eggs
  • 15 ounces Cream of coconut, (such as Coco López)

Frosting

  • 16 ounces Cream cheese
  • 4 tablespoons Milk
  • 2 pounds Powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract
  • 4 bags Fresh frozen coconut, (about 24 oz)

Instructions

Cake

  • Heat oven to 350°F
  • Mix cake mix, sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, and cream of coconut in a large bowl.
  • Divide cake batter into evenly between 3 9” pans that have been greased and floured. Each pan should be filled to slightly higher than 1/2 to ensure that the cake does not overflow as it bakes. You may have extra batter.
  • Bake approximately 30 minutes at 350°F or until you can put a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
  • Cool completely.

Frosting

  • Whisk powdered sugar and cream cheese together in the bowl of your mixer. 
  • Add vanilla and keep whisking. Add milk as needed to reach a spreadable texture (this may not take all 4 tablespoons of milk).

Assemble Cake

  • Place 1 9 inch round cake on a cake board (this will make it easier to move cake to the freezer. If you are not freezing it you can skip this step). Frost the top of the layer and place the next cake round on top. Frost the top of that round and place the final round on top. 
  • Frost the top and sides of the cake.
  • Press coconut into sides and onto top of cake.
  • Once cake is frosted wrap it in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and place in the freezer. Take it out to thaw at least 4 hours before you are ready to serve.

Notes

NOTE: By Popular request I have included the ingredient amounts for the 2 layer version of this cake below. The instructions for making the cake are the same you'll just be using 2 9-inch round cake pans rather than 3. Enjoy!
Cake
15.25 ounces box White cake mix
8 ounces Sour cream
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
3 Eggs
7.5 ounces Cream of coconut such as Coco López
Frosting
8 ounces Cream cheese
2 tablespoons Milk
1 pound Powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
2 bags Fresh frozen coconut about 12 oz
 

Nutrition

Calories: 566kcal, Carbohydrates: 64g, Protein: 7g, Fat: 32g, Saturated Fat: 16g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 5g, Cholesterol: 92mg, Sodium: 503mg, Potassium: 96mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 38g, Vitamin A: 11%, Calcium: 27%, Iron: 5%
Nutrition Disclaimer: We are not certified nutritionists. Nutrition facts are an estimate and are provided as a courtesy. They are generated by an online API which recognizes ingredient names and amounts and makes calculations based on the serving size. Results may vary.
Author: Kat Jeter & Melinda Caldwell
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: best coconut cake recipe, coconut cake recipe, coconut cake with cake mix, how to make coconut cake

Update Notes: This recipe was originally published on 6/25/2015 and was updated to include new photos on 4/10/2019.

kat