The Best Coconut Cake You’ll Ever Make
This is hands down the BEST Coconut Cake recipe you’ll ever make. This easy coconut cake recipe uses fresh coconut and a secret ingredient to make the coconut cake extra moist!
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! It has been making an appearance as a holiday dessert at our family dinners since I was a little girl.
The secret ingredient is cream of coconut and fresh coconut. It is SO much better than the dried, sweetened coconut you find in the baking aisle!
This cake is a southern tradition just like this Hummingbird Cake and Sock it to Me Cake, and I love my grandma’s version.
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- White cake mix – I’ve always used white cake mix for this but I do use the egg yolks in the eggs so honestly a yellow cake mix works just as well. It will just but a little darker yellow.
- Sour cream – Make sure you use full fat sour cream for this!
- Vegetable oil – I’ve been asked if you can substitute butter for the vegetable oil and the answer is yes. You can do a 1:1 substitution of melted butter. I suggest unsalted butter so you don’t add any extra salt to the mixture.
- Eggs – You’ll be using 6 large eggs for the 3 layer version of this cake.
- Cream of coconut – See below for an explanation of the difference between cream of coconut vs coconut cream. They are different!
- Cream cheese – Use a block of full fat cream cheese not whipped cream cheese or reduced fat cream cheese.
- Milk – You could also use heavy cream if you prefer.
- Powdered sugar
- Vanilla extract or Coconut extract – My grandma always made this cake with vanilla extract in the frosting but I have started using coconut extract instead to give it just a little extra boost of flavor.
- Fresh frozen coconut – This is the star of the dish! The fresh coconut tastes so much different than dehydrated coconut and gives the cake a totally different texture. If you have trouble finding it in your area see the notes below about other options and where to find it.
What is Cream of Coconut vs. Coconut Cream?
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 or Coco Real.
If you buy a little more than you need whip up a batch of our Pina Colada Tropical Fruit Salad or Pina Colada Cake Bites.
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.
Doctored Up Cake Mix
My grandma used to make it for Easter, Thanksgiving, and if I asked extra nice, Christmas! Everyone in my family loves it, even the ones who aren’t a big fan of coconut.
She wasn’t a from scratch baker (that was my other grandma) and this cake starts with a box of 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.
Coconut for Cake
I know I’ve said it several times now but the fresh coconut really is the star of this cake recipe. Over the years we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers and the biggest issue is people not being about to find it in stores.
I’ve detailed places to find it below but if you can’t here are some substitutions for your cake:
- Unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
- Sweetened coconut flakes/shredded coconut
- Unsweetened coconut flakes/shredded coconut
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 Joe’s (it comes in chunks you will need to shred yourself), and Asian food markets.
Do I thaw the fresh coconut before putting it on the cake?
I 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 takes 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.
Instructions for Coconut Cake
Step 1 – Prepare oven and pans. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare three 9″ inch cake pans by lightly greasing them and then dusting with flour. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of each pan.
Step 2 – Make batter. Mix the cake mix, sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, and cream of coconut in a large mixing bowl. I like to use my stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed but you can also use an electric hand mixer or just mix it together by stirring with a spatula.
Step 3 – Fill pans. Divide cake batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans. 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.
Step 4 – Bake. Place the filled cake pans in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350°F or until you can put a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
Step 5 – Make the frosting. While the cake bakes make the frosting by combining powdered sugar and cream cheese together in the bowl of your mixer. You will need an electric mixer with a whisk attachment for the frosting so you can whip everything together into light fluffy frosting.
Add the vanilla extract or coconut extract and keep whisking. If the frosting seems a little stiff you can add a little milk to help it reach a spreadable texture. This could mean you don’t need any milk at all. Just pay attention to the texture and add the milk in small amounts, then whisk thoroughly before adding any more.
Step 6 – Cool. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan. Then gently remove the cake from the pans and let it finish cooling on a wire rack until the layers reach room temperature.
Make a Sheet Cake
This recipe makes a 3 layer cake but if you cut all of the ingredients in half it makes a 2 layer cake. We’ve included the instructions in the notes section of the recipe below.
If you want to make a sheet cake in a 9×13 inch pan instead of a layer cake we’ve got you covered. We’ve adapted this recipe to make an awesome Coconut Sheet Cake.
Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
The frosting for this cake is a homemade cream cheese frosting. I used to just make it with vanilla frosting but once I discovered coconut extract I began substituting that for the vanilla extract to make it into a coconut cream cheese frosting.
It isn’t a dramatic flavor difference so if you can’t find the coconut extract don’t worry.
The majority of your coconut flavor is coming from that delicious fresh coconut that is packed onto the outside of the cake.
Assembling the Cake
- Place one 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 and instead place it on your cake stand or your cake carrier bottom.
- Frost the top of the layer and place the next layer of cake on top. Frost the top of that layer and place the third and final layer 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.
What Fillings Can I Add?
If you’re thinking about adding a little extra flavor to your 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)
- 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!
How to Freeze Coconut Cake
You can make this cake up to 1 month ahead of time and store in the freezer. Actually, the thing that I love about this cake is that you should make it at least two days 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 in advance and then pull it out a few hours before your party and have an amazing dessert.
- Assemble the cake, frost it and add the fresh coconut on the outside.
- Then you wrap it with two layers of plastic wrap to seal in the freshness.
- Cover it with a layer or two of aluminum foil to insulate the cake and keep it from getting freezer burn.
- Place the coconut cake in the freezer until you are ready to use.
- Remove the coconut cake at least 4 hours before you are ready to serve to give it time to thaw.
Equipment You’ll Need
- 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.
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The Best Coconut Cake You’ll Ever Make
- 2 boxes White cake mix, 15.25 oz each
- 16 ounces Sour cream
- 1/2 cup Vegetable oil
- 6 large Eggs
- 15 ounces Cream of coconut, such as Coco López or Real Coco
- 2 tablespoons Coconut extract, optional
- 16 ounces Cream cheese, use a block NOT whipped
- 4 tablespoons Milk, See note 1 below
- 2 pounds Powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract or coconut extract
- 4 bags Fresh frozen coconut, (about 24 oz)
- Heat oven to 350°F
- Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by lightly greasing and then dusting with flour. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of each pan.
- Mix cake mix, sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, and cream of coconut in a large bowl. For a little extra boost of coconut flavor you can add 2 tablespoons of coconut extract (optional).
- Divide cake batter evenly between the three prepared 9” pans. 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.
- Place pans in the oven and bake approximately 30 minutes at 350°F or until you can put a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.
- Remove the pans from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Then remove the cakes from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack until room temperature.
- Whisk powdered sugar and cream cheese together in the bowl of your mixer.
- Add vanilla or coconut extract and keep whisking.
- Test the consistency. The frosting should be thick but spreadable. If it is too firm add a small amount of milk and whisk again. See note #1.
- Remove the parchment paper from each layer of cake.
- Place one cooled cake layer 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 second layer on top. Frost the top of that layer and place the third and final layer 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 a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil and place in the freezer. Take it out to thaw at least 4 hours before you are ready to serve.
- You may not need to add any milk. Make your frosting without adding any milk and see what the consistency is like. You want it to be thick but easily spreadable. It should NOT be runny! If it is too thick add a small amount of milk and whisk again. Test the consistency before adding any more milk.
15.25 ounces box White cake mix
8 ounces Sour cream
1/4 cup Vegetable oil
7.5 ounces Cream of coconut such as Coco López
8 ounces Cream cheese
2 tablespoons Milk
1 pound Powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
2 bags Fresh frozen coconut about 12 oz
Update Notes: This recipe was originally published on 6/25/2015 and was updated to include new photos on 4/10/2019.
I made this Coconut Cake for my husband, this Thanksgiving, we’ve been married 24 years and for the 15 years he has been asking me to make him a Coconut Cake, he haven’t had once since his Grandmother Madear had passed away 18 years earlier. Well I followed your directions to tee, except I couldn’t find the fresh Coconuts, so had to use bagged ones. Well less say my husband is a very happy man this evening. Recipe was a hit, he said this was better than he could remember that his Grandmother made, Thank you.
That makes me happier than you could ever know. Thank you so much for letting me know and happy Thanksgiving!
Would like to know if I can substitute the oil with butter instead ? Also….you have Vanilla extract in frosting…how would it be with Coconut extract instead…too much coconut ??
I haven’t tried coconut extract in the frosting but I think it would be fine. Just start with a little and check the flavor. I don’t have any experience substituting the oil for the butter but my understanding is that you can do it and it should be substituted in a 1:1 ratio.
Diane, I have used coconut extract before and it has a very weird taste. I would use coconut milk and vanilla. I haven’t found a good coconut extract.
Can i substitute oil with coconut oil?
Can I make cupcakes with this recipe? and if so, how long do they cook/what temp?
Yes you can! Here is our recipe https://www.homemadeinterest.com/coconut-mango-cupcakes/
I made this cake yesterday and shared it with my neighbors. Without exception, they all raved. I love cocnut cake and this was a non-fail recipe. In response to another baker’s query, I did use coconut extact in the frosting and it was excellent. If you like coconut cake, this is the one for you. Easy & Delicious!
Thanks Linda, we love getting rave reviews 🙂
I made this recipe tonight for the first time and it turned out so pretty! I can’t walk to serve it! Thanks for sharing it!!! I appreciate your easy to follow instructions and the additional modifications ( though I went with your original). My family is super excited to eat it too- I had volunteers to taste the batter; frosting- everything!
Cake is amazing. My fault but I should have preheated at 325 for non stink pan. They cooked too fast!
We just made a sheet cake version today with a few minor tweaks. Should be on the blog soon!
Have you ever tried this with coconut flour? I have celiac disease and this is my FAVORITE recipe ever (started making it before my diagnosis). My whole family rejoices when I make this cake, but I’d like to try it with coconut flour, or even a flour substitute, but I’m not a baker by nature and so I’m not sure how to do that vs using the premade box mix. Thanks!
Unfortunately gluten-free baking is completely different than regular baking and you can’t just substitute one thing for another. You could try buying a gluten free cake mix but even then I can’t say how the cake would turn out as I have never tried it myself.
Use GF Cake Mixes and you should be fine!! I doctor my Gluten Free cake mixes the same way I doctor regular cake mixes and they turn out GREAT!!
This cake lives up to the title of the recipe. It is so delicious and easy to make, I can hardly believe I actually made it when it is finished and ready to serve out of the refrigerator. Everyone I have ever served this cake to (with a scoop of rich chocolate ice cream) raves about it. What I love about it also is that it can be made ahead a day or two and kept in the refrigerator. Last night a friend said to me, “This is better than what you would expect from a good bakery!”
So thank you for this amazing cake recipe and excellent frosting.
I made this today (Friday) for Easter Sunday. Do I need to store in the refrigerator until then?
I would store it in the refrigerator because of the cream cheese frosting. I’m actually making mine tomorrow!
My Easter cake! Love it.
I made this for Easter 2021 since I had been craving a coconut cream cake but since my family is all from the north, despite living in NC my whole life, we didn’t have a passed down recipe for one. I found this and am so glad I did. I couldn’t freeze the cake like suggested since my freezer is tiny but I did make the layers a day in advance and kept them in the fridge un-frosted and that was okay. The frozen fresh coconut was so the best choice. Day 1 the frosting tasted overly like powdered sugar and not cream cheese but in the few days it’s been in the fridge since it’s gotten better and better. Plus this cake was SO simple to make! Highly recommend and am saving this recipe for sure!!
Thank you for the lovely comment Claire. We just posted a sheet cake version of this cake. The one is even easier to make. Here’s the link for it. https://www.homemadeinterest.com/coconut-sheet-cake/
4 Tablespoons of milk – will any milk work? Canned? Skim? Whole? Powdered (watered down)? I hate to have one item throw the outcome off balance.
The milk is used to thin the frosting out. You may or may not need to use it depending on the consistency of your frosting after you combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar. If you do need to add some milk I suggest skim, 1%, whole milk, or heavy cream.
Do you have bake time for 9×13 sheet cake?
30 minutes for the sheet cake. We recently made one and you can find it here https://www.homemadeinterest.com/coconut-sheet-cake/
Hello, is it possible to substitute butter for the oil? Thank you!
I haven’t done it for this recipe but in general it is ok to substitute butter for oil (1:1 ratio) in cake mix.
I’m making two cakes for a particular occasion. Coconut cake was requested and also carrot cake which I will use cream cheese frosting. I’m thinking of using straight buttercream on your cake with coconut. Your thoughts?
Buttercream works just as well!
Do you shake the can of coconut cream or just scrape out the thick top.
Hi Tina, we use cream of coconut in this recipe which is a very sweet liquid that is used in mixed drinks such as pina coladas. It is not coconut cream which is a liquid that forms a thick layer of cream at the top. You will not get the same results using coconut cream.
Thank you for answering so quickly.
I’d like to make this cake white, can I just use 6 egg whites and fluff them up with the mixer instead of the whole egg?
I haven’t tried it but that should work. If you try it please let us know how it turns out.
This is the best coconut cake ever. So easy. I did use birds eye coconut. I think that’s a big difference. I also added some cream of coconut to the frosting. I’m going to work on a sheet cake version. This is a keeper. The boxes of white cake mix make it super fast
Hi Lori, I’m so glad you liked it as much as we do! We actually made this into a sheet cake version as well so here you go! https://www.homemadeinterest.com/coconut-sheet-cake/
I made this cake yesterday and I was very disappointed. The first time I made the cake it was absolutely delicious. The difference was the cream of coconut that I was never aware of before. Making the cake with coconut cream added 100% more moisture to the cake that everyone loved. The coco loco left a dry and crumbling cake, in my judgement. I would never use it again. It really didn’t add a whole lot more flavor. Just to clarify-there are 3 products-cream of coconut/Coco loco; Coconut Cream-harder to find and coconut milk. I prefer the Coconut Cream !!
Could you tell me where you found the coconut creamer you loved? I’m also curious did you use the fresh frozen coconut as well? Where did you find that if so?
I did not use fresh coconut. I found the Coco Lopez at Walmart -I was surprised. The Coconut Cream is usually in the Asian aisle next to coconut milk or in the alcohol section with the drink mixes. I whipped the coconut cream to make the frosting but I left out the cream cheese since daughter doesn’t like it. The frosting wasn’t thick. I had forgotten what I used before was Xanthum Gum-a natural thickener, also found in the baking aisle at grocery store.
My daughter requested a coconut cake for her birthday, so rather than buy one I challenged myself. This is honestly the best cake I’ve ever made. I used the coco Lopez and it really made the difference. I ran into an issue with the icing, so I thought I’d ask your advice. I thought I had the icing thick enough but it still was a bit too runny even at 3 tablespoons. Then I used the Birds Eye frozen coconut and couldn’t get the moisture out of it. This did not help the icing situation but I stayed on top of it and no one really knew. Any suggestions? It was definitely a hit!
I’m so glad your family enjoyed it as much as mine! Try the frosting starting with no milk at all and really whisk it to get it as fluffy as possible. Then add the milk by the teaspoon really mixing 1 teaspoon at a time. You’d be amazed how little liquid it takes to turn powdered sugar to a glaze instead of a frosting! Keep the consistency a little stiffer than you might expect (but make sure it is loose enough that you can frost the cake without tearing it). Depending on humidity, the brand of cream cheese, etc I have made this frosting without needing any milk at all.
Turned out absolutely wonderful
I made this for Thanksgiving 2020 and my son and I were crazy over the flavor as we are both Coconut lovers. It’s October 2021 and I asked my son what he wanted and this cake was at the top of his list!!!!
That comment totally made my day. Thank you!
Hi. I’ve never made a coconut cake in my life, but one of our senior bowlers requested I make him one for his birthday. He is alone and how could I say no. One question….The frozen fresh coconut is it sweetened or unsweetened. I have found both and not sure which one to use. Thank you for your help and the recipe. It will make a certain elderly individual very happy…..I hope : )
The frozen coconut I use is unsweetened (I think the frosting is sweet enough!)
THANK YOU for your quick response. Keeping my fingers crossed for a great outcome!!!
This is a little long, but I wanted to share. (jump to the end for alt.)
I LOVE to bake and rarely follow any recipe as written. I typically use them for inspiration, which can be challenging to reproduce if I didn’t write down my alterations. I produced such a gem Easter 2021 and my triple layer coconut cake with pillow soft frosting was a hit. 4 months later, my son’s fiance asked me to make “my” coconut cake for their wedding….Not being a professional baker, I decided I needed to find a recipe that started from a mix to make it a little easier, which led me to this AMAZING recipe. I had planned on spending time testing recipes to find the PERFECT one with whatever tweeks I had to make. I had a hit list of what I wanted, 1) stable enough to hold up under layers and tiers without being dense,2) moist enough to be eaten without frosting (just as a test, no cake should actually be deprived of a topping) and 3) texture needed to be silky, like it was melting in your mouth.
This was the first recipe I tested making only minor alterations, and IT IS PERFECT!!! I can not believe how amazing this cake is AND how easy it is. I made the smaller batch using coconut oil and substituted the 3 whole eggs for 4 jumbo egg whites. I wisks them to soft peaks then folded them in to the batter just before putting in the oven. I only had to reduce the baking time by a few min. BEST COCONUT CAKE EVER! (Just read comments about cream of coconut vs coconut cream… I used the later)
Any suggestions for the perfect frosting? Cream cheese is my fav, but won’t hold up well for a wedding cake.
Thanks so much!!!
This comment made my day. This recipe is so special to me and my family it makes me smile every time someone else loves it. For the frosting maybe a crusting buttercream (made with shortening and butter gives a really smooth finish if you let it crust and then smooth with a paper towel or parchment paper). We added coconut extract to our recent coconut sheet cake version and it just made the coconut flavor that much better!
Apologies but I can’t see the recipe for 2 layers for the coconut recipe can you please direct me.
The ingredient measurements for 2 layer are in the notes section if the recipe at the end of the post. Instructions are the same.
I made this cake several months ago, and it was excellent. I made it again yesterday and the center of all three cakes sank. So I threw it out and made another. Again, the centers of the cake collapsed while baking. Any ideas why this happened? Thanks
Often the center falls if it isn’t fully baked in the middle. You could try adding 5 minutes to the bake time to see if that helps?
Thanks. It was still delicious, though.
My entire family loves this coconut cake! I make it every year for the hubby’s birthday!!!
I love hearing this!😍
I have 3 questions. I’m going to make this cake for a customer.
1. Can I use vanilla box cake I instead of white? Customer requested vanilla coconut cake.
2. I will freeze ahead of time, how do I deliver to customer in box? Frozen? Slightly thawed or thawed? It will be delivered the day before thanksgiving and they will serve on thanksgiving. I’m concerned that if I deliver frozen with no wrapping the box will get soggy? I’ve never made coconut cake or had it before.
3. Customer wants coconut in batter. Is sweetened shredded coconut flakes of the shelves ok for this part?
Hi Alisha, you can use vanilla cake instead of white cake. I’m sorry I can’t answer your question about how to deliver it to your customer as I’ve never delivered any cake :). I personally wouldn’t enjoy the texture of sweetened shredded coconut in the batter as I think it is dry and chewy. If anything I would use more fresh coconut in the batter. I have never done this though so I can’t be sure of the results.
I made this cake for my mom’s 80th birthday. I followed the cake directions but changed the frosting to buttercream. This might be the best cake I’ve ever made… ever. It’s got such a delicate crumb and was so delicious my family asked if it came from a bakery. Thanks so much for the recipe! Just one question- How do I get the same cake results with different flavors?
If you want to try a different flavor you can use a different flavor of cake mix and skip the cream of coconut and use sweetened condensed milk instead. You can also ass some flavor extract to the cake mix and/or frosting.