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 will be making this cake on Saturday. I cannot find frozen coconut anywhere near where I live. What do you suggest? Should I just use unsweetened coconut ? Thank you for your help.
You can either use the sweetened shredded coconut or unsweetened. I have used the unsweetened dried coconut flakes in the past and it worked fine since the frosting was so sweet. I do suggest buying some coconut extract if they sell it at your grocery store (same place as the vanilla extract). Add a little to your frosting to help boost the coconut flavor. It’s definitely not the same as fresh coconut but it is still a delicious cake!
I made the cake and used unsweetened coconut and used some coconut extract in the
The icing as you suggested. The cake was delicious everyone loved it. Thank you so much for your help.
Do you let the frozen cake thaw on counter? I did that and now I’m scared the cake will be soggy. What are your thoughts?
Yes I always thaw it in the counter and there is no sogginess. I hope it turned out well and your family enjoyed it!
The icing is sliding off the cake is it because it needs to be thicker or is it from the fresh coconut I dried it as much as I could but the cake carrier was very wet what can I do
Is it possible you added too much milk to the icing making it runny? If so the only thing you could try is adding more powdered sugar to thicken it back up. You want a spreadable but not runny consistency
Can this be made in a bundt pan?
I’m not sure about that I’ve never given it a try.
Do you happen to know how to modify this for high altitude? Thank you.
I’m so sorry but I don’t have any experience with high altitude baking.
This may have already been answered, but I don’t see it. Can I skip the step of placing it in the freezer?
Yes you can! I just do that if I’m making it way ahead of time.
Thank you for the quick response! I am about to make it now for Christmas. Will let you know how it turned out.
Making this for a client soon. I found Frozen Grated/Shredded coconut in 14 Oz. Bags made by Goya. Is that OK to use?
Yep! That should be the right thing.
The icing recipe lists 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract for the icing. Should coconut extract be used instead of vanilla?
Up until this year I always used vanilla extract only. The fresh coconut on the outside gives it lots of coconut flavor. That being said you can certainly trade out the vanilla extract for coconut extract to up the coconut flavor
Hi, can this recipe be used for 2 10 inch pans? If so, do I change baking time or amount of ingredients?
Can’t wait to try!!
Hi Claudene, I haven’t tried that so I can’t be certain but if you do you may have extra batter after you fill the two pans just slightly over halfway full. For bake time you would just need to start checking the cake around 25 minutes to see how it is going. My guess is it will take just a little longer to bake.
I made this cake using flour from my home mill (and basic vegan white cake recipe) and it was over the top good! I mix the cake mix up ahead of time and keep it on hand – perfect for recipes like this – thank you!
This is my favorite Easter recipe. 💕 I use mango fruit spread between the layers. It is amazing. A family favorite
So glad you like it. I made pineapple filling for mine this year!
Can I use the can of coconut cream in place of the cream of coconut?
Hi Heidi, cream of coconut is much sweeter than coconut cream so you won’t get the exact same results. That being said while I haven’t tried it myself several readers have said they made the substitute and enjoyed the results. If you try it please let us know what you think!
Do you store the leftover in the refrigerator or can you leave it on the kitchen counter?
Hi Elle, I store the leftovers in the fridge since this frosting has so much cream cheese in it.
Hi, congratulations for the great recipe
This review is on just the cake (not the icing). The cake lacks coconut flavor (I added the 2 Tablespoons of extract). I also added 1 1/2 cups of coconut to the recipe as well. It just didn’t pull enough coconut flavor for me.
Hi Davie, the majority of the coconut flavor in this recipe comes from the fresh coconut on the outside of the cake. That’s why fresh coconut is the key ingredient.
MADE THIS CAKE 3 TIMES ALREADY AND EVERYONE WHO HAS TRIED SAYS I NEED TO HAVE MY OWN BAKERY! THE MOST DELICIOUS, MOIST CAKE I’VE EVER HAD!
Thank you so much. That comment made my day 🙂
I made this cake last night and WOW! Absolutely amazing! I’ll never go back to coconut that’s not fresh. Makes all the difference.
Do I need to freeze this cake if I plan on serving later on the day that I make it?
Definitely not. Freezing the cake isn’t a requirement.
I made this cake and it was delicious, just a little dry, Any suggestions.
Hi Judy, this should be a really moist cake. If it came out dry and a bit crumbly it may have been overbaked. Everyone’s oven is a little different so perhaps check it a little earlier next time. I’m glad you still liked it though!! 🙂
Instead of whisk, can you use a mixer?
Yes you can use a mixer. I suggest using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. You don’t want to whisk too much air into it.
I have made this cake for the last 3 years and everybody that comes over to eat it says it is absolutely the best coconut cake they have ever ate it is wonderful it will not disappoint you
All I can find is sweetened condensed coconut milk. Will that work instead of the Coco Lopez?
They are different consistencies so the results will vary.
Hi Nancy, I’ve never used sweetened condensed coconut milk but after looking into I think it could work. My only concern would be that it might have more moisture than the coco lopez. Have you tried looking in the drink mixers (for alcoholic drinks) section of your grocery store? That’s where you usually find Coco Lopez or something similar.
Thank you for the tip. I found it with the drink mixers. Can’t wait to make this cake for my family on Thanksgiving.
looking forward to making this cake. I was asked to make an 8” round coconut cake with 3 layers. since this recipe uses 9” pans, what would 8” pans be for baking time? I plan to make your recipe per your instructions & I will experiment with any extra batter in my 4” pans – I read the entire page plus the mango filled cupcakes page & all the comments- I feel ready to make this. 🤩
Hi there, if you use 8 inch round pans you will just need to add a little extra time, approximately 4 minutes. I suggest checking it around 30 minutes to see if it is done but allowing for up to 35 minutes bake time.
Please note that we use two boxes of cake mix to make our 3 layers which gives very thick 9 inch cake layers because it is a little more batter per cake pan than the box of cake mix plans for. You will definitely have a little batter left over if you are making it in smaller pans.
☺️ making tomorrow & will try to report back