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!

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

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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Coconut cake with two slices of cake cut and on plates

Ingredients

  • 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.

A beautiful coconut cake with fresh coconut on the outside

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.

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

Assembling the Cake

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Frost the top and sides of the cake.
  4. Press coconut into sides and onto top of cake.
  5. 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.
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 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:

A slice of three layer coconut cake with fresh coconut

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.

  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.

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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Servings: 20
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 1 hr
Total Time: 2 hrs

The Best Coconut Cake You’ll Ever Make

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
Print Recipe
4.67 from 165 votes

Ingredients

Cake

  • 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

Frosting

  • 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)

Instructions

Cake

  • 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.

Frosting

  • 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.

Assemble Cake

  • 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.

Notes

  1. 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. 
2 Layer Cake Instructions: 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

Serving: 1slice, 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: 550IU, Calcium: 270mg, Iron: 0.9mg
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