This southern-style Easy Coconut Cake recipe has layers of tender, moist coconut infused cake and irresistible pillowy meringue inspired frosting.
There is something so beautiful about a classic, yet simple coconut cake recipe. It begins layers of moist, tender vanilla cake that’s lovingly spread with a homemade coconut frosting.
Add in a few handfuls of shredded coconut spread over the top, we’ve got a tasty, texturally pleasant cake with a heck of a lot of flavor.
This cake is fragrant, tropical and sweet! It was inspired by cookbook author Patti Pinner. Patti’s book, Sweets: A collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories, is a staple in my kitchen. Seriously, if you’ve seen the state of my copy, you’d agree it has seen better days.
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- A simple cake with great flavor that makes a stunning dessert on the table.
- The combination of moist cake and fluffy coconut frosting is divine.
- An easy recipe that most cooks will be able to easily bake.
- Homemade coconut cake is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Ingredients for the Cake Layers
There is a special, irreplaceable if you will, place in my heart dedicated to Coconut Cake. I’m in love with the nutty, toasted and fresh flavors of coconut that shine through in all parts of the recipe.
Wondering what makes it so good? Here’s what makes the magic happen:
- Sweetened Flaked Coconut: This is the dried, grated meat of the coconut that have been sweetened. Flakes come in wider, flatter pieces as opposed to the larger, thicker shredded coconut options. Using flaked coconut means a well-incorporated cake that is less likely to cause coconut to get caught in your teeth. Not pleasant. The added sweetness brings out more coconut flavor and makes for a tastier cake.
- Cake Flour: Cake flour is lower in protein and very finely ground; it produces cakes with a finer, softer texture. A simple switch-up in flour makes for a softer, airer cake. You can easily make your own cake flour at home or buy it in the store.
- Milk: The protein in milk helps to build a strong batter capable of withstanding the baking process. It also adds fat and sugar that both sweeten and add moisture to the cake.
- Light Corn Syrup: Light corn syrup adds a delicately sweet flavor while also lending a more toasted coloration to the cake.
- Unsalted Butter: Unsalted butter is best for baking so you have more control over the flavor salt brings to the cake.
- Eggs: This recipe was tested using large eggs.
Coconut Frosting Ingredients
The coconut frosting is really what brings this cake to life! It intensifies the coconut flavor and is the perfect light and fluffy finish for the cake.
- Egg Whites: Important for making the light and fluffy coconut frosting.
- Light Corn Syrup and Sugar: This combination sweetens up the coconut frosting but the addition of the corn syrup makes the frosting shinier and more luscious.
- Vanilla Extract: Use real vanilla extract rather than imitation for the best flavor.
How to Make Coconut Cake
Here are the main steps that go into making coconut cake. You will find all the details in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Before you actually get started mixing up the ingredients, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Also, grease three 9-inch round cake pans and lightly dust them with flour.
Step 1: Mix up the Cake
- Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and creamy.
- Add the egg yolks to the butter mixture one at a time. Beat the egg into the batter after adding each one.
- Add the sifted flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Be sure to beat it into the mixture well after each addition.
- Add the shredded coconut and vanilla extract and stir it into the batter.
- Beat the egg whites in another bowl until they form stiff peaks.
- Fold the stiff egg whites into the cake batter.
- Divide the batter evenly into the greased and floured cake pans. Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each layer comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow them to cool on wire racks for ten minutes. Then remove the cakes from the pans and allow them to cool completely.
Make the Coconut Frosting
- Combine the sugar, corn syrup and boiling water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-low heat. Continue to cook the mixture until it spins threads and reaches 242 degrees on a candy thermometer.
- Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Pour the heated sugar and syrup mixture over the egg whites beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract to the coconut frosting and then allow it to cool until it’s firm enough to spread over the cake layers.
Assemble the Cake
- Transfer one cake layer to a serving platter; spread one-third of the coconut frosting on top. and then sprinkle with shredded coconut. Repeat the process with the next two layers. For a fun twist, add the pineapple filling in my Pineapple Coconut Cake boos!
- After adding the last cake layer spread the remaining frosting on the sides of the cake as well as the top.
- Sprinkle the top and sides with the remaining coconut, pressing gently into the frosting so it sticks.
- Make sure to cool the cake layers completely before assembling with the coconut frosting.
- Preheat the oven so the cake layers cook evenly.
- Be sure to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks for both the cake and the frosting. This is what makes both so light and fluffy.
- Don’t overcook your cakes. Set a timer a few minutes early to check it and then continue cooking as necessary.
- Store leftover cake at room temperature for up to four days in an airtight container.
Make sure before you even bake that the batter is evenly distributed among all three pans. Cakes often bake with a rounded top so after cooling you can cut horizontally through the cake to even off the tops.
Yes, you can! Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9 x 13 inch rectangle pan and bake for 32-36 minutes at the same temperature.
The first sign the cake is done cooking is when you can smell the aroma of cake in your kitchen. Then gently press on the top of the cake in the middle. It should feel firm. The last check is to insert a toothpick into the middle and make sure it comes out clean.
More of my Favorite Cake Recipes
- Southern Caramel Cake
- White Cake Recipe
- Fruit Cake
- Black Forest Cake
- Carrot Cake Recipe
- Almond Pound Cake – another nut flavor that is just as impressive!
- German Chocolate Cake – also has great coconut flavor
*Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating and leave comments below!* Post a photo of how your version of the recipe came out on Instagram (using #grandbabycakes)!!
Easy Coconut Cake Recipe
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 2 sticks
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs separated
- 3 cups cake flour sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups sweetened flaked coconut for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch round cake pans. Set them aside.
- To make the cake, in a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar thoroughly until light and creamy.
- Add the egg yolks one at time, beating well after each addition.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
- Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the milk, beating after each addition. Stir in the coconut and vanilla extract.
- In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Fold them into the cake batter. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared cake pans.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each layer comes out clean. Transfer the pans from the oven to wire racks.
- Allow to cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then unmold them onto the wire racks to cool completely.
- To make the frosting, in a large saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and boiling water.
- Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, and cook until the mixture spins thread and reaches 242 degrees on a candy thermometer.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
- Pour the sugar and syrup mixture over the egg whites, beating constantly.
- Add the vanilla extract, then cool the frosting until firm enough to spread.
- Transfer one cake layer to a serving platter; spread 1/3 of the coconut frosting on top. Sprinkle coconut on top.
- Top with another cake layer and spread with the second third of the frosting. Sprinkle more coconut on top.
- Top with the remaining cake layer, then spread the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake.
- Sprinkle with the remaining coconut, pressing gently into the frosting if you want to.
Recipe courtesy of Patty Pinner’s Cookbook Sweets: A Collection of Soul Food Desserts and Memories
This post was originally published February 2013. It has been updated with new images and content.