This classic Coconut Layer Cake is fluffy, moist, and packed with coconut flavor! Topped with a classic American buttercream and sweetened coconut flakes – just like how grandma used to make.
Coconut Cake with Coconut Buttercream
With a quick Google search, you’ll find countless coconut flavored cake recipes claiming to be the best. This tells me one thing: coconut flavored cake is good. Like, good enough that we all think our version is the best. My Coconut Cake is three 6″ layers of fluffy, ultra moist, coconut flavored cake assembled with a sweet and buttery American buttercream. Of course, the frosting is coconut flavored, too. And we can’t forget the sweetened coconut flakes – the classic coconut topping of choice!
I triple-tested this cake to make sure I nailed the texture and moistness. The secret? Canned coconut cream! I sear it makes a huge difference in how this cake turns out. I recommend finding a full fat coconut cream – not coconut milk, and definitely not a “light” coconut milk. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, that’s where I purchase my canned coconut cream.
Feel free to bake this cake in three 6″ layers or two 8″ layers. I love the look of the 6″ layers but this recipe will convert to two 8″ layers as well. The bake time will increase, but you’ll make the recipe as written.
Ingredients You’ll Need for the Best Coconut Cake
- All-purpose flour bulks up the cake batter. I prefer to use a bleached (standard) variety for this cake as we want the cake as “white” as possible.
- Baking soda + baking powder work together to leaven this cake.
- Salt enhances flavor.
- Butter adds moisture and a buttery flavor to the cake and frosting. I use a plant-based butter for all of my baking, but you can use standard butter if you’re not dairy-free.
- White granulated sugar sweetens the cake layers. I prefer a white sugar to keep the cake white.
- Egg whites are used instead of whole eggs to keep this from being a yellow cake.
- Coconut extract flavors both the cake layers and frosting.
- Coconut cream is used in both the cake and frosting. It adds major moistness to the cake, and I can only recommend using a canned coconut cream.
- Powdered sugar makes up the bulk of the frosting – I don’t recommend any sugar substitutes.
- Sweetened coconut flakes are used to decorate the cake. Feel free to use your favorite coconut flakes, but I do recommend the sweetened coconut for this cake!
More Layer Cake Recipes
- 2 2/3 cups (347g) all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup (168g) plant-based butter (or regular butter)
- 1 cup (208g) white granulated sugar
- 5 large egg whites, room temperature
- 2 tsp coconut extract
- 1 1/2 cups canned coconut cream (or full fat coconut milk)
- 1 1/4 cups (283g) plant-based butter, softened
- 1 tsp coconut extract
- 4 cups (480g) powdered sugar
- ~1 Tbsp coconut cream
- 1-2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
Bake the Cake Layers
- Bring the eggs to room temperature - you can speed up this process by separating the egg whites into a small bowl and then placing the bowl into a larger bowl filled with hot water (be careful not to get water in the egg whites). You'll also want to set the butter out to soften.
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and prepare three 6" pans (or two 8" cake pans). Spray each pan generously with a non-stick spray + line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper circle.
- In a medium bow, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Prepare the coconut cream by opening the can and transferring to a liquid measuring cup - if the cream is at all solid, you'll want to heat it in the microwave for a few seconds and stir until there are no chunks. NOTE: you'll use some of the leftover cream for the frosting.
- In a large bowl, add the softened butter and sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until fluffy and combined, about 1 minute. Beat in the egg whites and coconut extract until combined. Next, add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat. Add 1/2 of the coconut cream and beat. Repeat those two steps. Finally, add the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients and beat until the batter is smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly amongst the three prepared cake pans - a kitchen scale comes in handy here. Smooth the tops of the batter, drop the cake pans on the counter (I do this multiple times) to bring air bubbles to the top, and then gently swirl each cake pan in a circle.
- Bake the cakes at 350°F for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then carefully turn each cake out onto a cooling rack. Remove and discard the parchment paper. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
Assemble & Frost the Cake
- Once the cakes have cooled completely, use a bread knife to carefully trim the domes off the tops of the cakes; set cakes aside.
- In a large bowl, beat together the butter and coconut extract. Beat in the powdered sugar. Add 1 Tbsp of the leftover coconut cream and beat until the frosting is smooth. If it's too thick, add a bit more coconut cream; if it's too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar. NOTE: it's important not to add too much liquid as needing to add more powdered sugar (to thicken up the frosting) will result in a sweeter frosting.
- Begin assembling the cake. Start by laying down the first cake layer (see Note 1). Add ~6 Tbsp of frosting on top of the layer and smooth out. Add the second cake layer and then another ~6 Tbsp of frosting (and smooth out). Finally, add the third cake layer right side down - this ensures the top of the cake is smooth and even (you want the bottom of the cake layer to face upward).
- Complete frosting the cake by adding a thin crumb coat and then spreading the remaining frosting over and around the cake. Get the frosting as smooth as possible, but don't worry about it being perfect - you're going to add coconut on top!
- Finally, use your hand to gently "pat" the coconut flakes on top and around the cake. Sweep any excess coconut off the cake stand, turntable, etc. A lot of the coconut will fall - this is okay! Just pick it up and keep patting it on the cake until you're satisfied with the look of the cake.
- Slice and enjoy! Store leftover cake in an airtight container at room temperature.
- I like to frost my cakes right on the cake stand but feel free to use whatever method you prefer (cake board, cake turntable, etc).
- To make ahead of time: bake the cake layers up to 1 day in advance. Wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and then store in an airtight container until you're ready to assemble.