Coconut Cake

One of my very favorite desserts is coconut cake. Strangely enough, I think I’ve only made two or three of them in my life. One reason could be Quinn’s vehement aversion to all things coconut. Other than that, I’m not sure what the reasoning is. In any case, I decided to put an end to the coconut drought.

I found this recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home. With my love of cream cheese, I was instantly smitten with the idea of using a cream cheese frosting on a coconut cake. A bit of a break from the traditional, but hard to resist.

Coconut Cake | Bake or Break

The coconut cakes I’ve had have always been very light and moist. This cake is a bit more dense than I would have liked. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just wasn’t what I was expecting. The frosting was definitely my favorite part. I would like to try it on a lighter cake next time.

So, was the cake good? Yes. Is it my new go-to coconut cake recipe? No. Next time I decide to make a coconut cake, I think I really should break out the Duncan Hines and have the one I remember from my childhood.

Coconut Cake

Yield: 12-16 servings

Coconut Cake


    For the cake:
  • 1 & 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • For the frosting:
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


To make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans and line each with parchment paper. Grease paper and dust with flour.

Mix butter and sugar on medium-high speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add extracts and mix. The mixture will look a bit lumpy.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn the mixer on low speed and add dry ingredients, alternating with milk, in three parts. Mix just until combined. Fold in coconut.

Pour batter evenly into prepared pans. Smooth the tops of each. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 30 minutes. Then, remove from pans to finish cooling on wire racks.

To make the frosting:

Using an electric mixer on low speed, combine cream cheese, butter, and extracts. Add confectioners’ sugar and mix just until smooth.

Spread frosting on first layer. Place the second layer on top and frost the top and sides. Sprinkle top and sides with coconut.


Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home.

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  1. Maria May 7, 2009 Reply

    I love coconut everything! The cake looks great!

  2. Mermaid Sweets May 7, 2009 Reply

    The cake looks terrific. Nice photos. I have been wanting to make a coconut cake for a while.

  3. Catherine Mincy May 7, 2009 Reply

    I’ve tried several from scratch coconut cakes, but my favorite is still a 4-day coconut cake that starts with a white Duncan Hines cake mix.

    This one looks yummy though–I’m a coconut freak, and you have stirred my addiction!

  4. Barmaid May 7, 2009 Reply

    Oh, now I have a wicked craving for coconut cake! Maybe that’s what I’ll do this afternoon! Mmm…yum!

  5. Brenda Campbell May 7, 2009 Reply

    OMG that looks absolutely to die for! I love coconut cake and that is coconut heaven!

  6. Liesl May 7, 2009 Reply

    OHHHH MYYY! I want a piece right now!!! YUM!

  7. jo May 7, 2009 Reply

    Have you ever had the $6 slice of cake from Balthazar’s in New York? I might even tackle an old lady for the last slice…it is simply divine! Yours looks like perfection and I would do anything for a piece…..

  8. Katrina May 7, 2009 Reply

    Yum. It looks great, I love how you used the big flakes of coconut on the cake. I’ve seen Ina make that cake, she always just uses the shredded. And wow, a whole cake to yourself! 😉

  9. Ashley May 7, 2009 Reply

    Mmm I love dense cakes, coconut and cream cheese! This cake looks perfect for me.

  10. Leah May 7, 2009 Reply

    This is such a good coconut cake recipe! I’ve made it before (in cupcake form) to serve at Easter brunches and people always love it (even coconut haters).

  11. The Duo Dishes May 7, 2009 Reply

    The coconut pieces on the cake are beautiful. It’s really a gorge cake!

  12. lisa (dandysugar) May 7, 2009 Reply

    Coconut cake is one of my favorites. Yours looks delicious with those giant coconut flakes! It’s a lovely cake!

  13. deb May 7, 2009 Reply

    What is it with boys and their coconut aversions? I think it’s the scratchiness they don’t like, not the flavor. Either way, their loss. This looks delicious.

  14. Cousin Tim May 7, 2009 Reply

    Good thing you put that last line in there….but I’m responding anyway. Duncan Hines will do you proud every time…it never failed Dillard Fay all those years.

    Last night I ate the last Brownie from last weeks post…oh my…you may make a baker of my yet.

    Brandt has never even looked at your blog but is one of your biggest fans :-) He LOVES coconut cake. Oddly enough I almost bought Ina’s boxed coconut cupcake mix yesterday at Fresh Market. I think Brandt’s sending signs through you.

  15. jennifer May 7, 2009 Reply

    Tim, I know, I know. Next time it’s definitely Duncan Hines. I’m glad you and Brandt are enjoying all the baking. Tell him to let me know if he has any requests. 😉

  16. Beth May 7, 2009 Reply

    Oh yum, I love coconut, and have been wanting to make coconut cupcakes…but no one in my house eats it but me…your cake is killing me.

  17. I love all things coconut, but none of my friends or family do so I never really use it – but now I’m thinking I should make this and eat the entire thing myself…

  18. Hayley May 7, 2009 Reply

    I’m making a coconut cake for my mom on Mother’s Day! I hope it comes out as good as yours. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Treehouse Chef May 7, 2009 Reply

    Photos are awesome! I love coconut cake also. Thanks for the info about the density. I think that kind of info is important.

  20. Treehouse Chef May 7, 2009 Reply

    Beautiful photos. Great info on the density of the cake. This type of info is important.

  21. Baking Monster May 7, 2009 Reply

    This Seriously looks like a peice of heaven.

  22. hawkswench May 8, 2009 Reply

    Looking at the recipe I’m thinking that its missing 1/4 cup of liquid; the recipe that I use calls for 1& 1/4 cup of liquid. When I make my coconut cake (and I am always looking at a new way of making it) I replace 1/4 cup of liquid with coconut milk. Some times I use Kahlua or even rum when I make the adult version of cakes.

  23. Memoria May 8, 2009 Reply

    Have you tried “Jamie’s Coconut Cake” from Paula Deen’s show? My stepmom made it and said it was perfect! It was made with 7-minute frosting, but I bet the cheesecake frosting you made would pair up nicely with the Jamie Cocunut Cake.

    Beautiful photos as always!

  24. The Food Hunter May 8, 2009 Reply

    I love coconut. This looks heavenly

  25. Love this for Mother’s Day. Gorgeous!

  26. Jennifer May 9, 2009 Reply

    looks gorgeous as always!

  27. Abby May 9, 2009 Reply

    It’s beautiful; and ditto – my husband won’t touch coconut with a ten-foot pole. I, however, have always liked it. Even plain.

    My mom makes coconut cakes at Christmas for the neighbors. You bake the cake, then cool and pour a milk and sugar mixture over it. It has a whipped topping and sprinkles of coconut on top. It’s of course refrigerated. And it fabulous.

  28. Abby May 9, 2009 Reply

    IT’S fabulous, that is. (Sorry. I’m a copy editor by trade.)

  29. Debbie May 9, 2009 Reply

    I love coconut but no one else in my family does. Because of that, I always go for the cocnut cake whenever there is a choice at a restaurant or dinner party.

  30. Jean May 10, 2009 Reply

    This cake looks incredible. I love a dense coconut cake. My husband made Emeril’s for me for my birthday one year. It was absolutely delicious. But this one is a must to try!

    And Catherine Mincy, where can I find the 4 day cake recipe? Sounds interesting!

  31. Nan May 10, 2009 Reply

    This cake was really good! It is different than Mother and Aunt Fay’s Duncan Hines/coconut milk/etc. cake but it was great! I liked the texture of denser cake layers. It is hard to go wrong with a coconut cake. Thanks for making it! :-)

  32. the caked crusader May 11, 2009 Reply

    How can anyone not love coconut? Apart from vanilla it is my absolute favourite cake flavour.
    I could eat all of your wonderful looking cake in one sitting!

  33. Eliana May 11, 2009 Reply

    This cake looks terrific. And your pictures are amazing as well. I absolutely love coconut and seeing those little flecks of coconut on that slice of cake melted my heart.

  34. Culinary Wannabe May 11, 2009 Reply

    Ahh, DH – I swear all my childhood memories somehow involve a box of that delicious cake mix. My mom used to swear that homemade stuff would taste just the same, as long as you covered it in icing. :)

  35. Jennifer Galatioto May 11, 2009 Reply

    I did a cream cheese frosting with coconut over it too for a Hummingbird Cake. Have you tried it? Its amazing. Like a pineappley, bananaey, sweet cake. The coconuts and the cream cheese divine. It called for some fancy cream cheese – Neufchâtel – which I couldn’t find. Anyway, your food photography is great! What do you do with all these baked goods you make? Who eats them all?

  36. Laura [What I Like] May 11, 2009 Reply

    I adore all things coconut, as well as any sort of cream cheese frosting. But my experience has been somewhat similar to yours…often coconut things that I want to love for some reason turn out to be just OK.

  37. jennifer May 12, 2009 Reply

    Jennifer, I love Hummingbird Cake! I must make one of those soon. Neufchatel is sold as reduced-fat cream cheese. I actually give away the vast majority of the things I bake. I have some very willing volunteers. 😉

  38. Rachelino May 12, 2009 Reply

    Jennifer, you might like the coconut cake I posted about (recipe is here:
    Made with egg whites, cake flour and coconut milk, it’s very soft and light. The recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart Weddings…

  39. Stacey May 12, 2009 Reply

    Oh my, this looks beyond delicious! Coconut Cake is my all-time fave! Love your photos too!

  40. Lisa (dinner party) May 13, 2009 Reply

    How pretty! I especially like the large coconut shavings. Looks much more special than the thin shreds.

  41. Angela Henrie May 13, 2009 Reply

    Thanks for saving me the time. It sure looks pretty, though.

  42. dawn May 14, 2009 Reply

    love the thick chunks of coconut.

  43. I’m drooling right now, got to try your recipe… Thanks a lot for sharing!

  44. Holly May 16, 2009 Reply

    This looks fantastic! I’ve been meaning to make Alton Brown’s coconut cake, and now I think I might have to do it real soon!

  45. carolyn May 16, 2009 Reply

    wow. this is the most beautiful coconut cake that i have ever seen. where did you find coconut shavings like that, or did you start with a whole coconut? i just recently started a cooking blog and will add this to my list of things to bake!

  46. jennifer May 16, 2009 Reply

    carolyn, I found the coconut at Nuts Online.

  47. ali May 22, 2009 Reply

    what a beautiful cake! too bad it wasn’t like the one you remember. i wish i could have my inside layer of frosting come out so evenly!

  48. Jackie May 27, 2009 Reply


    What are the cup measurements for 4oz and 6oz of coconut.

  49. jennifer May 27, 2009 Reply

    Jackie, 4 ounces is about 1 & 1/3 cups and 6 ounces is just shy of 2 cups.

  50. Lisa and Maria May 30, 2009 Reply

    Hey Jennifer,
    we just posted a new recipe on our blog and we thought of you! Its a coconut yogurt bundt cake! Take a look! Hope you enjoy!

  51. Jelli Bean June 4, 2009 Reply

    I agree that this frosting is delish! I tone down the almond extract a bit, and use it for loads of cupcake flavor combos. Yum!

  52. Gourmet Mama June 5, 2009 Reply

    Gosh, I ‘m in love with this cake. It looks really yummy and sounds easy to make. I’m glad though I won’t have to buy the coconut shavings.There’s a lot of coconut trees where I’m at!

  53. Kia June 29, 2009 Reply

    I love anything coconut! That shaved coconut looks amazing!!

  54. Jane July 19, 2009 Reply

    Hi, I think it’s great how perfectly honest you are about the coconut cake — that you didn’t expect it to be as dense as it was, and that it will not be your “go to” recipe in the future. I’ve considered making that same Ina Garten recipe in the past too, but never made it yet; I’m glad to see your genuine assessment of it. Your cake does, though, look beautiful and delicous.

    I enjoy your site very much!


  55. Rumela August 29, 2009 Reply

    This coconut cake looks so beautiful with the colors, I’m sure it’ll be a big hit with the kids! Nice colors! Although I’m to a big fan of coconut cake, this sure looks yummy! I’m normally the one that will say no to coconut cake. thank you for shearing your post.

  56. ed hardy store September 27, 2009 Reply

    This coconut cake looks so beautiful with the colors, I’m sure it’ll be a big hit with the kids! Nice colors! Although I’m to a big fan of coconut cake, this sure looks yummy! I’m normally the one that will say no to coconut cake. thank you for shearing your post.

  57. Erica October 4, 2009 Reply

    This coconut cake looks fantastic!!!! I love coconut….

  58. April October 15, 2009 Reply

    A friend just sent me the link for your german chocolate cheesecake & i was soo impressed I started browsing your site. I have been on a coconut cake kick for the last year or so… I can’t seem to get enough of it! You should try Alton Brown’s coconut cake… all the coconut stuff is from scratch – it is sooo good. The frosting wasn’t my fav, but if you like coconut cake, you should check it out. Tons of work, but well worth it!

    the coconut milk/cream is:… Read More

  59. Klarisa April 19, 2011 Reply

    I was wondering. The recipe for the frosting says to add confectioner’s sugar until smooth. Does this mean you may not use the entire pound? How much frosting does it yield and do you use the entire batch to frost the cake? Thank you for this recipe. Coconut cake is my mother’s favorite and she deserves a little spoiling.

    • jennifer April 26, 2011 Reply

      Klarisa, I’d use all of the confectioners’ sugar. Just add it gradually and mix it until the frosting has a smooth consistency. It should take the whole batch for frosting.

  60. Madison February 26, 2012 Reply

    I love coconut cake too! I have only recently discovered it but now it’s one of my favorite cakes. My favorite recipe has Southern Comfort in the cream cheese frosting; it is like putting the cherry on top so to speak. If you are interested, you should stop by my blog.

  61. Holly April 24, 2014 Reply

    I made this cake with a boyfriend but with a twist : we put strawberries in between the layers and instead of coconut shavings on the outside, we used white chocolate flakes. It was absolutely perfect

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