Homemade Coconut Cake Recipe

At this point in my life, I think I might consider this cake my magnum opus. It’s a humble little opus, I suppose, but it’s pretty darn tasty. The recipe is the result of dozens of tests over the course of about three years. No, not non-stop testing, but every time I make it I look for ways to tweak and perfect it just a little bit more.

I’ve listened to the advice of friends and loved ones a lot during this process. My mom complained about my first version having leftover coconut milk reduction — who wants to put that in a container in the fridge and forget about for months? So, I increased the coconut milk, and it produced a more tender cake and a lighter, fluffier frosting. My husband hates sweetened flaked coconut, so I switched it out for unsweetened coconut shavings on the outside of the cake (though Mom didn’t have them for the cake pictured here!). The unsweetened, toasted coconut balances out the sweet frosting beautifully.

I thought the cake was too dense with just two layers, so I split the cakes to add more interest (and frosting!) to the inside. Finally, my sister thought the cake was a little too rich with three layers of frosting, so I added a tangy layer of lemon curd to the middle for the version I created for her birthday. The lemon curd is the piece de resistance! It provides just the right amount of refreshing brightness in the midst of rich, subtle coconut goodness.

This cake is pretty great, but I’m sure there are more ways to improve it. So, if you make this cake, please let me know what you think. Let’s make this a community opus!


Triple Coconut Cake with Lemon Filling

Serves 12

The key to this cake’s rich, subtle coconut flavor is (surprise!) coconut milk. But in order to make the flavor come through, it needs to be intensified. Simmering the coconut milk reduces the water content and punches up the flavor. Sure, the process is a little time consuming, but it is so worth it. The coconut milk reduction can be refrigerated for several days, so you can make it ahead. I love the addition of lemon curd to this cake — you can make your own (it’s easy!) or buy it at the store. If you don’t love lemon, try your favorite jam instead.


2 cans (14 oz. each) regular, full-fat coconut milk

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups coconut milk reduction (see first line of the instructions)

For the filling
Lemon curd, homemade or store-bought

For the frosting
2 cups unsweetened shaved coconut
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4 cups (about 1 pound) confectioner’s sugar
½ cup coconut milk reduction (see first line of the instructions)
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch salt

Reduce the coconut milk: Bring the coconut milk to a boil in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, whisking often, until reduced to 1 ¾ cups. Cool to room temperature.

Make the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Mix flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. With an electric mixer, beat butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Add sugar; beat until well mixed. Beat in eggs, one at a time and then vanilla, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in half the flour mixture, then the coconut milk reduction, and finally the remaining flour mixture, scraping down the bowl again. Mix until just smooth.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans; bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into cake center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool for 5 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and return to wire rack to cool completely.

Toast the coconut: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Spread coconut on a 13- by 9-inch baking sheet; toast, stirring occasionally, until flakes are dry and starting to turn golden, about 15 minutes.

Make the frosting: With an electric mixture, beat butter in a large bowl until fluffy. Slowly beat in the confectioner’s sugar until well combined. Beat in coconut milk reduction, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Turn the beaters up to the highest setting and whip the frosting until it’s very light and fluffy.

Assemble the cake: Using a serrated knife, split each cake in half to create four thin layers. (Watch this handy video if you need help!) Place a dollop of frosting in the middle of a cake stand lined with strips of parchment paper (to keep the plate clean while icing). This dollop of frosting will help anchor your cake to the plate. Place the first layer on the cake stand. Using a knife or offset spatula, spread about 1/4 of the frosting over the layer. Place the next layer over the first and spread evenly with a thick layer of lemon curd. Place the next layer on top of that, and spread with another 1/4 of the frosting. Finally, place the last layer on top and spread the remaining frosting evenly on cake top and sides. Sprinkle top generously with toasted coconut. Using an opened hand, gently press remaining coconut around cake perimeter. Remove parchment strips; refrigerate cake until frosting sets, about 30 minutes. Slice and serve.