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
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
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.
Oh my gosh I want this. If only my fiance liked coconut. Curse him!
Mail me a piece?!
Allyn! I FEEL YOUR PAIN! My fiance doesn’t like coconut either. I make it anyway, eat a piece..then give the rest away 🙂
Samantha Angela says
Coconut cake is by far my favourite. My sister made me an amazing coconut cake for my birthday last year and I was in heaven. I’m going to request it again this year.
I can’t understand the brains of people who hate coconut. I feel for you ladies.
I and most of my family are allergic to coconut, but this looks sooooo good. Do you think subbing almonds and almond milk would work?
I made this cake this past father’s day and I can say it was one of the best cakes I’ve made. Everyone at home loved it, even my 8 year old who swore she hated coconut. I have been baking for over 20 years and this is a recipe that will go in ‘the file’. I’m planning to make it again next week for a potluck. Thanks ladies.
Towania, thanks for letting me know! I am SO glad you liked the cake!
Smartcat, I have NO idea about almond milk. I’ve never even tasted it. The key to the coconut milk in this recipe is that it has a good amount of fat. So, it replaces some of the butter in the cake, makes it tender, and helps to add more subtle coconut flavor.
You could try almond milk…but you’re going to need more fat in the cake to compensate. I’d also be careful because I would guess that 1 cup of reduced coconut milk will have a lot less water in it than the same amount of almond milk (reduced or not).
The amount of liquid in the frosting is also a delicate balance–too much and it runs off the cake, not enough and it’s too stiff. So I’d add almond milk sparingly until you reach the right consistency. I might even add a little almond extract since you won’t be able to add enough almond milk to impart the flavor you’re looking for. If you try it, let me know how it goes!
Surely, you could use almonds on the outside of the cake…I’d use slivered because they’re lighter and will stick to the frosting better.
Could I use this recipe for cupcakes?
You can certainly use this for cupcakes. (I have no idea how many it would make! And you’ll probably have leftover frosting.) When I make cupcakes, I tend to like the batter a little stiffer…it makes for a rounder, prettier little thing. So, you might want to experiment with holding back a little coconut milk, or adding a little more flour to see if you can make the perfect cupcake.
You might also want to hold back on the liquid in the frosting as well, just to be sure that it stays nice and perky on top of your cupcake.
Another thing that would be awesome to try–since you miss out on the middle layer of frosting in a cupcake–would be to put a teaspoon of lemon curd or raspberry jam inside the cupcake 🙂 yum!
Good luck, and let me know if you try it!
That frothy white icing, the perky yellow cake layers. Yummy!! I’ll have to make this very soon.
I made this cake today for my dad’s birthday. It looks just like the picture; I hope it is delicious too.
The icing was the most delicious icing I have ever tasted. Sharon, can you tell me what I can replace the coconut milk with to make a more vanilla version? And is there a chocolate version? I’ve only ever made the Wilton buttercream and this one kicks that one’s butt!
JUDY JONES says
I have been an avid baker for over 45 years. Needless to say, I am experienced in most avenues of cake baking. This cake immediately caught my attetion when it came out in USA WEEKEND Magazine. I made it twice! The first time I was disappointed as to the results of the layers. They did not rise as I had expected. In fact they were almost flat and were very heavy! Oh, how disappointed my family was. Again just today, I tried it again. The same outcome!!! There is some element of this recipe that is not exactly correct. My ingredients are always fresh and precisely measured. Please give me some insight as how to correct this cake disaster. I anxiously await your reply and look forward to having success with this beautiful cake. Respectfully, Judy Jones
I don’t know what’s going on Judy. All I know is that lots of people have e-mailed telling us how much they liked the cake. I also know a tester at USA Weekend tested the cake and sent us a beautiful picture and loved it. Usually when people tell me they have trouble with cakes it’s the leavener, which can sometimes be old, or it’s altitude. Let’s stay in dialogue about it. The coconut milk is the odd ingredient in the recipe. Maybe we should start there.
Take care, Pam
I saw this in USA Weekend and had to make it for my husband for Father’s Day. Actually the conversation something like this, “Hey hon – there’s a recipe here for Triple Coconut Cake – would you like me to make that for you tonight?” “Is it ready yet?” Anyway, it was wonderful! My stove top must be slow, because it took a long time to reduce the coconut milk – I was also afraid of burning it. And, my cake didn’t rise either – BUT it did not detract from the cake. Oh, I added a wee bit of coconut rum in the icing for a little kick! This recipe is in my “MAKE AGAIN” stack!!!
I made this cake. It was wonderful and my guests went back for seconds. Compliments to the creators of this recipe. It was a hit!
Hi. So I’m going to make this cake this wekend and I have 2 questions:
Can I use reduced fat coconut milk or do I need the regular kind?
For the frosting is the butter salted or unsalted?
You need to use full fat coconut milk to make the cake and we used unsalted butter in the frosting.
I made this cake and found it to be very dry. Not sure if there was a mistake in the recipe. 3 tbs of cornstarch and 3 1/4 t. baking powder seemed like a lot for the 2 cups of flower.
We are absolutely coconut lovers and were quite disappointed considering the amount of time I put into making this cake!
I got the recipe from the USA weekend magazine in the sunday newspaper. The frosting did not call for unsalted butter so I used salted. Not very good either. Also the cake recipe called for 2 cans coconut milk but only required 1 cup for cake and 1/4c for frosting!
Would like to try it one more time, any special advice and was the recipe correct?
Just wondering if you might have used light coconut milk. That could have made a difference. We also want to make sure you reduced those 2 cans of coconut milk to 1 1/4 cups. If you didn’t reduce them, that would have made a huge difference.
Sorry to hear that you had trouble with the cake. First, use unsalted butter for everything! I apologize if that was unclear. Also, use FULL fat coconut milk and reduce it by heating it in a saucepan until you have 1 1/2 cups. The recipe only uses 1 1/4 cups of the reduced coconut milk, so there is 1/4 cup leftover. But as I say in the headnote if you reduce the coconut milk any further than 1.5 cups it will separate (I know because I tried…twice!).
In short, there is leftover reduced coconut milk, but I think it’s well worth it! Also, you can stir a little bit of sugar into that remaining 1/4 cup and refrigerate it–then you can spread it on toast or add a little to smoothies…it’s like coconut peanut butter! So good!
If you have any more questions, let me know. I hope it works out for you! I’ve made it many times now, so I know it works.
Thank-you Pam and Sharon.
I did use lowfat coconut milk. Got confused with (reduced) term. Usually when I read reduced it usually means reduced fat!
I will try the cake one more time since we love coconut.
Let you know how I make out.
Made the cake for a family cookout. Brought home an empty cake plate. It was awesome!!! Thought reducing the coconut milk was a pain at first, but worth every minute of it. Makes the icing so much more fluffy and rich. Will definately be making this again.
Jill Lopez says
What kind of coconut milk do you recommend? there are several ones and I have no idea which one to buy.:-)
Patty G says
Going to make make the coconut cake, but I really love white cake. Do you think it will work if I just use the egg whites, or are the yolks performing some other necessary task?
Juanelle Kopp says
Just made this cake and it was the most tasteful cake I’ve tasted in a while, but I’m, going to have to look for an icing with less butter as that was all I could think about while I was enjoying the lucious flavor of the cake. Maybe a 7 minute fluffy texture with all that toasted coconut flavor.
is there a certain brand of coconut milk
It’s not the brand of coconut milk as much as it is the kind. Make sure to purchase regular not light coconut milk. Hope you enjoy the cake!
I’m wondering if you could substitute coconut cream for the coconut milk and thereby skip the reducing step? I haven’t made this yet but I’m sooooo looking forward to it!
Joan Siegel says
I love toasted coconut, but for an upcoming event I need to prepare a coconut cake with untoasted coconut, to get the pristine white you remember of the “sweet, fluffy, and white” cakes sitting on your grandmother’s Formica counter. I don’t care for the 7-minute and white-mountain frostings typically used on coconut cakes and am wondering if, given the butter in your frosting, it is too off-white for the traditional appearance. I’m down with sprinkling and pressing on as much flaked coconut as possible, but is even too much not enough? What do you think?
Your idea to reduce the volume of water in canned coconut milk was brilliant. It’s a rare cook who has actually tasted coconut milk; most do not realize how little flavor it has—and if they do, they resort to using coconut extract.
I LOVE YOUR COCONUT CAKE IM GOING TO MAKE IT FOR MY DADS BIRTHDAY BECOZ HE LOVES COCONUT TO BITS I EVEN WATCHED UR YOUTUBE VIDEO OF HOW TO MAKE THIS CAKE I LUV U GUYS KEEP POSTING MORE CAKES
CD Robinson says
Made this for my friend’s birthday, and she loved it. Reducing the coconut milk was tricky since I didn’t want it to separate. So I kept taking it off the stove and measuring it. Eventually I thought it was thick enough so I just stopped reducing it.
The cake is worth the effort. The frosting is also delicious. I’m mixing the leftover coconut milk with regular milk and adding it to my oatmeal, and it’s a nice change.
I tried this recipe and it is indeed delicious. However, my cakes fell. I live in a high altitude city. Is there an adjustment for this? Perhaps that is why they fell?
Pam Anderson says
Since none of the three of us live in a high altitude, we don’t know much about high altitude baking, but here’s a link that might help. Good luck!http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/high-altitude-baking.html
I’ll do that. Thanks for the link.
How many days ahead of time can you make it or will it be too dry?
Pam Anderson says
For optimum freshness, I’d bake the cake a day ahead, but you can make and freeze the cake and frosting several weeks ahead, and then assemble on serving day.
Jennifer B says
I bet you could substitute coconut cream (made the same as coconut milk but with less liquid so it starts out with a stronger concentration). It would eliminate the need to reduce the coconut milk.
I have a similar recipe that I’ve made for years that uses Coco Lopez brand of “cream of coconut”, which is sweetened coconut cream that always turns out awesome! You can usually find “cream of coconut” with the alcoholic drink mixes at the store.
uncle tony says
I found reading Sharon’s note and recipe v ery interesting . The cake sounds wonderful and I want a piece right now . Occasionally , when a process reaches perfection, no alterations are necessary. Although I do not fancy myself a very good baker , one thing I know to be axiomatic–baking is a complex chemistry experiment based on exacting products and processes- when you deviate from what works in either product or process- failure is bound to happen . Someday I will attempt this experiment , and when I do I will not deviate in either process or materials . When you change the recipe it is not the same cake
Katherine Higgins says
I just made this for my mom’s birthday, and holy cow! I think this is the best cake I’ve ever tasted, much less made with my own two hands. Wow, wow, wow! Thank you! I used store-bought key lime curd and it was amazing.
Just made this cake for a fundraiser at my local coop– doubled the recipe and made it as two thin sheet cakes that I separated with whipped cream with lemon curd whipped in. And I used lemon curd piping on top to make it more lemon-y. It was glorious, and sold all its pieces– all 30+ of them. Thanks for posting this delectable recipe.