Southern Coconut Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Moist layers of fresh coconut cake filled with cream cheese frosting. This coconut cake has real coconut flavor built right into the cake with toasted coconut flakes, coconut milk and a touch of coconut extract.
↓ Recipe ↓ Video Never Miss A Cake
Total Time: 50 mins
Serves: 10 cups
southern coconut cake made with toasted coconut and coconut cream cheese frosting

Southern coconut cake made with toasted coconut and coconut cream cheese frosting! 

This southern coconut cake is full of delicious coconut flavor thanks to toasted coconut, buttermilk and a dash of extract. It pairs perfectly with coconut cream cheese frosting! 

southern coconut cake made with toasted coconut and coconut cream cheese frosting

I recently went on a trip to Memphis, TN with some of my favorite bloggers with the pure intention to eat our way through the city. Every single day was planned around where we were going to eat. 

Now, of course, I had my share of some amazing Memphis style BBQ from Central BBQ. Some epic fried pickles from BB Kings, and the most amazing fried chicken I have ever had from Gus’s Famous Fried Chicken. 

But there was one place that REALLY stood out for me and that was the Commissary BBQ in Germantown. This was a good 20-minute drive from our air BnB on Main street but boy was it worth it!

commissary_ memphis_cake_pie

This place is KNOWN for its cakes and pies so we did the logical thing and ordered one of each. 

To my great surprise, I fell in love with the coconut cake! Previously I always paired my coconut cake with regular buttercream but this cake was covered in a sweet cream cheese frosting and more coconut on the outside.

This cake was moist, not too sweet and just delicious! We were all fighting over the last bite!

I was inspired to adapt my old coconut cake recipe to this one so I can have this delicious southern coconut cake whenever I want!

Start by toasting your coconut flakes

To make my coconut cake, start by toasting your coconut first. It’s easy to burn so do this before you do anything else!

  1. Spread your coconut flakes evenly on a baking sheet. 
  2. Bake 3 minutes in the oven at 350ºF and then stir. The edges always brown faster!
  3. Another 1-2 minutes should do it. I don’t like to make mine TOO brown, just enough to crisp the coconut up. Toasting coconut brings out the flavor of the coconut and actually has a better mouthfeel and adds a deeper coconut flavor to the cake. 

how to toast coconut

How to make the coconut cake batter

Now you can make your cake batter. Make sure you’re cold ingredients (milk, butter, eggs) are all softened to room temp or even a little warm to prevent the batter from curdling. 

  1. Whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. 
  2. Whisk together your buttermilk, coconut and vanilla extract and set aside
  3. Cream the softened butter until smooth, then sprinkle in your sugar and then the oil. Whip on high until light and fluffy. It should look white. 
  4. Add in your egg yolks one at a time, letting each combine fully before adding the next.
  5. Add in 1/3 of your dry ingredients mixture, then 1/2 of the liquids, then dry, then liquid, ending with the last bit of dry. Mix only until combined. Do not over-mix. 

How to fold the meringue into the cake batter

After your batter is made, you can whip up your egg whites to firm but moist peaks. This meringue is going to add some extra lift and fluffiness to our coconut cake. Make sure you don’t over-whip the egg whites. If they look dry and crumbly, you’ve gone too far.

egg whites whipped to firm moist peaks

  1. Add about 1/3 of the whites to the batter and fold it in gently by moving your spatula around the outside edge of the bowl, between the batter and the egg whites.
  2. Lift the cake batter from the bottom and fold it over onto itself. This is how you fold
  3. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn after each fold.
  4. Add in the rest of your meringue and continue folding until just combined. Do not over-mix. 
  5. Fold in your toasted coconut and divide into three 8″ cake pans prepared with cake goop or another preferred pan release.

Now bake your cakes at 350ºF for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before frosting

How to make a coconut layer cake

If you need more info on how to make a layer cake, I highly suggest my video on how to make your first cake

  1. Torte (cut in half length-wise) if desired. 
  2. Spread about 1/4″ frosting on top of your cake layer
  3. Repeat with remaining layers. 
  4. Frost entire cake with a thin layer of frosting and freeze or chill 15 minutes. 
  5. Finish cake with a final coat of frosting. I used a bench scraper to make the sides straight and spoon to add a nice swirl to the top of the cake. 
  6. Coat the sides of the coconut cake with fresh coconut flakes (I preferred not to toast them for the outside of the cake).

best southern coconut cake recipe

A good recipe for coconut cupcakes?

This recipe works great for cupcakes and is very light! This recipe makes approximately 24 cupcakes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes until set in the middle. It can be easy to burn these cupcakes because of the sugar content so watch them closely. If they are over-baked they can taste dry.

Best filling for coconut cake?

The best thing about coconut cake is that it pairs with SO many different flavors. The traditional filling for coconut cake is something light and creamy like this coconut cream cheese frosting.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can fill your coconut cake with some coconut custard which is basically like a pudding, lemon curd or even raspberry filling


Cake Batter and Frosting Calculator

Select an option below to calculate how much batter or frosting you need. Adjust the servings slider on the recipe card to change the amounts the recipe makes.

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Cups of Batter Needed

8 cups

Cups of Frosting Needed

5 cups

Note: measurements are estimated based off the vanilla cake recipe using standard US cake pans and sizes. Measurements used are for 2" tall cake pans only. Your results may vary. Do not overfill cake pans above manufacturer's recommended guidelines.

Did You Make This Recipe?Leave a rating and tell me how it went!
southern coconut cake made with toasted coconut and coconut cream cheese frosting

Southern Coconut Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

Moist layers of fresh coconut cake filled with cream cheese frosting. This coconut cake has real coconut flavor built right into the cake with toasted coconut flakes, coconut milk and a touch of coconut extract.
4.96 from 100 votes
Print Rate Never Miss A Cake
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 35 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
Serves: 10 cups
Calories: 545kcal


Coconut Cake Ingredients

  • 11 oz (312 g) AP flour (all purpose)
  • 1 tsp (1 teaspoon) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp (1/2 tsp) baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp (1/2 tsp) salt
  • 4 oz (114 g) unsalted butter room temperature
  • 14 oz (397 g) granulated sugar
  • 4 oz (113 g) vegetable oil
  • 5 large (5 large) egg yolks room temperature
  • 5 large (5 large) egg whites room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp (1/4 teaspoon) cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp (1 tsp) vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp (2 teaspoon) coconut extract
  • 8 oz (227 g) buttermilk room temperature
  • 6 oz (170 g) sweetened flaked coconut toasted until lightly browned
  • 1 oz (28 g) sweetened flaked coconut toasted (for garnish)

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 16 ounces (454 g) cream cheese cut into cubes and softened
  • 8 ounces (227 g) unsalted butter softened
  • 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) coconut extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 36 ounces (1020 g) powdered sugar sifted


  • Stand mixer with whisk and paddle attachment


Coconut Cake Instructions

  • NOTE: It is SUPER IMPORTANT that all the room temperature ingredients listed above are room temperature and not cold so that the ingredients mix and incorporate correctly. 
  • Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350ºF/176ºC. Prepare three 8"x2" round cake pans with cake goop or another preferred pan release.
  • Spread your coconut flakes evenly onto a cookie sheet pan and bake for 2-3 minutes or until they JUST start to turn brown around the edges. Stir the coconut and bake for 1-2 minutes more until lightly golden. Watch closely or it could burn. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. 
  • Add the oil, coconut extract and vanilla extracts to your buttermilk
  • Place egg whites in a mixing bowl with the whip attachment. Whip on med-high. Add in cream of tartar. Whip until firm but moist peaks form. Set aside
  • Add butter to stand mixer with the paddle attachment and beat at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 30 seconds. Gradually sprinkle in the sugar, beat until mixture is fluffy and almost white, about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add egg yolks, one at a time to the mixture, beating well after each until combined.
  • With the mixer at the lowest speed, add about a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed immediately by about a third of the milk, mix until ingredients are almost incorporated into the batter. Repeat the process 2 more times. When the batter appears blended, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  • Fold in your whipped egg whites and toasted coconut gently.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake cakes until they feel firm in the center and a toothpick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs on it, about 25-30 minutes.
  • Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto the rack and pop cakes out of pans. Cool completely before frosting.

Cream cheese frosting

  • Place softened butter in the bowl of your stand mixer with whisk attachment and cream on low until smooth. Or you can use a hand mixer!
  • Place softened cream cheese in the bowl with butter in small chunks and blend on low until smooth and combined
  • Add in sifted powdered sugar one cup at a time until combined
  • Add your coconut extract and salt, blend on low until smooth
  • Scrape the mixture into a bowl and whisk in coconut and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.


IMPORTANT: Make sure all your ingredients are at room temp and you're using a scale to measure. Substituting ingredients may cause this recipe to fail. (see notes at the bottom of the recipe)
Important Things To Note Before You Start
1. Bring all your ingredients to room temperature or even a little warm (eggs, buttermilk, butter, etc) to ensure your batter does not break or curdle. 
2. Use a scale to weigh your ingredients (including liquids) unless otherwise instructed (Tablespoons, teaspoons, pinch etc). Metric measurements are available in the recipe card. Scaled ingredients are much more accurate than using cups and help ensure the success of your recipe. 
3. Practice Mise en Place (everything in it's place). Measure out your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready before you start mixing to reduce the chances of accidentally leaving something out.
4. Chill your cakes before frosting and filling. You can cover a frosted and chilled cake in fondant if you wish. This cake is also great for stacking. I always keep my cakes chilled in the refrigerator before delivery for easy transporting. Learn more about decorating your first cake. 
5. If the recipe calls for specific ingredients like cake flour, replacing it with all purpose flour and cornstarch is not recommended unless specified in the recipe that it’s ok. Substituting ingredients may cause this recipe to fail. 
Cake flour is a soft, low protein flour of 9% or less. 
Cake flour sources: UK - Shipton Mills Cake & Pastry Flour


Serving: 1serving | Calories: 545kcal (27%) | Carbohydrates: 56g (19%) | Protein: 5g (10%) | Fat: 34g (52%) | Saturated Fat: 24g (120%) | Cholesterol: 135mg (45%) | Sodium: 138mg (6%) | Potassium: 151mg (4%) | Fiber: 2g (8%) | Sugar: 43g (48%) | Vitamin A: 822IU (16%) | Vitamin C: 1mg (1%) | Calcium: 44mg (4%) | Iron: 1mg (6%)
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112 comments on “Southern Coconut Cake Recipe

  1. O.M.G this recipe is AMAZING!!!!! Thank you Liz for sharing all of your wonderful recipes with us! This one tho is my absolute favorite!!!

  2. Can you use toasted coconut in the filling of a cake or will it get too soggy?

  3. When I go to click the recipe, it goes to the Speckled Easter Cake and the icing is buttercream not cream cheese. Is this the same recipe as the Southern Coconut Cake recipe? Can you please share the cream cheese icing recipe? Thank you.

  4. I would love to make this cake but all I have at the moment is almond ext,would that be fine instead of coconut?

    1. The coconut extract is to give the coconut cake a coconut flavor. You can use almond but then your coconut cake will taste like almond 🙂

  5. Can you share a link for a coconut extract you recommend? So many taste artificial or bake out. Thank you!!!

  6. 5 stars
    I just recently realized what was causing such bad stomach pain is that I am Gluten Intolerant. Would you happen to know if I order some Gluten Free Flour such as from King Arthurs Flour, do you know if it makes a difference in cakes and cookies? Thank you, I appreciate your assistance!

    1. Try using a gluten free flour mix like cup for cup. You can replace the flour from most recipes with it and keep everything else the same to make the recipe gluten free

  7. Can I skip the cream of tartar? We are quarantined and can’t go to the store.
    I have everything else for the recipe.

  8. If I double the recipe could I use an 8×11.5×2 pan and if so, how much longer do I bake for?

  9. What if I only have salted butter? Will that be ok?

  10. 5 stars
    It looks and smells delicious as I made it a day before my MIL’s vday. I have a question though, I had looked and over the recipe once I was finished and realized I didn’t put any creme of tartar in there. Where does it say in the recipe to include? Will it taste much different without it? Thank you!

  11. 5 stars
    Wow!! I love coconut cakes. This really looks yummy, I will try the recipe. Please what can I substitute cream of tartar with cos I don’t have at home and there is total lockdown?

  12. I grew up in Germantown, and cannot wait to make this cake!! I currently live in Dubai, and can’t find coconut extract anywhere! Are there any good substitutes??

  13. Hi Liz,

    Love this recipe and can’t wait to try it. Can I just ask, how long does this cake keep once made.

    Kindest regards

    1. Fresh cake tastes best but you can keep it wrapped in the fridge for a couple of days. Let it warm to room temperature before serving

  14. 5 stars
    I made this cake for my daughter’s 14th birthday yesterday and it’s the BEST coconut cake I think I’ve ever had! Super moist and flavorful

    Followed the recipe to a “T” and it looks exactly like the photo.

    Will definitely be making again. Thanks for sharing!

  15. I would like to make a smaller cake using 6” cakes pans. Any advise as to how to adjust the recipe to accommodate the smaller pans?

  16. The layers have baked up beautifully, but there is a discrepancy between the video instructions and the print instructions. In the video, the instructions show to mix the oil in with the creamed butter. In the written instructions, the oil is added to the buttermilk and other wet ingredients.

    Haven’t tried it yet, but it does appear to have worked anyway.

    1. Recipes are always evolving and changing 🙂 You can follow either way but the written recipe reflects the way that I make this recipe now

  17. 5 stars
    Hi Liz,
    I love your cakes and so happy that I found you and your amazing recipes! I made a coconut custard and did add to this cake I baked. Custard wasn’t runny and sponge came out so good! But when I was assembling my cake, it start sliding and I had to use toothpicks to keep it together. I did put a ring of cream, and “inside” that ring i put the custard. It taste delicious, but can you please tell me what did I do wrong?

    1. You probably just used too much custard or your ring of “cream” was also soft. Did you use whipped cream? Try using a more stable frosting like easy buttercream.

  18. Liz,

    I love your recipes. Your recipes are blessing for new bakers like me. Every recipe always comes out perfect. I wanted to try this coconut cake recipe with passion fruit curd filling and vanilla Italian meringue buttercream. My question is, a) what do you think about that combination? b) Is this cake sturdy for layers? I was thinking to do two layered topsy turvy cake. You suggestion would be helpful.

    Thank you again

  19. Liz,

    Thank you. Can I use it in basic 2 layered cake as top layer with some fondant figurines at the top? Will it stay?


  20. 5 stars
    Best cake I have ever had!! It was a lot of steps and took awhile but so worth it!

  21. Hi Liz! Do you think I could adapt your “Easy Buttercream” into a coconut flavor. Making a coconut “Samoa” flavored cake. I love how it’s an easy go-to Swiss meringue frosting, but I’m wondering if it could be converted into a coconut flavor and if it would taste good? Love your recipes <33

  22. Our granddaughter made this for our daughter’s birthday. She is new to baking and she was SO proud of this cake. It has to be one of the most delicious cakes I have EVER had! It was a definite “WOW!

  23. 5 stars
    Hi Liz !

    I want to make this cake for my dads birthday next weekend. But since i’m still working full time i wanted to try and get it finished early. I jusy wanted to know if i get this cake done early.. let’s say by wednesday night , are the coconut flakes on the cake ok in the fridge for 2/ 3 days ? or would you suggest to just keep it out. I will be filling it with a vanilla swiss meringue.

  24. I am making a two tier fondant covered cake. 6 inch and 9 inch, can I use this recipe for the 6 inch tier? (3 layers)

  25. 5 stars
    I made this cake using the printed instructions. It was delicious, everyone loved it. It was gone quickly. Thank you!

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