An old-fashioned coconut cake recipe, made with a soft, 2-layer vanilla cake and iced with an old-fashioned frosting straight from my grandmother’s cookbook, and covered in sweet coconut shavings.
The Softest Coconut Cake
Those of you who follow the blog regularly are familiar with a lot of my grandmother’s recipes. Maybe you’ve tried her hot milk cake, potato candy, or apple dumplings (to name just a few!). She also makes a killer Coconut Cake with a unique, silky white frosting. While she was just as happy to share that recipe with me as all of the others, I was a little surprised to learn that she actually doesn’t make her coconut cake from scratch.
What! I had to double-check with her, but nope, my grandmother’s beloved, amazing coconut cake recipe actually starts with a box of yellow cake mix. The icing is from-scratch, yes, but not the base.
While I still look forward to that cake when she has dinner, you know I couldn’t start a recipe with cake mix and feel good about myself. So, after years of testing cake recipes, I finally developed a super soft, super moist, sturdy and stable cake with a tender, melt-in-your-mouth crumb that works as the perfect base for this coconut cake recipe.
(If it seems familiar to you, it’s because it first debuted as my gender reveal cupcakes.)
So, the coconut cake portion might be my invention, but the crowning glory is still my grandmother’s frosting.
This frosting is quite different from your standard buttercream or (my personal favorite) cream cheese frosting. It’s not the same as ermine frosting, though it is similar. This coconut cake frosting is made with shortening in addition to butter (which gives it that beautiful, stark white color), flour (I recommend heat treating your flour to be safe), and granulated sugar. It requires being beaten for at least twelve minutes to ensure that all of the grittiness from the sugar has been dissolved. It’s a light and delicate frosting with a very smooth texture that pairs perfectly with the coarse outside coating of shredded coconut.
Quite simply, it is absolutely delicious.
For those of you not completely convinced, I did include some other frosting options at the bottom of the recipe card below!
How Do You Cover a Cake with Coconut?
See my photo above or my video in the recipe below for a visual! Sprinkle your cake with coconut shreds first, and then take a large handful of shredded coconut in your hands. Press this coconut gently but firmly up the sides of your cake to press it into your frosting. Repeat until the cake is completely covered in shredded coconut.
How Long is Coconut Cake Good For?
This recipe will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature or up to a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Do store in an airtight container to keep the cake from drying out!
Can You Freeze Coconut Cake?
Absolutely! Be sure to cover completely and securely and your cake will keep in the freezer for several months.
More Classic Cakes You Might Like:
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Coconut Cake Recipe
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- ⅔ cup canola oil or vegetable oil (160ml)
- 2 cup granulated sugar (400g)
- 1 cup sour cream (240g)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ tsp coconut extract optional, if not using then use 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour (344g)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large egg whites room temperature (½ cup or 122g), make sure there is not so much as a teeny tiny bit of yolk in with the egg whites or they will not whip properly.
- ¾ cup salted butter softened (170g)
- 9 Tablespoons shortening I use Crisco
- 1 ½ cups granulated sugar (300g)
- 4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour because of recent risk of flour contamination, I recommend heat-treating your flour before using (make sure to let it cool completely before using
- 1 cup coconut milk or you can use regular whole milk which is what my grandmother uses (235ml)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 18 oz frozen fresh shredded coconut thawed I’ve not had a lot of luck finding frozen coconut recently. You can substitute dried sweetened coconut, found in the baking section, instead. I usually only need about 3-4 cups and sometimes I will briefly pulse the shreds in the food processor to make them a little less stringy, though this is not required.
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and grease and flour the sides of two 8” cake pans (or spray with baking spray) and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl (or in stand mixer), use an electric mixer to beat together butter, oil, and sugar. Beat until ingredients are creamy and well-combined.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and then stir in sour cream, vanilla extract, and coconut extract.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together your flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Using a spatula and stirring by hand (I don’t recommend using an electric mixer here as you can accidentally over-mix your ingredients, resulting in a dense, dry cake), stir the dry ingredients into the wet (butter/sugar mixture) until completely combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure that all of your ingredients are well-combined. Set aside.
- In a separate clean, dry, and completely grease-free bowl, place your egg whites in a completely clean, dry, and grease-free bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on high-speed until stiff peaks form.
- Using a spatula, gently fold your egg whites into your batter. While you do not want to over-mix this batter, it is important that the egg whites are completely combined. Use a gentle hand and stir until you can’t see any streaks of egg whites in the batter.
- Divide batter evenly into prepared cake pans.
- Bake on 350F (175C) for 27-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean or with a few moist crumbs (no wet batter).
- Allow cakes to cool completely before frosting.
- Combine butter, shortening, and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on medium-speed until creamy and well-combined.
- Add flour, one Tablespoon at a time, beating on medium speed for 15 seconds after each addition. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl and beat again for 20 seconds.
- Add coconut milk and vanilla extract and stir to combine
- Turn mixer speed up to medium-high and beat for 6 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat again at least another 6 minutes.
- Test the frosting by tasting or rubbing between your fingers, it should not be gritty or grainy at all. If it still is, carefully scrape the sides and bottom of your mixing bowl again and stir again on high speed until no longer grainy.
- Once your cakes are cool, ice them by placing one layer on your serving dish and applying an even layer of frosting to the top. Sprinkle liberally with shredded coconut.
- Place your second layer on top of the first and apply an even layer of frosting around the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle coconut over the top of the cake, and then use your hands to press coconut all around the sides.
A Note on the Frosting:For me, coconut cake just wouldn't be coconut cake without this old-fashioned frosting. However, I know it's not for everyone. This cake could also be covered with any of these frostings below, just make sure to cover with coconut shavings!
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- Vanilla Frosting
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Chocolate Frosting (of course the cake won't have that pristine white appearance outside, but I love the chocolate/coconut pairing!).
What To Do With Those Leftover Egg Yolks?Here are some great recipes that use a lot of egg yolks!
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I originally published this recipe 04/25/2019. I have updated the cake portion of the recipe and photos and added a video 10/18/2019. One of the original photos can be seen above (on my great great great grandmother’s crystal cake stand).