This Coconut Cream Cake is incredibly light, tender, soft, and fluffy. Two layers of cake are filled with a thick layer of coconut cream and then frosted with coconut buttercream. Every bite is so rich and creamy it practically melts in your mouth.
Abandon all notions of thin, neat slices or the idea that you'll just have a bite or two. That's not how this cake works. This is the kind of cake you serve in generous portions on days when restraint is not the thing most important to you. Everything in moderation, including moderation.
“I made this cake and it was WONDERFUL! My husband and son-in-law fought over the last piece. I’ll be making it again very soon!”
Why This Recipe Works
This coconut cream cake knows what it's about.
The cake is unapologetically rich and creamy. It's the kind of cake you make when you know the only option is to go all in or not bother at all.
In fact, this cake is so soft and tender, the layer of coconut cream so rich and thick, you might want to serve it with spoons instead of forks.
- The texture of the cake itself is light, fluffy, and super moist
- The cake has a rich coconut flavor that comes from coconut cream, coconut milk, AND coconut extract.
- Sandwiched between two layers of coconut cake is a ridiculously thick layer of coconut pastry cream. This is the same pastry cream used in my favorite Coconut Cream Pie recipe!
- The cake is covered in coconut buttercream. You have three choices for which buttercream to use on your cake: American Style Buttercream, Italian Meringue Buttercream, or Cream Cheese Buttercream
The Coconut Cream Filling is my Favorite Part of this Cake
The coconut cream filling for this cake is essentially just a coconut flavored version of all-time favorite pastry cream recipe. It's my favorite pastry cream recipe for several good reasons:
- It’s super simple, remarkably stable, and comes out perfect every time.
- It will hold its own at room temperature for hours without breaking down
- It's so thick and rich that you can slather a thick layer of pastry cream between layers of cake and it won't squish out all over the place
One of the reasons this coconut cream filling is so rich is because it contains 6 egg yolks. So, what do you do with the leftover egg whites?
- Save two of the egg whites to use in the coconut cake batter.
- I've included three different buttercream options for this cake, one of them being Coconut Italian Meringue Buttercream, which requires 7 egg whites. If that's the buttercream you choose to use to frost this cake, save the remaining four egg whites for that.
- Freeze the egg whites: The best way to freeze egg whites is in ice cube trays, adding one egg white per ice cub cavity. You can also add them to zip-top bags or another air-tight container. Keep egg whites in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Not incidentally, coconut pastry cream is the exact same filling I use in one of my all-time favorite pies - Extra Creamy Coconut Cream Pie. So, if you're more in the mood for coconut pastry cream in a crispy almond crust, check out that recipe.
Coconut Cream Cake Recipe Notes
#1. Cake flour is the secret to a soft and tender cake
The main difference between cake flour, all-purpose flour, and bread flour is the percentage of protein it contains and how finely it's milled.
Cake flour is milled from soft wheat to have a fine consistency and a very low protein content - about 7-8%. To compare, bread flour contains around 13% protein, and all-purpose flour contains around 10% protein.
Why is this important? Because protein content is directly related to gluten formation.
While strong gluten development is important to the texture of homemade bread, it's the enemy of soft, fluffy, tender layers of cake. The less gluten formation you have in your cake batter, the softer and more tender the structure will be.
#2. Use the Right Kind of Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream
Coconut milk is made by simmering one part shredded coconut in one part water and is the consistency of cow's milk.
In most supermarkets, you'll find both canned coconut milk and cartons of refrigerated coconut milk. The main difference between the two is how much water the coconut milk contains. Cartons of refrigerated coconut milk are much more diluted than what you'll find in the can.
In this recipe it's important to use full fat coconut milk that comes in a can.
- Typically, you'll find canned coconut milk in the Asian foods section of your supermarket
- You can also order coconut milk online
Coconut cream is made by simmering four parts shredded coconut in one part water, making it thicker and richer than coconut milk.
- Cans of coconut cream can also usually be found in the Asian foods section of your supermarket
- You can also order coconut cream on online
Pro tip! Do NOT confuse Coconut Cream with Cream of Coconut. Cream of coconut is a sweetened version of coconut cream with a substantial amount of added sugar. Using it in this recipe will increase the amount of sugar in the cake, interfering with the cake's overall texture, flavor, and structure.
The Best Kinds of Frosting for Coconut Cake
My favorite options for frosting coconut cake are: Italian Meringue Buttercream, American Buttercream, Cream Cheese Buttercream, and Mascarpone Frosting.
Whichever buttercream option you choose, simply beat in a couple teaspoons of coconut extract and you're good to go.
- Italian Meringue Buttercream is the buttercream I make most often because it's silky smooth, incredibly creamy, and absolutely gorgeous to work with. Even better is how good this buttercream tastes. After over 20 years of making this amazing meringue based buttercream, I’ve yet to have one person tell me they don’t love it. Even those people who normally don’t like frosting always LOVE Italian Meringue Buttercream. The downside of Italian Meringue Buttercream is that it takes some time to make and can be a bit tricky the first time you make it.
- American Style Buttercream has the advantage of being super quick and easy. My favorite recipe only takes a few minutes to make and is silky smooth and flavorful thanks to butter, heavy cream, vanilla and a touch of almond extract.
- Cream Cheese Buttercream is a gorgeous creamy blend of cream cheese and butter, sweetened with confectioners sugar, and flavored with vanilla and a touch of sour cream. Like American Buttercream, Cream Cheese Buttercream is super quick and easy to make. You basically dump all the ingredients into a bowl and beat them until smooth. Plus, I love the slight tang that cream cheese adds to this cake.
- Mascarpone Frosting. Mascarpone frosting is exceptionally light and creamy. It's not as sweet as most kinds of frosting and the flavor and consistency are like a richer, thicker version of whipped cream. This is also one of the easiest and quickest kinds of frosting to whip up, taking only about 10 minutes to make.
How to Store This Cake and Prepare it in Advance
Once assembled and frosted, this cake will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Be sure to cover it loosely to keep the buttercream from drying out.
If you'd like to prepare it further in advance, I'd suggest storing each component separately and then assembling the cake on the day you plan to serve it.
- Pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in a covered container until you're ready to use it.
- This pastry cream can also be frozen for up to 3 months: Let the pastry cream cool in the refrigerator completely. Then, make sure it's in an air-tight container or a bowl that's well wrapped and put it in the freezer. Allow the frozen pastry cream to thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for about 3-4 hours.
- The layers of coconut cake can be frozen for up to 3 months: Allow the layers to cool completely then wrap them in 2 layers of plastic wrap and 1 layer of aluminum foil and put them in the freezer. Allow the cake layers to thaw before assembling - OR, assemble the cake with frozen layers. Assembling the cake with frozen layers makes filling and frosting the cake much easier. Just be sure to allow time for the cake to thaw before serving.
- All three buttercream frosting options can be prepared up to 5 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
- All three buttercream frosting options can be frozen for up to 3 months. Allow the buttercream to thaw overnight in the refrigerator then re-beat for a few minutes before using the buttercream to frost the cake.
FAQs and Expert Tips
A: While not quite the same, you can make a substitution for cake flour by replacing two tablespoons in each cup of all-purpose flour with two tablespoons cornstarch.
So, for this recipe, dump 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour into a bowl and remove 5 tablespoons. Add 5 tablespoons of cornstarch and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
A: Coconut milk has a higher concentration of water than coconut cream. Coconut milk is the consistancy of cow's milk and coconut cream is thicker and richer.
A: Yes! Blend it up before measuring and using it. It's natural for coconut milk to separate in the can, but you want to use all parts of the coconut milk. So stir it together, then measure and use it in the cake batter.
More Popular Layer Cake Recipes:
For the Coconut Cream Filling:
- 1 Recipe Pastry Cream (*See instructions and notes below)
- 2 teaspoon (9 grams) coconut extract
For the Coconut Cake:
- 1 ½ cups (150 grams) sweetened shredded coconut
- 2 ½ cups (295 grams) cake flour (*see note below for substitution)
- 2 ½ teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
- 1 teaspoon (6 grams) table salt, OR 1 ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature (How to quickly bring eggs to room temperature)
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
- ½ cup (1 stick; 4 ounces) butter, salted or unsalted, at room temperature (How to bring butter to room temperature)
- ¼ cup (50 grams) vegetable oil
- 1 ⅔ cups (333 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (90 grams) canned full-fat unsweetened coconut cream
- 1 cup (241 grams) canned coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoon (9 grams) coconut extract
Buttercream Options (choose one):
Make the Coconut Cream Filling:
- Follow the recipe instructions through step #8 to make a batch of Pastry Cream. Use only 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, add 2 teaspoon coconut extract, and OMIT the heavy whipping cream.
- Refrigerate the pastry cream in a covered container for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
Make the Coconut Cake:
- Add the sweetened shredded coconut to a large skillet and set the skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequentluy, until about 50% of the coconut is golden brown. (If you try to continue cooking the coconut until all of it is toasted, you'll end up with burned coconut.) Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Set the toasted coconut aside until you're ready to fill and frost the cake.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (176° C).
- Grease and flour two 8-inch cake pans, lining the bottom of the pans with parchment paper. Click here for instructions about how to grease and flour pans, and line them with parchment paper.
- Add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt to a bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
- Add the 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites to a bowl or large measuring cup and beat with a fork or wire whisk for 10 seconds or so to combine.
- Beat the butter, vegetable oil, and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, until the mixture is fluffy and lightened in color.
- With the mixer running, add the beaten eggs to the butter-oil- sugar mixture slowly. Pour in the eggs bit by bit, beating continuously, and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- Add the coconut cream, coconut milk, vanilla extract, and coconut extract to a bowl or measuring cup and stir to combine.
- With the mixer running on the lowest speed, add the coconut milk and flour mixtures to the batter in alternating additions: ⅓ of the flour, ½ of the coconut milk, ⅓ of the flour, ½ of the coconut milk, ⅓ of the flour. Mix just long enough to barely incorporate the ingredients. Do not over mix.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans, gently spreading it out in the pans into an even layer.
- Bake the cakes in the center of the oven for 28-32 minutes. The cakes are done when they are just barely begining to pull away from the sides of the pan. If you insert a toothpick into the center of the cakes it should come out without any evidence of raw batter. This is a very moist cake, so the toothick will have crumbs clinging to it, it just shouldn't have raw batter on it.
- Let the cakes cool in their pans for 5 minutes, then gently turn them out onto wire racks and allow them to cool completely before filling and frosting.
To fill and assemble the cake:
- Prepare a batch of your choice of buttercream: Italian Meringue Buttercream, American Buttercream, or Cream Cheese Buttercream. Once prepared, beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 teaspoon coconut extract. Taste and add additional extract if you like.
- Remove the coconut cream from the refrigerator and stir in ½ cup (50g) of the toasted coconut.
- Lay one of the cake layers on a serving plate and spread the coconut cream over the top in an even layer. (*This recipe makes a generous amount of coconut cream; it will be a thick layer.)
- Top the coconut cream with the second layer of cake.
- Cover the top and sides of the cake with buttercream.
- Sprinkle the remaining toasted coconut over the top of the cake.
This cake's fluffy texture is best when served at room temperature. It is safe to store the filled and frosted cake at room temperature for up to 4 hours; any longer than that and it should be refrigerated. The filled and frosted cake can be made 1 - 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Allow the cake to sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours to bring it to room temperature before serving.
Individual cake layers do not need to be refrigerated. Store them, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to 24 hours before filling and assembling the cake.
Tips for making the Coconut Cream Filling:
For the Coconut Cream Filling, follow the instructions for my all-time favorite pastry cream through step 8, using only 1 teaspoon of vanilla and omitting the heavy whipping cream.
- Pastry cream uses a total of 6 egg yolks. Save the 6 egg whites and use 2 of them in the cake batter. If you're making Coconut Italian Meringue Buttercream, reserve the remaining 4 egg whites for use in that recipe.
- If frosting this cake with American Buttercream or Cream Cheese Buttercream, reserve the remaining 4 egg whites for another use, or discard.
Why does this recipe call for cake flour?
Cake flour is one of the reasons this cake is exceptionally light and fluffy.
If you can't find cake flour, you can make substitution by mixing 2 ¼ cups (281g) all-purpose flour and ¼ cup (30g) cornstarch. The brand I use is Swans Down Cake Flour which can be found at many supermarkets, or ordered on Amazon.
It's important to use canned full-fat coconut milk
Canned coconut milk is usually found in the Asian foods section. Do NOT use the coconut milk that's sold in cartons and found in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets.
Coconut milk sold in cartons is much more diluted than the coconut milk sold in cans. Likewise, "light" coconut milk has a higher water content than what is optimal for this coconut cake recipe.
The cream will separate from the milk in a can of coconut. Be sure to blend it up before measuring so that you get the cream in there, not just the non-fat milk.
What is the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream?
Coconut milk has a higher concentration of water than coconut cream. Coconut milk is the consistancy of cow's milk and coconut cream is thicker and richer.
Do not mistake Cream of Coconut for Coconut Cream
Cream of Coconut is a sweetened version of coconut cream with a considerable amount of added sugar.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 slice
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 723Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 384mgCarbohydrates: 101gFiber: 3gSugar: 72gProtein: 6g