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+ servings
piece of coconut cake on a plate with a cup of coffee.

Best Coconut Cake

A vanilla butter cake surrounds a coconut filling and is topped with a marshmallow meringue frosting.
Course Dessert
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Servings 10


The Cake

  • 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 larger eggs room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups self-rising flour I use King Arthur's
  • 1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

The Filling

  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 7 oz package sweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

The Frosting

  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ¼ plus ⅛ tsp cream of tartar


Make the Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350.
    Butter and lightly flour 2- 9"cake pans and line with either wax paper or parchment. You can use also use three (which the original recipe calls for) and you'll just bake the cake a little less [instructions below].
  • Combine the flours and place in a medium bowl and set aside.
  • Pour the milk and vanilla into a glass measuring cup and set aside.
  • Cream the butter in a large bowl or electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until light and fluffy and add the sugar. Continue beating for three minutes. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition.
  • To the mixer, add the dry ingredients alternately with the milk and vanilla mixture in four groups, beating well after each and ending with the milk. You'll have a smooth mixture by the end.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the pans. [see notes below]
  • Baking instructions:
    Two pans: Bake for 25-30 minutes.
    Three pans: Bake for 20-25 minutes.
    Either way, a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake should come clean letting you know when the cakes are done baking.
  • Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Remove the cakes from the pan to a wire rack until completely cool. Check out this video on how to remove a cake from a pan.

Make the Filling

  • Combine the milk and sugar in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking the whole time until thick and bubbly, which should take about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and add coconut. Stir in vanilla, cover and set aside to cool completely.

Make the Frosting

  • Get ready by putting the egg whites and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, and cream of tartar over high heat. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, counting once the mixture begins to bubble on the edges. Remove from heat.
  • On medium-high speed with either a hand or stand mixer, beat the egg whites and vanilla until foamy approximately 1 minute.
  • Keep the mixer on and with a thin, steady stream, sloooowly pour the sugar water mixture into the egg whites. Continue to beat on medium-high until fluffy and stiff peaks form. This will take around 5 minutes and the frosting will be bright, white and glossy. Try and resist tasting it. Or you'll eat the whole thing. And your cake will be lonely.

Assemble the Cake

  • Place one layer of cake on your serving platter or cake plate and spread ½ of the filling on top. If you're only using two layers, use as much as makes sense to you and save the rest to eat vanilla wafers or graham crackers and chocolate for an upscale s'more. 
  • Place the next layer on (and repeat steps 1 & 2 if necessary).
  • Frost the top and sides of the cake with the frosting.
  • Top with extra sweetened coconut.


Tip to pour batter in pans equally:
  • I prefer the cake to be in two layers. The original recipe calls for dividing the batter into three pans which means more cake and less filling. You decide.
  • I use a 4 oz. ladle and alternate scoops between pans, counting as I go.
  • Shimmy the pans back and forth to evenly distribute the batter.
Hand mixer tips for frosting:
  • Place a towel in the bottom of the sink and your mixing bowl with the egg whites/vanilla on top of that.
  • Hold the mixer in your dominant hand and the saucepan in the other. Starting on low and working up to med-high, follow the steps above for making the frosting.
Make Ahead Tips
  • Make the cake layers ahead of time and once completely cooled, wrap in plastic wrap and then foil. Place in large freezer bags and freeze. Defrost completely in the fridge overnight before frosting.
  • The filling can be made the day ahead. Bring to room temperature before filling the cake.
  • Make the frosting the day your plan to serve it.