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Traditional Coconut Cake (with Cream of Coconut Frosting)

Coconut cake is a popular offering in the south, but there’s no reason why we need to limit it geographically! This luscious cake is perfect for families across the globe and great for Christmas, Easter, and every day in-between! 

Southern Coconut Cake

I’m a southern girl and I love the flavor of coconut. If you’ve been following me for a while you’ve probably seen my Italian Cream Cake recipe. (It’s my all-time favorite.) I’m also a huge fan of my Easy Pineapple Coconut Cake. (Yum!) 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

I love coconut in my German Chocolate Cake, and even in my Ranger Cookies. I’m nuts about coconut. (See what I did there?) 

I have always loved those frozen coconut cakes you buy at the grocery store so I knew I would love a made-at-home version even more. Anything loaded with coconut flavor is great with me!

Types of Coconut

You can purchase coconut in many forms. Of course, you can buy whole coconuts. (I’ve rarely done this, to be honest.) But this would be one alternative.

I buy sweetened shredded coconut on the baking aisle. But you can also buy frozen coconut (Birds Eye brand). I used some of that in this recipe, too. 

I have discovered a new passion for coconut milk and cream of coconut. For those who don’t know the difference, coconut milk is what you get when you milk coconut. (I know. . .but it’s true. I own a contraption called an Almond Cow and I’ve actually milked shredded coconut to produce milk.) 

Are Coconut Milk and Cream of Coconut the Same Thing?

For this moist coconut cake recipe I bought canned coconut milk. I also purchased cream of coconut too, and it’s considerably different from coconut milk. For one thing, it’s thicker and creamier. When you pop open the can you’ll notice a layer of fat on top, which you’ll need to stir well into the cream of coconut. 

All of this coconut-chatter is making me hungry! Let’s take a peek at what you’ll need to make this luscious cake. 

TRADITIONAL COCONUT CAKE INGREDIENTS

You will find a full printable recipe card at the bottom of this post but here’s a quick peek at what you’ll need to make this yummy cake. 

There are some specific ingredients you’ll want to have handy but they’re all easy to find at your local supermarket. 

FOR THE CAKE:

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com
  • white cake mix (2)
  • canned coconut milk
  • large eggs (room temperature)
  • vegetable oil (or coconut oil, your choice)
  • water
  • instant vanilla pudding (dry)
  • Birds Eye frozen coconut (thawed in refrigerator)

FOR THE FROSTING:

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com
  • room temperature butter
  • cream of coconut (well mixed)
  • powdered sugar

FOR THE COCONUT MIXTURE:

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com
  • cream of coconut
  • sweetened coconut flakes

That’s it! A couple of unusual ingredients but they’re easy to find in the grocery store. I found my coconut milk and cream of coconut on the Mexican food aisle at my local WalMart.

How to Make a Traditional Coconut Cake: 

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Prep three 8-inch pans by spreading with shortening and then dusting with all purpose flour.  You can use 9-inch cake pans but adjust your cooking time. Larger pans won’t require as much bake time because the cakes will be thinner.

Make Your Coconut Topping

Prep your cream of coconut. Remove all of the can’s contents into a bowl and whisk or mix until you’ve blended in the solids with the liquids. Measure out 1/2 cup and place in medium bowl. Set the rest of the cream of coconut aside for your frosting.

Add your shredded coconut. Mix well. Cover and place in the refrigerator. 

Make Your Cake

In a large mixing bowl combine your cake mix, dry pudding mix, can of coconut milk, water, and oil.

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Mix at medium speed until all elements are incorporated. You can use a hand mixer or you might opt for a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add your eggs one at a time and continue to mix. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add thawed coconut. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

You will have a thick batter. If you prefer to thin it down, do so with with an additional quarter cup of water or milk. 

Divide the cake batter into the three prepared pans and place in preheated oven. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cakes should pull away from the edges of the pan and spring back to the touch. 

Remove pans from the oven and place on wire rack to cool. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Make Your Frosting: 

While your cake is baking and cooling, make your frosting. Make sure your butter is room temperature. Whip until light and fluffy. 

Add one cup (or what’s left) of your can of cream of coconut. (I think I had about nine ounces left after using 1/2 cup in my flaked coconut.) Mix well. 

Add 4 – 5 cups of powdered sugar, mixing well. You want the frosting to be runny enough to go on easily but not so runny that it will leak out of the edges of the layers. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Assemble Your Cake

When your cakes are completely cooled, level them. I used a Wilton cake leveler but you can use a knife if you like.

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Have your frosting and your coconut mixture nearby.

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Place one cake layer on a cake plate and cover with frosting. Add a heaping helping of the cold flaked coconut mixture. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add a cake on top of this one and repeat the process. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Add the top cake upside-down (baked side up to give you a level top). 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Frost the top and side of your cake. 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Lift your cake plate with your non-dominant hand and apply coconut with your dominant hand (holding over the bowl to catch any spills). 

This can be a messy process but it’s lots of fun to slap it on there and press it into place. 

You can smooth it out with a fondant smoother or the back of a bench scraper (pressing against waxed paper). 

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

Cover the cake and place in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing. 

This cake is yummy cold but it’s a little stiff and hard to cut. You’re going to want to let it soften naturally by sitting out for an hour or so before slicing.

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

It will stay good for several days in the refrigerator in an airtight container like a cake carrier.

What to Expect from this Cake

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

I was most surprised by the sweetness of the coconut. It was luscious and creamy. The cake itself was light and fluffy, but loaded with flavor from the coconut milk and the addition of the Birds Eye coconut. 

More than anything, this is a lovely layer cake you’ll be proud to present to your family or guests.

It doesn’t require fancy decorations or trim work. You don’t have to load it up with swirls of frosting on top (though you’re certainly welcome to, if you want additional flair). It’s perfect, just as it is. 

I can’t help but think this would make a lovely wedding cake!

Variations on this Recipe

Traditional Coconut Cake from Out of the Box Baking.com

There are so many fun ways to dress up this moist coconut cake! Here are a few suggestions:

Lemon filling: Lemon and coconut pair beautifully. The next time I make this cake (and I will) I plan to add lemon curd to the layers. (Yum!) 

Pineapple: Yes, please! Consider adding (drained) crushed pineapple between the layers for an added topical flair! 

Strawberry or Raspberry filling: Add some fruity preserves between the layers to add an extra layer of flavor. 

Pecans: You can turn this into an Italian cream cake by adding a half cup of chopped pecans to the batter and pressing some chopped pecans into the frosting along with the coconut. 

Sour cream: You can use sour cream as a base for your frosting if you don’t have cream of coconut.

Yellow cake mix: You can substitute yellow cake for white, no problem!

Sweet cream cheese frosting: You can substitute the coconut frosting with a traditional cream cheese frosting: 2 sticks of butter, 1 block of cream cheese, 4 – 5 cups powdered sugar.

Coconut cream poke cake: Make a coconut cake, punch holes in it using the handle of a wooden spoon, and pour a thinned down layer of coconut frosting on top before adding coconut flakes.

Doctored Cake Mixes from Out of the Box

Here at Out of the Box Baking we’re all about those doctored cake mixes. (No shame and no embarrassment!) A boxed cake mix can be a wonderful thing, especially when you add to it!

Here are a few of my doctored cake mixes you’re bound to enjoy:

Holiday Cakes

Coconut cake is a classic at Christmas time but here at Out of the Box Baking we’ve got lots of great cakes to satisfy your holiday sweet tooth. Here are a few favorites: 

That’s it for this post, friends. I hope you enjoyed this easy coconut cake recipe! (Bonus points if you noticed my bathroom door in one of the photos. Ha!)


Learn more about doctored cake mixes, the theme of this blog. 

For the master list of all doctored cake mix recipes on this site, visit Doctored Cake Mix Recipes, Master List. 


See this recipe at

Full Plate Thursday 

Weekend Potluck

Busy Monday


About the Author

Janice Thompson is an author, baker, and all-around mischief maker! She has overcome a host of baking catastrophes, including a toppled wedding cake, to learn more about the baking process. Janice has published over 150 books for the Christian market but particularly enjoys writing recipes and baking devotions. To learn more about Janice or to drop her a note, visit her About the Author page.

Traditional Coconut Cake

Traditional Coconut Cake

Yield: 12
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

Coconut cake is a popular offering in the south, but there’s no reason why we need to limit it geographically! This luscious cake is perfect for families across the globe and great for Christmas, Easter, and every day in-between! 

Ingredients

  • CAKE INGREDIENTS
  • 2 white cake mixes
  • 1 can coconut milk (13 oz)
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup water (or milk)
  • 1 box instant vanilla pudding (dry)
  • 1 6 oz. bag Birds Eye frozen coconut (thawed in refrigerator)
  • FROSTING INGREDIENTS
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) room temperature butter
  • 1 cup cream of coconut (well mixed)
  • 4 - 5 cups powdered sugar
  • COCONUT MIXTURE
  • 1/2 cup cream of coconut
  • 1 bag sweetened coconut flakes

Instructions

    How to Make a Traditional Coconut Cake:
    Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
    Prep 3 8-inch pans by spreading with shortening and then dusting with all purpose flour.

    Make Your Coconut Topping
    Prep your cream of coconut. Remove all of the can's contents into a bowl and whisk or mix with a fork until you've blended in the solids with the liquids. Measure out 1/2 cup and place in medium bowl. (Set the rest of the cream of coconut aside for your frosting.) Add your shredded coconut. Mix well. Cover and place in the refrigerator. 

    Make Your Cake:
    In a large bowl combine your cake mix, dry pudding mix, can of coconut milk, water, and oil. Mix at medium speed until all elements are incorporated. You can use a hand mixer or you might opt for a stand mixer with paddle attachment.

    Add your eggs one at a time and continue to mix.

    Add thawed coconut.

    You will have a thick batter. If you prefer to thin it down even more, do so with with an additional quarter cup of water or milk.

    Divide the batter into the three prepared pans and place in preheated oven.

    Bake for 30 - 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cakes should pull away from the edges of the pan and spring back to the touch.

    Remove pans from the oven and place on wire rack to cool.

    Make Your Frosting:
    While your cake is baking and cooling, make your frosting. Make sure your butter is room temperature. Whip until light and fluffy.

    Add one cup (or what’s left) of your can of cream of coconut. (I think I had about nine ounces left after using 1/2 a cup in my flaked coconut.) Mix well.

    Add 4 - 5 cups of powdered sugar, mixing well. You want the frosting to be runny enough to go on easily but not so runny that it will leak out of the edges of the layers.

    Assemble Your Cake
    When your cakes are completely cooled, level them. Place one cake layer on a cake plate and cover with frosting. Add a heaping helping of the cold flaked coconut mixture.

    Add a cake on top of this one and repeat the process.

    Add the top cake upside-down (baked side up to give you a level top).

    Frost the top and side of your cake.

    Lift your cake plate with your non-dominant hand and apply coconut with your dominant hand (holding over the bowl to catch any spills).

    This can be a messy process but it’s lots of fun to slap it on there and press it into place.

    I followed behind this by pressing a piece of waxed paper on the sides of the cake to hold the coconut in place. You can smooth it out with a fondant smoother or the back of a bench scraper (pressing against the waxed paper).

    Cover the cake and place in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing.

Notes

This cake is yummy cold but it’s a little stiff and hard to cut. You’re going to want to let it soften naturally by sitting out for an hour or so before slicing. It will stay good for several days in the refrigerator.

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Brenda

Wednesday 4th of October 2023

This recipe is intriguing, but I have some questions. How much coconut is in a bag of Birds Eye frozen coconut? I can’t find it in my area. Why not use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil? Why add water when there is coconut milk there? My 91 yr old father loves coconut cake, and I’m looking forward to making this for him.

booksbyjanice

Wednesday 4th of October 2023

Hi Brenda! Thank you so much for the question (and ideas!) The Birds Eye coconut is 6 oz. I'm update the recipe card to reflect that. You can absolutely use coconut oil in place of vegetable oil but it would have to be melted (and I haven't tried it, so I'm not sure how it would work, texture-wise). Just don't add it hot. As for the water, I think I added 1/4 to thin the batter because it was so thick. Feel free to use whole milk or even more coconut milk. (Hope this helps!)

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