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Coconut Birthday Cake

It's difficult to improve upon a coconut cake for birthday celebrations.  Over the years I've made many coconut cakes, some of which have had white cake layers, yellow cake layers and even angel food cake layers with or without coconut flakes in the batter.  In terms of frostings, I have used boiled icings, seven minute frostings and buttercreams, all of which have been showered with sweetened, flaked coconut.   Delicious!

When I was recently asked to make a birthday cake with coconut as the main ingredient, I decided to keep it simple, so I went with the all-too-familiar 1-2-3-4 cake.  This butter cake makes excellent cake layers, but it also makes great cupcakes and sheet cakes if you scale down or scale up the proportions.  With a few ingredient changes and additions, I baked scrumptious cake layers without having to add flaked coconut to the batter.

For the icing, I turned to my Swiss Meringue Buttercream recipe and left out the butter.  Swiss meringue by itself is very much like a marshmallowy seven minute frosting, but there is no need to boil a sugar syrup to the soft-thread stage or beat the meringue for 7 minutes.  It's ready in under 5 minutes. 

Note:  I didn't measure out the flaked coconut that was used to garnish the sides of the cake, so use it at your discretion.  The more the merrier! 

Coconut Cake Ingredients
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup coconut milk, room temperature
Equipment: two 8x2" round cake pans, parchment paper rounds, nonstick baking spray.

Ahead of baking, spray both cake pans with nonstick baking spray (the type with flour added) and add parchment paper rounds to the bottoms of the cake pans.  Set them aside.

Center Oven Racks
Preheat to 350° F (177°C)
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or using a handheld mixer), cream the unsalted butter on medium speed for 30 seconds, just until lightened.  
  2. Gradually add the granulated sugar & fine sea salt in a steady stream and continue to beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes.  The mixture should be thick, fluffy & pale.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once during this process.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time on medium speed and beat until fully emulsified, about 30 seconds per egg.  Stop and scrape down the bowl & paddle at least once.
  4. Beat in the vanilla extract & coconut extract.
  5. In a medium bowl, sift the all-purpose flour & baking powder.  Lower the speed to low on your mixer and add 1/3 of the dry ingredients
  6. Add half of the coconut milk.
  7. Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients and then add the last of the milk.  Beat in the final 1/3 of the dry ingredients.

  8. Remove the bowl and paddle from the mixer and give the cake batter a few turns with a large spatula just to make sure everything is incorporated.  You don’t want any stray bits of butter on the bottom of the bowl or any flecks of flour.
  9. Evenly divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.
  10. Bake the cake layers for 45-50 minutes.
  11. A toothpick inserted in the middle of the layers should come out clean.  The tops should feel springy.
  12. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 15 minutes.  Gently remove them onto racks and cool completely before frosting.

 Swiss Meringue Frosting Ingredients

  • 5 large egg whites
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional, but recommended for this coconut cake)
  • pinch of fine sea salt

Equipment: stand mixer with whisk attachment, instant read thermometer, balloon whisk.

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, set over a pot of simmering water, whisk the sugar and egg whites.  The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the simmering water in the pot.  
  2. Whisk the sugar/egg white mixture until thickened and milky white.  
  3. Keep whisking at all times; you want the sugar to completely dissolve
  4. Using an instant read thermometer, check to see when the mixture reaches 120F.
  5. It's ready to transfer to the stand mixer when it comes to that temperature.
  6. Attach the whisk beater on the stand mixer and beat the mixture on high speed for approximately 4 minutes.  Beat in the extracts and pinch of salt. 
  7. The Swiss Meringue should be thick, white and billowy.
  8. Frost the cake layers without a moment to lose.

It's important to use the instant read thermometer to make sure the sugar/egg white mixture is ready for beating with the mixer.

A good Swiss Meringue should be thick and billowy when done.  This is now ready to use for frosting cake layers.  Work quickly before it begins to set.

Do you see how it holds a stiff peak?  It's perfect!

Lay one of the cake layers on your cake turntable (use a cardboard cake round underneath the cakes to support the layers).  Add some of the meringue frosting with an offset spatula and smooth it out to the edges of the layer.  Sprinkle it with sweetened flaked coconut.  Gently layer the other cake (center it well) and add a large dollop of frosting on it.  Smooth it out and bring it down the sides of the cake to cover completely.  Continue doing this with more frosting, turning the cake table so that you have even sides.    

Gently add sweetened, flaked coconut to the sides of the cake, packing it on so that it sticks to the Swiss meringue frosting. 

For this cake I was instructed to write out a Happy Birthday message which presented a slight problem.  How to do it on a cake with flaked coconut?  Well, the answer was to leave the top of the cake bare.  Using a wide offset spatula (or the back of a large spoon), and working from the edge of the cake toward the center, turn the cake turntable while holding the spoon on top of the frosting.  Begin to snail it toward the center until you have the desired effect. 

With a small amount of stiff royal icing tinted in any shade you want, add the birthday message along the top. 



Special shout to to Martha Stewart and her design team at Macy's for having come up with this gigantic cake spatula.  At almost 10" in diameter, it makes the transferring of layer cakes onto cake boxes or cake stands a very easy task.  I can't thank Martha enough for this ingenious tool! 

Since this cake was flying out the door, I had to package it up in a nice bakery-style cake box.  

A Coconut Birthday Cake like this is bound to be devoured by everyone.  Even if there are leftovers, make sure that you don't leave it around for too long.  

Bookmark this cake the next time you want to surprise someone with a coconut cake.  You can even make it this Easter and set the pretty cake on top of a jadeite or pink cake stand.  Colored coconut can enhance it even more this spring, but so could a few decorated sugar cookies along the sides and on top of the cake.  

Happy Baking!


  1. This cake is Simply Beautiful,Easy Baking!

    1. Thank you Darlene!! It's such an easy cake to make. Bake one for your girls and your husband!! :)

  2. I love how you begin this post saying there's not many ways to improve on a coconut cake... And then, YOU DO!

    Honestly, this cake is incredible! Well done!



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