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Coconut Cake Recipe

Perfect for summer get-togethers, this tropical Coconut Cake recipe is incredibly rich in flavor.

From "The Lemonade Cookbook"
August 2014

  • For a tropical dessert that’s sure to impress, top this Coconut Cake recipe with flaked coconut to amp up the flavor.
    Photo by Victoria Pearson
  • With an emphasis on healthy dining on-the-go, “The Lemonade Cookbook” by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli features recipes of the best comfort food Southern California has to offer.
    Cover courtesy St. Martin's Press

Yield: Makes 1 cake

Discover simple preparations for those with a sophisticated palette in Chef Alan Jackson’s The Lemonade Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), which emphasizes healthy dining while on-the-go. In this excerpt, from the chapter “Sweets,” Jackson puts a twist on the traditional Mexican cake in his Coconut Cake recipe.   

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: The Lemonade Cookbook

Not for the calorie conscious or lactose intolerant, tres leche cake is one of the most luscious desserts ever invented. In this twist on the classic special-occasion cake of Mexico, one of the three “milks” is a glaze of rich, nutty coconut milk. The cake literally drinks it up, soaking the cake from the inside out, making it incredibly moist. Flaked coconut in the topping amps up the tropical flavor even further; it smells like suntan lotion in summer at the beach.

Coconut Cake Recipe


• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 cups granulated sugar
• 4 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
• 1 cup evaporated milk 

• 1/2 cup sweetened coconut milk
• 1/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract

• 1 cup heavy cream
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 6 tablespoons (3/4-stick) butter
• 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
• 1 teaspoon cornstarch
• 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract

• 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract
• 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut, for topping


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2. To prepare the batter, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a hand-held electric beater. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and light, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla, beating well to incorporate.

3. Turn the mixer to low speed and slowly add the dry ingredients and the evaporated milk to the creamed butter and sugar mixture in 2 additions. Beat for 1 minute after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the cake’s structure. Mix until the batter is smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be one-half full. Tap the pans a few times firmly on the counter top to level and knock out any air bubbles. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans until completely cool, otherwise you run the risk of this extremely light cake breaking apart when you take them out. In the meantime, prepare the glaze, filling, and frosting.

5. To prepare the glaze, in a mixing bowl, stir together the coconut milk, sugar, and vanilla; set aside.

6. To prepare the filling, combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a large pot and place over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced and slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and mix in the coconut, cornstarch, and vanilla. Cool and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

7. To prepare the frosting, add the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a handheld electric beater. Beat on medium speed until very smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the machine periodically to scrape off the paddle and the sides of the bowl. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue to mix until combined.

8. Once the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pans and remove the paper. Trim off any uneven edges. With a pastry brush, coat all of the cake rounds with the glaze. Using a metal spatula, spread half of the coconut filling on top of two of the cake rounds. Carefully place the cakes on top of each other. Set the last layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Generously cover the top of the cake with shredded coconut, and carefully patting on the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 45 minutes before cutting. Makes 1 cake.

More Recipes from The Lemonade Cookbook

Avocado-Cherry Tomato Salad Recipe with Lime Vinaigrette
Israeli Couscous Recipe with Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette
Chicken and Goat Cheese Sandwich Recipe

From The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli. Copyright © 2013 by Alan Jackson and Joann Cianciulli and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.

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