Coconut Cake

When you grow up in my mother’s family, the significance of any event is determined by the presence of a coconut cake. People will ask before a gathering “is there going to be coconut cake?” which is honestly the same thing as asking “is this a big deal?” or “do I really need to show up to this thing?” The reason is that my mother and grandmother’s recipe for coconut cake requires a significant amount of preparation and refrigerator space. In fact, if you plan to serve this cake, you’ll need at least 3-4 days notice to start creating it, and you’ll probably have to clear out a lot of things in your refrigerator to make room for the cake container. And, if there’s going to be coconut cake, people will show up, no matter what the occasion, because it is honestly the most amazing piece of cake you will ever put in your mouth. But don’t be worried – this is not a difficult cake to make. In fact, you may be surprised that the ingredient list calls for a boxed cake mix. If you have a recipe on hand for an amazing butter cake, feel free to use that, but the boxed mix is more than sufficient for this recipe. The amount of time in the refrigerator and the texture of the filling will allow the cake to absorb a huge amount of coconut flavor. The only warning I would attach to this recipe is that once you serve it, people will constantly ask you about the next one you’re planning to make. This cake makes a lasting impression on everyone who tastes it, so if you’re looking to impress, whip this up and wait for the compliments to start pouring in.

Ingredient List
1 box Duncan Hines Golden Butter Cake Mix     [2040 calories]
3 large eggs     [210 calories]
½ cup water
1 stick salted butter, softened to room temperature     [800 calories] (The back of the cake box says 7 tablespoons, but use all 8 that come in a generic stick of butter – it makes a difference)

Filling & Frosting
2 cups granulated white sugar     [1548 calories]
1 cup sour cream     [480 calories]
18 oz. frozen coconut flakes, thawed to room temperature     [1365 calories]
16 oz. Cool Whip, thawed in the refrigerator     [400 calories]

Special Equipment
Airtight cake container

Makes about 20 slices
Calories per serving: 340 per slice

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 9-inch cake pans, then line with parchment paper.

* If you’d like to make a larger cake, you can substitute with 13 x 3 inch cake pans. If you choose to do this, you will need 2 boxes of cake mix, as well as double of all the cake ingredients. You will then fill each pan with a full mixture of one cake mix box. *

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, eggs, water, and softened butter.

Using an electric mixer, blend at low speed until just moistened. Increase the speed to medium, and mix well (~ 3 – 4 minutes) until batter is smooth.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 cake pans, and bake for 25 minutes. Cakes are finished when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While cakes are baking, prepare the filling for the cake layers. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, sour cream, and coconut. If your coconut is still a little bit frozen, use a wooden spoon to break up the clumps of coconut. Mix ingredients well; the final result will be a pretty chunky, sweet liquid. Cover bowl and chill filling in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the cake.

Remove cakes from the oven and cool, in pans, on a rack for about 10 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans onto the cooling racks; if they stick a little bit, use a butter knife to gently pry the edges of the cake loose from the pan. Allow cakes to cool completely on racks, about 20 minutes.

Once cakes are cool, transfer, one at a time, to a large work surface. Using a serrated knife, cut each cake in half horizontally so that you have two thinner layers from each cake. If your cake is significantly bubbled on the top, you can easily remove this part of the cake with the serrated knife so the top is smooth. If you don’t, it might be hard to evenly assemble the cake.

Cut out two pieces of parchment paper, lay them side by side across the plate of your cake container, and then transfer the bottom layer of one of your cakes on top. This is a nifty trick to keep your cake serving platter clean while you prepare the cake. Once you’re finished filling and frosting the cake, you can easily slide out the sheets of parchment paper, and you’ll have a perfectly clean surface around your cake.

Using a large spatula, evenly spread about 1/8 of the filling across the top of the cake. You don’t need a huge, thick layer at this point, just enough filling to evenly coat the cake. Transfer the second cake layer on top, then spread another 1/8 of the filling across the top of the cake. Repeat with the third cake layer, then top the cake with your final cake layer, preferably the top of one of the cakes so it’s easiest to frost. If your cake looks like it might be leaning or may shift position, stick a couple of toothpicks down into the central region of the cake for stability. Just be sure to warn people when they get ready to chow down!

Cover your cake with the cake container lid, then refrigerate. You’ll now make the frosting with the remainder of the filling (you should have about ½ of the original amount left). Gently fold in the Cool Whip, a little bit at a time, until it’s fully combined with the filling. You don’t want to vigorously mix up these two ingredients, as the Cool Whip will lose its texture and your frosting might end up sliding right off the sides of your cake. Cover your frosting, and chill for at least 6 hours to allow the frosting to set up.

Once your frosting has set up, remove from the refrigerator along with the cake. Ice the entire cake, remove the parchment paper lining the cake container plate, and then cover the cake. Refrigerate for 3 days before serving.
* Yes, I said 3 days. This is important, I swear! I have made this cake many times, altering the amount of days in the refrigerator, and 3 days is truly the key to an amazing coconut cake. If you cut the time short a bit, the filling won’t have time to incorporate down into the cake layers, and the moist, coconut-y flavor you’re looking for will not have had time to develop. Be patient, it’s worth it! * 

Recipe – Coconut Cake – PDF Version


This recipe is straight from the family recipe books! We hope you can make it part of your own family’s cookbook as well.



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