My Mom’s Best Ever Coconut Cake is a decadent poke cake topped with whipped cream and coconut. My family fights over the last slice every time I make it!
Where do I even start with this coconut cake? It’s been around my family’s dinner table for years. Every time there’s a birthday or holiday or get together party type thing I’m asked to make this cake. It’s THE dessert around here. (Okay maybe only second to my husband’s obsession with angel food cake.)
This coconut cake recipe is super easy to make. You’ll need to spend some time going through the steps, but there’s nothing tricky about it.
All it takes is one bite for everyone to start requesting you to bring this coconut poke cake around all the time.
My mom made this cake one night when we came over to her house for dinner, and now I fantasize about it. It’s the best coconut cake recipe I’ve ever had.
The cake itself is moist like a tres leches cake and has a tender crumb with a subtle coconut flavor. Top that off with coconut flavored whipped cream and tons of shredded coconut for the perfect slice.
I double-dog dare you not to fall in love with this cake.
I can’t tell you guys how many times I’ve made this cake. I sat on this recipe for a good year or two before finally baking it up myself. But once I did… I couldn’t stop! Ready to get baking?
Coconut Poke Cake Ingredients
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Coconut oil
- Egg whites
- Cream of tartar
- Evaporated milk
- Sweetened condensed milk
Coconut Cake Frosting
- Heavy cream
- Coconut extract
- Sweetened flaked coconut
If you want, you can go ahead and swap out coconut cream for heavy cream. Whip it up just like normal to make coconut whipped cream. You can leave out the coconut extract if you’re using coconut cream.
My Aunt Cindy tells me to put your coconut cream in the fridge. Then open the bottom side of the can (if you chilled it upright) and drain the water. Then whip up the solidified cream in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
How to Make Coconut Cake
- Start off by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F. Then you grab a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish and grease it with some butter or non-stick cooking spray. Then you’ll add some flour to the dish and roll it around until the whole inside is floured.
- Be sure to turn the pan upside down and tap any excess flour into the sink. You just want a light coating of flour over the fat. Set your dish aside for now.
- To make the batter, add the sugar, shortening, and coconut oil to a large mixing bowl. Beat until the fats and sugar at medium speed until they are combined. You can use a stand mixer or hand mixer here. Next, you’ll add in the vanilla and coconut extracts and beat that into the sugar mixture.
- Now you’ll add in half of the flour mixture and beat everything together. It’s going to look really dry and have a sandy texture. That’s okay. Once the flour is mixed in, add all of the water and mix the batter. After that, add the rest of the flour and mix once more until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.
- Let the batter hang out for a minute while you prep the egg whites. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to a medium mixing bowl. Beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Add the beaten egg whites to the batter and fold them in. Once everything is incorporated, pour the cake batter into your prepared baking dish.
- Pop your cake into the oven and let it bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The edges will be golden and pulling away from the side of the baking dish too.
- Carefully remove your cake from the oven and let it cool to room temperature on a wire cooling rack.
- Once the cake has cooled, use the back end of a wooden spoon to poke holes all over the cake. You could also use a fork or any other smallish instrument to make the holes.
- To make this a poke cake something needs to go into all those holes. Add the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk in a small mixing bowl and whisk them together. Then pour the mixture all over the cake. Then give it a minute to soak in.
- Whipped cream time! Add the heavy cream sugar, vanilla, and coconut extract to a medium mixing bowl. Beat all the ingredients on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Spread your whipped cream ALL over the cake, out to the edges of the baking dish.
- Then all you have to do is sprinkle shredded coconut over the top of the cake and you’re done!
I like to refrigerate my coconut poke cake for at least 30 minutes before serving. You can absolutely make this cake ahead of time and let it hang out in the fridge until you’re ready.
This coconut cake takes time. This is not an “I need a cake in 30 minutes for a party! Ahhhhh!” recipe. This is a do part 1, wait, do part 2, wait, and THEN eat kind of recipe. It’s 100% percent worth the wait!!
Or just pry up the cover a little a eat it a fork full at a time when no one’s looking. I’d be the last person to judge you for that. Actually, I’d be right behind with my own bigger fork.
Should you refrigerate coconut cake?
Yes. This cake has a whipped cream topping that needs to be kept cold. Refrigerating also helps the cake cut into neater slices when it’s time to serve it up.
How long does coconut cake last in the fridge?
This cake will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. We’ve pushed to 5 days and it’s been fine, but it’s better to eat this cake sooner rather than later.
I completely adore this cake and I’m sure you will too. I totally have plans to hoard the whole thing and not share it with anyone. Ha!
Okay, I’ll probably pass some off to the neighbors so it doesn’t go to waste. I always end up making the whole recipe instead of a small, half-size cake. (Use a 9-inch by 9-inch pan if ya want to half the recipe!) But there are worse things in life than cake. Amiright?!
Need a slice of something sweet? Try these other crazy good cakes!
- Angel Food Cake
- Rum-Soaked Honey Pound Cake
- Homemade Carrot Cake
- Guinness Gingerbread
- Brown Sugar Bacon Chocolate Cake
- More dessert recipes
Mom's Best Ever Coconut Cake
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup shortening
- ⅓ cup coconut oil
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 cup water
- 4 egg whites
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 5 ounces evaporated milk
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
- In a medium bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form; set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together shortening and sugar. Beat in vanilla and coconut extract.
- Add flour mixture to sugar mixture, alternating with water, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold egg whites into the batter until just combined.
- Pour batter into prepared baking dish, and spread evenly.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan (about 1 hour).
- Poke holes in the cake’s surface using the back end of a wooden spoon.
- Whisk together the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Pour the milk mixture all over your cake so it gets into all the holes you just made.
- Beat together whipping cream, sugar, coconut extract, and vanilla until stiff peaks form.
- Spread whipped cream over the entire cake and out to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle top of cake with shredded coconut. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. When you're ready to eat, cut the cake into 12 slices and enjoy!
- You can substitute all shortening instead of shortening and coconut oil. Just be sure to add 1/4 teaspoon coconut extract to the cake batter if you make this substitution.
- You can also make real coconut whipped cream instead by substituting coconut cream for the heavy cream. You can leave out the coconut extract if you do this.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.
colleen hogan says
looks good wil make the cake
My family loves Coconut cake, and yours looks amazing! Pinned to make for later!
Thank you so much Christine! I hope you everyone loves it as much as we do!
Dorothy Dunton says
Hi Julie! I am obsessed with coconut desserts! You, and your Mom, certainly know good eats! We just finished off the last of my caramel, pecan coconut brownies, so I’m definitely down with this cake! PS I’m a dive in with your fork person too!
What a tremendous, out of the park, hit this cake was when I took some squares to a party. One person said it was the best cake they ever had and so light! The platter happened to be set in between 2 very thin people and they started with half a square each and continued to devour 3 big pieces, constantly adoring each bite with how delicious, light and easy to go down it is. Every time someone came up to the table they were encouraging them to try it; all loved every bite; such a big hit!
I on the other hand was so pleased I only brought half so I can and continue to indulge in the other half! What a fantastic recipe!! Thank you.
Shortening or butter? ?
Butter will change the flavor of the cake and the texture slightly. The shortening is a neutral flavored fat. I use shortening to make this cake, but you can try butter if you want.
Julie 😉 I have made a lot of cakes but never one with shortening. I feel a little intimidated for having ask you this question but do you use the crisco butter flavor shortening sticks for this cake or does it matter? I have never used the sticks because I have always used Butter or vegetable oil with my baking. Just a little curious. I am understanding that they both serve as shortening but one is Butter flavored? Help please 😉 Thank you for the recipe!!
Hi Debbie! I use regular old Crisco in my cake. The idea is that the shortening doesn’t add a butter flavor to the cake and take away from the coconut. Butter-flavored shortening is fine if that’s what you have on hand. It won’t hurt the cake at all. 🙂
Thank you so much!! Making this one for Easter this year 😉 Did I tell you that coconut cake is my fav….??? Excited about trying something new. Thank you again for the recipe. . Happy Easter!!?
The cake is amazing, just one question… in the cake ingredients you indicate 1/4 tsp of coconut extract but you don’t mention to add it in the cake directions… I made the cake and didn’t add the coconut extract to the cake, only the topping.
Hi Carole. What a space cadet moment on my end, I’m so sorry about that! You should add the coconut extract into the cake batter along with the vanilla extract. (I’ve updated the recipe to reflect this.) It’s just a little extra touch of coconut, but the cake is still delicious without it. I hope you enjoyed this recipe!
Hi. I made this last weekend and it was fantastic! Followed the recipe to a T. After pouring the milks on the cake, I was a bit worried the cake would be to wet, almost soupy, but no! It was so moist yet still a cake. Everyone loved it. Thanks for a great recipe!
Hi Julie, when you say shortening I take it Crisco is ok? White castor sugar? Mmm look forward to giving this a try!!!
Hi Liz! Yes, Crisco is perfect. It’s what I use when I make this cake. 🙂 White caster sugar is fine too. Let me know what you think!
Hi Julie, can this cake be made layer style. Can’t wait to make it, sounds yummy.
Hi Glendora! You can totally turn this into a layer cake, That being said the frosting is whipped cream I’d choose something else for the filling (so the whipped cream doesn’t get smashed in between the layers), and then use the whipped cream on the outside or the cake, pressing the coconut into the sides. Or you could use a vanilla or cream cheese frosting for the whole thing. Totally your call.
John Arcara says
I made this cake in 2 9 inch round pans. I also did add the coconut extract. The most coconut flavor that I had in any coconut cake I made. The problem I had the cake stuck to the pans and did not come out. When I finally got it out (all broken up) ir was gooey on the bottom as if not cooked. Not sure if it was because I used the crisco to grease the pan along with the flour.
But I will try again.
Karen Gaston says
Hi Julie, nice picture of you! My mom adored coconut cake
and bless her, I hope she can eat all she wants of it in
heaven! I crave good coconut cakes and can hardly
wait to try this in my mama’s name.
Soooo good! I made this for a family get together & it was a HIT! I am making it again this week for a potluck. My sister in law has already made it too! Thanks for sharing! Definitely a keeper!
So so happy you all liked it! It’s my go to cake for just about anything.
There isn’t any coconut in the cake. I put in a cup because to Me it’s just not a coconut cake unless it has coconut in it. It’s very good
Rarely is the coconut in the cake itself as most don’t want to change the lovely, soft cake texture. For most of us, it goes on the frosting. I personally LOVE coconut cake but would not want coconut in the cake itself as the cake will have coconut flavor without it and I wouldn’t like changing the texture of the cake itself. But we all do what we love and what works for us. 🙂
I made this cake for our family’s Easter get together. Everyone loved it! It was very good. I didn’t have coconut extract and the two grocery stores we have in our town did not have it, so, in place of it, along with the vanilla extract, I added 1/4 tsp. of almond extract, and it worked out fine. The other change I made in the cake was in place of shortening, I used coconut oil which has a similar texture to shortening and has great health benefits. The cake was great. Great recipe. (:
Good call on the coconut oil! So glad you liked it!!
Did you put a total of 2/3 cup of coconut oil in replace of the shortening+ the original 1/3 cup of coconut oil in the recipe?
Julie Espy says
Yes. If you want to use all coconut oil it would be 2/3 cup total.
I typically use applesauce for shortening or butter. I will try it and let you know if it works. I’m thinking that with the milks, the cake will still be moist and yummy. Can’t wait to try!
I would love to know how it comes out with the applesauce Lynn! Thank you. 🙂
When do you use the coconut oil? It is in the cake recipe but not the cake directions.
The coconut oil goes in with the shortening. Thanks for letting me know Rebecca! I’ve updated the recipe card. 🙂
Erika Rudl says
Why can’t I see the recipe?? I made this a couple years ago and LOVED it, but now the recipe isn’t showing up, just the video (which doesn’t show measurements). HELP!
Hi Erika! I’m so sorry about the glitch on my end. I changed recipe cards last week and am running into hiccups on the site. I’ve updated the recipe and it should be showing correctly now. Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!!
Mick Barr says
Question , the recipie calls for a 5oz can of condensed milk. Should it be 15oz? I couldn’t find a 5 oz can anywhere
Hi Mick! It is supposed to be 5 ounces of evaporated milk. I’m sorry for the confusion in the wording. I’ve updated the recipe card in the hopes of clearing things up. The best option is to buy whatever size can you can find (usually 14 oz or 15 oz) and measure out what you need for the recipe. Hope this helps!
You said “coconut extract” as the ingredient to be added in both the cake mix and the topping. I assume you meant to say coconut oil for the cake. I sure hope that is right because that is how I did it and it is in the oven. I guess I will find out.