The rule is – on your birthday you can have absolutely any cake you want. It’s one of those inalienable rights. I have to fess up to something. As a constant baker, cookbook author, and butter enthusiast my favorite birthday cake is actually…. anything made with cake mix. I know, I know. You can fuss at me all you need to. BUT today is my birthday which I suppose makes this cake my birthright. I’ve been tweaking this coconut cake for weeks now and I can confidently say this humble, zhooshed up cake mix is my perfect southern coconut cake. You can best believe that part of it’s perfection is how easy this recipe is.
This easy coconut cake recipe is inspired by a legendary coconut layer cake made by dear friend Suzonne Stirling. The three tender white cake layers are melded together in moisture with a sweetened sour cream mixture before it’s wrapped in a thick layer of cream cheese frosting and a coat of coconut flakes. Truly the best part of the best part of the cake is that Suzonne makes it for you and often delivers it with a stunning bow and bottle of champagne.
This cake is loosely based on Suzonne’s Coconut Cake with a dose of nostalgia for the sheet cake, yellow cake mix cake my grandmother would make for our birthdays. Don’t let the cake mix turn you off – you’ll be taking all the credit for this beauty from the first slice.
If you’re in need of more birthday cake inspiration. I gotchu, always: My 12 Best Birthday Cake Recipes.
Here’s are the ingredients you’ll need to make this easy coconut cake:
• white cake mix
• 3 large eggs, room temperature
• neutral oil
• sour cream
• cream cheese
• powdered sugar
• vanilla extract
• a pinch of salt
• sweetened shredded coconut
First, let’s mix together our very simple, coconut enhanced cake batter. In a large mixing bowl using an electric hand mixer or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cake mix, 4 ounces of sour cream, eggs, oil, water, and cream of coconut.
Can you mix together the batter by hand? You sure can, if you’re looking for a quickie arm working. Grab a whisk and combine the ingredients until no lumps remain and the batter is well combined – 2 to 3 minutes of good whisking.
If you’re using one of the aforementioned power tools, beat on medium speed for about two minutes – not much longer or the cake batter will actually get tough. Weirdly, more is too much in this case.
Now… if you really REALLY want to drive the coconut flavor home, you can add a teaspoon of coconut extract. I am one of those sensitive people who thinks coconut extract makes things taste like sunscreen. This might be the same condition that people averse to cilantro have. BUT – if you’re into coconut extract – I would never stand in your way.
You have options here when it comes to what vessel you bake your cake in. I happen to love sheet cakes as birthday cakes because nostalgia. BUT if a layer cake hits your nostalgia bone, you can divide your cake batter into two 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. Consult the cake mix box for baking times.
In a shock to no one, I’m very particular about the 9×13-inch pan I use for cakes. This Goldtouch Nonstick pan from Williams Sonoma is the dream. I love it for its tight corners, even bake, and nonstick surface.
Bake the cake in the oven for 26-30 minutes until golden around the edges, puffed through the center, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs but not wet batter.
While the coconut cake bakes, whip together the sour cream glaze. The glaze is the magic layer between cake and frosting that will make the top layer of cake soft and nearly sticky – like cake that’s been sitting in your grandmother’s refrigerator.
In a small bowl whisk together sour cream, a few tablespoons of cream of coconut, and a few spoonful’s of powdered sugar. Give it a little taste before you spread on the cake – one of your rewards as the baker, obviously.
It’s hard to explain but any baked good with sour cream tastes like it was effortlessly made by a grandmother and this cake is no exception.
Allow the baked cake to cool for 5 minutes. Use the cake tester or toothpick to prick a few holes in the warm cake and spread the sour cream mixture across the top of the cake in an even layer.
Cake mix cakes tend to pull away from the sides of the pan as it cools. You’ll find that some of that sour cream mixture slides down the sides of the cake which is ideal for texture and flavor.
Allow the cake to cool to room temperature (not even a touch warm) before frosting. You can expedite this cooling process in the fridge.
While the cake cools, whip together the coconut cream cheese frosting using an electric mixer (or a stand mixer if you went that route).
Cream cheese frosting is an unapologetic pairing of unsalted butter and softened cream cheeses blocks. It’s easy to make if you follow these 5 tips for making the best cream cheese frosting.
Toast a few handfuls of sweetened shredded coconut to top the cake.
Here’s what that makes frosting this cake easy and beautiful: an offset spatula, a piping bag, and a small star tip.
Scoop about 1/3 of the batter into a piping bag fitted with a small star tip. Spread the remaining frosting onto the cooled cake. If parts of the sour cream topping sneak through – that’s ok – just spread as evenly as possible. It should be a thick layer.
Pipe stars around the border of the cake and in vertical and horizontal stripes if you’d like. Mix the toasted coconut with untoasted sweetened shredded coconut, and fill each empty space of the cake with a heap of coconut.
I think this cake is best refrigerated overnight – to settle, you know – and served chilled.
This coconut sheet cake is full-on coconut flavor flavor without it tasting like summer sunscreen. The cake is fluffy and light with a sour cream layer that marries the cream cheese frosting and the cake itself. It’s so comforting and low-key classy if you ask me.
Store any remaining frosting in the freezer should you need a little extra something for the micro-batch cinnamon roll recipe I’ll bring you next week. Frosted cake slices can also be individually wrapped in wax paper and stored in a zip lock bag in the freezer because that’s the way my mom does it, and there’s something really wonderful about biting into a slice of frozen cake.
If you’re thinking of a dessert for Memorial Day – I’d say it’s between this cake and my favorite blueberry cobbler.
Happy baking, friends! Be sure to comment and rate this recipe when you make it! xo
Other cakes you’ll love:Print
For the Cake:
- 1 (15.25 ounce) box white cake mix
- 8 ounces sour cream, divided
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup cream of coconut like Coco Lopez (buy a 15 ounce can)
For the Sour Cream Layer:
- Remaining 4 ounces sour cream
- 3 tablespoons cream of coconut
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
For the Frosting:
- 2 8-ounce blocks cream cheese
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 pound powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Splash of milk
- 2–3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl with a set of electric hand beaters, combine dry cake mix, half of the sour cream container (4 ounces), and the rest of the cake ingredients. Beat on high for three to five minutes until well combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 26-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry with a few moist crumbs, not wet batter.
- While the cake bakes, in a small bowl combine remaining sour cream, cream of coconut and powdered sugar. Whisk until no lumps remain and set aside.
- Remove the baked cake from the oven and allow to cool for five minutes. Use a toothpick to prick holes across the top of the cake and spread the sour cream frosting across the warm cake. Cover loosely and allow the cake to cool to room temperature.
- While the cake cools, make the cream cheese frosting. In a medium bowl using electric hand beaters, beat cream cheese around the bowl to soften. Add the softened butter and beat to combine. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and a small splash of milk. Beat until thick and smooth, about 3 minutes.
- Toast 1 cup of shredded coconut on a small sheet pan in the oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes but keep a close eye on it. Toss with untoasted coconut.
- Place 1/3 of the cream cheese frosting in a piping bag fitted with a star tip. Frost the cooled cake with room temperature cream cheese frosting from edge to edge.