Coconut Layer Cake adapted into birthday cupcakes

I usually prepare this recipe as a layer cake but discovered it makes great cupcakes as well.

One day during my lunch break I stopped into a book sale and, just feeling like spending money and for no other reason, I picked up a book called Cakes: 1001 Classic Recipes from Around the World. When I brought it home and examined the cover more closely, I was a bit dubious. There was no famous chef’s name endorsing the book. Published by Reader’s Digest, it seemed fairly unassuming. But it had a lot of pictures of the finished products, and it was well laid out, qualities that I always appreciate in any cookbook. I can’t remember which recipe I tried first, but I know that it was beyond successful, and I found myself reaching for the book more and more often. With only one exception, every recipe I’ve tried in this book has been a hit.

The Coconut Layer Cake has become one of my fallback recipes. I’ve made it for birthdays, showers and holidays … I’ve adapted it into cupcakes. No matter what the format or occasion, it never fails to please. Since I’ve shared this recipe so many times, I’m happy to share it again here with my modifications. And if you ever come across this cookbook, I recommend it!

Ingredients – Cake

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coconut extract
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts or almonds, chopped

Ingredients – Filling

  • 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1 teaspoon of coconut extract for 1 teaspoon of vanilla)
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Ingredients – Icing

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (sometimes I substitute 1 teaspoon of coconut extract)
  • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Directions – Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
  4. Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and coconut extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy.
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, until just blended after each addition.
  6. With mixer at low speed, gradually beat in the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Make sure to always start and end with dry ingredients (i.e. 3 rounds of dry ingredients interspersed with 2 rounds of milk).
  7. Fold in the nuts.
  8. Spoon half the batter into each of the prepared pans.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  10. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks, carefully removing the paper. Let cool completely.

Directions – Filling

  1. With mixer at medium speed, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth.
  2. Stir in the vanilla (and/or coconut extract).
  3. Mix in the icing sugar at a low to medium speed until smooth.
  4. Fold in the shredded coconut.

Directions – Icing

  1. Beat the whipping cream with a whisk attachment in a stand mixer until stiff peaks form.
  2. With a spatula, fold in the icing sugar and vanilla (or coconut extract).
  3. Fold in the shredded coconut.

Directions for assembly

  1. Split each cake layer horizontally.
  2. Place one layer on a serving plate and spread with half the filling.
  3. Repeat step 2 with two more layers.
  4. Place the remaining layer on top.
  5. Spread with the icing.


  • When I can only find sweetened shredded coconut, I will reduce the amount of icing sugar in the recipes for filling and icing.
  • Usually when I bake this cake, macadamia nuts are out of season. Not to worry, blanched almonds are equally good if not better for this recipe.
  • When I adapted this recipe to cupcakes, I used the recipe for cream cheese filling for my topping, not the icing.