This gluten-free coconut cake is moist, rich, fluffy and coconutty. The recipe is also dairy-free and soon to be one of your favorites. Using canned coconut milk and shredded coconut, it’s full of flavor!
For more of my gluten-free cake recipes, check out my super moist gluten-free red velvet cake, my highest rated gluten-free lemon cake and gluten-free vanilla layer cake.
Gluten-Free Flour Blends
Store Bought Gluten-Free Flour
If you prefer a store-bought blend, I recommend King Arthur Measure for Measure Flour. Be sure to check out my collection of King Arthur Gluten-Free Flour recipes. Cup4Cup (contains milk powder) and Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend are also good certified gluten-free options. Omit the xanthan gum in the recipe if your flour blend contains guar gum, xanthan gum or inulin.
DIY Gluten-Free Flour Blend
My custom blend of sorghum, millet and brown rice flours is my favorite for this cake. Some of the depth of flavor comes from the variety of gluten-free flours I use. I know it’s a little more of a hassle to have a bunch of different flours lying around but I think it’s worth it. See my tips for baking with gluten-free flour.
Also, strictly gluten-free people really need to branch out beyond the regular rice flour blends. Here is my gluten-free, rice-free flour blend recipe that works extremely well in this cake. Vitacost.com has an excellent selection of affordable, CERTIFIED gluten-free flours and has all the flours I use in my blends.
Coconut Cake Ingredients
When I developed this recipe I had trouble getting the coconut flavor to survive the baking process. But canned coconut milk along with plenty of coconut extract does the trick. To get a noticeable coconut flavor in the cake, canned coconut milk is key. Be sure that you use regular, not light coconut milk. Especially in cooler weather, coconut milk tends to separate in the can. There will be a firm, creamy white layer on top and the more translucent coconut water on bottom. It is important that you warm the coconut milk so that the water and cream will combine. Heat in a microwave safe bowl for 30 to 40 seconds and whisk vigorously until there are no chunks of coconut cream. Then measure.
In addition to the coconut milk, I use 2 TABLEspoons of coconut extract or flavoring. This sounds like a lot of extract, but this is what it takes to give this cake a definite coconut flavor.
Shredded Coconut – I like to coat my gluten-free coconut cake with a combination of unsweetened toasted and untoasted coconut. With a sugary frosting, I feel like sweetened coconut is too much. To toast the shredded coconut, place it in a dry pan and toss until it begins to turn golden. Remove from the pan as soon as it browns! The residual heat of the pan will burn it quickly.
How to Stack a 2 Layer Cake
For a bakery style layer cake with 2 even layers and a nice flat, sharp edged top, here is how to assemble the cake:
- Use a long blade, serrated knife.
- Hold it parallel to the counter top and shave off the domed part of the cake top. Do this for both layers.
- Place one of the layers on a cake plate, cake board or cake turntable, bottom side down.
- Coat just the top of this layer with frosting.
- Place the other layer on top of it, bottom side up. This will give you a nice flat, sharp edged top layer.
- Now frost the outside of the cake
This gluten-free cake pops recipe is a perfect way to use the trimmings from the cake. You’ll just need a little extra frosting and cake pop sticks, that’s it!
The recipe card includes my recipe for cream cheese frosting but this cake would also be fantastic with my vanilla buttercream frosting or my 2 ingredient vegan chocolate frosting. Check out my full list of frosting recipes.
Fluffy and Moist Gluten-Free Coconut Layer Cake
- ¾ c canned coconut milk
- 2½ c gluten-free flour blend* gluten-free. rice-free flour option
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp xanthan gum omit if your flour blend contains xanthan or guar gum
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 eggs
- 2 c sugar
- 1 c oil
- 2 Tbsp coconut extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz cream cheese (room temperature)
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 6 c powdered sugar, sifted
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract, powder or bean paste
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 c unsweetened shredded coconut (for coating the frosted cake)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350° and line the pans with parchment and spray with oil.
- The canned coconut milk usually separates into coconut cream on top and coconut water on the bottom. Place the contents of the can in a small pot or in a microwave safe bowl and heat until warm. Remove from the heat and whisk until the mixture is uniform there are no lumps of coconut cream. Then measure out ¾ cup.
- Whisk the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum and salt together in a small mixing bowl.
- Beat the sugar, eggs, oil, milk and coconut extract and vanilla extract together in a large mixing bowl.
- Pour the dry ingredients into the liquid mixture and mix until the batter is smooth.
- Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans — about 2½ cups batter per pan. Or fill standard cupcake liners 2/3 full.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes for 8" layers, 30-35 minutes for 9" layers or 18-20 minutes for cupcakes or until the top is set in the center and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool the layers or cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
- Toast half of the shredded coconut in a dry pan until it begins to brown. Remove from the pan immediately!
Make the Frosting
- Be sure that the cream cheese and butter are very soft. If they are not soft enough, the frosting will be lumpy. They can be heated in the microwave in short bursts of 5-10 seconds to soften.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese together until the mixture is creamy and uniform – about 1½-2 minutes.
- Add ⅓ of the powdered sugar and mix on low until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining 2 thirds.
- Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the salt and vanilla and Beat on high for 10 seconds. Any longer and the frosting will have large air pockets.
- This frosting should not go more than 3 hours without refrigeration.
Assemble the Cake
- Use a long serrated knife to shave the dome off of the 2 layers, creating a flat, mostly level top.
- Put about 1 cup of frosting on top of one of the layers and spread evenly using firm pressure.
- Place the second layer on top, bottom side up. Coat the top and sides of the cake.
- Immediately coat with shredded coconut.
3/4 c millet flour
1/4 c brown rice flour
2/3 c potato starch
1/3 c tapioca starch For an easy DIY gluten-free flour blend, combine:
2 c brown rice flour
2/3 c potato starch
1/3 cup tapioca starch
An excellent gf coconut cake. I made it for a friend’s birthday and my husband (non gf) declared it his favourite cake!! My friend said it was one of the best gf cakes she had tasted – very moist and flavourful.
I served with sliced mangoes on the side.
Janet Harlow says
I am so glad you enjoyed it! The mangoes on the side are a fantastic idea!
I have a quick question as I’m going to be making this cake this weekend. For the oil, do you recommend coconut oil or vegetable oil?
Janet Harlow says
Hi Debbie, Vegetable oil is definitely the way to go. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and would give the cake a different texture.
I made the cake for my daughter- in-law’s birthday. Everyone LOVED it!!!! The cake was moist and had a lot of coconut flavor. I forgot to take a pic of it, but it was beautiful. I did half with the shredded coconut flakes and half without as some of the people aren’t fans of shredded coconut.
Thank you for a great cake recipe!!
Janet Harlow says
Yay! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
This is the best gf coconut cake I’ve ever tasted.
Liana R says
Well this was a huge hit with the Family. I served it to celebrate the 3 September birthdays we gather for. Everyone absolutely loved it! I made the cake a couple days ahead, cooled and wrapped the two layers tightly in plastic wrap and foil and froze them until the morning of our dinner. I thawed the layers at room temp and then frosted the cake. I kept it in the fridge until just before the guests began arriving. It looked lovely on my tall glass cake platter. Thank you for a wonderful recipe we will be sure to enjoy it again!
I used Cup4Cup and this turned out excellent. My husband (who is not GF) would not stop eating it! Even better the second day. Definitely moist and full of coconut-y flavor. YUM! Will make it again (and again and again). Thank you!
Janet Harlow says
Yay! So glad you and your non-gf husband enjoyed it.
Delicious! Even gluten eaters loved it! Thank you for a great recipe.
Janet Harlow says
That’s great! It’s definitely a favorite among all my friends and family, gluten-free or not.