How To Make the Best Lemon-Coconut Cake from Scratch

published Oct 2, 2021
Lemon-Coconut Cake Recipe

Luscious bright lemon and creamy coconut are perfectly paired in this decadent layer cake.

Serves12

Prep1 hour 35 minutes

Cook35 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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lemon coconut cake slice on a plate
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

While I fell for classic coconut cake more than a decade ago when I first lived in the South, lemon-coconut cake is more of a recent love affair. This close cousin boasts layers of lush lemon curd and tangy cream cheese icing that makes it a wow-worthy centerpiece for any celebration.

Nowadays this cake makes a regular appearance at bridal and baby showers, on my Easter table, and occasionally — when the craving strikes — on the cake plate on my kitchen counter. Here’s how to make the best lemon-coconut cake from scratch.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

The 3 Components of Lemon-Coconut Cake

Lemon-coconut cake is a triple-threat treat: fluffy coconut cake, tangy lemon curd, and rich coconut cream cheese icing add up to one awesome dessert.

  • The cake: This chiffon-style cake calls for creamed butter and sugar, but cake flour and whipped egg whites keep it light and fluffy. You’ll want to use a good-quality coconut extract to flavor this cake — I’m a big fan of this one from The Spice House. Let the cake layers cool completely while you make the lemon curd and the icing.
  • The lemon curd: This recipe uses egg yolks and cornstarch to make sure the lemon curd thickens into a sliceable filling once it sets. Lemon juice and lemon zest team up to give the curd an intense lemon flavor. To make that process easier, be sure to zest at least one lemon before halving and juicing it.
  • The cream cheese icing: Some lemon-coconut cakes call for the more traditional seven-minute icing that you’ll find on classic coconut cakes, but cream cheese icing, flavored with more coconut extract and topped with shredded coconut, is more balanced in flavor, and helps the lemon flavor of the curd really shine.
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe

Assembling Lemon-Coconut Cake

Putting this beautiful cake together is the hardest part, because the cake is very tender and both the lemon curd and icing are thick. These tips will set you up for success.

  1. Bring all the components to room temperature. If you make the cakes and lemon curd in advance, make sure to bring everything to room temperature before assembling the cake. This will make it easier to spread the curd onto the cake.
  2. Smear a tablespoon of the icing onto the serving plate. This will help keep the bottom cake layer steady as you build the dessert.
  3. Chill the cake before serving. Chilling the assembled cake for at least 30 minutes before serving will make it easier to slice.

Most importantly, don’t stress too much about perfection. The entire cake will be covered in shredded coconut, which covers a multitude of sins.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Amelia Rampe
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Here's how to make the best lemon-coconut cake from scratch.

Lemon-Coconut Cake Recipe

Luscious bright lemon and creamy coconut are perfectly paired in this decadent layer cake.

Prep time 1 hour 35 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes

Serves 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 sticks

    (8 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 4

    large egg whites

  • Cooking spray

  • 3 cups

    cake flour

  • 1 tablespoon

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 cups

    granulated sugar, divided

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    coconut extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    cream of tartar

For the lemon curd:

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 4

    large egg yolks

  • 3

    large lemons

  • 1/4 cup

    water

  • 3/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 2 tablespoons

    cornstarch

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the cream cheese icing:

  • 2 sticks

    (8 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 8 ounces

    cream cheese

  • 1 pound

    powdered sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    coconut extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 cups

    unsweetened shredded coconut

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Stand mixer with paddle attachment (optional)

  • 2

    (9-inch) round cake pans

  • Parchment paper

  • Mixing bowls

  • Cake stand

  • Offset spatula

  • Electric hand mixer

Instructions

  1. Prepare the butter, eggs, and cream cheese. Prepare the following and let sit at room temperature until the butter is softened:
    - Cut 2 sticks unsalted butter for the cake into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer).
    - Cut 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for the lemon curd into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a small bowl.
    - Separate 4 large eggs for the cake and lemon curd, placing the yolks and whites in separate bowls.
    - Place 2 sticks unsalted butter and 8 ounces cream cheese for the icing on the counter.

Make the cake:

  1. Heat the oven and prepare the cake pans. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray, the line the bottom of each pan with a parchment paper round.

  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Place 3 cups cake flour, 1 tablespoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

  3. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add 1 2/3 cups of the granulated sugar to the butter in the stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until lightened in color, increased slightly in volume, and creamy looking, 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

  4. Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk. Beat in the flour mixture in 3 increments and the 1 cup whole milk in 2 increments: Beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture on low speed until incorporated. Add 1/2 of the milk and beat until smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Repeat beating in 1/2 of the remaining flour mixture. Beat in the remaining milk and 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined.

  5. Whip the egg whites and remaining sugar. If using a stand mixer, transfer the batter to a large bowl, then wash and dry the stand mixer bowl. Place the 4 egg whites, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar, and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar in the stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until medium peaks form, about 3 minutes. The mixture should hold a slightly arched peak when the whisk is removed from the mixture.

  6. Fold the whipped egg whites into the cake batter. Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and quickly fold into the batter to loosen it. Fold the remaining egg whites into the batter in 2 increments.

  7. Divide the batter into the cake pans and bake. Divide the batter between the cake pans. Bake until the cakes pull away from the sides and spring back when touched and the top is lightly golden-brown, 28 to 32 minutes.

  8. Cool the cakes. Place the cakes on a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Flip the cakes out of the pans onto the rack, discard the parchment, and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, make the lemon curd. If you aren’t frosting the cakes right away, tightly wrap each cooled cake in plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out, then store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Make the lemon curd:

  1. Zest and juice the lemons. Finely grate the zest from 3 large lemons until you have about 1 tablespoon zest. Juice the lemons into a liquid measuring cup until you have 1/2 cup juice. Add 1/4 cup water to the juice.

  2. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, yolks, and juice. Place 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Add the 4 reserved egg yolks and lemon water and whisk until smooth.

  3. Cook the curd. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Let boil for 1 minute. Immediately transfer the curd to a small bowl.

  4. Finish the lemon curd and cool. Add the softened 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and lemon zest and whisk until the butter is melted. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the curd and let cool.

Make the frosting:

  1. Beat the butter. Wash and dry the stand mixer bowl and paddle attachment if needed. Place the softened 2 sticks unsalted butter in the bowl (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until light and smooth, about 1 minute.

  2. Beat in the cream cheese. Add the softened 8 ounces cream cheese and beat on medium speed until homogenous and lightened in texture, about 3 minutes.

  3. Gradually add the sugar. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Measure out 1 pound powdered sugar. Add about 1/4 of the powdered sugar, return to medium speed, and beat until incorporated. Repeat scraping and beating in the remaining powdered sugar in 3 to 4 more increments.

  4. Add the extracts and salt. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

  5. Beat until smooth. Beat on medium speed until smooth and slightly increased in volume, 3 to 5 minutes more.

Frost and decorate the cake:

  1. Split the cakes. Using a large serrated knife, split each cake layer in half horizontally: Holding the knife parallel to your work surface and as level as possible, begin cutting in towards the center of the cake. Rotate the cake as you go and continue until the top portion detaches from the rest of the cake.

  2. Frost the cake. Smear a tablespoon of the icing onto a cake or serving plate. Center one cake layer on the plate. Evenly spread 1/3 cup of the lemon curd onto the cake. Top with the second layer of cake. Repeat until all the cake layers are stacked. Dollop the icing onto the top of the cake, then spread it evenly over the top and down the sides.

  3. Cover the cake with shredded coconut. Cover the cake with 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut: Sprinkle some of the the coconut over the top of the cake. Then, working with a handful of coconut at a time, gingerly press more coconut onto the sides of the cake.

  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate the frosted cake for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cakes can be baked up to 2 days in advance and stored tightly wrapped in plastic in the fridge. The lemon curd can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.

Storage: Leftover cake can be loosely covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.