For almost every special occasion in our house, my mother made a coconut cake. Now my mother wasn’t a baker – in fact, she hated the thought of it – but she baked scores of coconut cakes over the years because my father adored them. I have to smile when I think of all the experimental cakes we had growing up, too, and the chocolate mint birthday cake comes to mind. To this day, my sisters and I believe the frosting was made with Scope mouthwash. Thank goodness for the radiator in the breakfast room, a perfect depository for bad food.

The Barefoot Contessa offers tons of advice in her recipes. When making a cake, use butter and eggs that are at room temperature. Don’t over-mix the batter!

With Easter this weekend, I can’t think of a better reason to make a coconut cake. I chose a cake from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa because she can do no wrong in her baked goods.

I know the cakes looked burned, but they aren’t. If your cake is lopsided, don’t worry. Your guests will appreciate that it’s homemade.

coconut cake frosting

I have never been a fan of 7-minute frosting because it’s a hassle. This is an easy frosting–the cream cheese makes it divine.

I want to dedicate this post to my father, Lewis McDonnell, who recently passed in early March. Liza said if it were her Dad that she would write the entire post about him. That gave me a big chuckle. My father was a 90’s kind of guy in the ’50s. He cooked us breakfast every morning, created ghost stories with characters such a Penelope Plushbottom and Timmy Tom-Tom and always rounded up the neighborhood kids for a trip to the park. He once told me he found children so much more interesting than adults.

What’s not to love? My father cared about his family mostly, and he did love a good slice of coconut cake!

I know this recipe will make so many of you smile and think of our beloved “Big Lou” the minute you take a forkful. When I say “our,” it’s because I have four sisters, one brother and 23 nieces and nephews.  Yeah, yeah, we’re a big Catholic family — no wonder my mother hated to bake. Who had the time?

Made-With-Love Coconut Cake

Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
This cake is super moist and continues to get rave reviews. If you don't like coconut, go home!
5 from 1 vote
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 10 -12


  • 3/4 pound 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more
  • for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
  • For the frosting:
  • 1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 pound confectioner's sugar sifted
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them with parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.
  • Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.
  • For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioner's sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).
  • To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.
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coconut cake

If I can make this, you can too! Remember, perfection is so overrated.

Have a wonderful weekend with your family.