Go Back
+ servings
Coconut cake on a marble and wood cake stand.

High Altitude Coconut Cake

Heather Smoke
A classic, fluffy, high altitude recipe for white coconut cake that's soft and moist, frosted with coconut buttercream.

All recipes on Curly Girl Kitchen are developed for high altitude at 5,280 feet.

5 from 7 votes
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Dessert
Cuisine American


  • Stand Mixer with Paddle Attachment



  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • 3 ¼ cups cake flour, spooned and leveled, then sifted
  • 3 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
  • ¾ cup full fat buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 can (14 oz) full fat, unsweetened coconut milk (such as Thai Kitchen)
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 2 tsp coconut extract


  • 1 can (14 oz) full fat, unsweetened coconut milk (chilled 1 day in advance, to separate the water from the cream)
  • 2 cups unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp meringue powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 - 1 ½ tsp coconut extract
  • 1 bag (10 oz) natural, unsweetened coconut flakes



  • Preheat the oven to 350 F, and line the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with circles of parchment paper, then spray the paper lightly with non-stick spray. Position a rack in the center of the oven.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed for 10 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy and lightened in color.
  • Beat in the egg whites, one at a time, beating each for 10 seconds before adding the next. Scrape the bowl down and beat for 10 more seconds.
  • In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, coconut milk, vanilla bean/extract and coconut extract.
  • With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the liquid ingredients, starting and ending with the flour. Use a spatula to scrape the bowl well and incorporate any stray bits of flour.
  • Divide the batter between the pans. Bake on the center oven rack for about 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
  • Set the pans on a wire rack, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel, and cool completely before frosting.


  • To make the coconut cream used in the buttercream, place a can of full-fat unsweetened coconut milk (do NOT shake the can) in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours, or overnight – the cream and the water will separate, allowing you to drain the water and just use the cream.
    Take the chilled can, turn it upside down, and remove the bottom of the can.  Drain off the coconut water, saving it for another recipe if you like.  The can should be about 1/2 – 2/3 full of solid coconut cream.  Let the can sit out at room temperature for several hours to let the cream soften up again, before adding to your buttercream.  Whatever cream you don’t use, you can save for another recipe, or use it in a vegan coconut whipped cream.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth.  Beat in 4 tablespoons of the coconut cream.
  • With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar, meringue powder and salt and mix until combined.
  • Add the vanilla and coconut extracts, increase the speed to medium high and whip for 4-5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally, until very light and fluffy.  Add more coconut cream, a tablespoon at a time, if needed to reach the right consistency for spreading.
  • Remove the cooled cakes from the pans.  Set one cake, bottom side up, on a cake board or cake pedestal, and peel off the parchment paper.
  • Frost, fill and stack all three layers of cake, then frost the cake with a thin crumb coat of buttercream.  Chill the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Finish frosting the cake with a final layer of buttercream, and smooth it out, but there's no need to make it perfect.
  • Set the cake over a clean baking sheet to catch the coconut, then press handfuls of coconut up the sides of the cake and over the top, too, if you like, until completely covered. You can scoop up any coconut that falls and put it back in the bag.
    Note: If decorating the top of the cake with swirls of buttercream, don't press any coconut on top of the cake. Fit a piping bag with tip 1M, fill with leftover buttercream, and pipe swirls on top.


  1. As noted in the recipe above, it’s important for the egg whites, buttermilk and butter to be at room temperature.
  2. Cake flour is best in this cake.  It makes a much lighter cake than all-purpose flour does.  Be sure to sift the cake flour after measuring.
  3. Natural, unsweetened coconut is preferable to sweetened, shredded coconut.
  4. The cakes are sticky to the touch when removed from the pans.  You must line the baking pans with parchment paper for easy release.
  5. Leftover cake should be stored in an airtight container or cake carrier at room temperature, for up to 3 days.
Keyword Coconut Cake, High Altitude, White Cake
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!