Nigella’s Coconut Cake

Coconut cake

Although I don’t really make sponge cakes that often, this is one of my favourites, and it always seems to be popular. And don’t be put off by the photo, admittedly it isn’t my best work. Having said that, the cake is never going to be a showstopper, at least appearance wise, but that isn’t really the point here, this is a comforting, old fashioned sponge sandwich. The cake itself is two really moist coconut sponge cakes, sandwiched with a coconut buttercream and topped with coconut flavoured royal icing, and is taken from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. The coconut flavour in the icing comes from Malibu, or coconut flavoured white rum, and as Nigella notes in her own introduction to this recipe, Malibu is quite useful for cooking with since good coconut flavouring can be quite hard to come by. If making two different types of icing seems like a bit of a faff, then I would recommend tripling the recipe for the coconut buttercream, using a third to sandwich the sponges, and the other two thirds to cover both top and sides. If you wish, you could also add a smearing of good cherry jam inside too.

From Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess

For the cake

225g unsalted butter, softened

225g caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 eggs

200g self-raising flour

25g cornflour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

50g desiccated coconut, soaked in 150ml boiling water

For the coconut buttercream

25g dessicated coconut

75g soft unsalted butter

150g icing sugar, sieved

1 tablespoon Malibu

For the icing on top

2-4 tablespoons Malibu

125g instant royal icing (which may be labelled ‘royal icing sugar’)

Preheat the oven to 180C / 160C fan and butter and line two 20cm sandwich tins. As always, make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before starting. Boil the kettle, put 50g of desiccated coconut into a small bowl or jug, and pour over 150ml of boiling water. Leave this to stand and let the coconut soak up the water.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of the flour between each, beating in well. Then beat in the vanilla. Add the remaining flour, cornflour and baking power, and fold until all is combined. Finally, give the coconut a stir in its boiling water and then tip the whole lot into the batter. (If you wish, the original recipe does say you can whizz everything bar the coconut and water in the processor until you have a smooth batter, whizzing in the coconut at the end, but here I think the slightly longer way gives a better result.)

Pour the batter into the prepared tins, and cook for 25-30 minutes. (The original recipes says 25, I found mine needed 30, although check a 25 – a cocktail stick or cake tester should come out more or less clean.) Leave to cool in their tins for ten minutes, before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

While the cakes are cooking, toast the 25g coconut for the buttercream in a dry pan, shaking it now and then, until it is nicely golden and smells delicious. Tip it onto a plate to stop it toasting further, and allow it to get completely cold before you make the buttercream. Keep watching it – it will turn from nicely toasted to black in not much time at all.

To make the buttercream, cream together the butter and icing sugar. When you have a smooth paste, beat in the Malibu and then the cold toasted coconut. Spread onto the bottom cake, to about 2cm from the edge to allow for splurging, and then place the other cake on top, pushing down gently.

For the royal icing, add two tablespoons Malibu to the instant royal icing (basically following the liquid-to-sugar ration from the packet) and whisk (preferably with the aid of machinery) until smooth and just runny enough to coat the cake. You may need the other 1 or 2 tablespoons of Malibu to achieve this – I did. Pour the icing onto the centre of the cake, and allow it to spread out, helping it along the way with a silicone spatula if needed. Let the icing set before serving the cake.

Coconut cake


28 Comments on “Nigella’s Coconut Cake”

  1. Diät Guru says:

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  2. Frances says:

    The recipe calls for 25g cornflour. Is this flour made from corn or the cornflour that is often used as a thickener for stews and such?
    I wish to bake this cake this weekend so I would appreciate an immediate reply.

  3. Hello, How many fairy cakes would I get out of this amount of ingredients? Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment. A 4 egg sponge mixture should get you up to 24 smaller cakes, especially if you are using the smaller (not muffin sized) paper cases. You should aim to fill each case two-thirds full of cake batter, rather than try to divide it among a specific number of cases. You’ll need to reduce the cooking time too, probably to around 15-20 minutes, but do keep a close eye, and test for doneness in the usual way.

      Depending in which, if any, of the icing recipes you plan to use (I would probably top them with the coconut butter cream) you’ll need to increase quantities, as a minimum I would think you would need a double batch.

      Do let us know how you get on!

  4. Jayne says:

    Would recommend this recipe, smelt and tasted delicious. Nice, easy to follow instructions, I’ll definitely try some more of your recipes!

  5. Leanne says:

    Could you use coconut flour in this recipe and if so, would I need to add baking powder?

    • Hi there. I haven’t ever used coconut flour, so can’t tell you what the results would be. It would seem that you could replace up to 10% of the flour in the recipe with coconut flour, adding the same amount of water since coconut flour will absorb more liquid. Follow the rest of the recipe as written. If you are looking for a gluten free version, rather than enhancing the coconut flavour, I would try one of the gluten free flour mixes, following the packet instructions for substitutions.

  6. Abi says:


    I would like to bake this cake today(Friday) but need to present it on Sunday. What is the shelf life of this cake? How long can if last outside the fridge?
    Can I substitute the Malibu with coconut milk to avoid using alcohol?
    I’d appreciate a quick response please.

    • Hi, sorry for the late response, hopefully the answers may help others! You could make the sponges in advance and freeze them, uniced, in a double layer of cling film then a double layer of foil, for perhaps a month in advance. Defrost overnight in a cool room.

      The icing won’t freeze though, so you’ll have to make the icing, assemble and finish the cake on the day of serving.

      I don’t know if coconut milk would give a strong enough coconut flavour for the icing. You might try looking for a coconut extract or flavouring. Do check the ingredients though, as often good quality extracts are produced using alcohol.

  7. Nina says:

    Just wondering if I could cover the cake in sugar paste I need a coconut sponge cake for a birthday,is it firm enough to hold sugarpaste and some decorations on?

    • Hi Nina. I haven’t covered this particular cake in sugarpaste before. The cake is quite a light sponge in consistency, so I suspect that it would cope with a thin layer of sugarpaste and a few decorations. Let us know how you get on!

  8. Jo Meikle says:

    I don’t like coconut – but everyone at work does – so had a go at this cake! I have to say that even I enjoyed it! Made it in a slightly smaller tin, so it fluffed up impressively high! Melted bounty bars into the buttercream and used it for both squishing the two halves together and as a topping. A HUGE success all round! Did make a few alterations (added almond esscence as i had no vanilla and used rice flour as i had run out of cornflour) but the result was still excellent! Oh, and didn’t add malibu – just extra coconut!

  9. judith says:

    please,i like to knw wot exactly the corn flour does in the d cake.i have never baked any cake with cornflour.tanks.

  10. Chris Weller says:

    Simply loved this cake. Havent made a coconut cake before but it turned out nice and moist and really tasted the coconut in it and it was eaten up as soon as it was placed on the table needless to say i will certainly be making it again thanks

  11. Steph says:

    I made it yesterday..super easy to make and delicious! Thanks!!

  12. Suzanne says:

    Hi, just wondering , I’ve to make a fresh cream cake with coconut and was going to make this coconut cake as it seems to be the best , I’m just wondering how long will this cake last ? , the christening is on Sunday so I was thinking of making cake Friday and then cream and decorate on Saturday nite to be delivered Sunday , do you think that’s ok ? thanks sue

    • Suzanne says:

      Hi , just a quick up date. I made this cake , yum it was fantastic , also I made the filling with melted chocolate and coconut added to whipped double cream and then left in fridge for an hour take out give a wee mix with fork and fill the sponge , I then topped of cake with fresh cream ,it was amazing , check out my Facebook page for pictures 🙂 yummy cake ,will make again for sure

  13. Jenni says:

    I just made this with Gluten free SR flour, 30 ml extra water in the coconut+ 2 capfuls of Malibu & replaced the Buttercream for strawberry jam. My amendments Turned out lovely! Nice moist coconuty moreish cake and my Husband approved into the bargain!

  14. Antonia says:

    Worst cake I have ever tasted this cake made me give up baking for good I hate this.

    • Amy says:

      Maybe you did not follow the recipe correctly or the recipe did not suit your liking. You should still continue baking. I have made a victoria sponge cake filled with strawberries and whipped cream. Maybe you should try it

    • Marie says:

      OMG give up baking cos one cake didn’t turn out lol what a weak thing to say! You obviously didn’t follow recipe properly. I presume so as my cake and cupcakes turned out perfect following the directions to a T! So before you judge this recipe based purely on your own attempt going wrong, perhaps you should try to make it again. ANd if you simply don’t like it because ‘it’s not your taste’ comment fairly. The recipe taste exactly how it’s supposed to taste, like coconut with a beautiful spongey texture…maybe you don’t like coconut lol

  15. […] ganache and topped with coconut (and caramel, by accident) frosting. I used a Nigella recipe from this lovely blog as the base. The cake was really nice, quite balanced and generally well received by all present. […]

  16. Mrs Maureen Lloyd-Owen says:

    Hi I have just bought myself a good quality food processor and used it for this coconut cake of Nigella’s but whilst it rises beautifully in the oven the whole thing (not just the middle) sinks – why. I have now made it three times. Once using my fan oven twice without. Have left it in oven for longer than the 25mins recommended and even after 45 mins the cake looked golden and beautiful but still sank as it cooled. My processor says to cream the butter and sugar before adding dry ingredients whilst Nigella says put everything in together – I have done both but it still sinks. The only thing I haven’t done is use my food mixer instead of my food processor since I want to get full use out of my new ‘toy’. How many minutes or seconds should a cake be processed for as I don’t want to either over process or under process – it does seem to do it very quickly otherwise I am at a loss what to do next. Thank you – Mo

  17. Whitney says:

    Will this cake bake ok in a sheet pan instead of two rounds? I am wanting to make a birthday cake in a rectangular form. What size sheets would you recommend for this recipe?

  18. Marie says:

    I bake ALOT. I swear I could make a living off the amount I bake lol but it is all for my 5 kids and hubby, friends and family. My critics (kids) looove this cake and cupcakes. This is now my base recipe for my cupcakes. I just change up the icing. I know pineapple and Malibu are a match made in heaven as liquor, so making a pineapple and malibu buttercream seemed logical and by gosh it is Amazeballs!! Also double whipped choc ganache and Malibu…amazing!

  19. My pointers should sink the whole thing in to Classic notes and cards from the
    new growth, that will stay viable the particular

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