Gluten Free Toasted Coconut Layer Cake

4.38 from 8 votes
A red circle with the letters GF

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Gluten Free Coconut Cake is the ultimate layer cake for serious coconut lovers. Inspired by Bobby Flay’s recipe, moist white cake is soaked with a coconut simple syrup, layered with creamy coconut filling, and covered with coconut buttercream frosting and toasted coconut. This is a dessert worthy of a special occasion.

Gluten Free Coconut Cake Recipe Image with title

Bobby Flay’s Toasted Coconut Cake

When my husband turned 40, I surprised him by having his mom, brother, and a couple of family friends meet us in New York City for dinner. We went to Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and it was incredible. To this day he still speaks about that meal. Our friend still speaks about dessert.

She ordered the coconut cake. The same coconut cake with which he later won an episode of Throwdown, beating Chef Robert Carter from South Carolina whose massive coconut cake has been his signature for years. Eventually, she tracked down the recipe and finally had the chance to recapture that incredible dining experience at home.

And when I had to give up gluten, I knew I had to make a gluten free coconut cake. It is a bit of work, but the payoff is an incredibly decadent cake that just explodes with coconut flavor.

This is a cake worthy of a celebration. In fact, it might deserve its own celebration. National Coconut Cake Day! Is that already a thing?

Piece of gluten free coconut cake from the side to see layers of cake, filling, and coconut buttercream frosting

Why This Recipe Works

Finally, you can enjoy a gluten free version of Bobby Flay’s incredible recipe with this Gluten Free Coconut Cake. Moist cake, rich and creamy filling, and a smooth coconut frosting with plenty of toasted coconut on the outside make this a sweet treat for a special birthday or holiday!

It has the same coconut simple syrup to moisten those vanilla cake layers. Other than swapping the vanilla bean for just some good vanilla extract, it has the same coconut custard that is used to make the filling and frosting. It has the same fluffy coconut frosting made from whipping that custard with heavy cream. Of course, it has that same coconut buttercream made with more of that custard. And let’s not forget that coating of toasted coconut for texture and a nice, toasty flavor to balance out the sweetness.

Only instead of Bobby’s cake, I used my own tried and true gluten free cake that has been a trusted family and reader favorite in my Gluten Free Strawberries and Cream Cake for years!

After finding out I had a gluten allergy, it’s been years since I have been able to enjoy this amazing creation. But now I get to again, and so can you!

Overhead of a whole Gluten Free Coconut Cake with a cake server


You’ll find the exact quantities in the recipe card. This is just a quick list so you can check what you have in your fridge and pantry, and what you might need to put on your grocery shopping list.

For the coconut custard

  • Whole milk
  • Canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • Egg yolks – save the whites for the cake
  • Sugar
  • Cornstarch
  • Coconut rum
  • Vanilla extract – always be sure your vanilla extract is gluten free. The most common brands are, such as Nielsen-Massey and McCormick. I personally love the flavor of Nielsen-Massey Madascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, and it is certified gluten free.

For the cake

For the coconut simple syrup and toasted coconut

  • Sweetened coconut flakes
  • Sugar
  • Water

For the coconut buttercream

  • Unsalted butter
  • Powdered sugar
  • Coconut custard – prepared and chilled
  • Salt

For the coconut filling

  • Coconut custard – prepared and chilled
  • Heavy cream – well chilled
Gluten Free Coconut Cake with a slice removed

How to Make Gluten Free Coconut Cake

I’m not going to try to tell you this is a quick and easy dessert to make. Nor am I going to pretend that this even leans towards the healthy side. It’s a bit of a labor of love and truly a special occasion treat.

That being said, while there are a lot of components and steps, none are particularly difficult. And if you break down the tasks into an orderly manner, it all comes together in a straightforward way.

And seriously, it is worth it!

  1. Prepare the coconut custard by combining the milk and coconut milk in a saucepan and bringing to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a bowl, and slowly whisk in the warmed milk. Return the mixture to the pan, cook till thickened, then remove from the heat and whisk in the rum and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and chill in the refrigerator.
  2. Bake the cake by first sifting together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg whites and vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients, milk, and yogurt. Divide between three pans, bake, and cool slightly in the pans before removing to racks to cool completely.
  3. Toast the coconut by spreading it on a sheet pan and baking till golden, tossing every few minutes.
  4. Make the simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar to a boil, removing the saucepan from the heat, adding the coconut, and letting it soak. Then strain off the coconut and reduce the syrup slightly.
  5. Make the coconut buttercream frosting by beating the butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, then beating in the chilled Coconut Custard and a pinch of salt.
  6. Make the coconut filling by adding the Coconut Custard and heavy cream to a bowl, and beating until soft peaks form.
  7. Assemble the cake by cutting each cake in half horizontally. Place one layer cut side up on a platter, brush with simple syrup, and spread with one-third of the coconut filling. Repeat with two more layers. Brush the cut side of the final layer with simple syrup and place cut side down on top. Cover the cake with buttercream and toasted coconut.
Slice of gluten free white cake with coconut buttercream from the front

Tips for Success

  • When you separate your eggs to use the yolks in the custard, remember to save those whites for the cake.
  • Do not skip lining your cake pans with parchment paper. Gluten free cakes can be a little sticky.
  • Since you are covering the cake in toasted coconut, there is no need to worry about doing a crumb coat with the frosting.

Make it in advance

If you want to break up the preparation, there are some steps you can do in advance.

  • The toasted coconut can be kept in a resealable container at room temperature for several weeks.
  • You can make the simple syrup in advance and leave it covered at room temperature for a day or two, or up to a week in the refrigerator.
  • The coconut custard can be made a day in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator, but I do recommend making the filling and frosting just before assembling the cakes.
  • The cakes can be baked a day or two in advance if wrapped tightly after they cool completely. You can even freeze them for up to a month or two.

Storing Coconut Cake

The cake can stay at room temperature for an hour or two, but any longer than that and it will have to be refrigerated. You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days.

It can also be frozen, and will maintain its quality for up to a month or two if wrapped properly.

I recommend lightly covering it with plastic wrap until it is frozen solid. Then remove it from the freezer and wrap it tightly, especially pressing the plastic wrap up against any cut sides.

Then place the wrapped cake in a plastic freezer storage bag or airtight container. If it is too large for that, then just be sure to use several layers of plastic wrap to make it airtight.

Gluten Free Toasted Coconut Cake on a platter with a slice removed

What you’ll need

While this doesn’t cover everything like the basics of bowls and measuring cups, here are a few things you will need to make this gluten free toasted coconut cake:

  • Stand mixer – this makes it much easier for making the cake and buttercream, though you can use a hand mixer if that is all you have.
  • 9 inch round cake pans
  • Offset spatulas – I like to use a small one to spread the filling and a larger one to smooth on the frosting.
  • Mesh strainers – this is what I use for sifting my dry ingredients, and you’ll need one for straining the coconut when you make the simple syrup.
Gluten free white cake with coconut filling and frosting on a glass plate
4.4 from 8 votes

Gluten Free Coconut Cake

Four layers of tender cake bursting with coconut flavor from coconut simple syrup, coconut filling, coconut frosting, and toated coconut! A dessert recipe worthy of any special occasion.
Prep: 1 hr 30 mins
Cook: 1 hr
Total: 50 mins


For the coconut custard:

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the cake)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons coconut rum, such as Malibu
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cake:

  • 2 cups Gluten Free All Purpose Flour Blend (recommended: Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten Free Baking Flour)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 egg white at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

For the toasted coconut and coconut simple syrup:

  • 2 3/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

For the coconut buttercream:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup Coconut Custard, well chilled
  • pinch salt

For the coconut filling:

  • 3/4 cup Coconut Custard, well chilled
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, well chilled


For the coconut custard:

  • Combine the milk and coconut milk in a medium saucepan and place over low heat. Bring to a simmer.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Slowly pour the warmed milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
  • Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, then whisk constantly while cooking until thickened. You'll know it is done when you can cot the back of a spoon and when you run your finger across the back of the spoon, the finger mark stays.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the rum and vanilla extract.
  • Let it cool to room temperature, place plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard, and chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours.

For the cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line two 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl and set aside.
  • Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, in a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar on medium speed.
  • Add egg whites and vanilla and beat for about 30 seconds.
  • Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture, milk, and yogurt. Beat until combined.
  • Beat on high for an additional 30 seconds.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the pans.
  • Bake for 28-32 minutes, or until lightly golden and toothpick comes out clean.
  • Cool pans on racks for about ten minutes, then remove cakes from pans and cool completely.

For the toasted coconut and coconut simple syrup:

  • Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread 2 cups of the coconut evenly on a baking sheet and toast for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring every 3 or 4 minutes until lightly golden brown. Leave on the basking sheet and set aside to cool.
  • Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.
  • Strain off the coconut and return just the liquid to a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook about 5 minutes or until slightly reduced. Set aside to cool.

For the coconut buttercream:

  • Place the butter and powdered sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the Coconut Custard and a pinch of salt and beat on low until smooth.

For the coconut filling:

  • Add the Coconut Custard and heavy cream to a bowl, and beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer on medium-high to high speed until soft peaks form. Do not overbeat.

To assemble the cake:

  • Using a serrated knife, slice off the very top of the cake to make it even, then slice each cake in half horizontally.
  • Place one layer of the cake on a plate cut side up and brush with some of the Coconut Simple Syrup. Spoon one-third of the Coconut Filling on top of the cake and spread into an even layer to a 1/2-inch from the edge of the cake.
  • Repeat with two more layers.
  • Brush the cut side of the final layer with more of the Coconut Simple Syrup, then place cut side down on top of the cake.
  • Frost the top and sides of the cake with the Coconut Buttercream and pat the toasted coconut onto the sides and top of the cake.
  • Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator.


Cake recipe adapted from Bob’s Red Mill. The remainder of the recipe is from Bobby Flay on Food Network.
Nutrition Facts
Gluten Free Coconut Cake
Amount Per Serving (1 slice (1 1/16th of the cake))
Calories 571 Calories from Fat 378
% Daily Value*
Fat 42g65%
Saturated Fat 29g145%
Cholesterol 127mg42%
Sodium 323mg13%
Potassium 180mg5%
Carbohydrates 47g16%
Fiber 4g16%
Sugar 32g36%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 962IU19%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Calcium 83mg8%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


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  1. Lauren

    I made this for my grandpa a few years ago right before he had to move into a VA hospital 3 hours away. It was apparently the best cake he ever had 🥰. My mom has requested the cake for her birthday since apparently it was the best cake SHE ever had as well! However this time we have to try and make it dairy free… wish me luck!

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