key lime coconut cake

Friends, I may adore you but I have had just about enough of this cold, windy and snow-free excuse for a New York City winter and I’m leaving you. For a week. Maybe more, I’m not making any promises of a swift return.

key limes

I seem to not be the only one with the Caribbean Islands on my brain, because I had barely cracked the cover of the March Gourmet when I saw this lime coconut cake recipe, remembered both the leftover coconut and a bag of withering key limes I had never used in the fridge and knew immediately that this would be the only thing that would get me through the remaining hours between now and that beachfront resort. Tiny violins, please.

toasted coconut

As with previous vacations, you won’t have to miss me at all because I’ve hidden all sorts of posts that will magically pop up over the week that I am gone; the only thing they’ll lack is my comment responses and clarifications. But, hopefully all of the recipes I am leaving you with are clear-cut enough that there should be very few needed. (Aren’t those famous last words?)

key lime coconut cake

And when I get back — dare I say I am actually looking forward to it? — there is so much good stuff ahead. I can think of at least three things that are too cool not to discuss going on this spring — four, if you consider what awesome company I’m going to be in on this trip — but we’ll get to that in due time. For now, I’ll be collecting my freckles and frosty mai tais, and I plan to forget the internet ever existed.

key lime coconut cake

Recipe Index! Aaat laaast… I have a recipe index that is largely up to date. Oh, I always had one but at last count it was about 6 months out of date and I would rather have stuck pins under my fingernails than even considered making up for that lost time. Instead, I have a new, self-updating system and I love it. I am basking in the glow of a recipe page that’s 90 percent functional. How far we’ve come! [Of course, I have made the rather awkward realization that a ton of posts have been creatively mis-tagged and I’m slowly going through them. Yes I see them, no you don’t need to tell me about all the ones I haven’t gotten to, I will fix them all — after vacation. I will hopefully sound less easily exasperated by then too!]

One year ago: Homemade Devil Dog, Ring Ding or Hostess Cake
Two years ago: Red Split Lentils With Cabbage, Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes and Cucumber and Scallion Raita

Key Lime Coconut Cake
Gourmet, March 2009

I am sure you could use standard limes in here, but if you can find them, Key limes are the juiciest (especially for their size) and the tastiest. I plan to put a wedge of one in every frosty beach cocktail.

Serves 8, but I’d argue 16, especially if in squares

1 cup (120 grams) sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon grated Key lime zest
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups (210 grams) self-rising flour*
3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh Key lime juice, divided
1 cup (120 grams) confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) rum (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter an 8- by 8-inch square or 9- by 2-inch round cake pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper.

Toast coconut in a small baking pan in oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool. Leave oven on.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir together flour and 1/2 cup coconut (reserve remainder for topping). Stir together milk and 2 tablespoons lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into egg mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour.

Spoon batter into pan and smooth top. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool to warm, then turn out of pan and discard parchment.

Whisk together confectioners sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice, and rum (if using) and pour over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

* Make your own: You can make your own self-rising flour — I did, when I realized I had self-rising flour in the pantry but my last known use of it was nearly three years ago. Unfortunately, there are many recipes out there and they don’t all agree. The most common one has you add for each cup of flour 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder but some also suggest 1 teaspoon baking powder instead. I’m going to suggest that you use the 1 teaspoon level because I used the higher one and my cake sunk ever so slightly in the center, a suggestion that it had too much leavening in it. So: For every cup of flour, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder, whisk together very well and sift the mixture. Measure your self-rising flour from there.

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193 comments on key lime coconut cake

  1. I was just in Mexico and we at coconuts out of the shell with lime and chilis!
    This looks homey, without the slightest hint of winter!

    I will make this and try and coax my best friend out of lent. Silly girl, she gave up sugar.

    I want the frosting now!

  2. Have an awesome time! Btw, I made eggs on a bed of spinach and garlic tonight thanks to inspiration from SK, so thank you much much much. Drink lots of mai tais for the rest of us.

  3. This looks like the perfect thing to get you through a few last days in biting cold before you escape to tropical islands. I am such a sucker for cake, and for lime, that this will probably make an appearance in my kitchen in no time.

    Have a beautiful and safe trip!

  4. Susan

    You can ‘neener-neener’ us as you leave on vacation anytime and we won’t even notice if you leave recipes like this one! I loves de lime in de coconut! Have a great time slurping down those Mai Tais!

  5. I too am sick of the cold, gloomy, we had one day of 3 inches of snow that drove the city to a halt, London winter. Where or where is the sun? Have fun collecting freckles and thanks for the recipe. The cake looks really moist and fluffy.

  6. martina

    I’ve been following you for a while now, but I’m too shy to leave any comment! My english gives me some problems! :( But after a lot of fantastic ideas your blog give me I coulnd’t stop to wish you a fantastic and unforgettable trip to the Caribbean! Hope you could find rest and new enthusiasm for food…warm places are awesome!I’m Italian…you know what I mean! And right now I live in Ireland…sooo rainy! So I wish you enjoy the vacation and I look forward for your funny descriptions Martina

  7. Now I’m starting to feel warm and toasty! This is making me long for a tropical vacation as well….okay, I was already longing for one, but this just reinforces it! Enjoy your vacay…can’t wait to try this!

  8. You had me at geneoursly butter…. cocunut & limes; splendor. How about coming back with a Pina Colada with key lime juice recipe??? Have fun; as for the “net” forgetaboutit but not for too long!

  9. My sweetheart’s two favorite flavors are coconut and lime–I am going to bake this just for him and he’s going to be one very happy camper! (while you be one very happy beach-goer–have a great vacation!) :)

  10. Have a wonderful time! You are headed out with my favorite online people! This cake looks delicious. I will have to track down a mail order source for key limes. They don’t exist around here…

  11. I love this style of cake – I think it’s so under rated to make a square cake with a simple topping. Everyone always wants to go for a showstopping layer cake.

    When I was younger these cakes were called snacking cakes – so much more inclusive than a dessert-y layer cake!

    1. deb

      Rachel — Alex LOVED it. It’s surprisingly tart and balanced, and his love of limes is far bigger than his distrust of coconut. Also, well-toasted coconut retains zero leathery texture; it’s pure crunch.

  12. Heather

    Wait a minute! There’s some sort of food blogger vacation going on here…so far I’ve got you, Elise, David…who else!? So jealous.

  13. *sigh* First of all, enjoy your vacation. Really. While the sun is shining here in “tropical” Nova Scotia, there is about 3 feet of snow outside my office window.

    The only hint of tropical I may get this weekend is the smell of this delicious lime and coconut cake wafting from my oven. Maybe I’ll sit on the stove while it bakes and pretend the warmth is the sun and that smell is my sunblock… I may even make myself a margarita with the extra limes while it bakes…..

    have fun ;)

  14. Two of my absolute favorites – coconut and lime juice. Heaven! Will be making this on Sunday along with your meatball sliders. Have a great (and warm) time away and hope you come back refreshed :)

  15. Love the tip on self rising flour. I’ve not-made recipes in the past because I didn’t have the proper kind of flour that the recipe called for but I’m glad to know that there are ways to make your own!

  16. Dan

    Hey, where do you find key limes in new york city? I’ve been looking all over brooklyn, chelsea market, whole foods, and I have never seen them around. Regular limes just don’t cut it…

  17. I’m excited to read about your trip to the Bahamas and your adventures with your food blogging posse. I think I might need to tear off to the store for a little coconut and key lime! This recipe looks delicious!

  18. Okay, I say this about everything. But this is definitely going to happen this weekend. I am so in the mood for coconut and lime! Have a great time in the Bahamas. That’s north of me ;)

  19. This looks great! I agree with Dan that regular limes don’t cut it, the flavor of key limes, especially in recipes that pair with coconut or key lime pie (or frosting re. I live in California, so I know we have different markets, but I surprisingly DON’T usually find key limes in gourmet markets or farmer’s markets (in most of the continental US they are not grown, only FL). I have found bags of limes (usually way more than I can use at once, probably about 20) at a really big chain supermarket. The other place you can sometimes find them (by the each) is at a Thai market. I would be interested in where Deb got her limes!

  20. Ryan

    Since you found this in the March issue of Gourmet, may I strongly recommend that you also try another great recipe in there: the Linguine with Brussels Sprouts Barigoule. I made it the other night, and it is DElicious. Really flavorful (although I think it could use a touch more lemon juice, and maybe some zest, too), and would totally recommend it to anyone who likes brussels sprouts and/or cabbage. Yum!

  21. Kim

    I can’t wait to try this. I have some key limes ripening on my tree on the lanai as I write this! Have a fun time on your beachcation!

  22. Celeste

    These look like they would make awesome cupcakes for something I need to bring baked goods to!

    I hope you have a wonderful vacation!!!!

  23. Marie

    Tropical breezes, rustling palm trees, mai tai’s with baby umbrella’s. Oh my.

    Deb, I have a bone to pick with you. A little bone. Sometimes when you have a recipe you say loud and clear. I love this recipe. Or I hate this recipe. Or this took all day to make but boy was it worth it. Or . . . but sometimes, as with this recipe, I don’t know. Good? Just OK? I trust your judgement and taste and want to hear what you (and Alex) think. Thanks and Bon Voyage!

  24. deb

    Dan — I bought them at Whole Foods Columbus Circle about (whispers) one month ago. I also see them fairly often at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange in Chelsea Market — and cheaper!

    Loretta — Amused, I searched in my comment archive and there have been apparently four other times in the history of Smitten Kitchen when I said “great things ahead!” and received an “OMG you must be pregnant!” comment. And yet it’s still just the two of us!

    Marie — You’re totally right; I so often get on my tangents and forget to actually discuss what I baked. The cake is wonderful. A very moist yellow cake and a glaze that’s really tangy. The whole thing does not taste overly sweet, even though with the sweetened coconut and glaze I totally expected it to. It’s totally grown-up.

  25. Jean Marie

    Here in D.C., we woke up to sunny skies and warm temps. It was lovely for about 3 hours. Now it’s dark, cloudy, windy and rainy with snow (not enough to be any fun) predicted Monday. Clearly, we need to have this cake in our house this weekend. Am trying not to be bitter about the Caribbean vacation, tropical cocktails and sun on the face. Enjoy!

  26. This cake looks delicious, and a great reminder of the warmer months that I think still exist. Have a fabulous vacation, you definitely deserve it. I’m on way over to your recipe index as we speak. Self-updating? Too cool!

  27. Oooh. Mmmm. Yum. It looks so thick! It’s definitely not snowy, nor too cold here in Los Angeles. Feels like spring is fighting against that ‘lil groundhog who tried to curse us. Feel free to visit!

  28. oh my. oh MY. i’ve been thinking of baking a snowball cake lately — you know, the kind with the cool whip (TM) icing and mounds of coconut smashed every whichaway on top — but this looks much better, not to say less messy.

    i fully support caribbean vacations, by one’s lonesome or not. as long as the caribbean doesn’t run out of rum, anyway.

  29. I have these incredibly juicy limes that were given to me as a gift, and out of a fear that whatever I decided to make wouldn’t do them justice, have let them collect dust on the counter. This cake might be able to save them. Let’s hope so.

  30. Nadia

    Some recipes just shout “success” before you’ve even tried them. I hope we’ll see more great southern cake recipes coming up courtesy of SK soon, you can never have too many. Tip for s.r. flour is very useful!

  31. Deb, great minds think alike! I think we are both wishing for spring to come soon and Limes is one thing that reminds me of spring! I think it’s the fresh smell of limes thats simple irresistible. Wonderful cake!

  32. debbie

    Deb, I live in Florida. I am lucky enough to have a friend that has a key lime tree….yep,pretty lucky :) She gives me alot of of these little gold treasures…yep,lucky :) I though you may like to know that you can just pop them into a freezer bag and pull one out when you need it. I let it thaw or put it into the microwave for 10 seconds. They are ok for juicing only though. The freezing can make them mushey.
    Have fun and come back soon!

  33. I’m going to make these immediately! They look so delish, thanks for the recipe! Enjoy your vacation, I’m in need of one as well but I’m managing with 10 min of fake sun once a week.

  34. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Sounds so good on a day like today when we received a fresh blanket of snow this morning in Kansas. Anything to help believe warmer days will be here soon!

  35. Leighann

    Everyone check out the “Recent Posts” up on the left. For some reason, Deb’s next post is accessible by clicking the “Steak Sandwich” link, but doesn’t automagically show when you get to the website. Freaky. And by the fact that there’re only 2 comments so far @ the Steak Sandwich post, nobody else is seeing it either.

  36. Deb, you’ve done it again! I made this today. It came out perfect, and it was incredible. I love the glaze. It was much better than frosting would have been. I guess now I’ll forgive you for the lemon tart.

  37. Laura

    Love the new recipe index! Are you using a specific hosting site or software for it? I love that you said it’s auto-updateable!

  38. Christina

    I made this over the weekend and it was delicious. I love one-layer cake recipes–otherwise it’s just too much dessert for us to have in the house unless we’re having guests.

    For fellow NYers, I got a bag of key limes for $2.99 at Manhattan Fruit Exchange in Chelsea Market–but I’m sure regular limes would work just fine.

  39. Robin

    I made this on Sunday, and threw in some leftover coconut milk in place of half the milk (lowfat milk, whole fat coconut milk), which worked really well as a stand-in for the whole milk, while also upping the coconut flavor. The self-rising flour proportion also seemed right on.

    Delicious cake–even better than I expected it to be!

  40. rebecca

    Thanks Deb! This was so easy and so lovely . . . . the tangy glaze was just delicious. I substituted soy milk so the cake was dairy free and it still tasted great. Wishing you lots of sunshine, tropical breezes, yummy cocktails. . . . and lots of R&R :) .. .
    *you are missing a major snow day in the city today–
    also, I have been thinking . . . . we both live in the city, near eachother. So . . . big question: If I invited you, would you and Alex come over for Fri night dinner sometime?! I am travelling a lot for the next couple of months for work–but what about after that? Let’s ‘talk’!

  41. I made this — with regular limes — and it was incredibly delicious. Had self rising flour leftover from a dumpling recipe, so didn’t need to mix up my own. I halved the sugar in the icing — after following the original instructions and finding it too sweet for me — and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. Ate the last slice for breakfast today!

  42. Christy

    I baked this cake yesterday and served it last night to a host of praise and love. The cake’s texture was wonderful. The one thing I did change was the glaze. In addition to a teaspoon (as opposed to a tablespoon) of rum, I also added a little bit of orange extract and vanilla extract. After tasting, I still felt like the rum taste was too strong, so I added more powdered sugar and thinned the whole thing with some milk. The result was a wonderfully tangy, tropical flavored glaze that hardened just enough to hold the toasted coconut. Oh, and I can testify to the fact that the cake was just as good with a cup of coffee for breakfast this morning as it was when I cut the cake last night! Wonderful, wonderful recipe!

  43. leah

    I made this yesterday while trapped inside on a snow day and invited a bunch of neighbors over to enormous success. It was delicious and the texture was just right. Even my six year old daughter, who “hates coconut” loved it and has now amended her disclaimer to “I only like toasted coconut!”

  44. Kris McG

    I decided to buy self-rising flour to ensure success and the cake sunk much more than a little in the middle. I don’t know that I’ve ever used self-rising flour and perhaps I was supposed to treat it differently? It was still delicious.

  45. Daun

    Deb- what a perfect recipe for another cold night in Michigan and I even have all the ingredients sitting in my kitchen..I do have to substitute real limes, but only for convenience sake. It will take me right back to Key West where we spent a wonderful Valentine’s Weekend for my little brothers wedding.

  46. Jill

    Just made this tonight because coconut+lime+cake=yum! This turned out so well, great lime flavor, and the cake is very moist. The only substitution I made was Persian limes instead of Key limes simply due to the lack of availability of Key limes. I could tell this was going to be a good one just by how “fluffy” the batter was when it was ready for pouring into the pan. Thumbs up!

  47. Mariana

    I made this tonight and it turned out delicious! I love your website!!!

    I used regular limes because that’s what I had and it turned out very good.

  48. My husband loves Key Lime pie (it is his favorite!) and I LOVE anything with coconut. The CAKE part makes it almost too good to be true. Thanks for sharing. I might actually be able to pull this off because I don’t usually bake.

  49. I made this this morning as a breakfast cake, and it was a huge hit. A couple of modifications: 1-for-1 replacement of the milk with coconut milk makes it dairy-free, and whole wheat pastry flour and cane sugar substitute just fine too (though I wouldn’t try this recipe with standard-ground whole wheat).

    I hope you’re enjoying your vacation! I just got back from my escape to the sunny south (Florida) and now have all this citrus I must put to use…

  50. elaine

    Made this with the recommended self-rising flour mixture and it worked like a charm – the top was almost perfectly flat. Accidentally poured the icing all over the bottom of the cake because I forgot to flip it back over, but it actually worked out rather well – didn’t look as pretty, but it soaked in for some really fantastic flavor~

  51. maria

    I made this Sat night with regular limes and it was very delicious!! Texture was great, no sinkage…flavors great. Its a nice “company” cake because its unique–not the typical chocolate cake, etc etc. I cant wait to get may hands on some key limes so that I can make it and see if it is different. I used the rum, a scant tablespoon in the icing. Im glad I did, it seems to “deepen” the flavor of the sugar/lime icing. Ive made confectioners sugar glazes before and I find then kind of “flat”….the rum subtly added that special something. Oh I might note that toasting the coconut is a little tricky—make sure you watch it because it can overtoast rather quickly!!

  52. Finally got to try this Sunday night. I used regular limes, 1% milk and white whole wheat flour and was still pretty pleased with the results. Cutting the recipe in half, I had enough batter to fill six standard muffin tins with a bit extra to bake in a ramekin alongside (for the taste test!). Love that it wasn’t overly sweet.

  53. janelle

    Deb-I made this cake this weekend, brought it to work Monday and it was devoured! It’s wonderful. My problem was my key limes weren’t all that great so a bunch of them dried out. I made a quick trip to the store to get a regular lime for the glaze on top. It really has a wonderful flavor and I will be making it again and again. Thanks for all your wonderful recipes, I have followed your blogs for a few years now and each and everything I have made has been awesome.

  54. Kathleen

    Perfect timing!

    My mother was arriving to visit us in south Florida from frigid Chicago on the day after you posted this. I whipped up a recipe of it Friday night and it was just the perfect welcome treat! We even named it coffee cake so we could eat it for breakfast! By Thursday I had to make up another recipe of it or we would have gone hungry. :) By the way, the first time I made it the glaze sat on top, so some bites would have a strong lime flavor and some would not. The second time I poked holes with toothpicks all over the tops, then poured the glaze on the warm cake and it seeped in, furthering the lime flavor throughout the cake. Highly recommended. Also, the second time I made it in little tin mini-loaf pans (made four) so I could give one away to some other visiting northerners. The mini-loaves bake for about 20 minutes or so. Thanks so much for posting this!

  55. Kathleen

    Eek! I made a mistake in my comment– sorry! I made a half-recipe the second time, which somewhat filled 4 mini loaf pans. I would probably use 6 mini loaf pans for a full recipe.

  56. I just made this cake today and it is fantastic! I upped the toasted coconut to probably more like a cup and a 1/2 because I love, love, love it and plus i have scarcity issues. My key limes didn’t have much juice so i had to use regular limes but, really, this cake is extremely good.

  57. Melissa A

    I made this today and it totally fell apart upon turning it out of the pan. I made two (one for the office tomorrow 8×8 and a round for me and hubby to have at home) and they both collapsed. I am much more of a cook than baker for exactly this reason, it’s easier to cover up a mistake or a failure when cooking then when baking. So what am I doing wrong? Is it too much liquid? Not cooked enough? I noticed that the centers were much less cooked then the edges but I couldn’t cook it much more as it was totally brown. I’m thinking it’s possible that because I doubled the recipe, I had too much batter in the pans?

  58. why was this so good? yummmmm citrus and coconut. and oops, i accidentally splashed a bit more liquor than was called for in the glaze. totally unintentional.

  59. Rox

    I did this today, but used lemon instead of limes, because I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to try it, and I thought lemons aren’t that different, right? It turned out great and my grandma asked me to bake it again, and my mother analyzed it for a bit before suggesting that I can start experimenting from this recipe :)

    I can’t remember where, but when I started baking I found that to get self raising flour, you should add 3 grams of baking powder for each 100 grams of flour. I used that for this recipe, and it worked out great :)

  60. Becca

    Hey! This looks awesome & I’d love to make it as CUPCAKES for my sister-in-law’s birthday next week! Her two favorite things are key lime pie and anything remotely coconut so it’s perfect.

    Deb – Do you have any suggestions for turning this cake into a cupcake recipe? longer or shorter baking time, is the crumb appropriate for cupcakes, and (most importantly, I think) could I somehow transform this glaze into a buttercream?

    Do you think it would be as yummy as your original concoction?


    1. deb

      Shorter baking time, but you’ll just have to watch your oven on the first batch to see how long they bake. Likely around 10 minutes.

  61. I just made this cake last night, and it came out tasty and delicious. However, my glaze for the top didn’t turn out an opaque white like the photos above (it was more like a sugar water.) did i do something wrong?

  62. Sara in SF

    Hi Deb – thanks for this – loved it! Can you help with the glaze? Mine ran A LOT and almost half of it ended up on the pan under the cooling rack. Yes, of course we scraped it all up and ate it anyway, but I’d love for it to stay on the cake…like yours! Any tips? Thanks! Luh-uve your site.

  63. Kelly

    So good! I replaced the whole milk with coconut milk (as suggested by another reader to make it dairy free). It was really moist and yummy! I totally forgot to add the zest to the batter so I ended up adding 2 and 1/2 tbsp to the icing. It was really pretty! I ended up poking little holes in the cake with a toothpick (once again as suggested by another viewer). I burned the coconut a little the first time I tried to toast it (luckily I had extra), so the second time I turned the temperature down to 325 and stirred it every two minutes. Deb, I can always rely on you for amazing recipes! Every recipe I have used off your website has always been delicious. Thanks from me and also my friends and family, who get to eat these awesome treats!

  64. Naailah

    Hi..i want to try this..but we dont usually use buttermilk here..wat can i use as substitiute?
    also do u use metric cup or US cup? i measure in grams
    my flaked coconut is unsweetened, do u think i should add more sugar? plz reply soon

  65. Joanne

    This reminds me of a recipe I’ve made LOTS from Sundays at Moosewood. It’s a quick bread with banana, lime, coconut, and a bit of ginger in the batter. After it’s cool, you brush on a glaze of lime juice, sugar, butter, and rum. It’s fabulous…really nice balance of rich, sweet, tart, and, well, rum.

    Recipe can be found online – just Google “Yellowman’s banana lime bread”

  66. Joanne

    I’m not sure what I was thinking in the previous post – I brush the glaze on while it is still warm. Sorry for the brain glitch…

  67. Hiren

    Hi Deb! I can’t wait to try this recipe! Can you tell me what I would need to do differently in order to make this in multiple small ramekins? i.e. cooking time, place in water bath, etc? Thanks!!!

  68. K

    I made this as cupcakes last night and they turned out great after 14 mins or so. Deb, the glaze is truly amazing (I used Cointreau as I had no rum). I’m thinking that next time I’d like to get more coconut in the cake itself, and perhaps leave it untoasted (of course I’ll toast the stuff that goes on top). Do you think I will need to alter the other ingredients in any way if I put 1 cup of untoasted coconut flakes in the batter? Thanks!

  69. Lydia

    Hello! I made this cake for my mother’s birthday. She loves tropical and tangy. I thought about a pineapple something but pineapple upside down cake was all I could find. Not my thing.

    Anyway, Do I have to turn the cake out or can I leave it in the pan? My got stuck on the bottom and looked rather…pitiful. So I think I’m going to put it back in the cake pan and glaze it there. Thoughts?

  70. I f-ed up everything imaginable about this cake. I burned the coconut (twice) dumped it all over the inside of my oven (once), put in twice as much sugar as called for, used skim milk instead of whole, added extra butter (after attempting to pick all that extra sugar out of the butter/sugar combo.) It was probably my biggest baking disaster yet.

    And you know what? The cake is still pretty tasty.

    The prep took a while (especially considering I messed up every single step) but the actual process of combining the ingredients was easy and quick. Definitely one to try!

  71. Robin

    I’m in the process of baking this cake right now.. I actually made a double batch and made 24 mini-cupcakes for my choir rehearsal this afternoon, and put the remaining batter into a 9″ round pan for my sister’s birthday this evening :)

    Prep took waaaay longer than I was expecting (an emergency trip to the grocery store didn’t help matters), so I’m hoping the baking time on the round isn’t going to take forever or else I’ll be late to rehearsal… but the mini-cupcakes took 20 minutes to bake (does that seem wrong to you?) so I’m concerned the 9″ round will take 3 hours.. O_o

    I also didn’t have whole milk, so I substituted 2/3 for skim and 1/3 for sweetened condensed milk. I think I got the desired consistency, I just hope it doesn’t make the batter too sweet.

  72. KRP

    Made this for my birthday (I know, I know, I made my own cake for my birthday – but I wouldn’t have it any other way) and it was PHENOMENAL. I am a total believer in your blog and am so excited about this book! Thanks for sharing these delicious recipes, they have brought lots of smiles to my home!

  73. Krysten

    Made this today and the cake itself was yum-o. I know this cause the bottom stuck to the pan when I tried to flip it out and I ate some of those pieces. I guess I wasn’t generous enough with the butter. No biggie, the coconut will cover it up. My biggest problem was with the glaze. Mine was much too runny and when I poured it over the cake (it had cooled for several hours) the glaze soaked right in making it mushy and super tart, which is okay for me but the crowd it was going to go to not so much. :( Will try this again with a thicker glaze!

  74. Shannon

    I made this yesterday for my birthday cake and it gets two thumbs up from me and my hubby (and I thought he would not be crazy about it because he’s not always into citrus, but he loved it). I used your recommended proportions for homemade self-rising flour and it worked perfectly, with no sinking in the middle. I was surprised to find a bag of key limes at my supermarket for only $1.99, and I only needed about 2/3 of the bag for this cake. Also, I used a 50-50 mixture of sweetened and unsweetened coconut (both in the cake and on top) and I wouldn’t do it any other way. I feared using 100% unsweetened, but the mixture worked great – sweet, but not overly so, and a really good coconut flavor. For those who had problems with the glaze being too runny, I reduced the powdered sugar to about 3/4 cup and used ~2 and 1/2 TBSP lime juice and that worked great – not too runny at all.

  75. Julie

    I made a last-minute dessert for a dinner party today and was limited by what I had in the house — no key limes. I actually really liked it with the regular limes; it added a bit of tartness that complemented the sweetness of the cake. Next time I might use even more lime.

    Made a recipe and a 1/2 because all of my baking dishes are bigger than called for. It worked well, although ended up increasing baking time by 10 minutes.

    Quick, easy recipe for a from-scratch cake. Delish. Thanks Deb!

  76. I just made this! I made a few changes (okay, a lot – based on what I had on hand):
    I didn’t have self-rising flour either, so I used your recipe for that.
    I didn’t have limes, so I used lime powder (from King Arthur Flour) in the cake (2 tbsp) and 3 packets of TrueLime in the glaze (mixed with 2 tbsp water). Where I live, limes are insanely expensive so I just keep this stuff on hand – worked great.
    I skipped the step with toasting the coconut because I prefer the non-toasted type.
    Also I didn’t have any milk so I used plain Greek yogurt (fat free) instead.
    It came out absolutely delicious!! My husband is suffering from a major man-cold and the citrus zip was just what he needed to make it through another half hour!

  77. Ejiro O.

    I made these as cupcakes with regular limes last night. First off they were easy to make, the glaze and coconut sprinkled on top made for the prettiest cupcakes I have ever made. It was a hit at work and I’m making two batches for a bake sale in two weeks. Thanks for the awesome recipes!

  78. Sona

    This cake looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it! Just a quick question about the limes. Is it 2 packed tablespoons of lime zest? Roughly how many limes do you need? Limes are insanely expensive right now and I don’t want to wait until they’re in season :)

  79. Alison

    I made this for Super Bowl Sunday, subbing coconut milk for the whole as I had some leftover. Soooo good. My glaze wasn’t quite thick enough as written (I added the rum) but another half a cup made it look right. It’s simple enough to make but looks a bit nicer because of the topping.

  80. Katie

    I’m thinking about making some graham cracker crumble to just sprinkle over the top of this… to hint just that much more at a key lime pie. Do you think that would be overkill? I can’t wait to try this cake! I check your website regularly, but this is the first time I’ve written in. Thank you for such amazing recipes!

  81. ShannyBo

    Wowzers. This sounds so appealing and mouthwatering. Will make and take to a luncheon this week… but am considering as a double layered cake to feed more people. Think I won’t add the shredded coconut in the middle though; only top and sides…

  82. wjbk

    Hi Deb — This looks wonderful. I’d love to make the basic cake ahead and freeze it, then defrost and glaze. Have you ever tried that? Thanks!

    1. deb

      wjbk — All the time! I make cake when I have time; I “finish” them shortly before they’re needed. Wrap it well and leave out for a couple hours and it will defrost.

  83. Erin

    @Rach – I *always* burn coconut or nuts when I try to toast them in the oven. I made this cake for a wedding (as part of a buffet of desserts I made, ALL from smitten!), and I burned the coconut too (dark brown, not black). Next time, I did what I always do (stove top, in a non stick pan, low heat, stirred frequently and kept a close eye on it). However burned coconut is not wasted! I sealed mine in a bag and made several batches of Deb’s amazing toasted coconut shortbread with it over the course of the winter, the first baked good I ever made that my toddler deigned to eat.

  84. Carly Krumins

    I just made this cake, and it was very yummy! I was short on coconut, so just used some in the actual cake and made my own lime icing. I also converted it to gluten free by using Orgran gluten free plain flour and 2t baking powder and it turned out perfectly the first time – which almost never happens when I convert a recipe to GF. Highly recommend this recipe. Nice and limey.

  85. Briana

    I know I’m late to the party on this one but WOW! I made this cake for Easter yesterday and it was phenomenal! Moist, Limey and just all around wonderful. People couldn’t stop gushing over it and I had to wrench the leftovers out of my mother’s hands so I could savor the last tiny slice in piece. This is officially my go-to for recipes now and forever. Deb, Love the blog and the cookbook, got it for Christmas and can’t stop cooking out of it, THANK YOU!

  86. Jo

    Beautiful soft, fluffy cake – I recommend!
    I didn’t have any limes so I added a teaspoon of vanilla to the cake and I didn’t toast the coconut as I like it untoasted. I used a few squeezes of lemon in the icing.
    I look forward baking again with the limes!

  87. Jo

    I left the last comment (153) and just wanted to add that friends and family love this cake!
    I will definitely re post after making it with they limes, but hope it encourages anyone who doesn’t have any limes to hand to make it anyway as I did.
    A beautiful recipe and stunning pics as always!

  88. Being a coconut lover, I want a piece of this cake! It looks scrumptious! I’m about to make a coconut cake for my mom’s birthday; if I had seen this recipe earlier I might have made this one. But there are plenty of other days ahead for me to make this one!

  89. spottedmist

    I accidentally doubled the quantity of the lime juice in the batter, and I was afraid that it would ruin the taste and the texture, but nope! I still had a lovely cake that was devoured in minutes by my family. Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

  90. Lindsay K


    I made this cake yesterday, and it is delicious and a MAJOR hit…however, it is a bit dry. Can you tell me what I possibly did wrong? or if I need to add something? Thank you! And, this is a great recipe!


    1. deb

      Lindsay — You might brush some simple syrup (you can flavor it with lime zest) over the cake to make it more moist. I think you’ll also find it more moist (most cakes are) on day 2. Sometimes omitting a tablespoon or two of flour (especially at different altitudes or given variations in the weight of cups of flour) makes a cake more moist.

  91. Trisha

    You rock! Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I may also use an 11×11 not-tall plan for a regular batch (baked for less time) since our group is cutting calories.

  92. Catherine

    Hi Deb– Any chance this could be added to the list of “Lime” recipes in the recipe index? It’s been my family’s go-to birthday cake for almost as long as it’s been on the site–definitely a keeper! Thanks!

  93. Liana

    I cut it down to about 3/4 cups of sugar for the cake itself and I cut the cake into two layers so I could put kaya (coconut-pandan) jam in the middle – it turned out phenomenally. I also used Malibu for the glaze and it was great. This got rave reviews – thank you! :)

  94. Tracy

    I made this yesterday, and we all enjoyed it very much. I had to make several substitutions because I did not have everything on hand: mix of half-and-half and skim milk instead of whole milk, regular limes instead of key limes, and unsweetened coconut instead of sweetened. Even with all of that, it still had a great flavor!

    Like Lindsay K., though, it came out a little dry, and I don’t notice a real improvement a day later. I wonder if it just cooks quickly at the end? It was soup at 30 minutes but a little overdone at 40. Next time – and there will definitely be a next time – I will keep a closer eye on it in the last five minutes!

  95. Sharon

    This cake is mostly meh, sad to say. It has nice flavor, but came out dry and crumbly–not much better even the next day. SK has some killer cake recipes, but this not one of them, so I might skip it for another.

  96. JP

    I confess that I didn’t really make this but I did make the coconut cake from your new book and it was great! I’m wondering if you have any info on your site regarding cake flour vs. AP flour? And is there any place on the site where we can appropriately post questions and comments re book recipes that aren’t in the site? Thanks! (I made it with Rose LB’s chocolate sour cream ganache. Yum!)

    1. deb

      Hi! I have a cake flour swap here. These days, when a cake recipe really benefits from cake flour (although 90% time, I do not bother), I instead write the recipe for a mixture of cornstarch and flour (you can see this in the book’s Golden Vanilla Cake) to save us an additional purchase.

      No place on the site to ask questions right now (I can barely stay on comments, tbh) however, for the month of March, Food52’s Cookbook Club is cooking through the book on Facebook and I’m trying to stop in as often as possible to answer questions. It’s an enthusiastic cooking group! I’m having fun.

  97. Valerie

    The lime-coconut topping is sensational, and it improves day by day. I know, because the cake sat uneaten for days — the first time in years my cake has not been Devoured. The white cake is the culprit—it’s quite bland and fluffy. Next time, I’ll use your pound cake recipe as the basis, and add the coconut lime flavors. Thanks for all the great recipes. Ive been reading this blog for years.

  98. Vanessa

    Loved this recipe!! I made a few substitutions and changes – used a mix of full fat yogurt and coconut milk rather than whole milk, simply added a scant 2t baking powder to the flour rather than sifting together and measuring, added 1.5t salt, and used unsweetened coconut (didn’t add extra sugar to compensate, it’s plenty sweet). Also added an extra tablespoon of lime juice to the batter and the glaze, as well as a few spoonfuls of coconut milk to the glaze. Delicious and ultra sticky-moist!

  99. Laurie

    I love this cake. I’ve made this a few times and it’s always a hit. I’m planning to make this for my daughter’s first birthday party and would like to know your suggestions for type of frosting to use as I’d like to decorate it to say “Happy Birthday!” I will have cupcakes for the kiddos so I still plan to use the rum glaze.

  100. fud

    This is VERY good! I used regular limes and those were fine (though I’d love to try key limes if I could find them). I used a chopstick to poke holes in the cake about 1/4 inch apart all the way to the bottom before pouring the glaze on a spoonful at a time and it soaked in well — that spread the lime flavor throughout the cake and ensured that the cake was moist (but not soggy). The toasted coconut on top hid the chopstick holes. I did have to bake it approximately 15 minutes longer (total of 60) before it stopped being wet in the middle — my oven is accurate according to a thermometer, so not sure why more time was needed but no harm done. Next time, I’d like to try coconut milk instead of “real” milk, just to see if the flavor deepens. I used dark rum and the homemade self-rising flour. Lovely recipe, thanks a lot!

  101. Mary C.

    This was fabulous! It might be my new favorite cake. The toasted coconut adds a wonderful taste and texture to the cake. The glaze was tangy and tart and complemented the cake beautifully. Thanks!

  102. Monica Furey

    Question: What do you think about using that key lime juice that comes in a bottle, and what do you think about using a tiny bit of coconut extract in the batter? Thanks!!!

  103. Leslie

    This is a surprisingly delicious cake!

    I’ve been hankering for cake, and realized I had all the ingredients for this one. Because I live at elevation (~5300 feet), I added an extra egg. The batter was very fluid – more than I would expect – and I baked my cake in a slightly bigger pan because some cakes rise up a lot.

    This one rose enough, and upon taking it out of the pan it was, errr, sturdy. But you know what – it was still delicious!

    For us, this cake needed vanilla ice cream, and together it was a perfect end to a summer dinner of grilled vegetables.

  104. FUD

    Would this work with substituting orange zest & juice for the lime? I don’t see why not — think I’ll try it unless someone here says it failed for them.

      1. FUD

        Thanks, Deb. I’m going to try it next week & will report results. We’re overloaded with oranges & have a guest coming who doesn’t like lime, so this cake made with orange would be a great solution to both of those situations.

  105. Mary

    I made this cake for Easter and it was delicious! Following suggestions from others, I used coconut milk and a bit of yogurt instead of milk, and poked holes in the top of baked cake to allow the glaze to soak through. I used a 9 and a half inch springform pan and 45 minutes was perfect. Thank you Deb. Smitten Kitchen is my “go to” source when I am looking for something new to cook or bake.