3 Day Coconut Cake

The best make ahead dessert ever! This old fashioned 3 Day Coconut Cake starts with a cake mix but you’d never know. It’s lightly sweet and delicious.

A few weeks ago I was attempting a 5 day sugar fast. I still needed to work, which for me means making desserts. I decided to make a coconut cake because they don’t tempt me. I don’t love coconut. I thought it would be no problem to resist the cake.

Enter this 3 Day Coconut Cake. I made it on Monday and Wednesday night after I photographed it, my husband, son and I stood around the cake plate and devoured it. This cake is AMAZING and here’s why.

closeup of a cake on a cake plate

Why you’ll love this cake:

  • Starts with a box cake mix.
  • Has a sweet & tangy fresh coconut filling in between the 4 layers.
  • Easy Cool Whip frosting.
  • Perfect for making in advance. The flavors blend over the 3 days it sits.
  • Light and fresh!

Where did 3 Day Coconut Cake Originate?

This coconut cake is vintage. How vintage? I’m not quite sure. It is in several of my old church cookbooks that date back into the 70’s. Usually those recipes came from newspaper clippings or the back of cake mix boxes. I’m not sure who created this cake, but I thank whoever did because now I have a new favorite.

two packages of fresh coconut

What is frozen coconut?

I’ll be honest. Before this cake recipe I had no idea what frozen coconut was or that it existed. I searched Kroger and Meijer with no luck, but Walmart came through for me. I found this Birds Eye brand frozen fresh coconut by the frozen fruit. It comes in 6 ounce packages which is perfect for this cake. This is the exact product you want for this recipe. Don’t use the dry, shredded coconut you find in the baking aisle. It won’t turn out the same!

Tips for Making 3 Day Coconut Cake

  • Start with a box cake mix. Could you make a homemade cake? Sure. But I don’t find it is necessary because you are adding so much flavor to the cake. Make the cake, allow the cake to cool, then slice each layer in half so that you end up with 4 layers.
  • This cake is unique in that it has a milky, sour cream filling that soaks into every bite of the cake. Very similar to a tres leches cake! You’ll combine one cup of sour cream, one cup of sugar and 6 ounces of frozen coconut that is cold, but mostly thawed. This mixture will be fairly runny, but don’t worry about that. It’s what you want!
  • You’ll put about 1/2-2/3 cup of this sour cream filling on each layer (cake, filling, cake, filling, cake filling, cake, topping). When I first started assembling the cake, I was afraid all the sour cream mix would just run off. But it didn’t. It soaked in nicely and I had no mess. I ended up with about ½ cup of the sour cream mix leftover. Fold this into the Cool Whip for frosting the outside.
  • You can decorate the outside with more fresh coconut if you’d like. Or you can even toast pre-shredded dry coconut and it would make the cake look so pretty.
frosting a coconut cake

Does the cake really have to sit for 3 days?

Yes. It will have the best flavor as the coconut filling soaks into the cake over 72 hours. It’s edible before 3 days and will be good, but practice your patience and know that good things come to those who wait. It’s worth it!

a slice of cake on a plate with one bite missing

How to Store This Cake

Store this cake in the refrigerator in a sealed container.

a piece of coconut cake on a plate
a piece of coconut cake on a plate

3 Day Coconut Cake

4.55 from 71 votes
The best make ahead dessert ever! This old fashioned 3 Day Coconut Cake starts with a cake mix but you'd never know. It's lightly sweet and delicious.
Servings 15
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 27 minutes
Chill Time 3 hours


For the cake:

For the Filling:

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup reserved filling mix
  • 8 ounces Cool Whip thawed


  • Preheat the oven to 350º Fahrenheit. Grease with shortening, then dust with flour 2 8” round cake pans.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the cake mix, milk, eggs and vegetable oil. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Divide the batter equally between the two prepared cake pans.
  • Bake for 25-27 minutes or until the center of the cake bounces back when you touch it.
  • Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • While the cakes are cooling, prepare the filling. In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, sugar and thawed coconut. Mix well. Place this into the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.
  • To assemble the cake, cut each cake into two layers. You should now have four layers.
  • Place one cake layer down on a cake plate, cut side up.
  • Scoop 1/2-2/3 cup of the coconut filling into the center of the cake. Spread to the edges carefully so that it does not run over.
  • Place another cake layer on top and then spread another 1/2-2/3 cup filling on top.
  • Repeat with another cake layer and more filling.
  • Then place the last cake layer on top.
  • In a bowl, fold together any remaining sour cream filling (we had about ½ cup left over) with the 8 ounces of Cool Whip.
  • Use this Cool Whip mixture to frost the outside and top of the cake.
  • Store in the refrigerator for 3 days before serving. This allows the cake to develop the best flavor.


The calories shown are based on the cake being cut into 15 pieces, with 1 serving being 1 slice of cake. Since different brands of ingredients have different nutritional information, the calories shown are just an estimate. **We are not dietitians and recommend you seek a nutritionist for exact nutritional information. The information in the nutrition box are calculated through a program and there is room for error. If you need an accurate count, I recommend running the ingredients through your favorite nutrition calculator.**


Calories: 229kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 47mg | Potassium: 114mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 192IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 59mg | Iron: 1mg
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Calories 229
Keyword 4 layer cake, coconut cake, easy box cake mix

About Julie Clark

We are Julie, Maddie, and Kinslee – a mother and daughter team sharing with you the best cakes to satisfy any need or sweet craving that you may have. Welcome to our family’s kitchen!

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4.55 from 71 votes (67 ratings without comment)
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5 stars
best coconut cake i have eaten

Can you sprinkle a little coconut on this cake after you frost it ?

I used to be able to find the birds eye frozen coconut at walmart. No longer available. Where do you buy it or what could I substitue

5 stars
Thanks for posting this recipe! I use to make this cake for Christmas years back and it was my Dad’s favorite. I’m going to make it again this year for my husband’s birthday next week. I remember well how delicious it is and what a special treat to unwrap it on the “day of” – like a present! I’ll let you know how it turns out! Thanks again.