Lemon, Coconut, and Pistachio Cake

The idea for this cake came to me when I was thinking, as one does, about Easter desserts. I always associate lemon and coconut (and jelly beans) with Easter- especially big towering cakes covered in shredded coconut. Big deal cakes. I wanted to come up with a cake that incorporated my favorite Easter flavors but was a little more casual. The kind of cake you can keep on the counter and cut little pieces off throughout the day. The kind of cake you can tell yourself counts as breakfast food.

I have to say after noodling around with different ingredients and cakes (I’ve been eating a lot of cake this week) I’m thrilled with the final result! It’s moist, dense-but-in-a-good way, and has lots of coconut and lemon flavor, thanks to lemon juice, lemon zest, coconut milk, and shredded coconut.  I also added ground pistachios to the batter and a sprinkle of chopped pistachios on the top of the cake. They add a nutty depth of flavor to the cake and a pop of color and crunch on top. If you’re not a pistachio person (are you an alien?) almonds would be delicious in their place.

This is a hardy – and hearty – cake that travels and keeps really well. Wrap it well with plastic wrap and store at room temperature or in the fridge, but bring the cake to room temperature before serving for optimal flavor and texture.  Unless you’re eating the cake before 10 am, in which case I give you permission to eat it right from the fridge. It is dangerously good with a cup of coffee.

And while this is meant to be a casual cake, it would still make a great Easter dessert. Serve it with dollops of whipped cream and a pile of fresh raspberries and no one will mind that you didn’t spend all weekend constructing a four-layer cake with an ornate coconut birds nest on top. Maybe next year…

Update!! (January 30, 2024)

I love this cake, and it’s been a consistently popular recipe on my site. But it’s always bothered me that the center of the cake sunk. So, as a January baking project, I decided to see if I could fix that once and for all! Five cakes later, and I figured it out! The cake is as moist, fluffy, and lemony as ever, it just stands a little taller. 🙂 I updated the recipe below, but wanted to list the changes I made to avoid any confusion.

  • I increased the baking powder from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon
  • I decreased the eggs from 3 to 2
  • I increased the flour from 1 1/4 cups to 1 1/2 cups
  • I added one extra tablespoon lemon juice and one extra tablespoon coconut milk to the soak.

Whether you’ve made this cake before, or it’s your first time trying it, you’re in for a treat!!

Print Recipe
4.28 from 136 votes

Lemon, Coconut, and Pistachio Cake

Servings: 6 -8

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut, such as Bob’s Red Mill, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • cup shelled unsalted pistachios
  • ½ cup full-fat coconut milk See Note
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (2 lemons)
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the soak:

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons full-fat coconut milk

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a (8½ x 4½ x 2½-inch) loaf pan, then line the bottom with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/4 cup of the shredded coconut, the baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Coarsely chop the pistachios, then remove 2 tablespoons and set aside. Finely chop the rest of the pistachios and add them to the bowl with the flour.
  • In a separate, small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and granulated sugar. Beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
  • With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture to the batter, then the coconut milk mixture, then the rest of the flour. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to make sure the batter is well-mixed.
  • Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the soak: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice, and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then remove from the heat. Pour the syrup evenly over the warm cake, then sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and the remaining 1 tablespoon shredded coconut.
  • Cool completely, then the lift the parchment paper to remove the cake, cut it into slices, and serve. This cake will keep for up to 3 days, wrapped-well and stored at room temperature.
    Copyright 2019, Lidey Heuck, All Rights Reserved, updated in 2024
    Note: When working with canned coconut milk, I like to dump the can into a bowl and whisk to combine the top cream layer and the milk before measuring.
75 Comments
  1. Hi!
    Can’t wait to try this recipe,the combination is amazing!
    Possible to make an eggless version?
    If yes,what could I replace the eggs with..

  2. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious cake! I followed the recipe exactly and it was so moist, delicately flavored (I used almond extract instead of vanilla as that was an option), and pretty on top of all that! It was light and had just the right amount of sweetness. I served it with raspberries and whipped cream. A keeper!

  3. 5 stars
    Made it last night. Delicious! I hope I can replicate it again in the future. I added 4 drops of green food coloring. For the soak, I boiled orange juice with brown sugar, lemon juice & coconut milk . Wish I could post picture as well.

  4. 5 stars
    I made this cake last year and it was so delicious! I want to make two loaves for a brunch. Can I bake both in the oven at the same time, and will I need to add to baking time? Thanks Lidey!

  5. Question: should you wait for the 15 minutes of cooling before putting soak on? I think I put it on too soon and middle collapsed? 😞

  6. Yes Lidey- I made this cake when you first developed it. It was delicious and a treat for everyone. No one was bothered by the little sinking in the middle!😂
    Thanks.

  7. Any suggestions for one wanting to make a lower carb version of the cake using almond or coconut flour? Would I use the same amount as the all-purpose flour?

  8. 5 stars
    This cake was yum yum yum !!! An absolute hit for me. This was the first time I had a dessert recipe with coconut milk and the sweet and sour combo of coconut and lemon was too good not to mention the extra royalty the cake adding the pistachios

  9. 4 stars
    Hi there. May I know if you have a metric version of this recipe please? Asking because I have only ever baked in this method as I find it will be accurate each time. Cups not so much. Hope you can help me. Loving the recipe cant wait to do it.. Kind Regards Jane

  10. Hi, I’m trying out this cake today. Is shredded coconut same as dessicated coconut. I’m in the UK

    1. Hi there! I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you in time! Dessicated coconut is unsweetened, while the shredded kind we have in the US is sweetened. Dessicated coconut should work though, I hope it went well!

  11. 5 stars
    Hi dear . I tried this delicious recipe today but had to substitute the coconut milk with full fat milk didn’t have any. The taste was good . But I will for sure try to use the coconut milk next time. I am sure it will be more delicious 😋.
    Just a quick question. I heard that mixing milk and lemon is generally not recommended what do you think

    1. Hi! The recipe actually calls for 1/3 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, which is equal to about 3/4 cup unshelled pistachios.
      I hope that helps clarify! 🙂

  12. bonjour,
    excellente recette mais je ne me retrouve pas dans les mesures, ne pourrait-on pas avoir cette recettes en parlant en grammes ?
    Merci.
    Cordialement;

  13. Hi Lidey,
    Would like to know whether I can use freshly grated coconut in this recipe ?
    Is the shredded coconut and freshly grated coconut is same ?

  14. Hello,i am planning to give it a try this weekend,just have a question,when you say full fat coconut milk is it the one in the tin instead of the cartoon?the coconut milk we use in curry and etc?

  15. 5 stars
    This cake is AMAZING! So good I made it twice in 1 month! It’s super moist, has a delicious delicate flavor and not over the top sweet. It’s most definitely my FAVOURITE cake of all time (and I love baking so I’ve baked a lot of cakes! ). I then went hunting for more of your cake recipes and I’m trying out the almond fig cake for Easter! I’m super excited!
    PS. I would love it if you added more desserts to your website! I’ll go through all of the ones here far too quickly. No pressure 😉

  16. 5 stars
    I made this 2 days ago to take to a friend’s house for dessert. We all thought it was good and I brought home what was left. I have to say that I think it was even better the second day and will definitely be making it again! I did toast the coconut for the topping

  17. 5 stars
    Wanted to share the subs used since I have dietary restrictions; I used Bob’s Red Mill egg replacer for the eggs, and earth balance buttery sticks instead of butter. I also added 3 Tbsp of poppy seeds to the wet batter before mixing. The cake turned out perfect, no one would know it was dairy and egg free! Super moist, and the lemon syrup adds a lovely depth and tartness. Fantastic

  18. I can’t find unsalted pistachios. I’ve made this a number of times and always a big hit. Making tonight for a dinner party and have to use salted. Hope it comes out ok??

    1. Hi Karen! You should be fine using salted, just give one a taste to make sure they aren’t ultra-salty, if that makes sense!
      Let me know how it turns out!!

  19. Hi! Was wondering if i could substitute the eggs with flaxmeal ? I’m a vegetarian and don’t eat eggs.Was thinking of baking it for my husband on his birthday, and it happens to be tomorrow! Thanks!

    1. Hi Vivian,
      I think you probably could but I haven’t tried making this recipe with oil, so I’d be hesitant to recommend it. Sorry I can’t give more specific advice!

  20. 5 stars
    Great recipe! I’m in Arizona during lemon season and am using that excuse to make it again. The second time I made this cake I shared it with my friend who is a pastry chef. It received a huge thumbs up, a first for me!

  21. Would really like to try this recipe here in 🇬🇧 but am hopeless with conversions as we use grams or ounce any chance you can give the recipe in grams please? Thanks in advance

  22. Hello.
    Quick few question? can I make this into muffins??
    Or mini loaf ..?
    Is yes what for how long for either one?

  23. Hi Lidey, I was surfing the website for some coconut flavored cakes…most of them made out of a cake mix. It was refreshing to read your post and find something similar to what I make, difference would be I use semolina instead of white flour…results in a moist super dense delicious sweet just like the one in your images.

  24. I am so excited to make this cake. But wondering if I couldn’t use oil instead of butter since it’s very expensive at my country. And if I use full cream milk would the cake be not as moist and the one shown in picture?

  25. 5 stars
    Our family loves this cake. It is our new Easter Dessert. I was surprised how adding pistachio turned up the taste volume. I make this for my Bridge club and was a hit and now club expects me to bring it at least twice a month. My hubby loves me to make this for Sunday morning sweet with coffee. I am not a great cook, but this recipe was easy to follow and prepare.

  26. I made it and fell in love! I used coconut extract instead of vanilla because I only had regular milk not coconut milk. I had extra zest so I cooked that with the sugar and lemon juice for the glaze.

  27. I made it and fell in love! I used coconut extract instead of vanilla because I only had regular milk not coconut milk. I had extra zest so I cooked that with the sugar and lemon juice for the glaze.

  28. I tried this cake this morning and it was absolutely delicious!!!… The only bad thing was that it was simply too good and I could not stop eating it. I had a slice right out of the oven for breakfast, then again with tea in the afternoon and few little slivers in between…. My family, all of whom are true foodies, all loved it as well. I will definitely be making this again and again. Wonderful recipe!

    1. Hi Maria, I think you could – or you could do a cream cheese frosting. I just haven’t tried making this recipe into a 9″ round, or layer cake. I might just frost the loaf cake. (And then sprinkle with pistachios!)

  29. OMG! This sounds/looks DELICIOUS!!! All my fav ingredients! I can’t wait to bake it! Looks like many others loved the recipe, too!!❤️❤️Thanks for sharing!

  30. Sounds fabulous, anxious to try. Do you think I could successfully substitute whole buttermilk for the coconut milk? I just happen to have some I want to use up. Thank you!

    1. Good catch! Sorry about that. 1/4 cup goes into the batter, and the remaining 1 tablespoon is sprinkled on top.

  31. This cake turned out wonderfully! I followed the recipe as is except for one final bit – after I topped the cake with extra shredded coconut, I placed it under a broiler for a brief moment. Just enough time to give the coconut a good toast and an added nice flavour. I probably should’ve toasted the coconut on its own, but I hadn’t thought of the idea until it was already on the cake.

    Thanks for the easy-to-follow and detailed recipe. I’m looking forward to serving this at Easter.

  32. Hi! I’ve been eyeing this recipe for a while now and will finally try it for Easter. What are your thoughts on using gluten free flour, or almond / coconut flours? Thanks!

  33. Hello I’ve mad twice this recipe and it is absolutely fantastic.
    Is going to be a must in every Family sunday.

  34. This may be helpful…I used coconut milk made in Thailand that I bought from an Asian market. The brand is chaokoh and I got a very nice domed loaf shape. Great recipe! It came out perfectly. Will be making for Easter! I also didn’t have a stand mixer and used a hand mixer instead which worked for me.

  35. Made it this weekend without the glaze and it is delicious!
    Wasn’t sure about the coconut milk, I used unsweetened!

    I will be making another one for a meeting this week!????‍????

  36. I’ll have to experiment myself, but do you think this recipe will be ok as cupcakes? It may not be domed as a normal cupcake? Excited to try this!

    1. Hi Nicole- I think this cake might be too dense as cupcakes, but I haven’t tried it. If you do, let me know how they turn out!!

  37. Wow this cake was fantastic! I’m confused about how much sugar should get mixed in with the eggs? Under the ingredients list, it says 1 and a quarter cups divided…then when making the syrup it says a quarter cup. I ended up putting in 1/2 cup plus an eight with the eggs because it said divided but when I got to the syrup I realized it says only a quarter!

    1. Hi! I see the mistake and just fixed it– so sorry!! 1 cup of the sugar should go into the mixer with the butter.

  38. Made this today and it was excellent. “Anonymous” – I agree with you on the texture of shredded coconut and next time I will grind it a bit with the pistachios. I needed about 55 min in my oven, the texture is excellent and coconut milk really keeps this moist.

    1. Hi Bob! So glad you enjoyed it. Good idea to blitz the coconut with the pistachios. I just wanted to mention that I use Bob’s Red Mill unsweetened coconut which has a much finer texture than Baker’s sweetened coconut. If the texture bothers you, you might like the fine one better!

  39. I am definately making this for Easter brunch this year. We bought a house at the Jersey Shore and while its being fixed, and cleaned and everything that goes with that, I am still doing a very casual Easter brunch. This cake is just the thing.

    Thanks,
    Tammy

  40. Would it be acceptable to omit the shredded coconut? I have a long-seated abhorrence for the stuff—the texture makes me want to, well, just not eat anything containing it.

    1. I haven’t tested the cake without shredded coconut, but as Bob mentioned in the comments above, you could try grinding the coconut to a finer texture in the food processor. If you do try the cake without coconut, let me know how it turns out!

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