A white cake mix provides an easy shortcut to create a show-stopping coconut cake. Opt to add coconut flavors to one or all of the following: the mix, the frosting and the filling. A white box cake makes for a snow-colored cake, but if you prefer something other than an all-white cake, use yellow or chocolate cake mix; both meld well with the coconut flavors.
One way to make a coconut cake is to simply bake the white cake according to the package directions and add a coconut filling and icing. You could also add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of coconut extract to flavor the batter.
For a more coconut-y cake that's still moist and tender, add 3 egg whites, 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, 2/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sweetened coconut milk to an 16.5-ounce box of white cake mix. Bake as directed per the box instructions. Add a tablespoon of rum to the batter, if desired; it'll give the cake a tropical flavor.
Fill the cake with the coconut icing you plan to use for the topping, or make a coconut cream filling or vanilla custard with flakes of coconut folded in. A lemon curd filling offers a surprising change of pace.
Top the cake with a standard Italian buttercream; add a 1/2 teaspoon of coconut extract if you like. Or, opt for a coconut cream cheese frosting made with a stick of butter, 8 ounces of cream cheese mixed with coconut and vanilla extract, and about 4 cups of powdered sugar. Plain whipped cream also can serve as the frosting.
Cover the frosted cake generously with shredded coconut. Alternatively, toast the coconut to a nutty brown before covering the cake. Use your hands to press the coconut lightly into the frosting. If you used whipped cream for the frosting, just dust the coconut over the top -- pressing will put dents in the topping.