Gluten-Free 4-Layer Coconut Cake and The Big Potluck


I am sharing this recipe based on popular demand from several new friends. I brought it to share at a potluck last weekend and was thrilled to see it disappear off of the table within minutes of being served. For me, there are few greater feelings than watching others happily devour a dish I have prepared. In this case, the fact that it was a gluten-free cake and I was in a room full of foodies made the satisfaction even sweeter. Here is a well-tested recipe for you to make and share with friends and family that is gluten-free, nut-free and still a major crowd-pleaser!

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending an incredible gathering for food lovers, The Big Summer Potluck. The days were filled with great food, very inspiring speakers and an opportunity for me to connect with many great people in the food blogging community for the first time.

Food is something that brings people together. It is rooted in our culture and so many others. It tells a story. For those of us with food allergies and/or celiac disease, food can make us feel exactly the opposite. When we are not able to share food at gatherings, it takes away the opportunity for us to bond.  For every event I attend, I prepare myself for the inability to participate in the one key thing that ties so many people together… meals. That was not the case at the Big Summer Potluck.

There were assurances accommodations would be made for special diets before we went but, I had no idea how far above and beyond the entire team would go to do so. When I arrived at the hotel, Chris and Karen from The Peche set the tone and told me not to worry about a thing. They gave me a goodie bag filled with lots of gluten-free treats including Bob’s Red Mill Muesli, Attune Foods treats, eleven spices from Garden Gourmet, cabernet sauvignon from Monogamy Wines and some great gadgets from OXO and Kitchen Aid.

On the first night, we had dinner at the gorgeous home of the Anderson family. From the minute we were greeted by Maggie, it was clear the event would be extremely warm, inclusive and hospitable. There were make-your-own grilled pizza stations set up outside on the lawn and even a separate gluten-free pizza table. I was so excited and I think I was the first to make a pizza. I couldn’t believe how amazing the crust was and when Pam told me Deb made it, I went on a mission to find her and learn all about it. I was blown away by the process and instantly made an amazing friend. You know how that happens sometimes, right? I was so happy to have met Deb and her husband! They will post the pizza dough recipe on their website soon so you should definitely follow Smith Bites to see when it goes up.

I brought this gluten-free 4-Layer Coconut Cake for the potluck the first night and as I watched it disappear very quickly, I wondered if people were reading the label that said it was gluten-free. I got a little nervous hoping they wouldn’t be disappointed. It was just the opposite. I literally had someone run to find me and hug me telling me how delicious it was. It was awesome. Ok. Enough about the cake…back to the potluck.

I had no idea what to expect the next day since this was the first “blogger conference” I have ever been to.  It ended up being a day of tremendous inspiration from some amazing men and women;

Jessamyn Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, made me realize how investing in yourself allows you to invest in others and inspired me with the many stories of immigrant women that have woven together to create her incredible company.

Joe Yonan talked about the leave of absence he took from his job as a food writer for the Washington Post to live on his sister’s farm and write his beautiful cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables. Joe moved me with his honesty as he shared how things didn’t necessarily turn out exactly as planned. He talked about how we should still take those types of risks and learn to appreciate whatever comes out of the journey.

Robyn Hillman-Harrigan from the Shore Soup Project brought me to tears with the story of how she sprung into action after Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways. Watch the video about their efforts here. I hope you will consider donating to this incredible cause or to Why Hunger which supports many projects like these.

Jeni Britton Baur talked about her commitment to excellence in the ingredients her company, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, uses and how she failed the first time as an entrepreneur yet learned lessons and persevered. If you haven’t tasted Jeni’s yet, you need to. They have lots of gluten-free flavors. She brought us these amazing salted caramel, chocolate-coated dream bars. I swear, as soon as I started eating one I wanted everyone around me to disappear so I could have a moment alone. Dreamy!

Coach Mark Smallwood talked about the Rodale Institute, pioneers in the organic movement, and their Honeybee Conservancy. It was facinating and if you have ever had any interest in beekeeping, they have great programs including education and even hosting hives on their 333-acre organic farm.

 Abby Dodge did a shortbread cookie demo and Brian Samuels made a delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb Collins (I’m totally going to make some sort of peach cocktail inspired by this soon). We also had delicious sweet potato fries cooked in the Phillips AirFryer which uses this special air technology to create fried food taste with little or no oil. So cool. I want one!  Our evening continued with dinner and wine at the Bucks County Audubon Society Barn. This was where our hosts, including Deb and Sabrina from The Tomato Tart went above and beyond, once again, to ensure those of us with celiac, food allergies or other dietary restrictions had a safe and delicious meal. It was amazing.

Overall, I made some great new friends and walked away inspired. Thanks to everyone for all of their hard work at the 4th Annual Big Summer Potluck! I’m definitely looking forward to the next one and I promise, I’ll bring 2 of these cakes next year so no one misses out on getting a slice! 

5.0 from 5 reviews
4-Layer Coconut Cake {Gluten-Free}, Friendships, Inspiration and Bonding over Food @TheBigPotluck
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10
  • CAKE
  • 3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1½ tsp Amaretto di Amore or Almond Extract*
  • 1½ cups white rice flour
  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • ⅔ cup potato starch
  • ⅓ cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 4 tbl Saco Cultured Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ cup shredded sweetened coconut, separated
  • 24 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp Amaretto di Amore or Almond Extract*
  • 3¾ cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  1. Heat oven to 325. Butter 2 - 9" round pans and lightly flour them on the bottoms and sides.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated, scraping the sides and bottom between each addition.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and amaretto.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, xanthan, baking powder, baking soda, salt and buttermilk powder until well combined.
  6. Add ⅓ flour to the mixing butter, sugar and eggs. Once incorporated, add ½ water. Repeat until all ingredients are incorporated and then mix together until smooth.
  7. Fold in 1 cup of coconut.
  8. Separate batter evenly between pans and pick up and slam the bottoms against a counter to make sure it spreads out and is flat on top.
  9. Bake at 325 for 35-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Remove from oven and allow to rest in pans for about 20 minutes before removing from pans onto resting racks. Allow cakes to cool completely (at least 2 hours) before cutting and frosting.
  11. Make frosting by creaming together butter and cream cheese (very important to start at room temperature for both) and adding sifted confectioners sugar a little bit at a time until fully incorporated.
  12. To separate the 2 rounds into 4 layers, take each cake round, bottom side up and cut around the sides with a serrated knife, turning the cake in a circle until the knife slides easily through the entire cake.
  13. Assemble the cake by placing the first layer down on your serving plate, spread enough on top to coat the layer and repeat until last layer is placed on top. Frost the entire top and sides of the cake (an offset spatula is the best tool for this).
  14. Sprinkle ½ cup of coconut on top and sides of cake.
  15. Serve and enjoy!

Note: Cook time includes cool time

*According to the Disaronno website, their amaretto contains no almonds, and is gluten and nut-free. It is apparently made from crushed apricot pits. However, please research this on your own if you are allergic to tree nuts and, if you would rather be on the safe side, you should just use additional vanilla extract in place of the amaretto or almond extract.



  • Jackie, this is such a beautiful recap of our amazing weekend! You touched on so many important points, but you truly convey the warm and inspiring feel of the whole event!

    I have been waiting very impatiently for this recipe!!! Coconut cake is my absolute favorite and I was so sorry I missed it on my trip around the dessert table! My plate was too full to add a slice! Cannot wait to make this…it’s beautiful!

  • I bought a flour combination with rice flour, corn starch, tapioca dextrin, Xanthan gum, rice extract in it. It has a cup for cup substitution ratio. How can I put my flour into this coconut cake??? Thanks.

    • Hi Barb!

      It’s 3 cups of flour (just omit the rice flours, tapioca starch, potato starch and xanthan from my recipe). Let me know how it works with your blend.


  • What a beautiful cake and a great recap ! This was a luscious coconut cake and I don’t think I can do justice to it the way you did. But just the same, thanks for sharing the recipe. Nice to have met you, Jackie. Till next food event 🙂

  • it was such a pleasure to meet you Jackie – and THANK YOU for the fabulous cake recipe – i feel somewhat naughty that i was lucky enough to grab the very last piece AND to enjoy it for breakfast the next morning! promise to let you know when the pizza crust recipe goes live! (((hugs)))

  • How did I miss this gorgeous cake at the potluck?! It looks fantastic! Definitely need to save this one–one of my co-workers is gluten-free and we’re always looking for tried-and-true treats we can share with him.

    BSP4 was amazing and you did such a wonderful job sharing that. So many ways to be inspired. So many wonderful people!

  • I grabbed a slice of this without knowing it was gluten free, and it was delicious. I actually had no idea until I heard people talking about it later on!

    It was great meeting you, Jackie. Keep in touch! 🙂

  • Hi, I’d love to make this cake for a wedding but can’t find the buttermilk powder. Could I substitute this for liquid buttermilk?

    • Hi! Yes. You can omit the powder and the water and use one cup of buttermilk. Add it in at the end alternating with the dry ingredients.

  • Hi there and thank you for sharing this recipe. I made it for a Christmas Eve dinner yesterday and everyone loved it! Needed to accommodate my gluten intolerant husband and a 10yr old with nut allergy. Note on this recipe that you must get imitation almond extract for the frosting to be nut free. One recommendation Jackie would be to show only 1 c of coconut for the cake, then 1/2c for the frosting. I goofed and put all the coconut into the cake mix, but it didnt matter-it was yummy. Also, I made this a 5-layer cake. The cake cuts really well through the center and hold up nicely when moving the layers from the cooling rack to the cake for frosting. Thanks!

    • Oh I forgot to say, as an aside-I grew up in Bucks County, PA and it was nice to read about it in your blog.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for letting me know. So happy everyone liked the cake! I appreciate the recommendation and will update the recipe to show to separate the coconut so others will be aware.

      I used Amaretto di Amore in my cake and according to their website, it is made from apricot, not almonds so that should be ok to make it nut-free as well.

      Thanks again so much for your feedback and Happy New Year!


  • Ingredient list calls for cultured buttermilk, I base my shopping list on the list of ingredients, but directions mention buttermilk powder, already started making cake and had to run out to find the buttermilk powder, couldn’t find a substitute on internet, hoping there are no more typos, making cake for first time for Easter

    • Hi Deb,

      I’m so sorry for the confusion! I actually listed the brand, Saco. However, this cake can definitely be made with 1 cup of regular buttermilk instead of the powder. Just add it at the end alternating with the dry ingredients. I hope you saw my comment about that above and were able to make it and enjoy the cake. Have a very happy Easter!


  • I’m going to attempt this cake for Christmas since my husband is gluten-free and I always feel bad when I make desserts he can’t eat! Wondering, can I use all rice flour instead of the brown rice flour? Or use half a cup of almond or coconut flour instead of brown?

  • This looks amazing. Looking forward to an occasion to make this. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion.

  • Hey Jackie! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I was perusing the umpteen recipes online and while there are certainly gluten-free cakes made with fewer, more readily available ingredients (I had only about 1/3 of what was on the list in my pantry), I was up for a change from almond flour and went shopping!

    I am SO glad I did!! This cake is among one of the best cakes I’ve made, gluten-free or not. The texture, the fine yet dense crumb that held together so beautifully (cutting and transferring the layers was a breeze), and the flavor – wow! I brought this cake to dinner at a friend’s house and everyone present LOVED this cake. We spoke of nothing else the entire time we ate dessert – and we have a LOT to talk about. 🙂

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