Italian Cream Cake

A Southern classic, Italian Cream Cake is filled with shredded coconut, coated in decadent cream cheese frosting, and covered in toasted pecans. This light and fluffy cake is a perfect dessert for birthdays, holidays, or weeknights!  

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A slice of yellow Italian cake coming out of a layered cake

Boy do I have a recipe for y’all today! Through the years, GBC has gotten many recipe requests but none so much as this one. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t grow up eating Italian Cream Cake! It just wasn’t something my family made. I have come across it in my adulthood and I’ve even made a few of my own but I just haven’t perfected my own recipe. And y’all, I don’t think I’m gonna need to. 

This Italian Cream Cake is absolutely perfect. It’s just that simple. Baker Cheryl Day’s magical cake is tender, creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, and just about everything else in between. After a slice of this one, you’re gonna be running to get your copy of Cheryl’s Treasury of Southern Baking

Perks and Highlights

Cuisine Inspiration: Italian
Primary Cooking Method: Baking
Dietary Info: Contains Dairy, Gluten, and Nuts
Key Flavor: Rich Creaminess with a Hint of Coconut and Pecan
Skill Level: Intermediate

Special Perks:

  1. A Taste of La Dolce Vita: This isn’t just a cake; it’s a one-way ticket to Italian flavor paradise. Each bite encapsulates the essence of the sweet life, blending cultural richness with culinary excellence.
  2. Nutty Buddy: Pecans add a delightful crunch and nuttiness, perfectly balancing the cake’s creaminess. It’s a textural masterpiece in every slice.
  3. Coconut Whispers: The gentle, tropical undertones of coconut infuse the cake, offering a unique flavor that sets it apart from any ordinary dessert.
  4. Showstopper Quality: Beyond taste, this Italian Cream Cake stands as a visual masterpiece. Its elegant appearance makes it the perfect centerpiece for any festive occasion.
  5. Baker’s Joy: Despite its sophisticated palate profile, the process is a fulfilling adventure for bakers looking to stretch their skills. It’s complex enough to challenge, yet simple enough to delight in the creation.
 
An Italian Crean Cake on a white and wooden cake stand against a gray background ready to serve

This recipe is brought to you by none other than New York Times bestselling cookbook author and James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, Cheryl Day. Over the last 20 years, Cheryl, a self-taught scratch baker and entrepreneur, and her wonderful husband have built a business that has become a go-to eatery in the heart of Savannah, Georgia. 

Cheryl’s latest endeavor, Treasury of Southern Baking, is as educational as it is extensive, and this descriptive cookbook offers a wide breadth of classic Southern recipes as well as a lesson in love and a celebration of the mosaic of shared  memories that make up Southern Black Heritage. 

Treasury of Southern Baking has quickly become one of my most treasured cookbooks. It’s the book I always wish I had and I’m so happy to share even just a small piece of it with you all! 

An overhead of a coconut and pecan cream cheese frosted cake

What is Italian Cream Cake? 

Confession: an Italian Cream Cake is about as Italian as I am! Though no one knows its exact origin, it’s said that an Italian baker working for a wealthy family in the South created the recipe using local ingredients rather than the traditional Italian ones. 

True or not, Italian Cream Cake has been a staple Southern recipe for as long as I’ve been alive and then some. The combination of coconut and pecan is what really makes this cake special, and they join together to forge a sweet-salty, nutty union that cuts through the rich cream cheese frosting. The cake layers themselves are tender, fragrant, and full of warm flavor. 

A close up of sliced Italian Cream Cake with a slice on a gold server

Ingredients

The ingredients in this recipe are simple. There aren’t very many substitutions you can make without drastically altering its flavor. I’d recommend trying the recipe as is before making any changes! 

Here’s what you’ll need: 

  • All-purpose flour: The foundation of any great cake, all-purpose flour is the all-star player that knows how to keep it all together. It’s the base camp for your baking expedition!
  • Baking soda: This ingredient is the silent riser, the unsung hero that gives your cake the lift it needs. It’s all about going to new heights, and baking soda is your ticket there.
  • Sea salt: A hint of sea salt is the secret contrast agent, enhancing all the sweet flavors. It’s like a good mood booster; you didn’t know you needed it until it was there.
  • Buttermilk: Buttermilk is the backstage artist that brings tanginess and moisture. It takes your cake from good to “Can I have another slice, please?”
  • Vanilla: The classic melody in the cake symphony, vanilla adds that familiar sweet aroma and flavor. It’s the comforting hug in your list of ingredients.
  • Unsalted butter: Oh, the rich, creamy goodness! Unsalted butter brings the richness without overshadowing the other flavors. It’s the supporting actor who deserves an award.
  • Coconut oil: Here’s where you get that moisture with a tropical twist. Coconut oil says, “Let’s take this cake on a vacation!”
  • Granulated sugar: The sweet talker of your batter. It’s not just about sweetness, but also about achieving that perfect golden crust.
  • Eggs: The binders, the structure builders, the smooth operators of your cake mix. They’re the unsung heroes of the baking world, creating that perfect crumb.
  • Unsweetened coconut flakes: These bring in texture and a pure, nutty, tropical flavor. It’s like a crunchy surprise in every bite!
  • Lemon juice: Just a dash adds a bright, zesty note that makes all the other flavors pop. Think of it as your cake’s wake-up call.
  • Coconut milk soak: This is where the cake gets its ultimate moisture boost. It’s like a spa day for your cake, making it irresistibly tender.
  • Cream cheese frosting: Creamy, tangy, and oh-so-indulgent, it’s the cloud-like topping that you could eat by the spoonful. The perfect crown for your masterpiece.
  • Chopped pecans: They add a delightful crunch and a depth of flavor, giving a rustic, hearty charm to your cake. It’s texture and taste in every bite!
  •  

A large slice of Italian Cream Cake on a white plate with a fork going through it

How to Frost An Italian Cream Cake

This is a 3-layer cake recipe so that means there’s a little bit more of an involved process when it comes to decorating. There are several ways you can frost an Italian Cream Cake and one way is the option pictured in this post. 

I invite you to use this as an opportunity to get creative and try out your own method or give one of the choices below a try: 

  • GO ALL THE WAY. Looking to impress? You’re gonna need to put in the work! Start by leveling the cakes to create evenly stacked layers, then apply a crumb coat to guarantee a smooth outcome. Apply an additional layer of frosting around the sides and top of the cake. Use chopped pecans or toasted coconut to decorate the sides for an extra special touch! 
  • NAKED CAKE: Leave the side of the cake unfrosted, as a “naked” cake. I think this is a super dope and rustic way to frost a cake!
  • PIPE IT UP: If you’re a pro with the piping bag, or just looking to give it a try, pipe swirls onto the top or around the edges to give it a fancy upgrade!

Storage

Any leftover cake should be stored in an airtight cake keeper, covered with a large overturned bowl, or sliced and tucked into individual airtight containers. Because of its perishable ingredients, Italian Cream Cake needs to be kept in the refrigerator where it will last for 5-7 days. 

Just be sure to bring the cake back up to room temperature before serving! 

Three slices of yellow cake with cream cheese frosting and pecans on white plates

More Grandbaby Cakes for Special Occasions

Decadent cakes are a Southern specialty! Next time you’re celebrating a birthday, hitting up the church potluck, or just treating yourself, reach for one of GBC’s BEST cake recipes! 

Here are a just a few to start: 

A slice of yellow Italian cake coming out of a layered cake

Italian Cream Cake

A Southern classic, Italian Cream Cake is filled with shredded coconut, coated in decadent cream cheese frosting, and covered in toasted pecans. This light and fluffy cake is a perfect dessert for birthdays, holidays, or weeknights! 
5 from 9 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Cool 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Course: Dessert
Servings: 14 servings

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 250 grams
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk 237 ml
  • 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 stick/113 grams
  • 1/2 cup refined coconut oil 118 ml
  • 2 cups granulated sugar 400 grams
  • 5 large eggs, separated at room temperature 250 grams
  • 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, plus 1 cup for finishing the cake 80 grams plus 80 grams
  • a few drops of lemon juice

For the Coconut Milk Soak

  • 1/4 cup coconut milk 59 ml
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 10 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature 1 1/4 sticks/142 grams
  • 16 oz cream cheese packages, cut into chunks, room temperaure 227 grams
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 5-6 cups confectioners' sugar 625-750 grams
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted 180 grams

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Butter three 9-by-2 inch (23 by 5 cm) round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside
  • In a large measuring cup or small bowl, combine the buttermilk and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl, using a handheld mixer) cream the butter, coconut oil, and sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks one (19 g) at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Then continue to beat until light in color and texture, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the buttermilk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour, mixing until just combined. Gradually add the 1 cup (80 g) coconut. If using a stand mixer, transfer the batter to another large bowl (if you don't have a second mixer bowl).
  • Wash and dry the mixer bowl and wipe the inside of the bowl (or another large mixing bowl) with the lemon juice to make sure the bowl is squeaky clean. Attach the bowl to the mixer stander (if using) and fit it with a whisk attachment. Put the egg whites in the mixer bowl (or large mixing bowl) and beat (with clean beaters if using a handheld mixer) until stiff peaks form, 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Scoop up a little of the egg whites with a rubber spatula and gently stir them into the cake batter to lighten it and make it easier to fold in the rest of the egg whites. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute.
  • Gently scrape the batter into the prepared pans, dividing it evenly. Smooth the tops with a spatula.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean and the cake is light golden. Let the cakes cool in the pans on a large wire rack for 20 minutes then invert them onto another rack, peel off the parchment and let cool completely.

For the Coconut Milk Soak

  • In a measuring cup, combine 1/4 cup coconut milk and vanilla extract. Set aside.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, vanilla and salt on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add 5 cups confectioners sugar, beating until thoroughly incorporated. Then continue to beat, adding up to 1 cup more confectioners sugar if needed, until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 4 to 6 minutes.

To Assemble

  • Level the tops of two of the layers with a serrated knife to make them flat. Place one layer cut side up on a serving plate. Brush the top of the layer with half of the coconut milk soak.
  • Using an offset spatula or a butter knife, spread the layer with a big dollop of the frosting. Place the second leveled layer on top and brush with the remaining milk soak, then spread with another big dollop of frosting. Place the final cake layer right side up and frost the top and sides with a thin layer of the remaining frosting.
  • Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to set the frosting.
  • To finish, fold 1 cup of the pecans into the remaining cream cheese frosting. Using an offset spatula, frost the top and sides of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 cup coconut and the remaining pecans.

Notes

The frosting can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.  Bring to room temp before using.
The cake can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Bring to room temp before serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 817kcal | Carbohydrates: 91g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 49g | Saturated Fat: 28g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 135mg | Sodium: 354mg | Potassium: 207mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 74g | Vitamin A: 1005IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 79mg | Iron: 2mg
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Filed Under:  Cake, Christmas, Dessert and Baking, Mother's Day, Oven

Comments

  1. I’ve tried this and it was a hit, beautiful, tasty and easy to make. I will definitely add to my favorites grandbaby-cakes rocks! I’ve never been disappointed with any recipes I’ve used.

  2. This is my favorite cake. It Is also my go to to impressive. Although this cake is labor intensive, it is so worth the effort. I also add almond extract along with vanilla. The almond extract adds another level of flavor and the fragrance is heavenly. Give it a try….it will not disappoint.

  3. Incredible cake. Made this for my granddaughter for her birthday and everyone loved it, so moist and decadent. Will definitely keep this recipe.

  4. I love the idea of this recipe. I intend to try many of the recipes’ offers. I will write again when I have made them and let you know how I made out.

  5. This cake looks and sounds fabulous. I’m going to try this cake this weekend. For clarification, on the assembly part, does the second layer face cut side down or up?

5 from 9 votes

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