Italian Cream Cake pairs three layers of coconut-vanilla cake with a rich cream cheese frosting studded with pecans. It’s no wonder this classic cake recipe is so popular!
Italian Cream Cake — A Southern Classic!
I’m about to blow your mind: Italian Cream Cake actually originated in Texas. Shocker, right? Food historians think an Italian baker who lived in Texas invented the cake, which makes sense because you’ll see it all the time in the South, but it never seems to be sold alongside cannoli and tiramisu at the Italian bakeries I know.
The first time I made this recipe, it was requested by a coworker. I made a second cake so I could try it too and I was impressed! While the cake seems relatively simple on the surface, it’s rich, flavorful, and dense in the best kind of way. I also love that it’s easy to assemble and frost, which is always a plus in my book.
What You’ll Need
The ingredient list for this cake is simple as can be! Here’s what you’ll need to make it.
For the cake:
- All-purpose flour – Read my primer on flours for baking.
- Baking soda
- Unsalted butter – The butter needs to be softened, so take it out of the fridge before you plan to start baking and let it sit on the counter for about half an hour.
- Granulated sugar
- Eggs – Your eggs should be room temperature, too!
- Vanilla extract
- Buttermilk – You can make your own by combining a scant cup of whole milk with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. For more substitution options, see Buttermilk Substitutes in Baking.
- Sweetened shredded coconut
For the frosting:
- Chopped pecans
- Cream cheese – Let it sit on the counter while the cake cools so it’s easy to whip into a frosting.
- Unsalted butter – And take out the butter too!
- Vanilla extract
- Confectioners’ sugar – Take the time to sift the powdered sugar. It’s much easier to sift it first than trying to break up all the little sugar lumps in your frosting.
First: Yes, you can leave out the coconut if the taste and texture aren’t for you. I get it! If you want a more traditional Italian Cream Cake, you can add finely chopped pecans to the cake batter; most recipes do have both nuts and coconut in the cake layers, but I prefer to keep the nuts in the frosting.
How to Make Italian Cream Cake
If you’re ready for a treat, it’s time to start baking! Here are step-by-step instructions.
Make the Cake Layers:
Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F, then grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.
Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk the flour and baking soda in a mixing bowl.
Mix the wet ingredients. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter until fluffy, then add the sugar and continue beating until you have a light, airy mixture. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.
Combine wet and dry ingredients. Turn the mixer speed to low, then add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the buttermilk. Fold in the coconut.
Whip the egg whites. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter.
Bake and cool. Divide the cake batter among the pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the cakes from the pans and let them finish cooling on the racks.
Make the Frosting:
Toast the pecans. Place the pecans in a shallow baking pan and toast them at 350°F for 5-10 minutes, or until they’re toasted and smell deliciously nutty.
Make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat at low speed until it’s incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light, smooth, and fluffy. Fold in the chopped pecans.
Assemble. Frost the top of the first cake layer, then put the second layer on top. Frost the top of the second layer, then top that with the third layer. Spread frosting over the tops and sides, then your cake is done!
Tips for Success
Aside from whipping up the egg whites and folding them into the batter, Italian Cream Cake is pretty straightforward! Here are some tips to help you make sure it turns out perfect:
- Make even layers. The cake batter needs to be divided into three cake layers. To do this, weigh your mixing bowl while it is empty, then once your batter is done, weigh the bowl again. Subtract the weight of the empty bowl and divide this number by three. Remember this number! Place one of your prepared cake pans on your scale and zero the weight. Weigh out your calculated amount of batter. Repeat for the other two pans. Not only does this satisfy my inner perfectionist, but the cake layers will be the same size and will bake the same, making quite the lovely cake. And, if you don’t have a kitchen scale, pick one up as soon as possible. You’ll never understand how you baked without it.
- Trim the cake. I don’t always do this if I’m baking for myself, but if you’re making a layer cake and your layers are a little bit taller in the middle, you can use a serrated knife to shave off the top to make it perfectly flat.
- Don’t use too much pressure. Because there are nuts in the frosting, if you use too much pressure when you’re icing the cake, you’ll drag the nuts through the cake and introduce crumbs into the frosting.
How to Store this Cake
You’ll need to store Italian Cream Cake in the refrigerator because the cream cheese frosting won’t last more than a few hours at room temperature. Keep it covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Can I Freeze this Cake?
Yes, you can absolutely freeze Italian Cream Cake! When freezing cakes, I like to place the cake in the freezer uncovered just until the frosting is solid and then I wrap the cake with a layer or two of plastic wrap and foil. This way, the frosting doesn’t stick to the plastic wrap and your cake will look fabulous when you’re ready to eat it.