Bake or Break

Italian Cream Cake

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!

Two slices of Italian Cream Cake on plates with spoons

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.

Overhead shot of ingredients for Italian Cream Cake

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 flourRead 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.

Variations

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.

Dry ingredients for cake in white bowl

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.

Overhead shot of coconut flakes being stirred into cake batter

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.

Overhead shot of three cake pans filled with cake 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.

Overhead view of layer cake being assembled

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!

Whole Italian Cream Cake on cake plate after frosting

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.
Italian Cream Cake on cake plate with two slices removed, showing layers

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.

Slice of Italian Cream Cake on plate with spoon

Italian Cream Cake

Yield 12 to 16 servings
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes

In the pantheon of classic Southern cakes, Italian Cream Cake ranks right up there with red velvet and hummingbird cake! Flavored with pecans and coconut, then iced with cream cheese frosting, it's an unforgettable dessert.

Italian Cream Cake on cake plate with two slices removed, showing layers

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
  • 1 cup (85g) sweetened flaked coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup (120g) chopped pecans
  • 8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces (454g) confectioners' sugar, sifted

Instructions

To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.
  2. Whisk together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the buttermilk. Stir in the coconut.
  5. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Then, remove from the pans to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the frosting:

  1. Toast the pecans in a shallow baking pan at 350° for 5-10 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat at low speed until blended. Then, increase mixer speed to high and beat until smooth. Stir in the pecans.
  3. Stack the cake layers, spreading the frosting between the cooled cake layers and on the top and sides of cake.

Notes

Recipe slightly adapted from Southern Living.

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    46 Comments on “Italian Cream Cake”

  1. Wow that looks good!

    I’d like to work in some rum into that recipe somehow, then it would be my favorite cake ever.

    • I have used Coconut Rum ‘on’ this cake and it is delicious…. Allow the layers to cool after removing from oven, then ‘drizzle’ or ‘spray’ Coconut Rum evenly on the top of each prepared layer. Allow approximately 10 minutes for the Rum to absorb into the layers before frosting.

  2. This sounds very good indeed, I think I could use the frosting for a number of things.

  3. Lowell, I’ve found that liquor works well in just about any recipe.

    Brilynn, I think it would be a versatile frosting. With the added bonus being that it’s easy to make.

  4. Thanks for the recipe, I saved in my favorties, Got to try this!

  5. That is one heck of a cake…yummy.

  6. Looks lovely! I had an Italian Cream Cake while in Charleston that wasn’t very impressive but yours looks wonderfully moist.

  7. Coconut, cream cheese and pecans?? That sounds beyond delicious. Beyond!

  8. that is just beautiful!

  9. This cake was delicious. Even my husband, Jim, who is anti-coconut AND anti-pecan ate a big piece of it and loved it. Jennifer made this cake for our Thanksgiving Dinner, and it was a hit with everyone…well, except Quinn.

  10. very nice things very delicious i adore your website

  11. Looks like you got your wish. Here is a recipe for Chocolate Italian Cream Cake.

    •1/2 cup butter
    •1/2 cup shortening
    •2 cups white sugar
    •5 eggs
    •2 cups all-purpose flour
    •1 teaspoon baking soda
    •1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    •1 cup buttermilk
    •1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    •1 cup shredded coconut
    •1 cup chopped pecans
    •1 cup cream cheese
    •1/2 cup butter
    •1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
    •4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
    •1 cup chopped pecans
    •1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    •Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans. Separate the eggs.
    •Cream 1/2 cup of the butter, shortening and sugar together. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla.
    •Sift soda, flour and 1/4 cup cocoa together. Add alternately with buttermilk to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Stir in the coconut and 1 cup of the chopped pecans.
    •Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form and fold into the batter. Pour batter into the prepared cake pans.
    •Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cakes cool completely before frosting between layers and on sides.
    •To Make Frosting: Cream the cream cheese and butter together. Sift confectioner’s sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa, beating in a little at a time until well-creamed. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 cup pecans.

  12. Oh, Tracy! You are my new best friend!!! I can’t wait to try this out. So excited!

  13. To add a rich, smooth chocolate + flavor to your Italian Cream Cake, try Nutella. The Cake with Nutella was excellent (very rich), but I didn’t have your frosting recipe at that time. Thanks by the way, it sounds yummy!

  14. Kara, I never would have thought of that. Thanks!

  15. I can’t find the recipe, =S where’s the link?

  16. lizzy, there’s a link in the post to Southern Living’s recipe. Here’s another: Italian Cream Cake.

  17. Thank you !!

  18. As soon as I saw the picture of your cake, I fell in love!! Looks SO good!! As much as I love pecans, I’ve been dreaming about making a peppermint cream cake, so I adapted this recipe and did just that! 🙂

    I cut the recipe in half, and then I added crushed candy canes to both the batter and the frosting…skipping the nuts. I was in total heaven eating a slice last night and can hardly wait for dessert this evening! 🙂

    Thanks!! 🙂 Cheers! sheila

  19. Loved this cake – tried it today and it was such a hit at the party I went to!! Even with the Chocoholics! Have also tried your Chocolate Chip Snack cake and surprisingly, even though I don’t much care for Cinnamon, I loved it! Keep the recipes coming…! 🙂

  20. Just made this cake and followed the directions to a “t”, and my layers didn’t rise. 🙁 Don’t know how it will be when it’s cut, but I worked hard on it and am very disappointed.

  21. OK, cake was a big hit. Very rich and moist. Didn’t rise much but I may not have beaten the egg whites stiff enough (only have a portable mixer). Agree with cook who says make a little more frosting.

  22. What a terrific looking cake!
    It seems like a super delicious one 🙂

  23. This cake looks yummy. I want to try it today but I was wondering can I substitute baking powder instead of baking soda?

    • Hi, Katrina. You need baking powder because of the buttermilk in the recipe. If you don’t have baking powder, you can try using 1/4 teaspoon baking soda along with 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch.

      • I’m a little confused ….recipe calls for 1 teaspoon baking soda and in your 9/8/13 comment you say the recipe needs baking powder??? I must be missing something? Thanks

  24. Pingback: Italian Cream Cake | Food- Mafia

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  27. Have you made this recipe as cupcakes?

  28. made this cake tonight for a birthday tomorrow. I think it will be a big hit! I would half again the icing recipe.

  29. Pingback: Italian Cream Tart - Bake or Break

  30. This cake was really delicious! I got my mom to make it for me for a holiday and it was really popular with me and my family

  31. Can this cake – and others – be made as 2 layers.  Love my cake pans but only have two and cannot find another.  Lesson learned.

  32. Can this be made without the coconut?

  33. I made this and it’s delicious!! All my friends love it! 

  34. So, soooo good !  This is definitely a go to recipe for a beautiful cake !  Thanks so much!

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