Sunday, September 14, 2014

Italian Cream Cake

Italian Cream Cake

A Southern Staple

Italian Cream Cake
A big birthday deserves a big cake.
When my friend Diane sent out “Save-the-Dates” for her upcoming big birthday celebration, I offered to make her cake. She chose Italian Cream Cake, which is my personal favorite, and has been my birthday dessert of choice most of my life.
Before I moved to Idaho, I had no idea that Italian Cream Cake was more Southern than Italian, but it was always a staple growing up in Texas for birthdays, baptisms or really anything worth celebrating. It does supposedly have some Italian roots, but it’s pretty unclear where the cake really came from. It’s very dense, with coconut, pecans and bananas, keeping it moist, fairly similar to the far inferior Carrot Cake (who wants vegetables in their cake?!). Cream Cheese Icing puts “the icing on the cake” and makes this moist and heavy dessert even more decadent.
My version of the cake is based on the recipe in my grandmother's first cookbook, The Good Taste Collection. I have modernized some of the ingredients and found that incorporating overripe bananas (very black) improve the cake greatly.
Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.
I’ve developed a few baking tricks over the years. With this recipe, I always beat my egg whites first and put them in a separate bowl so I don’t have to wash my mixing bowl twice or use a second mixing bowl. Laziness is the key to invention. Instead of buying buttermilk, which I will never use, I add one teaspoon of white vinegar to one cup of milk and let sit for five minutes. The vinegar will curdle the milk into buttermilk.
When I made the cake last week for Diane’s birthday, it needed to serve about 25 people so I made two batches. I opted to make a tiered cake—those are always more spectacular. I baked the first recipe in three 9-inch pans to create the bottom layer. After cooling, I iced between the layers, stacked them on a platter and crumb iced.
Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.
To create structure in this very moist cake, I cut drinking straws and placed them throughout the top of the cake to hold up the second layer. I baked the second layer in three 6-inch pans and made a few cupcakes with the leftover batter. After cooling, I placed the second layers on a 6-inch cardboard round (I purchased a Wilton cake cardboard, but you can make your own out of a shoebox or whatever), iced between the layers and crumb iced.
I also placed straws in the top tier for added stability. After crumb icing, it’s important to chill the cake. This hardens the icing and allows a second layer of icing to be applied with no crumbs showing through. For this specific cake, I made four batches of icing; for a one-tier cake, I normally make two batches of icing (never skimp on the icing). After the cakes were iced twice, I left them in the fridge until a couple of hours before the party.
Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.
With another batch of icing, I piped a layer on the top of the bottom layer to attach the top layer. I then piped beads between the tiers and around the bottom to hide any flaws. To pipe, you can use a traditional tip and bag, but for these purposes, a Ziploc with the corner cut out works great.
Fortunately, my 100-year old lilac was in full bloom. I picked a few fragrant blossoms and placed them on the cake. Truly, the most difficult part of the baking process was getting the cake to Ketchum, over the highway bumps, on my friend’s lap.
One batch of Italian Cream Cake will serve about 18 people. I don’t recommend making these into cupcakes because they fall and leave huge craters, but that can be a plus if you want to fill them with icing.


2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 egg yolks
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sweetened baker’s coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
2 overripe bananas
5 egg whites stiffly beaten
Cream butter, then add sugar; beat until mixture is smooth. Add egg yolks and beat well. Combine flour and soda, sift, and add alternately with buttermilk. Stir in vanilla. Add coconut, nuts, and bananas. Fold in, by hand, stiffly beaten egg whites. Pour batter into three 9-inch or four 8-inch parchment paper lined cake pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cake tests done. After cooling, ice with Cream Cheese Icing.


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
½ stick butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth; add sugar and vanilla; mix well. Spread on cake.
Southern Italian Cream Cake recipe from Sun Valley Magazine.