Italian Cream Cake is an easy, elegant moist layer cake that will leave your guests feeling utterly pampered. Coconut flakes and pecans add a beautiful texture that perfectly compliments generously layered cream cheese frosting. This is one of those cakes that has everyone asking for seconds.
You probably already know that I am a big fan of tropical flavors, so this Southern-style cake with coconut-infused batter was, of course, right up my alley. It takes a few steps to make it, but they aren’t difficult at all. If you’ve got the time, you can nail this cake, even if you are a beginner baker.
What’s Italian about this cake, you ask? Truth be told, no one is really sure why this cake is called an “Italian” cream cake. It’s more of a Southern recipe. We’ll keep calling it Italian, though, since it makes it sound nice and fancy. 😜
What Makes It So Delicious?
What Makes Italian Cream Cake So Delicious?
First of all, the homemade cake batter has buttermilk, which is my secret ingredient for a tender and moist cake. Plus, the batter is not only infused with coconut, but it has pecans as nicely, giving this Italian cream cake the perfect balance of a tender bite with a satisfying crunch. Add the cream cheese frosting, and this cake is a flavor bombshell with all the right textures. 🤤
- Homemade Cake Batter – Butter, sugar, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt, and vanilla extract are standard cake batter ingredients that come together to make the perfect cake from scratch.
- Buttermilk – Instead of regular milk, we’re using buttermilk in the cake batter to keep it moist, give it a better rise, and add a little extra tang.
- Coconut Flakes – This ingredient goes straight into the cake batter, adding flavor and texture. Plain or toasted work wonderfully.
- Pecans – These crunchy nuts also add texture to the cake batter and create a beautiful interior when you cut the cake. If you aren’t a pecan fan, use crushed walnuts, pistachios, or any other nut you think will taste great.
- Cream Cheese Frosting – You’ll need cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract to whip up this perfectly sweet cake frosting.
How to Make Italian Cream Cake
- Cream Butter – Cream the butter and sugar at high speed in a stand mixer for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg yolks a little at a time and continue mixing for about 2-3 minutes. (Photos 1-3)
- Add Dry Ingredients – Sift in the flour, salt, and baking soda into the batter, and then add the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Stir well until everything is fully combined. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. (Photos 4-5)
- Whip the Egg Whites – Beat the egg whites to a soft peak and then use a spatula to fold them into the batter gently. (Photos 6-8)
- Coconut and Pecans – Next, add the coconut flakes and chopped pecans and continue folding for about 30 seconds. (Photos 9-10)
- Ready to Pour – Pour the batter into the greased cake pans in three equal parts. Tap pans on the work surface to eliminate any large air bubbles. (Photo 11)
- Bake at 325℉/163℃ for 30-35 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cooked cakes to a wire rack to cool. (Photo 12)
The Cream Cheese Frosting
- Whip It – Whisk cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until creamy. You can use a mixer for this step if you want. (Photo 1)
- Add Powdered Sugar – Gradually sieve in powdered sugar and mix as you go along until smooth. (Photos 2-3)
- Pecans – Finally, stir in the pecans (if desired).
- First and Second Layer – Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread about 1½ cups of cream cheese frosting over the cake layer. Top with the second layer, and more frosting over that cake layer. (Photo 4)
- Final Layer – Finally, add the third cake layer and spread the remaining frosting over it.
- Decorate – Pipe some frosting around the top and bottom edges of the cake to make it extra fancy. Decorate the top and sides of the cake with crushed pecans.
- You can make this recipe into a sheet cake recipe if you like. Simply bake it in a 13×9-inch pan and frost the top only. Note that you may need to give it a little longer in the oven to bake. If you’re in a hurry, this is a great way to cut down on time spent assembling and decorating the cake. ⏰
- If you want to play with the underlying flavors in this cake (and maybe make it a little more “Italian”), replace the vanilla with almond extract or amaretto. It’s a subtle difference, but a delicious one!
Tips and Tricks
- Double the frosting recipe if you like to pile on your frosting, like in the pictures. 😉
- Separate your egg whites from yolks while they are cool, and then let the egg whites come to room temperature before beating them. You’ll know you have soft peaks when you turn your whisk upside down, and the whites start to hold and fold back after a few seconds.
- Before you begin frosting your first layer, dab a couple of tablespoons of frosting on the cake stand. That will help the first cake sit still while you frost it.
- Always let the cake cool completely before you frost it. You’ll have a melty mess on your hands (and all over your kitchen counter 🤪) if you don’t.
You can make this cake the day before serving it, no problem. Simply store it in the fridge in an airtight container until you are ready to serve it.
Serving and Storage Instructions
Cut your Italian cream cake into generous slices and serve chilled or at room temperature. Either way, it’s delicious.
I recommend storing this cake in the fridge since it has cream cheese frosting and so many other dairy ingredients. In an airtight container, it will last for five days. You can even freeze this cake for three months.
However, if you like your cake at room temperature, you can store it on your countertop in a covered container. It will only stay good for a day or two, though, so be prepared to devour a lot of cake! 😆
Buttermilk’s acidity activates the baking soda better than regular milk. If you don’t have buttermilk, sour cream will work fine. Or you can add two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of regular milk. My list of sour cream substitutes also works for buttermilk subs.
Want to toast your coconut flakes? Or your pecans, for that matter? Yum!!! No problem! Spread the flakes or pecans in a shallow baking pan and bake them in the oven at 350°F/177℃ for 5-10 minutes. Or you can toast them in a dry skillet over low heat until slightly browned while stirring occasionally. Just make sure you let them cool down before using them to garnish the cake.
Absolutely! If you don’t care for cream cheese, you could use vanilla buttercream or chocolate frosting instead.
What to Serve With Italian Cream Cake
More Decadent Cake Recipes to Try
- Strawberry Poke Cake
- Black Forest Cake
- Passion Fruit Pudding Cake
- Buttermilk Pound Cake
- Carrot Pineapple Cake
- Chocolate-Mayonnaise Cake
This straightforwardly delicious cake is perfect for your next family event or a special occasion. Are you hungry for more soul food desserts? Please sign up for my newsletter to stay up to date.❤️
Watch How to Make It
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This blog post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated with additional tips, new photos, and a video.
Italian Cream Cake
- 10 ounces (283g) unsalted butter
- 1¾- 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
- 6 large egg whites (beaten to soft peaks)
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2½ cups (266.5g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (240g) buttermilk, or sour cream
- 1½ teaspoons (12g) baking soda
- ½ teaspoon (4g) salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup (85g) coconut flakes
- ¾–1 cup (113g) pecans, chopped (or more to garnish)
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- 4 ounces (113g) unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, softened
- 4-6 cups (440-660g) powdered sugar, or icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Grease three 9-inch pans generously with cooking spray and set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar at high speed in a stand mixer for 2-3 minutes. Add the egg yolks a little at a time and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each addition. Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda into the batter, and then add milk and vanilla extract.
- Stir well until everything is fully combined. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl.
- Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter. Follow with the coconut flakes and chopped pecans, and continue folding for about 30 seconds.
- Divide the batter between the greased cake pans into three equal parts. Tap pans on the work surface to eliminate any large air bubbles.
- Bake at 325℉/163℃ until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean – about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Whisk cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until creamy. You may use a mixer if desired.
- Gradually sieve in powdered sugar, and mix as you go along until smooth.
- Finally, stir in the pecans.
Assembling the Cake
- Place a cake layer on a serving platter. Spread about 1½ cups of cream cheese frosting over the first cake layer. Top with second layer, and more frosting over the second cake layer.
- Top with the remaining cake layer. Then spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with pecans.
- If desired, use crushed pecans to garnish the side or pipe more frosting in a cool design.