Italian Cream Cake

  • Serves: Makes three, 9 x 2-inch layers
  • Baking Temp (degrees F): 375
  • Views: 9334

Recipe by Sarah Phillips; Food styling and photo by Kelly Hong © 12-10-2014 Sarah Phillips

Variation: Classic Coconut and Pecan Italian Cream Cake with Classic Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting

This makes three beautiful and very rich, but sinful and moist cake layers - perfect for any holiday! This Southern cake typically has added coconut and nuts added to the cake base, but we decided to leave it out, but included them as an option. Here you will learn how to mix and bake a butter cake recipe; one that involves separating the eggs and beating the egg whites separately and folding them into the mixed batter. I like to frost my cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream Icing and also fill with strained raspberry jam, and then garnish my frosted cake with fresh raspberries and coconut. This tutorial is filled with tips and techniques and shortcuts on how to accomplish all of these baking steps.    

dinieby: " was delicious. (I used) (SMBC) for the icing, which is great also."


If I only have one mixer bowl, I beat the egg whites first, before the rest of the recipe. That way I do not risk having them fail from having any left-over fat in the mixer bowl, if I do not clean it sufficiently before using. Egg whites can sit, if properly beaten with sugar, for the duration of the creaming mixing steps until needed in the recipe.

Italian Cream Cake:

5 large eggs, separated; can be cold from refrigerator
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk; can be cold from refrigerator
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups (4 sticks) butter; can be cold from the refrigerator or 1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening PLUS 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter; can be cold from the refrigerator 
2 cups sugar, divided

Cream Cheese Buttercream FrostingSingle recipe alone
Makes 1 3/4 + 1/8 quarts or enough to generously fill and frost 3, 9-inch layers 
SARAH SAYS: I personally think that this frosting works better after it has been refrigerated for 1 hour and then slowly folded together with a few turns of a large rubber spatula before using.

6 ounces high-ratio vegetable shortening (or vegetable shortening) or 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter 
18 ounces (2 1/4 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, softened; use a high quality cream cheese brand, such as Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese.
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

7 1/2 to 10 1/2 cups (almost 2 to 2 1/2 pounds) powdered sugar, sifted; measure and then sift

2 - 4 tablespoons heavy cream, or more, if needed
3 tablespoons meringue powder 
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

Filling and embellishments:
1/2 cup raspberry jam, strained, if not seedless
1 1/2 to 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, for the sides of the cake

Shredded sweetened coconut
About 30 - 35 (depending on size) fresh raspberries, washed and dried
Powdered sugar, sifted

To strain Raspberry Jam: 
1. Briefly warm the raspberry jam in the microwave, then strain out the seeds if it is not seedless. 

2. Put the strained jam in a small squeeze bottle.


1. Position the oven racks in the lower and upper third of the oven. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.
If you use dark, nonstick baking pans or ovenproof, Pyrex glass pans, lower the oven heat by 25 degrees F, but the cake will have crustier and darker edges. 

Grease (not butter) three 9-x 2-inch, preferably light colored, heavy NOT nonstick pans. 
SARAH SAYS: Make sure you grease the pans with cooking oil spray or shortening, and line with greased parchment paper for easy removal. 
Or, you can grease and flour the pans. 

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the measured flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. 

After measuring the buttermilk, stir in the vanilla extract and set aside. 

3. In a mixing bowl of a stand mixer, with clean dry whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form.
Gradually sprinkle in 1/4 cup sugar, continue to beat at high speed until stiff but not dry. Gingerly place the whites in a clean bowl and set aside until needed.
Optionally, clean the mixer bowl.

4. In the clean mixing bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on low until softened. 
SARAH SAYS: If the butter is cold for the refrigerator, first cut it up into tablespoon size pieces. It will warm quickly from the beaters when mixed. 
Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl. 


5. Add in the remaining 1 3/4 cups sugar in a steady stream at the side of the bowl. 
Increase speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until light yellow and fluffy. 
Stop the mixer and scrape the side and bottom of the bowl with a large rubber spatula. 

6. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. After the egg yolks have been added, increase the mixer speed to medium and beat the mixture for 2 minutes. 
(If the eggs are cold, the batter will curdle slightly. It's ok. It will come together as the batter warms from the beaters.) 
Set the kitchen timer to help you keep track of the time. The mixture will become fluffy and aerated. 

7. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in 3 equal portions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture in 2 equal portions, beginning and ending with the flour. 
(If the milk is cold, the batter will curdle slightly. It's ok. It will come together when you add the flour.) 
SARAH SAYS: Add the flour and liquid ingredients in increments quickly; do not wait in between additions too long as you don't want to overmix the batter.

8. After completing the last addition of flour, let the mixer run for 30 seconds on LOW. The batter should look mixed. STOP the mixer. Do NOT overmix. 

9. Remove the bowl from the mixer.

10. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the batter in two additions:
A. Before you do, using a large rubber spatula, give the batter a few quick turns so it is completely mixed. Then, STOP!

B. Then stir a big spoonful of egg whites into the mixture and gently stir with a wire whisk to lighten the batter. This will help the rest of the egg whites fold more easily into the mixture. 
SARAH SAYS: Never add the batter to the whipped whites or they'll deflate. 

C. With a rubber spatula, scoop about half of the remaining egg whites on top. Then still using your rubber spatula, starting on the top, cut down from the center of the mixture to the bottom of the bowl, then draw the scraper quickly toward you against the edge of it, and up to the left and out. You are thus bringing a bit of the mixture at the bottom of the pan up over the egg whites or "folding it over". Then turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat until you only see slight streaks of egg whites. You will need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times to keep the mixture from climbing up the sides.

D. Add in the remaining beaten egg whites. Continue the folding movement while slowly rotating the bowl, and cutting down, toward you, and out to the left, until the egg whites have been folded into the body of the batter. The whole process should not take more than a minute or two, and do not attempt to be too thorough to risk deflating the egg whites. Stop when the batter looks homogenous. 


11. Immediately divide batter evenly among three prepared baking pans. Gently smooth their tops. Place two pans on the lower shelf of the oven and center the third on the upper shelf. 

12. Bake for 30 minutes or or until the tops of the cakes feel firm and give slightly when touched on the top with a cupped hand (will not spring back when touched with a fingertip) and shrink a little from the sides of the pan. The cakes should also smell done. If you insert a toothpick in the middle of each cake and remove, it should have a few moist crumbs attached, but not batter.

Take the cakes immediately from the oven to a wire cake rack and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes before unmolding.

13. Unmold the cakes onto wire cake racks. 
SARAH SAYS: The cakes are fragile and will crack easily if you unmold it before the time is up. 
Gently peel off the parchment paper and invert cake layers right-side-up to cool completely. The cake's top will flatten more as it cools. 
Allow to cool completely before assembling or storing. The cake layers should not need any trimming.

Cake layers can be stored at room temperature for about 2 days or freeze well for about 1 month or more. Make sure you wrap them with plastic wrap and then place in an airtight container.
Unfrosted butter cake layers should not be refrigerated because it dries the cake. 

1. With the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the shortening until softened, then add the cream cheese and beat on low speed until incorporated. 

2. Add in the butter and beat until incorporated. Beat on medium until smooth, about 2 minutes. 

3. Slowly add half of the powdered sugar at the side of the bowl. 

4. Add 2 tablespoons cream, meringue powder, and vanilla with the mixer on low. 

5. Slowly add the additional powdered sugar until the frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.  

6. Beat on low for 2 minutes more. The mixture should look light and fluffy. Adjust the consistency of the frosting with heavy cream or teaspoons of powdered sugar at the end of mixing.
Do NOT overbeat, otherwise the buttercream will become too soft for icing and piping. 
SARAH SAYS: If the buttercream becomes soft or soupy, do not add in more powdered sugar. Instead, add in chunks of cold CREAM CHEESE to correct, starting with 2 ounces at a time, until fixed.

Store icing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week. Icing must be kept refrigerated, but can remain at the cool side of room temperature for 2 hours maximum. 
Can freeze for up to one month.

We decided to garnish this cake with fresh raspberries and add raspberry jam to the filling. The sides of the cake are coated with sweetened coconut. It is an absolutely delicious combination of flavors!

1 pint fresh raspberries

Fill and crumb coat the cake:

1. Place one cake layer on a cake stand or serving plate.  
SARAH SAYS: I like to put strips of waxed paper around the cake, to keep the cake plate clean, while I crumb coat and frost the cake after filling it.
Place the waxed paper strips on the platter, first, and then place the cake layer centered on top.

2. Spread about 2/3 cup Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting on the bottom layer. If any of the icing extends over the side of the cake, smooth it with the spatula.

3. Pipe a spiral of jam on top of the smoothed frosting, stopping about 1/2 inch to the edge of the cake. There's no need to spread the jam. 

4. Place the second layer on top of the first, and repeat the above steps.


5. Place the third and final layer on top of the two filled layers.
 Place a large scoop of frosting on top and smooth it over the top of the cake, and then smooth it over the sides of the cake.

6. Place the crumb coated cake in the freezer for 20 minutes, or the refrigerator for 1/2 hour, to set the crumb coat.
Cover the remaining frosting with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator, while you wait to set the crumb coat.
SARAH SAYS: All three layers have a tendency to slide a little as you ice them. This is a very moist cake, and it is iced with a very creamy frosting.
If you are having trouble with the layers sliding, you may stabilize the layers by inserting a couple of bamboo skewers through the layers.

Add the final icing layer and garnish the cake with coconut and fresh raspberries:
1. Remove the crumb-coated cake from the freezer/refrigerator.
 Uncover the bowl remaining frosting and slowly fold it together with a large rubber spatula before using.
Add a large dollop of the remaining icing on top of the cake and smooth it over the top and sides of the cake.

2. Using your palm, gently press the sweetened coconut into the icing on the sides of the cake. 
When you are finished, carefully pull out each piece of wax paper under the cake and then just neaten up the edges.

3. Using the largest heart-shaped cookie cutter you have, lightly press it into the frosting on the top of the cake.
 You will use this guide to place the raspberries in a heart-shape.

If your cookie cutter is smaller than the one used here, start adding the raspberries outside the line left by the cutter, so the heart-shape is larger. 

Gently press the raspberries into the frosting and dust with sifted powdered sugar, if desired.

This cake MUST be refrigerated when covered and filled with Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting, where it will keep for a few days.
SARAH SAYS: The icing and filling that covers your cake usually determines how you store your cake. 

Classic Coconut and Pecan Italian Cream Cake 
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut 
1 cup chopped and toasted and cooled pecans, optional; chop, then measure and, toast the pecans

1. In a medium bowl, combine the coconut and pecans. Set aside.

2. After Step 9, above, with a large rubber spatula, in two additions, fold in the coconut/pecan mixture until just incorporated. Then, STOP! 

3. Proceed with the recipe. Bake as directed.

Classic Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream Frosting
Add in 2 tablespoons Coco Lopez to the cream cheese frosting with 1 teaspoon coconut extract, plus a little extra powdered sugar and beat!