Italian Cream Cake

This Italian Cream Cake has three layers of moist cake filled with shredded coconut and toasted pecans! It’s filled and frosted with a whipped cream cheese frosting for a lovely light and classic cake!

Italian Cream Cake Collage - whole cake and slice of cake

What is Italian Cream Cake?

The origin of Italian cream cake doesn’t really seem to be known. And despite it’s name, it’s not exactly Italian in origin. It’s really more of a southern cake defined by the addition of coconut and pecans and cream cheese frosting.

Funnily enough, despite living in the south in my entire life, this is a cake that I had never actually tried until recently. It’s never something my family has ever had, nor have I really seen it around much. But after getting several requests for a recipe for Italian Cream Cake, I went on the hunt to track some down to try it.

I found some at my favorite bakery in our area north of Atlanta. The cake had wonderful flavor, the coconut and pecan complemented everything beautifully and the whipped cream cheese frosting was so light that I couldn’t stop eating it! Such a tasty cake!

How to make Italian Cream Cake

So after my taste testing, I set out to make this cake at home. Traditionally an Italian cream cake is made with a combination of butter and shortening. I wanted to be sure that I had the best version of this cake, so I actually started out with my Moist Vanilla Layer Cake, which I love, and worked from there. After adjusting for the various ingredients needed for this cake, what resulted was quite similar to the other recipes that you would find for this cake. The primary ingredients I played around with where the butter versus shortening and the flavorings.

I personally felt that the butter and shortening combination lent a flavor that slightly better complemented the pecans and coconut. That said, the all butter version was just fine and will work if you truly don’t want to you use shortening.

The other thing I preferred was the addition of just a touch of almond extract. Not enough to take over the cake at all, but just enough to ramp up the flavor a tad. It leaves you thinking, “What is that yummy little bit of extra flavor?” Unless you give away your secret, no one will ever know. Of course you could leave it out, if you prefer.

Italian Cream Cake slice - close upFully frosted Italian Cream Cake

A few other important parts of an Italian Cream Cake:

Buttermilk – The buttermilk gives the cake some extra flavor, as well as helps react with the baking soda to give the cake rise. I don’t suggest making substitutions. I use powdered buttermilk, which is nice because you don’t have to buy a whole carton and then throw most of it away. The powdered buttermilk keeps for a while. Yay!

Eggs – This cake had a fair number of eggs. Five to be exact. The yolks are added to the cake batter as I would normally do, while the egg whites are whipped at the end and then folded into the cake batter to lighten up the cake. When you whip the egg whites, you want to be sure you only whip them until they are stiff, not longer. Otherwise they can break down as they’re added to the cake batter and actually cause the cake to deflate and be dense.

Coconut and Pecans – The coconut is pretty straightforward. Just sweetened shredded coconut. But for the pecans, you want to chop them and make sure they are toasted before adding them to the cake batter. It makes a huge difference in the flavor of the cake if you don’t toast them before hand and it’s not a good difference.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

For me, the frosting was one of the defining parts of this cake. Cream cheese frosting is traditional, but it’s also kind of a heavier frosting. In my mind, it just didn’t seem like the best option. So when I tasted the Italian Cream Cake at my favorite bakery and it had whipped cream cheese frosting, I officially fell in love with this cake. The lightness of the whipped cream cheese frosting makes a huge difference in my opinion! Perfection!

To make the whipped cream cheese frosting, first beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth. Then you want to make the whipped cream. From there, fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese in parts, being careful not to deflate the whipped cream. It should be able to hold medium to stiff peaks in order for it to hold up well on the cake.

From there, putting the cake together is pretty straightforward. I chilled the cake for about 15-20 minutes after layering it and before frosting the outside, but otherwise it’s build and frost as usual. If you aren’t as familiar with building layer cakes, definitely check out my tutorial.

This Italian Cream Cake is delicious! It’s a fairly unique combination and yet it all works quite well together. I love the texture that the coconut and pecans give the cake, not to mention the flavors of them along with the light almond flavor. When you add the whipped cream cheese frosting, it’s like a little bit of cake heaven! If you haven’t tried it before, like I hadn’t, now’s your chance!

cake with bite taken outslice of cake

You might also like:

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Image of Italian Cream Cake
Recipe

Italian Cream Cake

  • Author: Lindsay
  • Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 12-14 slices 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Oven
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

This Italian Cream Cake has three layers of moist cake filled with shredded coconut and toasted pecans! It’s filled and frosted with a whipped cream cheese frosting for a lovely light and classic cake!


Scale

Ingredients

Cake Layers

  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (112g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (95g) shortening*
  • 2 cups (414g) sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract, optional
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk*
  • 1 1/4 cups (91g) sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 cup (106g) chopped pecans, toasted

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 20 oz (565g) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups (480ml) heavy whipping cream, cold
  • 1 1/2 cups (173g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Additional

  • 2 cups (148g) sweetened shredded coconut, toasted
  • Pecan crumbs

Instructions

1. Divide the egg yolks and whites while the eggs are cold, then set them aside to come to room temperature. The egg whites need to be at room temperature when whipped later.
1. Prepare three 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper circles in the bottom and grease the sides. Be sure to grease the corners and sides of the pan very well, as I find this cake tends to stick a bit. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).
2. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
3. Add the butter, shortening, sugar and extracts to a large mixer bowl and beat together until light in color and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Do not skimp on the creaming time.
4. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing until mostly combined after each. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to be sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
5. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until mostly combined. The batter will be thick.
6. Slowly add about half of the buttermilk and mix until well combined. The batter will look a little curdled, but that’s ok.
7. Add another third of the dry ingredients and mix until mostly combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to be sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
8. Slowly add the other half of the buttermilk and mix until well combined.
9. Add the remaining third of the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to be sure all ingredients are well incorporated. Do not over mix. Set aside.
10. Add the egg whites to a mixer bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Do not over whip the egg whites.
11. Add about a third of the egg whites to the cake batter, along with the coconut and toasted pecans, and gently fold into the cake batter until mostly combined, then add the remaining egg whites. Gently fold together until well incorporated.
12. Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
13. Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for about 3-4 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely.
14. To make the whipped cream cheese frosting, add the cream cheese to a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Set aside.
15. Add the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract to another large mixing bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form.
16. Add about 1/3 of the whipped cream to the cream cheese and gently fold together to combine so that you don’t deflate the whipped cream. When mostly combined, add another third of the whipped cream and gently fold together, then add the final third and gently fold together until completely combined.
17. To put the cake together, use a large serrated knife to remove the domes from the top of the cakes so that they’re flat. These cakes don’t have a large dome, but I like to make sure they’re completely flat.
18. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate or a cardboard cake circle.
19. Spread about 1 cup of frosting evenly on top of the cake.
20. Add the second layer of cake and another cup of frosting.
21. Top the cake with the remaining layer and smooth out any frosting that might be poking out on the sides of the cake. Pop it in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes.
22. Frost the outside of the cake. Refer to my tutorial for frosting a smooth cake, if needed.
23. Press the toasted coconut into the sides of the cake.
24. Use the remaining frosting to pipe shells around the top edge of the cake, the sprinkle with some remaining pecan crumbs from when you chopped up the pecans for the cake.
25. Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. I like to let cakes sit out for about an hour or two before serving. Cake is best when stored well covered and eaten within about 3-4 days.

Notes

NOTE: Shortening is traditionally used in an Italian Cream Cake and I find the flavor better compliments the coconut and pecans. That said, the cake will work perfectly fine with all butter, if you prefer.

I use powdered buttermilk.

Keywords: italian cream cake, italian cream cake recipe, italian dessert recipe, italian dessert, coconut cake recipe, layer cake, layer cake recipe, whipped cream cheese frosting, homemade cream cheese frosting, cream cheese frosting recipe

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Recipe rating

73 Comments
  1. Anne Jernigan

    This cake was amazing. Made it for a dear sweet Italian grandma who turned 100!!
    One question- the frosting in the video looked very different from the recipe directions. You poured the heavy cream into the cream cheese mixture in video but recipe said to whip cream and powdered sugar separately and fold in to cream cheese . Help!

    1. Lindsay

      It’s the same recipe. The shows a little different method because I changed the instructions after people seemed have a little trouble with that method. You can do it either way though. So glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Patty Wapshott

    This recipe is perfect! The whipped cream cheese icing is light and makes the cake. The only modification I made was half mascarpone and half cream cheese as that’s what I had on hand.

  3. Brenda Milcetic

    Hi Lindsay,
    Can I use one Cup of sour cream instead of buttermilk or does the buttermilk make it much better?
    Thank you,
    Brenda

  4. Dina

    This recipe is a 5 for taste. Everyone LOVED it! Super delicious and moist! My only problem with this recipe I’d the frosting directions. They differ completely from the video. The first time I made it using the written directions ans the frosting was lumpy and soupy. Then I tried it like the video and that worked MUCH better for me, although I think the frosting was still a bit soft as the cake layers were sliding around. Maybe I’ll reduce the cream slightly next time, unless you have any other suggestions? Either way, it was delicious!

    1. Lindsay

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it! As for the frosting, I’m sorry you found the difference between the video and the written instructions to be frustrating. The video shows the original way that the instructions were written. There were some people who seemed to think that that method was more problematic, so I changed it. Personally I don’t have problems with either method. If one works better for you than the other then feel free to use that one. As for it potentially being a little bit soft, it may be that you need to whip it a little more. I hope that clarifies it. Thanks!

  5. Priscela Perez

    I have tried this as an Italian Cream Cake yet, but the cake itself without the coconut and walnuts is my base for a vanilla cake. Honestly I’ve tried quite a few vanilla cake recipes and this one is perfect as a vanilla. It’s so fluffy and tender with so much flavor. It’s incredible. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this recipe. It has helped me sell cakes for my Small home business and I am grateful to you. It has been a blessing and I wanted you to know that. God bless you! ❤️

  6. Susan

    Can i use coconut milk rather than buttermilk and can i bake a 9×13 cake ? How long would baking time be for 9×13 cake?

    1. Lindsay

      I haven’t ever tried coconut milk, so I don’t know. I haven’t tried a 9×13, but if you do I’d bake it at 325 degrees.

  7. Priscela Perez

    This cake is absolutely delicious!! So tender and packed with yummy flavors. First time making it so I cut the recipe in half for a trial test and it worked out great. I used two 6” pans and made 5 cupcakes. The cupcakes were just as soft. I ate the cake without the frosting though since I just wanted to try the cake itself. So glad I chose this recipe. It reminded me of a much better vanilla cake. Can I omit the pecans and coconut to make it just a vanilla cake? 

  8. David

    Hi, while I would love to make this cake for my wife’s birthday, I’m not talented enough to make this successfully. That said, I also live north of Atlanta, so could you share the name of your favorite bakery that make this type of cake please.

    Thanks

    1. Lindsay

      It’s called Alpine Bakery. I typically go to the one in Crabapple, but I just looked at the menu and they aren’t showing The Italian Cream Cake there right now. The Woodstock location seems to have it though.

    1. Lindsay

      I haven’t tried it, but based on some similar recipes, I’d think it’d be fine as cupcakes. Glad you enjoyed the cake!

  9. Lauren

    Hi Lindsey, I love this recipe! I’ve done the 3 layer cake but my family has requested cupcakes. Does this recipe translate well in cupcake form? 

  10. Steven Arnold

    Hi
    New to baking and want to try this cake but have a couple questions.

    2 cups of flour doesn’t seem like enough for a 3 layer cake. Is that correct?

    I don’t want to use shortening but don’t want all butter either. Can I substitute oil for the shortening?

    1. Lindsay

      The 2 cups of flour is correct. As for the shortening, I haven’t tried oil so I can’t be sure how it’ll turn out. I’m thinking it’d be ok, but can’t say for sure.

    1. Lindsay

      In theory, yes. But it depends on how you are planning on scaling it down. Often the issue becomes scaling down certain ingredients that don’t scale as well. For example, with 5 eggs in this recipe, it’s harder to cut it in half and know that you have the right about of egg. Just an example. So it depends on how you’re changing it. Sometimes little adjustments that need to be made to do it are fine, other times not.

  11. Jackie

    Your explanation of how to add the powder buttermilk doesn’t make sense. You say add water when you normally add the milk. You don’t have the milk as an ingredient. When do I add the water.
    Or are you saying add the buttermilk with the dry ingredients then when you say add the buttermilk add water only as instructed on the buttermilk container.

    If that what you mean then the instructions should indicate that.

    1. Lindsay

      Hi Jackie. I’m sorry you’re finding the buttermilk instructions confusing. You’re the first person to mention that, so I will look it over and see if I can improve it for clarity.

      That said, the recipe uses butter milk. It is written as if you were using actual buttermilk. I mention that I use powdered buttermilk because I think it’s a nice alternative for people who don’t want to buy a whole carton of buttermilk and waste most of it. But you will have to substitute it in the recipe. I’m not sure where you see that I explain how to do it. I can’t remember if I wrote that in there or not, but I don’t see it anywhere. The buttermilk you purchase should have instructions on making the substitutions, but generally speaking you use water in place of the milk liquid and then add the powder with the dry ingredients. I hope that helps clarify it for you!

      1. Mary L. Bass

        It is a fabulous cake. One of the best I have ever made and I bake alot. If I could give 10 stars I would. Delicious ❤

  12. Vanessa Jarnagin

    Once I tried the cake mix I knew this was going to be amazing. I did opt the shortening and replaced it with more butter. So friggin good. Ugh!! Great job on this recipe! 🥰

  13. Marilyn

    Will the frosting hold up for a few days in the refrigerator? I plan on baking the cake a week ahead, freezing it then frosting it a couple days ahead of the event.

  14. Denise

    Uhhhmazing!!! A co-worker shared a pic of an “Italian Cream Cake” and asked if I’d make it. I researched a few recipes and chose this one (thankfully). It’s stupendous! Made it for a Birthday celebration at the office and it garnered RAVE reviews. People took huge pieces and it was gone in a flash. They have already asked me to make it again. I had 8oz of mascarpone on hand so I used that with the cream cheese for the frosting. I will use this frosting on other cakes, it’s lighter and more subtle than a traditional cc frosting . Thank you for another fantastic recipe!

    1. Peggy

      This is the 5th time I have made your cake. My family loves it and they all are picky eater. Great score thank you so much

  15. Sara L

    Just made this cake this week for our 10 year anniversary as it’s a cake my husband used to LOVE to order at a BBQ place back in Alabama. It was a hit! I did really enjoy the use of the whipped cream cheese frosting as I feel it allowed you to better enjoy the taste of the cake and not be so overpowered by sweet sweet sweet traditional cream cheese frosting. I did have some issues with my whipped icing being a little too soft; it still worked but it wasn’t thick enough for me to do any actual decorations on top as it wouldn’t hold. Not sure if I just didn’t whip it long enough; Although it looked good in the bowl and was holding pretty strong peaks! Anyways thank you for the recipe; I have loved everything that I’ve baked from your site! 🙂

    1. Lindsay

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Not sure why the frosting wasn’t thicker. Curious – were you using a hand mixer or stand mixer?

  16. princess waring

    Good Morning I want to make this cake it looks Delicious so my questions is I have 8 ‘3 deep pans can I make this cake in 2 of these pans. Should I double the recipe; which makes my cake high something I love.

    I have enjoyed all you recipes as I have tried several, and can you share a link so I could purchase your cookbook.

    Thanks Princess

    1. Lindsay

      So it sounds like you’re trying to bake this cake in 8 inch pans that are 3 inches deep, correct? You can certainly do that and make however many layers you like, but keep in mind that if you make layers that are actually 3 inches tall they will turn out quite dense and have to bake for a good bit longer.

      1. princess waring

        So all of my cake pans are 3 inches deep and yes I love tall cakes. I will bake this cake in my normal 8 inch pans to get a feel for the cake. Most times I had extra buttermilk or sour cream to my cake batter and they come out fine.

        I will let you know how my cake turns out and tag you in my post on IG.

        Thanks for the response.

    1. Lindsay

      I really haven’t tried it as cupcakes so I’m not sure. Yes, I would just reduce the baking time if you were going to try it.

  17. Susan

    I just made this cake and was trying to make the frosting but it turned into soup.  I’ve been beating it on high for 10 minutes and it seems to get thinner, not thick and fluffy.

    1. Lindsay

      If it’s quite warm where you are, it could be that your cream cheese is a little warm and thin. Try popping it in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes and seeing if that helps. You could try re-whipping a little bit then.

      1. Korina B Peay

        I am having the same problem. I put the “frosting” in the frig for 40 minutes….still not stiff. Can I add something etc?

    1. Lindsay

      I linked to the powdered buttermilk in the notes, but you might also be able to find it in the grocery store near the canned milk.

      I imagine you could make it in 6 inch pans, but I haven’t tried it to be able to advise you.

      1. Latoya

        I plan to make this cake soon. Can I use regular (liquid) buttermilk? Or is powdered buttermilk required for this recipe?

  18. colleen

    Why do you add shortening to the cake batter instead of all butter. The same question is for most of your frosting. Martha, Cooks Illustrated, and other famous people on the food channel always use butter? Why do you split butter and shortening instead of all butter cake and frosting?

    1. Lindsay

      I don’t typically use shortening in cakes, but it is traditional in this particular cake and I felt like it helped the flavor in this one instance. As I wrote in the post itself though, you can certainly swap it out for all better. I can’t think of another cake on my site where I use shortening in the cake. Same for any frosting- its an even swap to use all better. You can read about why I tend to use shortening in my frostings here. https://www.lifeloveandsugar.com/vanilla-buttercream-icing/

  19. Shannon

    When you use powdered buttermilk do you reconstitute it? Mix it with water to make a cup? This looks fabulous!!! Thank you! 

    1. Lindsay

      So I would definitely check on the label of the particular powdered buttermilk that you use. But for the one I use, you add the powder in with the dry ingredients and then add water when you would normally add the milk.

  20. Erin

    This cake sounds very good! This is the first time I’ve ever heard about Italian Cream Cake, and now I’m thinking I should’ve discovered it sooner 🙂 I especially love the whipped cream cheese frosting; I love whipped buttercream, and I think whipped cream cheese frosting must be even better! Also, I love coconut, so this cake is pretty appealing to my tastes!

      1. Bryan

        Thank you for this beautiful recipe with the weight of the ingredients in grams!! I cant wait to bake this! Also, I’m just going to pretend I didnt see those nutrition facts lol.
        -kitchen nerd

  21. Shana

    This recipe looks amazing! You list buttermilk as one of your ingredients, 1 cup (240ml) and at the bottom of the recipe *you note that you use powdered buttermilk. Could you explain that process? Do you add water to the powder and then add that as a liquid to the recipe? Thank you:-)

    1. Lindsay

      So I would definitely check on the label of the particular powdered buttermilk that you use. But for the one I use, you add the powder in with the dry ingredients and then add water when you would normally add the milk.

    1. Sandra Jankowski

      This is a delicious, moist cake.
      The only thing I would change is the directions for the cream cheese whip cream frosting.
      To achieve a better consistency, especially for piping.
      Beat the cream cheese, confectionary sugar and vanilla till smooth.
      In a separate chilled bowl beat the 2 cups of heavy cream till stiff peaks.
      Fold  in the whip cream into the cream cheese mixture.
      Now proceed to frost as desired 

      1. Lindsay

        Yes, I actually just changed the instructions to this kind of method. I’ve certainly used this method plenty before but thought the other way might be a little simpler. Since people do seem to be having trouble with it, I have changed it. Glad to hear you enjoyed the cake!

      2. Lesley Taylor

        so which is the correct way ? the recipe is different than the instructions on the How to make itaina cream cake… I followee the recipe and added the sugar to the whipped cream . but in reading your how to says add sugar to cream cheese. Which one is it. NOt sure my icing will stand up?

      3. Lindsay

        Honestly, there’s not really a wrong way. It’s just about the ideal order to make sure there aren’t lumps from the cream cheese in the whipped cream. Honestly, I’ve never had that issue happen and it shouldn’t happen if the cream cheese room temperature and not too firm. But, for those that have this issue, beating the whipped cream separately seems to help. My preference when doing it separately is to beat the cream cheese separately and then the whipped cream (which would have the powdered sugar in it) and then fold them together. But it’s not going to hurt anything to add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese and then whip the cream. As long as your whipped cream is whipped to stiff peaks before folding it into the cream cheese and you don’t deflate it when folding it into the cream cheese, it should be plenty stiff. I did update the post though so that it isn’t confusing. Thanks for pointing that out!

Lindsay
About Lindsay

I'm a wife and mom to twin boys, a baby girl and a sweet black lab with a serious sweets addiction! Bring on the sugar!

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“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12