Italian Cream Cake

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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:

Browned Butter Pecan Layer Cake
Caramel Apple Pecan Layer Cake
The Best Carrot Cake Recipe
Pecan Pie Layer Cake
Browned Butter Pecan Cheesecake
Butter Pecan Cookies

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Image of Italian Cream Cake

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


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!



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


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


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.


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

      1. Latoya

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!

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