This Italian cream cake is made up of 3 layers of wonderfully moist cake loaded with toasted pecans and coconut. The layers are filled and frosted with a light whipped cream frosting and topped off with pecan bits and more coconut. So good!
Homemade Italian Cream Cake
We’re getting close to springtime. The world is warming up and we are coming into the season of garden parties, bridal showers, and Easter soirees. There’s nothing quite like an elegant layer cake to get you in a celebratory mood. This Italian cream cake is one of my favorites.
After getting lots requests for a recipe for Italian Cream Cake and testing many, I finally arrived at my own version. I started with my Moist Vanilla Cake and went from there. The backbone of this dessert is a light, fluffy, wonderfully moist cake infused with toasted pecans and coconut. The cake is complemented by a velvety whipped cream cheese frosting that has my mouth watering just thinking about it. It’s super light and pairs perfectly with this cake. The whole thing comes together beautifully in an elegant dessert topped with swirls of frosting and covered in pecans and coconut
What is Italian Cream Cake?
The origin of Italian cream cake doesn’t really seem to be known. And despite its 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.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
This Italian cream cake is perfect for spring. Its visual appeal, complex texture, and delicate flavor profile make it a wonderful choice for your next garden party. Here are some of my favorite things about it.
- It’s beautiful. Layer cakes tend to be showstoppers. This one in particular really catches my eye every time. There is something about the subtle, light colors, the cloud-like puffs of frosting, and the beautiful outside of toasted pecans and coconut that screams elegance.
- Texture. I love the way the light, fluffy cake layers interact with the smooth whipped cream cheese frosting, the crunch of the pecans, and the chewy texture of the shredded coconut. This cake delivers a beautiful adventure in every bite.
- Light and balanced. Don’t get me wrong, rich decadent cakes have their place too. But sometimes they can be a bit much. This Italian cream cake is light, airy, and graced with a delicate sweetness that is perfect for spring.
What You’ll Need
I love how baking can take a hoopla of simple ingredients, mix them together, and turn them into something truly spectacular. Here’s a list of what you will need to make this supremely tasty Italian cream cake. Scroll to the recipe below for measurements.
- Eggs – 5 of them! Eggs and yolks separated. Both play an important role in this cake. The yolks give body and bind the cake ingredients while the egg whites are whipped to stiff peaks and folded in gently, adding volume, moisture and texture. It is important to allow the eggs to come to room temperature once separated.
- All-purpose flour – Feel free to use your favorite 1:1 gluten-free flour instead.
- Baking soda – For the ideal rise and texture.
- Salt – Necessary for a cake that isn’t bland.
- Unsalted butter – Start with room temperature butter. It will blend and hold volume better than cold or melted butter.
- Shortening – I like using shortening here because the flavor really compliments the coconut and pecans. Butter will do just fine, however.
- Vanilla extract
- Almond extract – Optional, but I really love the extra hint of flavor.
- Buttermilk – I use powdered buttermilk to avoid buying a whole carton and letting the rest go to waste. The buttermilk adds a nice flavor and fluffiness to the cake and reacts well with the baking soda so I suggest against making substitutions.
- Sweetened shredded coconut
- Chopped pecans – Make sure to toast them. It really adds to the flavor of the cake. Here’s how to toast pecans.
Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
- Cream cheese – Start with room-temperature cream cheese. It will incorporate more smoothly with the other ingredients, saving you from a clumpy frosting.
- Heavy whipping cream – The heavy whipping cream should be cold otherwise it will not whip up properly.
- Powdered sugar – For a touch of sweetness.
- Vanilla extract – For flavor.
- Sweetened shredded coconut – Toasted. I usually toast it in the oven.
- Finely Chopped Pecans
How to Make an Italian Cream Cake
Pay close attention to detail here. Baking is a science and there really is a method to my madness. Here is an overview of how to do it. Scroll to the recipe below for more detailed instructions.
For the cake
- Divide the egg yolks from the whites. You will need both.
- Prep. Line the bottom of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and grease the sides thoroughly. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.
- Beat the butter, shortening, sugar, and extracts until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing after each addition until combined.
- Add a third of the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
- Add half of the buttermilk and mix to combine.
- Add a third of the dry ingredients and mix until mostly combined.
- Add half of the buttermilk and mix until well combined.
- Add the remainder of the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
- Whip the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter along with coconut and toasted pecans.
- Bake. Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes.
- Cool. Allow the cakes to cool for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the frosting
- Beat the cream cheese until smooth.
- Whip the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- Put it all together. 1/3 at a time, gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the cream cheese.
- Flatten the cakes. Use a large serrated knife to remove the domes from the top of the cakes.
- Layer. Place the first cake layer on a serving plate and spread frosting over the top. Place the second cake on top of the first and frost the top. Repeat this with the third cake.
- Chill. Place the cake in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.
- Frost the outside of the cake. Check out my post on how to frost a smooth cake.
- Decorate. Press the toasted coconut into the sides of the cake, pipe the remaining frosting in shells around the top edge of the cake, and sprinkle with pecan crumbles.
- Chill. Pop the cake in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve.
Tips for Success
They always say that baking is a science. Here are a few useful tips and tricks that will help you achieve the best Italian cream cake possible.
- Cream thoroughly. When combining the butter, shortening, sugar, and extracts, beat them on high speed for a full 3-4 minutes. The high speed and extended period of time will incorporate as much air as possible into the mixture, ultimately producing a lighter, fluffier cake.
- Measure carefully. Especially when it comes to flour, it is important to get your measurements right. Too much flour will lead to an overly dense cake and too little will produce a loose, sloppy cake. I recommend spooning the flour into the measuring cup and leveling it or using a food scale.
- Don’t over-mix the batter. When combining the wet and dry ingredients, over mixing will cause the glutens in the flour to develop too much. This will result in a dense, dry cake. So only mix until your ingredients are incorporated. No more.
- Start with room-temperature cream cheese. Cold cream cheese won’t incorporate well with the other ingredients ending you with a lumpy frosting. So have a little patience and let your cream cheese come to room temperature before making the frosting.
- Use stand mixer, if possible. This is mainly the case for the frosting. I find that hand mixers don’t whip the whipped cream to quite as stiff of a peak, so your frosting may be a touch less thick if you use a hand mixer.
How to Store Italian Cream Cake
This cake must be stored in the refrigerator. Close the cake in an airtight cake carrier and store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If you do not have a cake carrier, you can wrap the cake in a double layer of saran wrap using toothpicks to prop the plastic away from the cake decorations.
Note that this cake is best served at room temperature. So let it sit out for a couple of hours before digging in.
Can I Freeze It?
Yes and no. I do not recommend freezing the completed, decorated cake but you are more than welcome to freeze the cake layers and assemble the cake at a later date. Wrap the cooled cake layers in clear wrap and foil, or even place them in Ziplock bags or an airtight, freezer-safe container. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
When you are ready to assemble, allow the layers to thaw in the refrigerator before carrying on with stacking, frosting, and decorating.
More Elegant Layer Cake Recipes
Layer cakes make for such beautiful, crowd-pleasing desserts. There are so many different flavor combinations out there. Here are just a few of my favorites.
- Browned Butter Pecan Layer Cake
- Caramel Apple Pecan Layer Cake
- Orange Layer Cake
- The Best Carrot Cake Recipe
- Pecan Pie Layer Cake
- Ultimate Layered Cookie Cake
- Strawberry Moscato Layer Cake
- Neapolitan Cake
See How The Cake is Made
Italian Cream Cake
- Prep Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: 2 hours
- Yield: 12-14 slices
- 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!
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups (260g) all-purpose flour (measured accurately)
- 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
For the cake
- 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.
- 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).
- Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add a third of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until mostly combined. The batter will be thick.
- Slowly add about half of the buttermilk and mix until well combined. The batter will look a little curdled, but that’s ok.
- 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.
- Slowly add the other half of the buttermilk and mix until well combined.
- 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.
- Add the egg whites to a mixer bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form. Do not over whip the egg whites.
- 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.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cakes pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and allow to cool for about 3-4 minutes, then remove to cooling racks to cool completely.
For the frosting
- To make the whipped cream cheese frosting, add the cream cheese to a large mixer bowl and beat until smooth. Set aside.
- Add the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract to another large mixing bowl and whip on high speed until stiff peaks form.
- 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.
- 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.
- Place the first cake layer on a serving plate or a cardboard cake circle.
- Spread about 1 cup of frosting evenly on top of the cake.
- Add the second layer of cake and another cup of frosting.
- 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.
- Frost the outside of the cake. Refer to my tutorial for frosting a smooth cake, if needed.
- Press the toasted coconut into the sides of the cake.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serving Size: 1 slice
- Calories: 781
- Sugar: 43.9 g
- Sodium: 318.4 mg
- Fat: 56.9 g
- Carbohydrates: 62 g
- Protein: 9.8 g
- Cholesterol: 165.1 mg
Keywords: cream cake, italian cream cake, layer cakes
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Can I use one Cup of sour cream instead of buttermilk or does the buttermilk make it much better?
Sour cream will probably make the cake a little bit more dense but otherwise should be fine.
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!
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!
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! ❤️
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?
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.
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?
Glad you enjoyed it! I haven’t tried it as a vanilla cake, but you could. My vanilla cake recipe (which was modified for this recipe) can be found here – https://www.lifeloveandsugar.com/moist-vanilla-layer-cake/
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.
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.
Hi, can I use this recipe for cupcakes?? I love it as a layer cake!
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!
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?
I would think it should be fine.
Hi, can I use cake flour
I haven’t tested it, but it should bake fine. It will give you a little different texture though.
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?
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.