Italian Cream Cake is a southern-style cake is bursting with pecan, coconut, and almond flavors. It’s frosted with a cream cheese frosting and beautifully decorated to make one impressive and ridiculously tasty dessert! Recipe includes a how-to video.
A Not-So-Italian Cream Cake
By popular request! After a slew of emails asking for an Italian cream cake, I’ve finally created my own recipe that I’m excited to share with you today.
Italian cream cakes are known for having a soft cake crumb loaded with pecans and coconut. I wanted mine to be plush and perfectly dense (but with a crumb closer to vanilla cake than pound cake), sturdy enough to handle three layers and keep chopped pecans suspended in the batter, yet still able to melt in your mouth. Tricky, right? Right.
It took a lot of attempts to nail this one down, and ultimately, I ended up using a modified version of my Chantilly cake. I nixed the brown sugar so that the almond flavor could shine, used the reverse creaming method for a beautiful, soft crumb, and topped everything off with a THICK layer of cream cheese frosting, with only a few small tweaks from my well-loved recipe. You’re going to love it, even if it’s not really Italian (more on that below!).
This Cake Is a Winner in Every Department:
- Flavor: unique, yet still tastes comforting and familiar.
- Looks: three stately layers crowned with luscious cream cheese frosting; it’s almost as impressive as my cheesecake stuffed chocolate cake!
- Texture: the coconut and pecans throughout add a satisfying bite to the otherwise soft crumb.
- Ease: reverse creaming takes a smidge more time, but makes it nearly impossible to damage the crumb of the cake. This recipe is foolproof!
What You Need
Here’s what you’ll need for a super flavorful Italian cream cake:
- Almond extract. Using almond extract in both the frosting and cake gives it a bright and enticing flavor without being overwhelming; you’ll almost wonder what it is that’s giving the cake such a perfectly balanced flavor (if you’ve tried my angel food cake, you know what I’m talking about!)!
- Buttermilk. I love using buttermilk in cakes to add moisture and flavor. If you’re in a pinch, you can use my buttermilk substitute, but I’d really recommend using the real stuff for this one.
- Pecans. If you’d like to use toasted pecans, toast them before you chop, otherwise they’re likely to burn.
- Coconut. We’ll use sweetened coconut in the cake and chopped toasted coconut for the decoration. I shared a post yesterday showing how to toast coconut, so check that out if you’ve never done it before.
- Cream cheese. Use brick-style, full-fat cream cheese; anything else could make your frosting too funny.
SAM’S TIP: I frost my Italian cream cake very generously (thick frosting is sort of a hallmark of the cake, really); if you prefer a more modest amount of frosting and don’t plan to do a decorative border, I suggest you divide the frosting recipe in half.
Remember, this is just an overview of the ingredients I used and why. For the full recipe please scroll down to the bottom of the post!
How to Make Italian Cream Cake
- Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then mix in the butter one tablespoon at a time (this is the reverse creaming method I use with my caramel cake, as opposed to creaming together the butter and sugar first).
- Whisk the wet ingredients together, then drizzle this mixture into the butter/flour mixture while mixing on low speed.
- Fold in the pecans and coconut with a spatula, then divide the batter between three greased, floured, and parchment-lined pans.
- Bake for 30 minutes, then let the cakes cool in their pans for 10-15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.
- Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth, then stir in the extracts and salt.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar and keep mixing until the icing is smooth and creamy.
- Level your cakes if needed, then spread a thick layer of frosting over the top of one layer. Repeat until all layers have been frosted.
- Spread a thin layer of frosting around the entire cake and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- Finish frosting and add decorative swirls on top, if desired.
- Press a mixture of toasted coconut and finely chopped pecans up the sides of the cake and lightly sprinkle any excess on your piped swirls.
SAM’S TIP: Pretty much the only way to mess up this cake is to overbake it, so make sure to test the cake for doneness a minute or two early to be safe!
Frequently Asked Questions
Surprisingly, Italian cream cake is not actually Italian! It’s believed to have originated in the southern USA, which isn’t surprising considering it’s studded with nuts both inside and out (all the best southern cakes seem to incorporate nuts, like my Texas sheet cake).
Even though its not actually from the Mediterranean, it still tastes as bright and flavorful as a true Italian dessert!
Yes, although it should be fine at room temperature in an airtight container for about 48 hours. After that, definitely put it in the fridge (still in an airtight container!).
You could, but classic Italian cream cakes are made with cream cheese icing and I’ve found the cake really benefits from the slight tang of a cream cheese frosting. If you’d like to switch things up, whipped cream frosting or Swiss meringue buttercream would be good alternatives!
So, how did I do? If you asked for this recipe, let me know how you like it in the comments below!
Let’s bake together! I’ll be walking you through all the steps in my written recipe and video below! If you try this recipe, be sure to tag me on Instagram, and you can also find me on YouTube and Facebook
Italian Cream Cake
- 2 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour (333g)
- 2 cups granulated sugar (400g)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter softened and cut into 12 pieces (170g)
- 1 ½ cups buttermilk room temperature preferred (354ml)
- 2 large eggs room temperature preferred
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (120g)
- 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans (113g)
Frosting (yes, it’s a lot, see note)
For decorating, optional
- ½ cup pecan halves finely chopped (60g)
- ½ cup toasted coconut finely chopped (40g)
- Preheat oven to 350F (175C) and thoroughly grease and flour three 8” (20cm) round cake pans (additionally I like to line the bottoms of each pan with a round of parchment paper to prevent sticking).
- Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment) and stir until completely combined.
- With mixer on medium-speed, add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until completely combined after each addition and before adding the next piece. Continue until all butter has been added. Mixture will be sandy once all butter is incorporated.
- In a large measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla and almond extract.
- With mixer on low-speed, slowly drizzle buttermilk mixture into the batter until completely incorporated. Pause periodically to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are completely combined.
- Use a spatula to stir in coconut and pecans until completely combined.
- Evenly divide batter into prepared baking pans and transfer to the center rack of 350F (175C) preheated oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist crumbs (see note if your oven does not fit all three pans at once, or if you do not have three pans!).
- Allow cakes to cool in their pans for 10-15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen cake from the pan and invert each layer onto a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating. While cakes cool, prepare the frosting.
- In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer (or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) combine butter and cream cheese and beat on low-speed until creamy and well-combined,
- Add vanilla extract, almond extract and salt and stir to combine,
- With mixer on low-speed, gradually add powdered sugar until all has been added. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl and stir again. Frosting should be smooth and creamy.
- Level cakes if desired/necessary. Place one cake on serving platter and spread a thick, even layer of frosting over the top. Repeat with the next two layers. Smooth a thin layer of frosting evenly around the entire cake to catch the crumbs then place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes (this is your “crumb coat”, it will ensure your outer layer of frosting remains pristine.
- Remove cake from refrigerator and spread an even layer of frosting over the entire cake. Use remaining frosting to pipe decorative swirls on top of the cake (I used the Ateco 846 piping tip).
- If desired, immediately after frosting the cake, mix together finely chopped pecans and toasted coconut and press halfway up the side of the cake. Dust the top of each swirl with a light sprinkling of pecan/coconut mixture.
Baking pansBake cakes in the center rack of your oven (do not place cake tins on different racks, they won’t bake properly). If your oven does not bake evenly, you may need to rotate the pans halfway through baking or just be aware that some tins may bake faster than others. If your oven does not fit all three tins in the center rack, it’s fine to leave one sitting on the counter until the first two have baked, the lone cake may need a minute less time in the oven. This recipe may also be made in three 9” pans, but will need to bake for less time (start checking at 25 minutes).
IcingSince Italian Cream Cakes are well known for their luscious cream cheese frosting, I wasn’t about to skimp on the amount for my recipe. This recipe as written makes enough frosting to generously cover the entire cake as well as to do the decorative border on top. If you want a more modest amount of frosting and no decorative border, feel free to divide the recipe in half.
StoringStore in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 48 hours or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Cake may also be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen.
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.