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Coconut Cake on a white serving plate

Italian Cream Cake

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I truly swooned with my first bite of this Italian Cream Cake. Other versions have been tasty, but this recipe is out of this world!

Three layers of dense Coconut Cake were iced with a decadent cream cheese frosting for a spectacular dessert that’s worthy of a celebration! Plus this is a nut-free version, but feel free to add some pecans if that’s your preference!

Italian Cream Cake slice on a white dessert plate

Italian Cream Cake

I had my first taste of Italian Cream Cake a few years back. Tasty, but not memorable. One bite of this latest version and I knew I needed the recipe ASAP. I’m a huge fan of a classic Coconut Cake, but this one was something special.

Was it the absence of nuts, the extremely moist cake or the fluffy cream cheese frosting that sold me? I’d surmise that it was a combination of all three.

This recipe comes from my friend, Sabra, who served it for our dinner club dessert. Full from our gourmet meal, I tried to resist eating the whole slice when in reality, I had to hold myself back from licking the plate. It was just that exquisite.

What Is The Origin of an Italian Cream Cake?

Apparently, there may be ties to Renaissance Italy, but there was no written recipe for this coconut cake recipe until the early 1900s, in Canada then a version was published in Plano, Texas, in 1937. This coconut cake recipe seems to have more Southern roots than Italian!

Siide view of anItalian Cream Cake on a white serving plate

How to Make a 3 Layer Coconut Cake

I find that buttermilk is one of the secrets to an outrageously moist and tender cake. These Coconut Cupcakes have been a perennial favorite of mine, and I swear using buttermilk is key to their deliciousness.  Between the addition of buttermilk and alternately adding wet and dry ingredients, this method practically guarantees a spectacular dessert. Plus 3 layer cakes just can’t help but be impressive!

  • Use room temperature ingredients, especially the eggs, butter, and cream cheese.
  • Cream together the sugar, butter and shortening very well before adding any other ingredients.
  • Fold in the egg whites with a spatula, not your mixer. Folding is a technique to help lighten the batter with egg whites. If you deflate the egg whites, the batter will be too dense.
  • After dividing the batter between your 3 pans, weigh them with a kitchen scale. This ensures there is approximately the same amount in each pan.
  • Test the cakes for doneness before pulling them out of the oven. Use a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake. When the cake is done, it will come out clean. If you’re unsure, you can always use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the center is up to 210 degrees (according to Bake from Scratch Magazine).
  • Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan to a cooling rack. Any longer and the cake may not come out in one piece.

I took this to my 3 layer coconut cake to my book club dinner last week and my girlfriends responded with the same swoons that I had with my initial taste. I upped the ante and made a batch and a half of the frosting (recipe reflects a single batch), so this made an extremely rich cake even more decadent. With a luscious batter full of coconut and two layers of cream cheese buttercream, this is one show-stopper of a cake.

Overhead view of a Coconut Cake on a white cake plate

This is a nut-free Italian Cream Cake but you can add a cup of chopped, toasted pecans to the batter if that’s your jam. I’d also use some pecan halves to garnish (in lieu of the coconut I placed on top of the cake) to give a preview of what’s inside the sliced cake.

A ring of coconut flakes over the top was a hint to what was beneath the frosting. Bill steered clear of the leftovers I brought home. Coconut is just not his thing! But if it is your thing, I guarantee you will adore this Italian Cream Cake.

Italian Cream Cake slice on a white dessert plate

More Coconut Recipes You’ll Love:

This post was first shared in August 2015. The text and photos were updated in 2019.

Italian Cream Cake slice on a white dessert plate

Italian Cream Cake

A spectacular three layer coconut cake with fluffy cream cheese frosting

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Yield 12 servings



  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups flour, sifted (measure, then sift)
  • 1 cup sweetened coconut (I used angel flake)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For frosting (I made an extra half batch of this recipe for a thicker layer of frosting):

  • 1 1/2 pounds powdered sugar, sifted
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 vanilla
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped, optional (I did not use)
  • Milk, to thin frosting
  • Coconut, to garnish, if desired


  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Grease and flour 3 8-inch baking pans or spray with flour and oil baking spray like Baker's Joy. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream together sugar, butter, and shortening. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
  3. Whisk together flour and salt. Dissolve baking soda in the buttermilk and add alternately with flour mixture to batter. Add coconut and mix to combine.
  4. Beat egg whites till stiff. Fold into batter, then add vanilla.
  5. Divide batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes or till a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove cakes from pans to wire racks to finish cooling.
  7. Make frosting. Mix butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar, vanilla and nuts, if using. Drizzle in a little milk till frosting is a good spreading consistency. Frost between layers. Sprinkle top with more coconut, if desired.


Total time does not include cooling time.

For better coverage, make an extra half batch of the frosting.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:

1 slice

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 834Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 17gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 124mgSodium: 415mgCarbohydrates: 119gFiber: 3gSugar: 98gProtein: 12g


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