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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

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

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 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:

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350ΒΊ. 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.

Notes

Total time does not include cooling time.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1 slice

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 834 Total Fat: 36g Saturated Fat: 17g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 16g Cholesterol: 124mg Sodium: 415mg Carbohydrates: 119g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 98g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 12g
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70 comments on “Italian Cream Cake”

  1. OMG, now this, this is my idea of heaven! If I could choose any cake in the world it would be a coconut one, it looks amazing:@)

  2. Oh how beautiful this cake is. There’s just something about an all white cake that appeals to me and this one looks delicious . Pinned so that I can make this for a very special friend who loves cake and coconut. Beautiful post thank you. Sammie http://www.feastingisfun.com

  3. That looks incredible! I’ve not tried Italian cream cake but judging by all the flavors in it I would love a slice πŸ™‚ Loving all the birthday links too! πŸ˜€

  4. Happy Birthday, Isabel! That’s a really beautiful and delicious cake..perfect for the celebration.

  5. That cake looks so delicious Liz. I love the virtual birthday party for Isabel. Happy Birthday!

  6. Wow – that is a beautiful cake. I must make this for the next birthday – hitting the print button!

  7. You’ve out done yourself yet again, Liz! That recipe and a half of frosting sounds like a must and coconut is my thing!

  8. Hubba Hubba! Get that pillowy soft cake in my face!

  9. Absolutely beautiful cake Lizzy!
    Many times I dont make one!

  10. This is a mighty fine birthday cake. Your raving review makes me want to drop everything and whip it up right now.

  11. This cake is gorgeous!! It’s my boyfriend’s birthday soon, and I’m on the lookout for cake ideas!

  12. Buttermilk does indeed add beautiful flavor and moistness to cake. Your grand Italian Cream Cake is a grand tribute to the grand dame of Sunday Supper.

  13. When I go out to eat and I have enough room for dessert, this is my choice. I am so glad to think I can make it at home now.

  14. Liz, I honestly can’t tell you how thankful I am to know such a talented baker! It is not my strong suite by any means! I’m so in love with the thought of this cake and am trepiditiously looking forward to making it!

  15. That cake looks so beautiful! And your words make me feel it’s more than delicious! Can I use coconut oil instead of shortening?!
    P.S.: Happy birthday to your friend Isabel! What a great idea for birthday surprise! πŸ™‚

    • Hi, Julia, I “think” coconut oil would be fine—since it is solid at room temperature like shortening. Hope you give this cake a try—it’s SO good!! xo

  16. The cake looks gorgeous and I bet it taste as good as it looks.

  17. Totally agree with you about buttermilk. This cake looks scrummy!

  18. I’m not much of a baker so I need to remember the buttermilk tip.

  19. Liz, this is so beautiful and elegant! I looooooove coconut cakes. I could easily eat this entire thing all by myself (you’d think I was exaggerating but sadly, I’m not!). I’ll always be thankful to Isabel & Sunday Supper for all the wonderful friends I’ve made, like you. This is the perfect celebratory cake to make for Isabel’s birthday!

  20. I agree that buttermilk makes wonderful cakes. I also use it in muffins. I love the three layers in your cake and the cream cheese frosting looks very yummy. This is a divine looking cake and very suited for a special birthday xx

  21. Boy, your friend is lucky to have you, isn’t she? Well, I’ll be patient waiting for my turn. Hahaha! xoxo

  22. What a sweet gift for a fellow blogger! Your Italian cream cake looks wonderful! The fluffiness, creaminess, moistness… looks like all in there! I love buttermilk! This must be so delicious. Love how elegant it looks!

  23. What a dreamy cake! I’ll take several slices πŸ˜‰

  24. That is one gorgeous cake Liz.

  25. Your cake looks so moist and delicious! A great recipe to celebrate Isabel’s Birthday!

  26. If this isn’t the prettiest, most perfect looking birthday cake, I don’t know what is. It’s lovely, Liz.

  27. What a fun event! And this cake is perfect. Heck, it’s not my birthday, and this would be perfect for me today! πŸ™‚ Really nice recipe — thanks.

  28. I have been drooling over this cake for 2 days now. Each time I would share it on social media, I would have to clean off my computer!

  29. That is one gorgeous cake Liz!! I would say I wish I had a pieced a slice right now, but that would mean 2 more hours on the treadmill LOL

  30. Hi Liz, this is certainly a showstopping cake, good tip about the buttermilk. Gorgeous, goegeous!

  31. What a dreamy cake, that frosting looks sublime!

  32. Lizzy,
    My hubby wouldn’t eat this cake because of the coconut too. Maybe if I make it sans coconut, he would like it. Would it still be Italian Cream Cake if I did that?
    Annamaria

  33. If you say this is the ultimate version, I’m totally bookmarking this! Sharing it this week in my roundup, can’t wait to try this recipe!!

  34. This cake looks absolutely beautiful, and so perfectly baked too! You really cant beat three-tiered cakes!

  35. I do enjoy a good Italian Cream Cake and would love to try your version without nuts. Sounds creamy, velvety, and heavenly.
    And I need to know your secret for perfect slices too….

  36. My birthday is in April, can I get this cake delivered to me? LOL, just kidding, but it looks like a perfectly fabulous birthday cake! Marking this one to try and will remember that excellent idea about upping the icing as too much coconut is not possible. πŸ™‚

  37. This is over the top! No Italian Cream Cake I’ve seen could even compare to this beauty!

  38. First of all, this cake looks fantastic! Then “extremely moist” and “fluffy cream cheese frosting” really caught my attention, and then “coconut” sealed the deal. I need to have this cake! Pinning!

  39. This cake looks absolutely gorgeous, Liz! I love anything with coconut so this would definitely be the ultimate cake for me!

  40. Looks simply stunning πŸ˜€

  41. this cake is sooo beautiful and looks incredibly delicious and moist!

  42. Oh this is one heck of a gorgeous cake! I gotta try buttermilk next time for sure!

  43. This cake sounds so decadent and delicious! I would have loved to try a slice and I’m sure any leftovers would be tempting. Thanks for participating Liz!

  44. That is one delicious looking cake Liz! We haven’t used buttermilk in a cake before and we always take your advise seriously!
    This type of cake (in various cream or chocolate versions) is called Tourta here. Perhaps the Austrians have a similar approach as they call these cakes Torte (it also sounds like our Tourta) πŸ™‚ It’s the classic dessert that you find in any Greek pastry shop, so you’d be really happy if you visit Greece and take a tour at local pastry shops:):)
    That being said, we really can’t wait to try this particular recipe, your instructions are excellent and your photos truly mouthwatering!
    Have a great day dear!
    Panos and Mirella
    xoxoxo

  45. What an incredible cake Liz! Looks soooooooooooo elegant
    It might sounds weird but you definitely have a whiter flour than what we have here

  46. I just made this cake this evening and it truly is amazing! I had to do 2 layers because I was lacking a third pan but it was still unbelievable. Thanks so much for this!!

  47. Hello,
    Thanks for sharing this recipe. Italian Cream Cake is my favorite cake so I can’t wait to try this recipe.
    I do have a question though, would I be able to stack it? obviously I would use appropriate dowels etc…
    Thank you again.
    Carla

    • Hi, Carla, it is on the denser side, so I had no trouble stacking it in 3 layers. I did not use dowels. Does that answer your question or were you planning to make a larger version?

  48. that is one perfect cake! WOW

  49. that cake is awesome looking wow!

  50. Hello, this looks amazing! I want to make it for my Mom for Mother’s day tomorrow. I only have 2 round pans, can I do only 2 layers…would it be the same temp and baking time? Thank you.

    • I would only use about 2/3 of the batter and fill those two pans 2/3-3/4 full. Then you can bake at the same temp and time as is in the recipe. Take the extra batter and make cupcakes—try baking those 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out with only a moist crumb or two.

      You can always cool and freeze the cupcakes for later.

      If you divide all the batter between your two pans, it will probably overflow and create a big mess! Hope you enjoy!

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