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How to Make an Italian Cream Cake for a Special Occasion

Danette loves baking delicious treats for her family, especially when there's something to celebrate.

A slice of Italian Cream cake - perfect for birthdays, graduations and other special occasions

A slice of Italian Cream cake - perfect for birthdays, graduations and other special occasions

A Special Occasion Calls for a Special Cake

The first time I had an Italian cream cake, I knew it was a special dessert.

We were living in Mississippi in the early 1980s. My husband was stationed in Gulfport, about 1.5 hours west of Mobile, where his parents and two of his brothers lived. We were fortunate to live near family for several years so we could celebrate holidays and birthdays with my in-laws.

The year my husband's grandfather turned 90, my in-laws threw a big party. One of my sisters-in-law brought Italian Cream Cake and as soon as I tasted it, I knew I had to have the recipe.

In our family, as in most I'm sure, the birthday person gets to pick what's on the menu for dinner and their birthday treat. This is the cake my husband and younger son choose when it's their day. It's also the cake I make for special occasions, such as my boys' high school graduation parties. It never goes unappreciated!

It isn't nearly as complicated as it appears and definitely well worth the time it takes. It also freezes well so if you live alone or you're just a couple, you could make the cake and frost it, then freeze half of it or single slices.


Italian Cream Cake

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

25 min

55 min

Makes 1 9


  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 stick margarine or butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 ounces coconut flakes, (none of us like coconut that much so I just add a small handful)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine baking soda and buttermilk in a bowl or large glass measuring cup; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream sugar, margarine and shortening.
  3. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each.
  4. Add buttermilk/baking soda mixture, alternating with flour to cream mixture.
  5. Stir in vanilla.
  6. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the creamed mixture.
  7. Gently stir in pecans and coconut.
  8. Divide batter evenly between 3 9" cake pans that have been greased and floured.
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes

Buttermilk subsitute

Until I learned this trick for making a buttermilk substitute, I would buy the smallest container of the milk I could find and end up tossing out what I didn't use for the cake. Then I found this trick and it has come in handy many times over the years.

To make 1 cup of buttermilk:

Stir 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice into one cup of milk. Let sit for a few minutes before using.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Cream the cheese and margarine.
  2. Add sugar a bit at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Frost cake.

How to Properly Beat an Egg White

  1. Properly beaten egg whites will give your cake good volume and texture.
  2. For best results, separate the eggs when they are cold, but bring the egg whites to room temperature before beating them.
  3. Make sure the bowl and beaters you plan to use are clean and chilled. Put them in the freezer to chill while you make the rest of the batter. Use a copper or stainless steel bowl, not aluminum or plastic.
  4. Don't beat the egg whites until just before you're ready to add them to the batter because they start to lose their volume right away.
  5. The egg whites will start out thin and runny but as you continue to beat them, they'll begin to form soft peaks. When the egg whites have formed stiff peaks, they're ready to go into the cake batter.

How to Frost a 3-Layer Cake

Frosting a layer cake isn't hard. Follow these tips below to make your cake presentable!

  1. Make sure cakes are completely cool before you frost them. Brush crumbs from one layer. Place it on a large platter or cake plate. Using about one-fourth of the icing, frost the top of the cake to about 1/4" from the edge.
  2. Brush crumbs from a second layer. Place that layer upside down on the first, so the flat bottom of the cake is facing up. Frost the top of that layer the same as the first layer with another one-fourth of frosting.
  3. Take the final layer, brush the crumbs off and place it, flat side down, on top of the second layer.
  4. Generously frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why is my cake dry?

Answer: Hi, I'm sorry your cake turned out dry but I don't have an answer for you. Perhaps you had the oven temp too high or kept it in too long? Ovens vary so even if you followed directions and the time/temp, it could be yours runs a little hotter and the cake should have come out a minute or two sooner. Other than that, I can't offer any possible issues.

Question: Can Italian cream cake be made two days ahead before serving?

Answer: Hi, I know sometimes we get into a time crunch with work, family, etc. And this is a time-consuming cake to make. That's why I often prep most of the ingredients the day before (get the coconut, pecans, sugar, shortening, and butter measured out, and make the buttermilk but not the eggs, that's a same-day thing).

I don't see any reason why you can't completely make the cake two days before serving. But if it were me, I'd do it this way - make the cake, cool it completely and wrap each layer very well to keep it fresh (don't stack and wrap the layers together, they'll probably stick). Then the day I wanted to serve it, I'd make the icing and frost it then.

Question: How do you wrap Italian icecream cake for freezing?

Answer: I hope you've enjoyed the cake. When I freeze it, I wrap individual slices in plastic wrap, then place several in a large freezer Ziploc type bag (that's just to save on bags). That way, I can pull out just a slice at a time. I let it thaw out on a plate so the yummy frosting doesn't stick to the wrap as it thaws.


Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on December 26, 2017:

Hi Marianne,

In a word, no.

I always make this cake in June for my husband's birthday. Because of the time of year and because we lived in parts of the country that are hot and humid (i.e., Mississippi), I always put it in the frig so the frosting wouldn't melt. However, you don't have to if your house is cooler.

Marianne on December 24, 2017:

Do you have to refrigerate the cake after you put the frosting on? I made it a day ahead and don't have much room in my refrig

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on December 18, 2017:

Hi Carol, I hope you enjoy the cake as much as we do. I edited the instructions to include preheating the oven at the first line. Thanks for noticing that.

Carol from Florida on December 17, 2017:

I will make this for Christmas and the temperature was at the bottom of the instructions. I vote way uo, I love everything that goes in it.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on May 12, 2016:

Hi Margie! I agree it is absolutely delicious! In fact, every time I see the photo, my mouth waters for it. My husband's birthday is coming up mid-June so I'll be making it then for him. Can't wait! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Margie's Southern Kitchen from the USA on May 11, 2016:

I love this cake it is scrumptious!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on August 25, 2014:

Hi Kaili, Thanks for leaving a comment. It is very good and not terribly time consuming to make. I break it up into 2 days - measuring out my ingredients, chopping nuts, etc, then the next day I mix and bake. Makes the work easier. Hope you like it!

Kaili Bisson from Canada on August 23, 2014:

Danette, this looks so good. I am going to try this recipe when the weather gets a little cooler.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on July 24, 2014:

You're welcome Debraw! Thanks for reading

Debraw50 on July 18, 2014:

Oh thank you Danette for those yummy recipes. Very good articles and great tips on frosting the layer cakes and the making of the buttermilk. Keep giving us those recipes. We love them. I am going to try the Italian Cream Cake.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on October 05, 2013:

Hi calculus-geometry, it has something to do with fat or grease that may not be cleaned off the bowl. Here's a link I found about it online. http://humantouchofchemistry.com/whipping-egg-whit...

Hi Thelma - thanks for voting the hub up and useful. Have a great weekend too!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on October 04, 2013:

Yummy! I love Italian Cream Cake. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Voted up and useful. Happy weekend!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on July 22, 2013:

Hi vespawoolf. Thanks for reading my hub and commenting. Peru must be a fascinating place for you with your cooking experience and maybe a challenge too?

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on July 21, 2013:

I love Italian cream cake and am thrilled to have your recipe! I also use lemon juice to sour fresh milk as a buttermilk substitute since we can't even buy it here in Peru. I can't wait to try this. Thanks for your recipe!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 04, 2012:

Thanks ptrg777 for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. It is easier than it looks. I hope you do try it and enjoy it.

Peter from New York on September 04, 2012:

Me being Italian this being back a lot of memories. Never tried to make it myself but this looks easy enough for me to try it! I don't mind the cocount but maybe I'll emit it the first time to see how the cake comes. Thanks!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on July 12, 2012:

Wow! I can't believe that I didn't put that in and that no one else caught that!

Yes, 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Thanks for letting me know and I hope you enjoyed the cake.

Andi on July 12, 2012:

Am I crazy, or is there not a temperature given to bake the cake? I assumed 350, but was kinda nervous!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on May 06, 2012:

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment Teresa. We're not crazy about coconut either although I do add some just for the taste of it. Glad the video was helpful.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on May 06, 2012:

Danette, scrumptious looking cake. I really dislike coconut though so I think I would leave it out of my recipe! Great instructions and I now know how to ice a layer cake to get great results. Voted up!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on May 06, 2012:

Thanks theclevercat. I hope it is as good as you remember it to be.

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on May 06, 2012:

Oh what!!!! This looks like the cake I tasted on a special occasion way back in Brooklyn in the 1990's. I never knew what it was called, but now I have the recipe. Thanks!!! Voted useful and pinned.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on October 09, 2011:

Vicki99 -- I guarantee it is absolutely fabulous!

Vicki99 from Meridian Idaho on October 09, 2011:

Oh my! I can't wait to try this. Great looking cake.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 29, 2011:

Thanks RebuildingJobs! I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

RebuildingJobs from USA on September 29, 2011:

Looks yummy! I can't wait to make it! I loved the visuals you put on the hub.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 29, 2011:

Thanks Gail for stopping by to read and comment.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on September 29, 2011:

Mmmmm...this looks so yummy. Love the side bar tips and the videos are great for young bakers inexperienced at frosting cakes.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 28, 2011:

Thanks breathe2travel. I was feeling the same way, wanting to get the ingredients so I can make it. Why save it for special occasions, right? Any day can be a special day!

Heidi from Gulf Coast, USA on September 28, 2011:

Italian Creme cake is probably my favorite cake! I loooooooooove it. My recipe is similar to yours, except I use butter, not margarine. :) Yum. This makes me want to get the ingredients together and bake one! Voted up and useful. :)

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 27, 2011:

It isn't hard to make just time consuming. Too bad I can't be out there to make it for you.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on September 27, 2011:

Danette, Voted way UP This is awesome-well written and great visuals which always helps me. As much as I love EATING this cake I have never made it. YUM I will have to make it for J's birthday coming up in November. I can't believe he will turn 18 !!!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 27, 2011:

Bell du jour- I hope you do give it a try, it isn't hard and well worth it.

Pinkchic18 - Thanks for stopping to read and comment.

Hey Cara - I was trying to think of a reason too while I was writing it.

Hi MovieMaster - thanks for reading. It is delicious.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on September 27, 2011:

Hi Danette, this recipe is completely new to me and I am so looking forward to trying it, looks and sounds delicous, thank you for sharing.

cardelean from Michigan on September 27, 2011:

I remember you making this for CJ's graduation and I loved it then. You had given me the recipe but I had forgoten about it until now. I'm definitely going to have to make it soon. I'll make up a reason if I need to! :)

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on September 27, 2011:

This looks delightful! It made me instantly want to go bake one up! Thanks for sharing!

bell du jour from Ireland on September 27, 2011:

Looks amazing! can't wait to try:-)

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 27, 2011:

I can totally understand Homesteadbound! It was about 1:30 a.m where I live when I wrote that. I'm surprised it came out as coherent as it did.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 27, 2011:

You are correct. Hubpages was keeping me up past my bedtime again when I commented earlier. This morning when I saw the picture of your cake one word came to mind - decadent!

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 27, 2011:

Thanks Larry - I hope you enjoy it

Europewalker, thanks for taking the time to read and leave a comment. I appreciate it.

europewalker on September 27, 2011:

Yummy! Thanks for the recipe, I love Italian cream cake!

Larry from Illinois on September 27, 2011:

Love the hub. look forward to loving the cake. :)

voting up and awesome.

Danette Watt (author) from Illinois on September 26, 2011:

Sorry Maralexa! I know what you mean, I was starting to get a craving for this cake as I was writing it! Glad you found the tips helpful. Here's something to think about that I do, now that there's just the two of us at home - I freeze individual slices. That way I can dole them out to myself without having too many calories at once. I have even managed to still have pieces in the freezer a month after the occasion!

AliciaC - It really is a wonderful cake. When I mentioned to a friend that I was making it for my son's graduation, her eyes lit up! Everyone who has it loves it.

Homesteadbound - Just to clarify, this isn't a cheesecake. But I'm thinking you meant the cream cheese? It's not hard to make so I hope you give it a try.

Cindy Murdoch from Texas on September 26, 2011:

I absolutely love Italian Cheese cake. I have never made one, so I just might have to try this recipe out. I can tast it now!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 26, 2011:

"Italian Cream Cake" is a lovely name and the photo of the cake is lovely too! The cake sounds absolutely delicious. I love creamy cakes, and your recipe sounds perfect for a special occasion. Thanks for sharing it.

Marilyn Alexander from Vancouver, Canada on September 26, 2011:

Danette, this is a terrific hub. Your tip on beating egg whites is really helpful. Your tip on making buttermilk is excellent and your tip of putting the second layer of cake on upsidedown makes a lot of sense. Thank You.

However, I have been very successfully dieting this week (day 4) and your gorgeous cake is just too tempting!

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