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How to Make an Italian Cream Cake for a Special Occasion

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. 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 it's 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. 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.