Classic Italian Cream Cake Recipe - Easy Southern Dessert Idea! (2024)

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Italian Cream Cake pairs three layers of coconut-vanilla cake with a rich cream cheese frosting studded with pecans. It’s no wonder this classic cake recipe is so popular!

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Italian Cream Cake — A Southern Classic!

I’m about to blow your mind: Italian Cream Cake actually originated in Texas. Shocker, right? Food historians think an Italian baker who lived in Texas invented the cake, which makes sense because you’ll see it all the time in the South, but it never seems to be sold alongside cannoli and tiramisu at the Italian bakeries I know.

The first time I made this recipe, it was requested by a coworker. I made a second cake so I could try it too and I was impressed! While the cake seems relatively simple on the surface, it’s rich, flavorful, and dense in the best kind of way. I also love that it’s easy to assemble and frost, which is always a plus in my book.

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What You’ll Need

The ingredient list for this cake is simple as can be! Here’s what you’ll need to make it.

For the cake:

  • All-purpose flourRead my primer on flours for baking.
  • Baking soda
  • Unsalted butter– The butter needs to be softened, so take it out of the fridge before you plan to start baking and let it sit on the counter for about half an hour.
  • Granulated sugar
  • Eggs – Your eggs should be room temperature, too!
  • Vanilla extract
  • Buttermilk You can make your own by combining a scant cup of whole milk with a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. For more substitution options, see Buttermilk Substitutes in Baking.
  • Sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:

  • Chopped pecans
  • Cream cheese – Let it sit on the counter while the cake cools so it’s easy to whip into a frosting.
  • Unsalted butter – And take out the butter too!
  • Vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar – Take the time to sift the powdered sugar. It’s much easier to sift it first than trying to break up all the little sugar lumps in your frosting.


First: Yes, you can leave out the coconut if the taste and texture aren’t for you. I get it! If you want a more traditional Italian Cream Cake, you can add finely chopped pecans to the cake batter; most recipes do have both nuts and coconut in the cake layers, but I prefer to keep the nuts in the frosting.

How to Make Italian Cream Cake

If you’re ready for a treat, it’s time to start baking! Here are step-by-step instructions.

Make the Cake Layers:

Prepare. Preheat your oven to 350°F, then grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.

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Combine the dry ingredients. Whisk the flour and baking soda in a mixing bowl.

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Mix the wet ingredients. Use an electric mixer on medium speed to beat the butter until fluffy, then add the sugar and continue beating until you have a light, airy mixture. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract.

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Combine wet and dry ingredients. Turn the mixer speed to low, then add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the buttermilk. Fold in the coconut.

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Whip the egg whites. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

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Bake and cool. Divide the cake batter among the pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the cakes from the pans and let them finish cooling on the racks.

Make the Frosting:

Toast the pecans. Place the pecans in a shallow baking pan and toast them at 350°F for 5-10 minutes, or until they’re toasted and smell deliciously nutty.

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Make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and beat at low speed until it’s incorporated. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light, smooth, and fluffy. Fold in the chopped pecans.

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Assemble. Frost the top of the first cake layer, then put the second layer on top. Frost the top of the second layer, then top that with the third layer. Spread frosting over the tops and sides, then your cake is done!

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Tips for Success

Aside from whipping up the egg whites and folding them into the batter, Italian Cream Cake is pretty straightforward! Here are some tips to help you make sure it turns out perfect:

  • Make even layers. The cake batter needs to be divided into three cake layers. To do this, weigh your mixing bowl while it is empty, then once your batter is done, weigh the bowl again. Subtract the weight of the empty bowl and divide this number by three. Remember this number! Place one of your prepared cake pans on your scale and zero the weight. Weigh out your calculated amount of batter. Repeat for the other two pans. Not only does this satisfy my inner perfectionist, but the cake layers will be the same size and will bake the same, making quite the lovely cake. And, if you don’t have a kitchen scale, pick one up as soon as possible. You’ll never understand how you baked without it.
  • Trim the cake. I don’t always do this if I’m baking for myself, but if you’re making a layer cake and your layers are a little bit taller in the middle, you can use a serrated knife to shave off the top to make it perfectly flat.
  • Don’t use too much pressure. Because there are nuts in the frosting, if you use too much pressure when you’re icing the cake, you’ll drag the nuts through the cake and introduce crumbs into the frosting.
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How to Store this Cake

You’ll need to store Italian Cream Cake in the refrigerator because the cream cheese frosting won’t last more than a few hours at room temperature. Keep it covered with plastic wrap or in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Can I Freeze this Cake?

Yes, you can absolutely freeze Italian Cream Cake! When freezing cakes, I like to place the cake in the freezer uncovered just until the frosting is solid and then I wrap the cake with a layer or two of plastic wrap and foil. This way, the frosting doesn’t stick to the plastic wrap and your cake will look fabulous when you’re ready to eat it.

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Get the Recipe:

Italian Cream Cake

Yield12 to 16 servings

Prep Time40 minutes

Cook Time25 minutes

Total Time1 hour 5 minutes

In the pantheon of classic Southern cakes, Italian Cream Cake ranks right up there with red velvet and hummingbird cake! Flavored with pecans and coconut, then iced with cream cheese frosting, it's an unforgettable dessert.

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For the cake:

  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (236ml) buttermilk
  • 1 cup (85g) sweetened flaked coconut

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup (120g) chopped pecans
  • 8 ounces (226g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (113g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces (454g) confectioners' sugar, sifted


To make the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.
  2. Whisk together the flour and baking soda. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla.
  4. Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with two portions of the buttermilk. Stir in the coconut.
  5. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for about 10 minutes. Then, remove from the pans to wire racks to cool completely.

To make the frosting:

  1. Toast the pecans in a shallow baking pan at 350° for 5-10 minutes, or until toasted and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
  2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until creamy. Add the confectioners' sugar and beat at low speed until blended. Then, increase mixer speed to high and beat until smooth. Stir in the pecans.
  3. Stack the cake layers, spreading the frosting between the cooled cake layers and on the top and sides of cake.


Recipe slightly adapted from Southern Living.

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Classic Italian Cream Cake Recipe - Easy Southern Dessert Idea! (2024)


What is an Italian cream cake made of? ›

Made with tangy buttermilk, flaked coconut, and a nutty cream cheese frosting, this decadent layer cake would be just as welcome at a casual gathering as at a wedding celebration. Get ahead of your party prep by baking the cake layers in advance, and this beauty will come together in no time.

Does Italian cream cake need to be refrigerated? ›

Due to the cream cheese frosting, the cake needs to be refrigerated. Keep any leftovers, loosely covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge for up to 1 week. If you have a cake keeper, you can use that. If not, the dollops of frosting on top might get a little squished from plastic wrap.

What is a traditional Italian wedding cake called? ›

Once dinner finishes it's time to move to the party but before you can hit the dance floor you need to cut the cake. In Italy, the Italian wedding cake is traditionally a millefoglie or thousand layer cake.

What is a creme cake? ›

The moist texture, the rich flavor, and the divine taste make crème cakes a top favorite of dessert-lovers. You will find crème cakes in many bakeries and donut shops. It is a combination of a high ratio cake type batter and custard or pudding (now you know why it is called crème cake).

What is the most famous dessert in Italy? ›

Perhaps the most iconic Italian dessert, tiramisu appears on menus at restaurants not only throughout Italy but also all over the world.

What is the most popular cake in Italy? ›

In Italy, one of the most iconic cakes is the rich and decadent Tiramisu, which consists of layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese.

Can you leave Italian cream cake out overnight? ›

Hi, I've been making scratch italian cream cakes for years and have always left them out for 3 to 4 days with no problem. They were always in a covered cake dome. When making them for clients, I always refrigerate them until delivery or pick up and I've never had any complaints either way.

Can you eat cream cake left out overnight? ›

Any cakes with high moisture additions, such as cream added after baking, should not be left at room temperature. They must be stored chilled (in the fridge) and eaten within the use-by date of the added product.

What does Italian cream cake taste like? ›

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!

What is a brides cake? ›

Usually, a large, white tiered cake, decorated mostly in white frosting, is called the bride's cake, and a second flavor choice is called the "groom's cake". This tradition was brought over from England by early American colonists, who considered the white-iced bride's cake too light for men's tastes.

What cake is traditionally eaten in Italy at Christmas? ›

Panettone: history and characteristics of this italian cake. People everywhere eat panettone while celebrating their Christmas holidays, perhaps without knowing that the word Panettone comes from the Milanese dialect 'Pan del ton', which means 'luxurybread'. Yes, the Panettone is a local speciality.

What is a godfather cake? ›

A two-tier Godfather themed cake featuring all hand-modeled and edible elements from the classic movie. The cake is lemon chiffon with a delicious raspberry butter-cream filling, covered in dark chocolate ganache and LMM fondant.

What is a cake full of cream called? ›

Cake - a baked dessert made from flour, sugar, eggs, and other ingredients Full - containing as much as possible; having no empty space. Cream - a thick, rich, and smooth liquid that is made from milk and used in cooking The one word that describes a cake full of cream is "cream-filled."

What is a Drake cake? ›

The premise of the Drake Cake is simple. You make your best attempt to recreate the Canadian rapper Drake's 2013 album cover, Nothing Was The Same, on a cake — and the challenge has produced some hilarious and viral results.

What is the difference between a cream cake and a normal cake? ›

Cream cakes look fluffy and soft whereas fondant cakes look silky and slightly rigid. In regards to the weight, fondant cakes are heavy than cream cakes. Cream icing is made using butter, sugar, and cream, whereas fondant icing is made using gelatine, glucose, and sugar.

What is thickened cream in Italy? ›

In Italy, the equivalent of heavy cream is known as "panna da cucina" or simply "panna." It is a rich, thick cream used in cooking and baking, similar to heavy cream in other parts of the world. Panna is often used to add creaminess and richness to sauces, soups, desserts, and various Italian dishes.

What is Italian wedding cake made of? ›

The typical Italian wedding cake is a Millefeuille. This is made of layers of crunchy puff pastry, alternated with Chantilly cream (a mix of cream and whipped cream) and either wild berries or chocolate drops.

Why is Portillo's cake so good? ›

The cake is made with high-quality ingredients. It includes cocoa powder, butter, and real chocolate, which gives it a rich, chocolatey flavor and a moist, tender crumb. The frosting is also made with real butter and cream, which gives it a velvety smooth texture and a decadent taste.


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