Italian Cream Cake

One of my favorite trips to Italy was touring the Lombardy Lake region.  I was fortunate to travel regularly to Europe for work and pleasure for a number of years.  The travel was frequent enough that all became familiar, opening an entirely different engagement with an area.  For me it became about the roads less traveled rather than the fast paced, hard hitting itinerary when one is only visiting a place for a short time, unsure if ever to return.
An American friend had held a workshop in Leysin Switzerland.  International friends from all over would be there and we met up for a fantastic week in truly the most pristine country in the world by my experience.  Cleanly swept streets, meticulously stacked wood piles, the most blue sky and clear blue lake waters.  After the week I took off with some friends to drive through Lugano, the Swiss area of the lake region, to Italy. 
My favorite memory of the trip was the lazy driving when in Italy around the lake region.  Driving as a sightseeing method without aim or schedule.  It had a feel of what I imagine the 1950’s was like in the U.S.; the practice of the Sunday afternoon drive as an activity worthy of itself without destination.  We’d wind up into the hills to discover wonderful towns trellised up a mountainside.  Stop at waterside cafes at odd hours for wine and a plate of antipasto.  Or a complete favorite, stopping at a sprawling piazza to linger at a table for strong coffee and pastry while literally watching the world go by.  People strolling, at a luxuriously slow pace, as a way to spend the afternoon (so not American).
It is not often I now find the time or the personal freedom to while away a day or even part of one.  My chore list seems endless.  The demands of my time far outweigh any slight notion of dalliances.  When I came upon a vintage recipe for Italian Cream Cake I felt transported to those lazy moments of lingering over mid afternoon cake and coffee across from Lake Como.  I knew I had to make the cake and will admit took the time to eat a slice with coffee in the middle of the afternoon, not rushing a bit!
Though this cake contains coconut and walnuts I found neither flavor jumped to the forefront to stake claim on the cake.  It is a well balanced, lovely cake with a beautiful aroma, presence, texture and flavor.
·         1 stick plus ¼ cup butter, softened
·         ½ cup shortening
·         2 cups granulated sugar
·         5 eggs, separated
·         2 cups flour (regular or gluten free)
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 cup buttermilk
·         2 teaspoon vanilla
·         3 ½ ounces shredded coconut  (I used half sweetened and half unsweetened coconut)
·         1 cup finely chopped walnuts
·         1-8 ounce package cream cheese
·         1 pound powdered sugar
·         Milk to thin frosting to desired consistency
1.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 3-9 inch pie pans and set aside.
2.      In the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment or large bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together  the 1 stick of butter (the additional ¼ cup is for the frosting), shortening and granulated sugar until light and fluffy.
3.      Add egg yolks and mix well.
4.      Sift together the flour and baking soda.  Add to the creamed mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
5.      Add 1 teaspoon vanilla, coconut and nuts.  Mix to combine.
6.      Stiffly beat the egg whites to form soft peaks.  Fold into the batter.
7.      Pour batter into the prepared pie pans and bake for 30 minutes (until the cake is golden on top and toothpick comes out clean).  Allow to cool on racks for 20 minutes.  Remove from pans and allow to cool fully before frosting.
Making frosting:
1.       In the bowl of a standing mixer with whisk attachment or medium bowl with a hand held mixer, cream together ¼ cup butter and cream cheese.
2.      Add powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Mix to combine.
3.      Add milk, a teaspoon at a time to reach desired spreading consistency.  Note: since my cake was gluten free which is not as dense as wheat flour cakes I thinned mine with about 5 teaspoons of milk but make your own judgment for what would be desirable to you.
Recipe attribution:  Mrs. Edna Peavy, Atlanta GA
A personal note: One might look at the stated focus for my blog and wonder why I’m making more cakes of late than would be needed at an old school Bake Sale!  Though my primary blogging focus is local and seasonal we are in the dregs of winter in Colorado.  Our only fresh local food is meager offerings from small greenhouses and we’ve had enough root vegetables to make us feel not seeing another beet would be just fine!  I have a second passion which is vintage recipes.  Through those from my own family and their friends, to packets of recipes given to me by friends, I feel it an honor to bring those back to life, sharing them with the current crowd of cooks and foodies.  You’ll note many I select have a seasonal theme and all use whole ingredients.  Baking from scratch is a luxury few enjoy these days, me included.  By owning these recipes I feel it my responsibility to give them a second life with you!  I hope you’ll forgive a bit of veering off the true local, seasonal path as we while away the winter from our root cellars and canning pantries, enjoying these lovely treats from the past!

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  1. says

    Thank you Thank you for sharing about Lugano. My ancestors come from this region and it is my life goal to visit this area. Thank you for letting me see it through your eyes for am moment.

  2. Tina @ Babycakes Blog says

    Wow, that really looks delicious! Isn't it great how food can totally transport you back to a time and place? Congrats on getting Top 9 on FoodBuzz, someday I hope to even be able to list my blog on FB, it's still too new.

    • says

      I love the memory triggers food brings Tina, completely agree with you. Thanks for the congrats! There is no such thing as a blog that's too new! Please do post it. Great way to get attention for it and allowing us to 'read you'!

  3. says

    What a beautiful cake. I can't help but notice your stunning silverware too. I have never had an Italian cream cake, but after seeing this, I can't help but want a slice.

  4. says

    This cake looks truely scrumptious! I love every part of it from the creamy frosting to the sweet coconuts to the cruncy walnuts! I'll take a large slice please :)!

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! I remember traveling Switzerland, Holland, England and the delightfully slower pace of life (part of the reason I love the San Luis Valley). I miss it so very much and I greatly miss the foods! I don't get to bake much as I HATE washing dishes but a teacher friend “dropped a hint” that she wanted one for her birthday. As I am a new Coloradoian from Virginia, I am thrilled to bring her something that reminds me of Europe and lazy southern Sunday afternoons! I can't wait to bake it!!
    Question: I read someone else's recipe and they made a note that in dryer climates we may want to add a bit more butter as opposed to more humid climates wherein one follows the recommended amount of butter. Any thoughts on this?

    • says

      Welcome to Colorado! I baked my cake per the recipe in the blog post and it was perfect. It was moist and stayed that way for the week following as we gobbled it up. I would not alter it frankly and have not heard the other advice you mentioned (not saying it's not correct just have not heard or used it). Candidly, I've made all these vintage cake recipes the way they were written orignally; I never adjust for altitude myself and have never had a problem.

  6. Victoria says

    I’m new to your blog after seeing pictures of your cakes on Pinterest. I’ve been looking for an Italian Cream Cake recipe for ages, but I really don’t want to use shortening (which they all seem to call for) — bad trans fats! Do you have any recommendations for substitutions? Would it work with using all butter? I’m not sure if the texture in the finished cake will be the same. Thanks!

      • Victoria says

        Ahhh, I didn’t know they had no trans fat shortenings now. I live in Australia, and they don’t seem to be aware at all with healthier alternatives here. Trans fat isn’t even on the radar yet. We don’t have Crisco, only copha which apparently even worse. I’ll have to wait to make my Italian Cream Cake and see if relatives can bring me some of that new shortening when they visit!

  7. Melissa Martinka says

    I made this cake over the weekend for Easter & it was delicious! I do however have a question about it. From the pictures your slices look nice & tall. When I stacked all three layers with the frosting in between the total height of the cake was only 2 1/2 in. That deosn’t seem right to me. Did I do something wrong? It seems like the cake should be taller.

    • says

      Hi Melissa. You are correct; this makes a normal size, three layer cake! I’m at 5,500 feet and have never had a rising issue. I am assuming you did not substitute anything in the recipe? Was your baking soda fresh (not expired)? If baking soda is old it could affect the rising. Were you baking at high altitude (higher than 5,500 feet)? Is your oven temperature correct (sometimes ovens can not actually be at the temperature you set them for when baking)? If you can provide me more details maybe I can help figure it out. Overall I’m so sorry this happened to you let alone on Easter! Happy to try to figure out when occurred if I can. Each time I’ve baked it it has turned out as in the photos so I’m a bit baffled about your report!

  8. Ashlea says

    Hi! I came across your website because my husband wants an italian cream cake for his birthday. I live in Colorado as well, elevation 6600 feet. Having never made an italian creme cake, I don’t want to mess up his birthday cake! Do you think I need to make any adjustments for our altitude here? Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Ashlea. I do not alter my baking for altitude and as you can see had no issues with this vintage recipe.

      You are about 1600 feet higher than I am. I consulted with a friend at your altitude who bakes and she does find she must alter the flour and liquid amounts to get a good result. Since this is a high stakes cake for you I would suggest following high altitude baking guidelines to better assure ‘birthday cake’ quality!

  9. leslie says

    Hi, I am gluten intolerant. I would like to make this cake with an alternative flour, or a gluten free flour. Do you have any recommendations? Thank you

  10. says

    Your Italian Creme Cake looks scrumptious! I want to make it for my hubby’s bday, but gluten free so I can enjoy it as well. When substituting gluten free four mixes in other recipes over the years, I have found I need to increase the flour or decrease the butter to avoid overly dense results. I have had success with Pamela’s baking mix and King Arthur’s gluten free flour mix. Any suggestions? Thanks, Dorothy

    • says

      Hi Dorothy. I typically do not change anything when converting a gluten recipe to a gluten-free one. The cake you see in this post was made per the recipe only swapping in gluten free flour for gluten flour. I was very pleased with the result.

      I too like King Arthur’s Gluten-Free flour blend and use it often finding it most similar in flavor and texture to all purpose flour. I love Pamela’s mixes and use them often however lean toward King Arthur for the pure flour blend as it does not contain any gums. Pamela’s has guar gum and I’ve grown to be able to detect gums in baking, not liking the texture they create and not having found that the absence of them makes much of a difference in most GF baking (have conferred on that with other high profile GF baking bloggers to the same conclusion). I believe this cake predated using King Arthur’s and was most likely made with a similar hand blended flour combination similar to King Arthur’s.

      I would say certainly if you make this cake recipe stick to a flour blend you prefer and if you have a method you prefer try it too. There are many factors that can affect the outcome of a baked good; I’ve decided it’s more like a chemistry experiment than cooking! Happy early birthday to your husband!

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