Italian Cream Cake (Scratch Recipe)

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Everybody needs a go-to classic Italian Cream Cake recipe! We have the perfect recipe for you, and it is DELICIOUS!

There's just nothing better than the combination of coconut, pecans, and cream cheese frosting!

Photo of slice of Italian Cream Cake.

Why we Love It

There are so many reasons to love this Italian Cream Cake recipe. Here are just a few:

  • Amazing flavor from pecans and coconut.
  • Wonderfully light texture thanks to the whipped egg whites in the cake batter.
  • Classic cakes like Italian Cream Cake always feel extra special, and make the perfect birthday cake recipes, holiday cakes, more! (We even have a doctored cake mix version: Italian Cream Bundt Cake).

How to Make Italian Cream Cake

**You can find the full, printable Italian Cream Cake recipe a little further down in this post. Here is a quick rundown of our steps!

  • Preheat the oven and grease and flour three 8 inch cake pans. We like to also line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper.
  • Butter: Mix butter at medium speed until smooth using an electric mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment if using a stand mixer).
  • Butter & Sugar: Gradually add sugar, beating on medium speed 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Egg Yolks: Add room temperature egg yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition until the yellow of the yolk is blended. Then, add the vanilla extract.
Mixing bowl of cake batter
  • Flour Mixture: In a separate bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt, whisk at least 30 seconds to blend.
  • Dry and Wet Ingredients: With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture (that is 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 additions of buttermilk) Mix until just blended.
  • Pecans and Coconut: Then fold in the pecans and coconut until well combined.
Folding coconut and pecans into the cake batter
  • Beat the Egg Whites and Fold into  Batter Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula or spoon, gently fold into batter.
Bowl of whipped egg whites
Bowl of Italian Cream Cake Batter
  • Fill the Pans: Spoon batter into three 8 or 9″ round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean, or the center of the cake springs back when lightly touched.  
Filled Italian Cream Cake Batter in Pans

Cool the cake layers (we often place them on a wire rack, still in the pans) and turn out after about 10 minutes.

Freshly Baked Cake Layers in Pans
Three Italian Cream Cake Layers

Assembling the Italian Cream Cake

Now that the Italian Cream Cake layers have cooled completely, it is time to put it all together.

To assemble the cake, place the first cake layer on your cake base or pedestal. Spread with a layer of cream cheese frosting using an offset spatula. Repeat for the next two cake layers.

Filled three layer Italian Cream Cake (before applying frosting)

Next, apply a thin coat (crumb coat) of frosting to the top and around the sides of the cake.

At this time, we like to chill the crumb coated Italian Cream Cake in the freezer for 15 minutes (or longer in the refrigerator.) This firms everything up nicely before we apply the second layer of cream cheese frosting.

You can refrigerate your bowl of frosting during this time also if it seems a bit too soft.

Decorating the Italian Cream Cake

Next, apply the second layer of frosting to the chilled cake. Today, we went with a smooth finish for our frosting, but a textured finish is always nice too (as with this ridged buttercream technique)! 

When we decorate cakes with a smooth finish, we like to run our bench scraper under very hot water before gliding over the chilled frosting. (This technique is often referred to as the Hot Knife Method). 

We then pressed chopped pecans around the base of the cake, and applied stars around the top of the cake using a large 1M piping tip.

The BEST Classic Italian Cream Cake Recipe from Scratch- MyCakeSchool.com

Cream Cheese Frosting

We always fill and frost our Italian Cream Cakes with a simple, decadent Cream Cheese Frosting recipe. This is a simple combination of butter, softened cream cheese, vanilla, confectioners sugar, and a pinch of salt.

This recipe makes a great filling and frosting, and we use it on all sorts of cakes, including Red Velvet Cake, Hummingbird Cake, Peaches and Cream Cake, and more!

Consistency of Frosting

Cream cheese frostings are softer than most buttercream frostings and so if it becomes too soft, simply pop the piping bag, bowl, or even the cake into the freezer or refrigerator as needed (for 10 minutes or until desired consistency is reached). 

Recipe FAQs

Yes, because of the cream cheese frosting and filling, this cake requires refrigeration.

However, for the best taste and texture, remove the cake from the refrigerator a couple of hours before serving to allow the cake and frosting warm and soften. 

 

Yes! Just as with the majority of our cakes (from Hummingbird Cake to Orange Cake, Almond Cake, and more) these Italian Cream Cake layers freeze perfectly.

We like to wrap our cake layers while still slightly warm (although it is fine to wrap room temperature cake layers). Wrap each cake individually, first with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil. If you are only freezing for a couple of days, double wrapping with plastic wrap only is fine!

For more stability, you can place each cake layer on a foil-wrapped cardboard cake circle before wrapping.

To thaw the cake layers, remove the wrapped cakes from the freezer and allow to warm on the kitchen counter, still wrapped. After about 30-45 minutes, we remove the wrapping (which likely has condensation), and finish thawing. to desired amount.

Some bakers like to assemble their cakes while the layers are partially frozen as they are less fragile and easier to handle.

Italian cream cake has a heavenly combination of finely chopped pecans, coconut, and cream cheese frosting. With this trio of big flavors, you can't go wrong! 

Every bite is bursting with flavor and has great texture too from the coconut and nuts (much like our carrot cake!)

 

Nobody quite knows where the name or recipe for Italian Cream Cake actually comes from.  

I was surprised to find that it's not a traditional recipe of Italy. Some say that the recipe first appeared years ago in a Texas newspaper.

Others say that the "Italian" name comes from an Italian baker that prepared the dessert for a southern family in the US, and it was so well received that the rest is history. (This reminds me of the story of German Chocolate Cake- which was named after the creator of German Chocolate, an American baker named Samuel German.)

All that we know for sure about the origin of Italian Cream Cake is that whoever came up with the recipe is a genius. If you've never tried it, you absolutely must!

We have a few more delicious variations of Italian Cream Cake for you! Don't miss our delicious Chocolate Italian Cream Cake recipe. It is soft and light with wonderful chocolate, pecan, and coconut flavor.

We also have a great Caramel Italian Cream Cake, which incorporates brown sugar and caramel.

In addition, you may like our doctored cake mix Italian Cream Bundt Cake! This recipe has all the flavor of the scratch recipe. It works for cake layers also.

More Classic Cakes

Italian Cream Cake is just one of those good old fashioned cake recipes that everyone needs in their recipe box. We have several other classic cakes that belong on your must-bake list!

Some of our most popular are German Chocolate Cake, Black Forest Cake, homemade Carrot Cake, and our easy Boston Cream Pie from cake mix!

Don't miss our full collection of Cake Recipes, including cake recipes from scratch as well as cake mix recipes! Also, if you are interested in cake design, we have hundreds of free cake decorating tutorials as well!

The BEST Classic Italian Cream Cake Recipe from Scratch- MyCakeSchool.com

Italian Cream Cake Recipe

This amazing Italian Cream Cake recipe has so much flavor from chopped pecans, coconut, cream cheese frosting and more!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Course: Cakes and Cupcakes
Servings: 15 servings
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Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 cup 2 sticks (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups (400g) sugar
  • 5 large eggs separated
  • 2 cups (242g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (242g) buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (85g) chopped pecans
  • 1 cup (75g) flaked sweetened coconut

FOR THE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

  • 2 sticks (226g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 16 oz cream cheese (total weight 452g), softened (We used two 8 oz packages, full fat)
  • 1 teaspoon 4g vanilla extract
  • 6 to 6 ½ cups 690g to 747g powdered sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (Some bakers like to fold the pecans into the frosting. We prefer to add them to the frosted cake as decoration.)

Instructions

For the Cake

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8x2 inch pans. You can also use 9 inch pans.
  • Mix butter at medium speed until softened and smooth. Gradually add sugar, mixing on medium speed 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition until the yellow of the yolk is blended. Add Vanilla extract.
  • In a separate bowl, add flour, baking soda, and salt, whisk at least 30 seconds to blend.
  • With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture (that is 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 additions of buttermilk) After last addition, mix just until blended..
  • Fold in pecans and coconut; using a spoon or spatula until combined.
  • Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff peaks form. Using a spatula or spoon, gently fold into batter.
  • Spoon batter into three 8 or 9″ round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and cool on wire racks.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting

  • Cut the butter into slices and add to the bowl of your mixer. Beat on low to medium speed until the butter is softened and smooth.
  • Cut the cream cheese into pieces and add to the butter, beating at low to medium speed until incorporated.
  • Add the vanilla. Gradually add the powdered sugar beating on low speed until blended.
  • Increase mixing speed and beat until fluffy, approximately 1 minute, don't over beat. If beaten too long it will become very soft. If this happens, just refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • This frosting will pipe best if used while still very cool. You can make it in advance, refrigerate and when ready to use let it soften slightly (do not microwave) and remix.
  • Will frost a 3 layer 8 or 9 inch cake. Cool layers before filling and frosting.
  • We filled and frosted the cake with cream cheese frosting. Chill at any time during the decorating process to firm things up (15 minutes in the freezer or longer in the refrigerator).

Decorating the Cake

  • After the cake was completely frosted, we pressed the remaining chopped pecans around the bottom half of the cake. The traditional way to frost this cake is to stir all the pecans into the cream cheese frosting then frost the cake.

Notes

Freezing the Layers: These Italian Cream Cake layers can be wrapped in a layer or two of plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil and frozen for up to three months- they will taste as fresh as the day that they were wrapped. To thaw, move to the kitchen counter, still wrapped. After 30-45 minutes, remove from wrapping and thaw to desired amount for assembling.

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145 Comments

    1. I'm so happy to hear it! The cake looks perfect. Great choice for first layer cake- one of my favorites!

  1. Hi Paula, We have not made the recipe in a 9x13 but I think it would be fine to do so. I did not note the number of cups of batter but I think there should be 7 but I can't be sure. Seven cups are needed for a 9x13 sheet cake.

  2. This cake is heavenly. And beautiful when frosted and finished with the toasted chopped pecans around just the bottom of the cake. It was easy to make just a half batch of the cake batter using 3 small eggs. I baked it in two 8 inch round pans for 20 minutes. It was perfect, however, next time I will use two 6 inch pans for a taller cake. I halfed the frosting also and didnt use all of it which made for the perfect amount of sweetness. I may also try adding a bit of almond flavoring to the cake batter to take it to the next level.
    Thank you for this amazing recipe.

    1. Hi Vicki, Your cake looks wonderful, I am very happy you enjoyed the recipe. Thanks so much for posting your review with details of how you made the cake.

  3. 5 stars
    This cake tastes fabulous! The only thing I tweaked was reducing the amount of powdered sugar in the frosting down to 3 cups. It is still sweet with just that little bit of tang from the cream cheese.