img_5726My wonderful sister gave me a stack of beautiful baking books for Christmas.  In the weeks since Christmas I have been avidly prerusing them, making notes, making pages and making lists of which cakes I want to make out of which books.  One of the books is Anne Byrns, American Cake.  It is a wonderful book which is divided into eras, then the cakes are described and histories given for the cakes before the recipes are laid out.  It is a wonderful book which is well worth reading even if you aren’t going to make a single one of the cakes.

img_5729As I was going through this book, in the last chapter I came across this recipe for Italian Cream cake.  Not only is it a particular favorite of mine but it made me pause for several moments and tear up.  I don’t know if it was the suddeness of my dads passing so close to the holiday and then being back home with my family for Christmas but this cake reminded me so much of my mother that I could feel her presence in the room with me.  My mom used to make a version of this cake, which she called Italian Love cake.  This isn’t exactly like her version but it certainly is good and it was close enough to conger her spirit to me.


The cake is easy to prepare.  Watch the cakes closely while they are baking because one minute they will look as though they aren’t even close to being done and the next minute they are finished.  The cake layers have a slightly dense crumb and are incredibly moist so you will need to exercise care when assembling the cake as to not break the layers.  All of it is filled and frosted with a wonderful cream cheese frosting studded with toasted pecans.   In spite of all this, the cake is surprisingly light, not at all cloyingly sweet and loaded with flavor.



8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature,  separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans


1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 to 4 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
Dash of salt
Extra sweetened flaked coconut as garnish, if desired


  1. For the cake, place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 3250F. Grease and flour three 9 inch round cake pans. Shake out the excess flour, and set the pans aside.
  1. Place the butter and shortening in a large mixing bowl, and blend withan electric mixer on high speed until creamy, 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar, blending on medium speed. Add the egg yolks, one at a time,beating just until combined. Add the vanilla and combine.
  1. Sift the flour and baking soda in a small bowl, and sift to combine well. Spoon a third of the flour mixture into the butter mixture and blend on low, then add 1/2 cup of the buttermilk and blend. Add another third the flour mixture, then the rest of the buttermilk, blending, then the rest of the flour mixture. Fold in the coconut and pecans just until combined. Set aside.
  1. Place the s egg whites in a large mixing bowl, and beat with clean beaters on high speed until stiff peaks form, 4 minutes. Fold the beaten whites into the batter until the whites are well combined. Divide the batter between the 3 pans, and smooth the tops. Place the pans in the oven.
  1. Bake until the cakes are golden brown and just pull away from the sides of the pans, 22 to 25 minutes. Remove the pans to a wire rack to cool for ten minutes, then run a knife around the edges. Shake the layers gently, then invert onto the rack right side up to cool completely, 30 minutes. Leave the oven on.
  1. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Place the 1/4 cup nuts in a small pan in the oven to toast for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Place the butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy, 1 minute. Add the vanilla and half of the confectioners’ sugar, beating on medium until combined. Add another cup of sugar and the salt and blend on medium-high until combined and light. Add the remaining sugar as needed, and beat on medium-high to lighten the frosting Fold in the cooled toasted nuts.
  1. To assemble the cake, place 1 cooled layer on a cake stand and cover with 3/4 cup of frosting, spread to the edges. Place a second layer on top, and spread it with 3/4 cup of frosting. Place the third layer on top, and add 1 to 1 1/2 cups frosting to the top of the cake, spreading it decoratively across the top. Use the remaining frosting to frost the sides of the cake, using smooth, clean strokes. Pat extra coconut on top of the cake for garnish, if desired.