This lightened up version of Italian Cream Cake has been on my list to make since I first discovered it years ago.
That was back in the 90’s, which, in my head was…like…10 years ago. The fact that we are in the 17th year of a new century still boggles my mind.
The fact that I’ve held on to the book (and the magazine) that held this recipe is kind of amazing. The fact that I could still find the recipe in two places is even more impressive. Although, now, in the age of the internet, you can pretty much find anything as long as you can remember some details about it.
I have bookshelves full of magazines and cookbooks that would boggle your mind. (Yes…I’m using “boggle” again. I figure if my mind is boggled, yours might as well be too.)
I have always been obsessed with cook books and cooking magazines. To this day, it’s hard for me to browse through one in the grocery line or book store without having a stern conversation with myself that I absolutely, positively, do not need another one.
But I love to read them, so sometimes I win the argument and sometimes I lose. Sometimes I’m in a store with my sister and she goes ahead and buys it for me, “forcing” me to indulge ;) Big sisters can be like that…
Alright, back to the cake. I was looking for something to make for Easter, so I thought, at long last, I’d check this baby off my list. Let me start by saying that I’ve never had an Italian Cream Cake. Apparently it’s all about coconut and pecans and fluffy whipped egg whites and cream cheese frosting.
In some ways, it’s a little like carrot cake without the carrots, if you’re the type who likes nuts in their carrot cake. (That would be me, although all kinds of carrot cake are welcome here.)
Since this is a lightened up version, there’s less eggs, less nuts and no added coconut, just coconut extract. I didn’t have coconut extract and a few hours before I started to bake, I almost completely changed the recipe into something that was not Italian Cream Cake at all. My husband nixed my idea and went to the store to pick up the extract for me.
The cake is pretty straight forward. Whip up the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks. Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients. Fold in pecans. Fold in egg whites. Done.
Why do we alternate adding the wet and the dry ingredients? Keeps the batter fluffy. After all, we’ve spent time whipping air into the butter, we don’t want to dump all the wet and dry ingredients in at once. You’ll end up with a denser cake. No bueno.
To add even more lightness, we fold in egg whites. I know this is an extra step. I’m going to tell you that this is just like all of the times that I tell you to embrace cutting butter into flour for biscuits and scones. Egg whites whip up pretty easily. Embrace it.
It will be easier to embrace it if you have a clean bowl though. Egg whites don’t like fat. So, unless you’re positive that your bowl is pristeen, wipe it and your beaters with vinegar to insure there are no traces of fat.
Aaaaaand, don’t over beat the whites. Start on the low speed of your mixer. Let the egg whites get foamy. Increase the speed and watch them start to become opaque. Increase the speed and beat until you get stiff peaks.
You’ll need to check periodically to catch them at the right stage. Once you’ve reached soft peaks, when you lift the beater from the whites and the tips gently fold over, you’re close. Time to be vigilant with those egg whites. For if you pass the stiff peak stage, your egg whites will break and there will be no saving them.
Then you’ll fold the fluffy egg whites into your batter. It will lighten it up and loosen it up. Folding isn’t stirring. It’s not aggressive. I cut through the middle of the batter with my spatula and then around one of the sides like I’m making the letter “D.”
Then, I turn the bowl and repeat, cutting through the batter, sometimes bringing the batter at the bottom of the bowl up and over the top, then cutting back in to make another “D.”
Fold until there are no more streaks of egg whites remaining. Take your time and be gentle with your batter. Then divide it evenly among 3 (9 inch) cake pans.
(By the way, if you do the math, you’re going to have 4 egg yolks leftover. I made lemon curd with 3 of them. And I have a recipe coming up that uses that lemon curd. Stay tuned!)
They’re going to bake fairly quickly since the layers are thinner. Keep an eye on it and check it at the earliest time. You can always bake it for a minute or two more, but you can’t turn back time and bake it for less.
Now….the frosting! The original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting. I skipped that and used my forever and ever favorite Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting. It’s so good that you must try it even if you don’t decide to bake this cake. Hands down, it’s everyone’s favorite. Try it and you’ll see.
I made one batch of the frosting. I could have doubled it and had much thicker filling and much thicker outside frosting, but I didn’t think that was necessary. And, the cake recipe is lightened up. No need to cancel all of that lightening with extra frosting. For me, it was plenty. If you’re a frosting lover, go ahead and double it.
I did actually add a few nuts on the border for decoration and to punctuate the whole pecan flavor going on inside the cake. So, yes, there was a little canceling out of the lighter version in that addition and the extra whipped cream in the frosting.
But who’s counting? At the end of day the cake was absolutely delicious! The cake was moist and flavorful. The nuts weren’t overpowering and the coconut extract added a wonderful subtle flavor without all the coconut texture that turns some people off.
Of course, the frosting was a perfect, creamy, not too sweet, companion to this delicious Italian Cream Cake. I loved it. Everyone loved it. And now that I’ve made it, I’m kicking myself for not making it sooner.
Time flies and before you know it, we’re going to be in the 2020’s (!!!) Do as I say, not as I do. Don’t wait.
Make the cake!
Italian Cream Cake
For the cake:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup low fat buttermilk room temperature
- 1 teaspoon butter extract
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup 1 stick salted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 egg yolks room temperature
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- 6 egg whites room temperature
For the frosting:
- chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray only the bottoms of 3 (9 inch round) pans with cooking spray. Line the bottoms of pans with parchment. Spray the parchment with cooking spray and dust with flour. Set aside.
Whisk flour and baking soda together until combined. Set aside.
Stir buttermilk and all the extracts together. Set aside.
Beat butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well combined and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture (1/3 of the flour, 1/2 the buttermilk, 1/3 flour, 1/2 the buttermilk, 1/3 flour.)
Fold in chopped pecans. Set batter aside.
In a clean bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Do not over beat. Gently fold egg whites into cake batter until no visible streaks of whites remain.
Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally.
Bake for 18-23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then loosen edges and turn out of pans onto cooling racks.
Once cakes are completely cool, make Whipped Cream Cream Cheese Frosting. Fill and frost. Decorate bottom of cake with additional chopped pecans, if desired.
Store cake in refrigerator.
*Cake should be stored in the refrigerator. I like it served at room temperature for best flavor, but some in my family preferred it cold.
*You'll need 6 eggs for this recipe. You'll use 6 whites, but only 2 yolks. You'll have 4 yolks leftover. When I have yolks leftover, I always make lemon curd. That will use up 3 of them.
*This cake isn't heavily filled and frosted, but it was plenty of frosting to complement the cake for us. If you want thick layers of filling and a thicker layer of frosting on the outside of the cake, just make one and a half of or double the frosting recipe.
*Room temperature is important for the eggs, butter and buttermilk. The ingredients will incorporate into the batter easier and room temperature egg whites are easier to whip up.
*The bowl and beaters that you use to whip your egg whites must be free of any fat or it will inhibit the egg whites from whipping to stiff peaks. To be safe, you can clean your bowl and beaters with vinegar to insure they are clean and ready to go.
*Be careful not to over beat your egg whites or they will break. If you over beat them, they can not be saved. Start whipping them on low speed until foamy, then gradually increase the speed until you've just reached stiff peaks.
*Toasted pecans add greater depth of flavor. If you choose to toast your pecans before using, do it in advance so they have time to completely cool before you add them to the batter or use them to decorate. You don't want hot pecans to melt your ingredients.
Cake recipe adapted from Cooking Light Five Star Recipes
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