Italian Cream Cake

Neo said it best: Woh.

Neo said it best: Woh.

I am so excited about this cake! I’m a chocolate lover for eternity, but even I’ll say that this Italian cream cake is better than a lot of chocolate cakes out there. Towering and elegant, it is just the thing for a special occasion (even if the special occasion is that the sun came out today). Italian cream cake is, in my mind, the ideal vanilla lover’s cake. It is tender and moist, with a deep vanilla flavour and buttery tones. The cake itself is not overpoweringly sweet, which makes this the perfect white cake to go with any filling you can throw at it. Or on it. Or over it!

Traditional Italian cream cake is served with cream cheese icing, so I use my beloved go-to cream cheese icing recipe (really, you can’t go wrong with this stuff. I’ve used it on red velvet cake, carrot cake, and even cheesecake, all with delicious results), which is fabulous with the Italian cream cake layers. I generally choose to keep the traditional additions of nuts (most people use walnuts or pecans) and coconut out of the cake layers themselves, as I like the smooth texture of the cake without them. I grate white chocolate and go a bit nuts chopping walnuts into very small pieces, and between each cake layer, I spread sweetened flaked coconut, the grated white chocolate, and the finely chopped walnuts. This gives not only a lovely crunch, which contrasts gorgeously with the tender cake and the creamy icing, but adds wonderful flavour and complexity. I think using salted walnuts is a breathtaking complement to the sweetness of the cake and icing, but this is an emotional decision for most. For the top of this particular cake, I spread these items onto the cream cheese icing in such a way that the walnuts were on the bottom, covered by the white chocolate and flaked coconut, to make the finished cake an imposing show of icy white. This particular cake was for a birthday, so I wanted it to look striking. The fact that the cake was for a client is also why there are no photographs of the cut cake. I took photographs of the cake assembly so that you can get a good idea of what’s going on between the sheets, as it were.

The coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts have been sprinkled atop the cream cheese icing adorning the first layer. Huzzah!

The coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts have been sprinkled atop the cream cheese icing adorning the first layer. Huzzah!

The three layers are assembled, with coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts cavorting between each layer along with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. All that need be done now is to ice the cake with more cream cheese icing, top with more coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts, and decorate with white chocolate whipped cream.

The three layers are assembled, with coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts cavorting between each layer along with a generous layer of cream cheese icing. All that need be done now is to ice the cake with more cream cheese icing, top with more coconut, white chocolate, and walnuts, and decorate with white chocolate whipped cream.

I took things a step further for this cake and iced around the top and bottom edges with white chocolate whipped cream. This is simply sweetened whipped cream that has white chocolate ganache whipped into it. The end result is a slightly thicker, richer whipped cream with a distinct white chocolate flavour. Gnarly. This stuff is so good that it’s turned two people that I know of off regular whipped cream. Once you’ve gone white chocolate whipped cream, you’ll turn up your nose at any other kind. You’ll be like a purebred Chihuahua! The cake was served with more white chocolate whipped cream on the side, and the more I think about it, the more I feel that this amazing cake needs naught but a little raspberry coulis to be served alongside the white chocolate whipped cream. Next time, my friend. Next time. Some Lindt white chocolate truffles were a fun finishing touch.

A word of caution:
The batter for traditional Italian Cream Cake is lightened by folding in beaten egg whites. Even after adding the egg whites, there doesn’t appear to be enough batter for three 9″ pans. Trust me, there is. As long as you haven’t overbeaten the egg whites, the batter will rise beautifully while baking. What was around 1/3″ high of batter inside a cake pan will rise to be almost 1 1/2″ high! We all heart Kitchen Science.

See? The cake layers rise magically from 1/4"-high wet batter to almost 1 1/2"-high rounds of moist tenderness. So gorgeously golden brown! I mourn for the lack of Italian cream cake before me.

See? The cake layers rise magically from 1/4″-high wet batter to almost 1 1/2″-high rounds of moist tenderness. So gorgeously golden brown! I mourn for the lack of Italian cream cake before me.

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Italian Cream Cake

Yield: One three-layered, 9″ cake

Ingredients:

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated & at room temperature (eggs are easiest to separate when they are at room temperature, & egg whites attain their full volume when at room temperature)
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk

For the cream cheese icing:
1 1/2 pounds (3 pkgs, 8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
3 sticks salted butter, softened
1 TBS vanilla extract
6 – 8 cups powdered sugar (add more to increase sweetness if desired)
1 – 3 TBS milk or cream, as needed, to thin consistency

For the white chocolate whipped cream:
3 cups heavy cream, separated
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup powdered sugar OR 2 – 4 TBS maple syrup

For assembly:
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped very fine (I used a food processor to chop white chocolate chips; this is not advisable, as chocolate dulls the blades)
2 cups finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Method:

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 325˚F.

Spray three round 9″ cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, line each pan with a parchment paper round (this is crucial! If you don’t line the pans, the cakes will break coming out of the pans later), and spray pans again. Set aside.

Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Cream butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on high speed. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and beat well. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating each addition only until incorporated. Do not overbeat.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters, whip egg whites until stiff but still a little soft and wet – do not beat egg whites until stiff and shiny. Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter to lighten it. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites into the batter.

Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto cooling racks and cool completely.

For the cream cheese icing:
Beat cream cheese and butter until well blended; scrape sides of bowl with spatula. Beat in vanilla. Slowly beat in sugar to avoid spatter, then increase speed and beat until well blended and completely smooth and fluffy, scraping bowl as needed. Add milk or cream, 1 TBS at a time, to thin consistency if desired.

For the white chocolate whipped cream:
Place the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, bring 1 cup of the heavy cream to a boil. When the chocolate is fully melted, remove bowl from heat and pour the boiling cream over the chocolate; let sit for 1 – 2 minutes. Stir gently with a whisk or spatula until the chocolate is smooth.

Let the chocolate sit until it reaches room temperature. The chocolate cannot be at all warm when it is added to the whipped cream.

While the white chocolate ganache is cooling, beat the remaining 2 cups of cream with the powdered sugar or maple syrup only until soft peaks form. (You will beat the cream more when the ganache is added.) Add all the white chocolate at once and continue to beat until the mixture holds firm peaks. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the cream and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Overnight is best.

Assembly:
Place one cake round, flat side down, on a serving platter. Spread a generous layer of cream cheese icing atop the cake layer. Atop the icing, sprinkle 1/3 each of the coconut, white chocolate, and nuts. Place second cake layer, flat side down, atop nuts. Spread cake layer with generous layer of cream cheese icing. Once again, atop the icing, sprinkle 1/3 each of the coconut, white chocolate, and nuts. Place final cake layer, flat side down, atop nuts. Ice entire cake generously with remaining cream cheese icing. Atop the cake, sprinkle, in this order (so that the finished cake looks completely white), the nuts, coconut, and white chocolate.

Pipe rosettes or stars of the white chocolate whipped cream around the top of the cake to disguise the edges of the sprinkled items. Pipe more rosettes or stars of the whipped cream around the bottom of the cake. Reserve the rest of the whipped cream for serving with the cake. (Trust me, you’ll want some!)

Sources: Cake layers moderately adapted from the Food Network; decoration and layering of components are original ideas

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