*** One of my favorite cakes to order a slice for dessert when we dine out - and also an easy cake to make at home!
From Denny: Italian Cream Cake is a favorite at our house and we often make it for the holidays or birthday occasions. Children and adults both love this cake. Children love the coconut and adults love the cream cheese icing and pecans.
But then we Southerners do so love our sweets - and shamelessly! :) Southern food expert, John Egerton, wrote a thing or two about this love of sweets in the South in his book, "Southern Foods." He says, "The celebrated Southern sweet tooth is no myth."
He goes on to comment that one of the reasons that Southerners so love their desserts as an ending to a meal: "It's a sweet conclusion to a meal and is like a happy ending to a book or a fairytale - a way of delaying or denying harsh reality. Sweets are akin to pleasure, to optimism, to a romantic view of life — and such an outlook has often seemed in keeping with the regional character."
Throughout Southern history economic times have been hard, especially during and after the Civil War. It was that time period that spawned the need for sweets to alleviate the stresses of everyday life. Southern cooks felt if they could put a smile on everyone's face with just a dessert it was a good day. The expressions of pure delight were often contagious, bringing joy back into the household.
Some of the favorite desserts over the decades have been peach ice cream, coconut cake, lemon custard pie or in the past few years the rise of sweet potato pie. There is just something about the words "sugar" and "sweet" that acted like a catalyst to encourage hope in the most desperate of times.
Egertpm said, "For showmanship and flair, nothing is more spectacular than a big four-layer cake." We celebrate family in the South and nothing says family gatherings like birthdays, anniversaries, the birth of a new family member, a job promotion, that first job for a new college graduate. We bake a simple cake in grand style like this one and celebrate a heavenly slice of that beautiful cake over a steaming cup of hot black coffee or unsweeetened iced tea to balance all that sweetness.
What's funny about this cake is it's name. Food historians have not been able to track down the origin of the name as it is not related at all to Italian cuisine. It was originally known as "Delmonico Cake." Probably, some Italian-American was known for her cake, renamed it and the name stuck over the years.
Apparently, many versions of this cake call for a combination of shortening and butter. Hydrogenated shortening just isn't healthy for your arteries but clarified butter is just fine. Regular butter with the milk fats still in it is still better than shortening as your body is at least able to break it down eventually. Shortening does not break down but rather just clogs the body. Shortening got kicked off the healthy list a long time ago so be aware of that when you are using older cookbooks that list it in a recipe.
Here's why shortening was originally used in cakes, from "Cookwise" by food chemist Shirley O. Corriher: "The fats in a cake tenderize a cake by holding tiny air bubbles that are enlarged by baking powder and baking soda beaten in during the creaming or mixing of the cake.
"Shortening has an advantage over other solid fats in that it already contains millions of fine bubbles to aid in leavening. Shortenings are, by volume, about 12 percent fine nitrogen bubbles. This means that shortening will make a lighter cakes. Though shortening produces a nice cake, there is nothing like the taste of real butter, so butter is normally the fat of choice of fine cake bakers."
From "All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking" cookbook: Be careful when beating the cream cheese icing. Over beating the cream cheese will cause it to break down and make the icing too soft to hold its shape. Don't soften the cream cheese before beating to minimize the chance of this happening."
This cake should be kept in the refrigerator after serving, assuming any of it is actually left after the hungry hordes get a hold of it!
Italian Cream Cake
From: Carol Anne Blitzer from a recipe in “River Road Recipes II: A Second Helping,” published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge. Carol kicked out the shortening in the original recipe and substituted butter and oil. Canola oil is a good choice since it has no cholesterol and also is neutral in flavor, not harming the taste of this cake. Also, a great oil to use with chocolate as it takes a back seat, not overpowering the taste.
5 eggs, separated
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola oil is neutral in taste and has no cholesterol)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup angel flake coconut
1/2 tsp. butter flavoring
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Grease and flour three (9-inch) cake pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside.
Cream sugar, butter and oil. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition.
Stir soda into buttermilk. Add buttermilk alternately with flour to creamed mixture. Fold in coconut.
Gently fold egg whites into mixture. Add flavorings.
Pour into prepared cake pans. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, turning pans gently about halfway through the baking process. Do not overbake layers.
Remove from oven. Let layers cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Place layers on racks and let cool completely before icing.
Cream Cheese Icing:
2 (8-oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
2 sticks butter
2 lbs. confectioners’ sugar
3 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 tsp. butter flavoring
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Cream cheese and butter. Beat in sugar gradually. Add pecans and flavorings.
2. Ice between layers and on top and sides of cake. Refrigerate cake.
*** Cake Photo by kimberlykv @ flickr
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