A few years ago, my friend Michelle struck upon the idea of combining her birthday party and house warming (for the newly completed living and bedroom wings) into one gigantic celebration. As good friends will do, I offered to take the lead on food preparation, so birthday girl would be unencumbered to fully enjoy her own party.
As the guest list grew, and the menu became more elaborate (because I just can’t help myself), I quickly realized that I needed assistance. As good sisters will do, Linda purchased a plane ticket, and my mind was put to rest. With Linda at my side, wielding kitchen utensils, and lending her expertise, I had no further concerns about holding up my side of the food bargain.
The party became an extended weekend of fun from advance preparation through successful implementation to the inevitable morning after, where we three ladies happily chatted about the more entertaining aspects of the party while we traipsed around our favorite antique fair. We discussed how the guests marveled at the newly completed construction and oohed and ahhed over the plentiful food, and in particular the admiration bestowed upon the gorgeous cake, the centerpiece of the dessert buffet.
One overly friendly guest loved the cake so much that after Linda finished portioning and serving the cake, he offered to lick every last sticky frosted crumb from Linda’s fingers. In case wondering minds want to know, Linda politely declined. The memory still induces laughter.
Start a new tradition by making the Italian Cream Cake for your next special occasion. To be forewarned is to be forearmed - you may want to decide in advance where you stand on finger-licking-good offers.
Italian Cream Cake
Save yourself last minute hustle (or is that hassle) by making the cake layers in advance. Unadorned cake layers freeze beautifully for several weeks or up to a month. Wrap each layer well in foil. The morning of the celebration, unwrap the cake layers and defrost on a rack for about an hour before proceeding with the recipe from step seven.
1/4 pound salted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup canola oil
2 cups granulated sugar (reserve 1 tablespoon)
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature, divided
4 cups flaked or shredded sweetened coconut, divided
1 cup walnut pieces, chopped
6 tsps amaretto liqueur
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 pound salted butter at room temperature
2 pounds powdered sugar, divided
1/3 cup amaretto liqueur
1. Open the oven door and verify that the bottom rack is placed in the lower third of the oven, near the middle. The top rack should rest in the upper third of the oven with enough room to easily slide in the cake pans below. Set a big cookie sheet on the top rack to act as a "shield" which will help prevent the cakes from over-browning during baking. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottoms of three 8-inch cake pans with parchment; set aside.
2. On a cookie sheet, toast walnuts for about 10 minutes until fragrant, tossing once or twice with a spatula. Remove from oven; let cool.
3. On a cookie sheet, toast ½ cup coconut for about 5 minutes until barely browned, tossing once or twice with a spatula. Remove from oven; let cool.
4. Separate eggs into individual bowls - yolks into a small bowl and whites into a large bowl. To the reserved yolks, with a fork, beat in ¼ cup buttermilk; set aside. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form when the beater is raised. Sprinkle on the reserved one tablespoon sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form; careful not to over beat.
5. In bowl of electric mixer, add flour and sugar; aerate on low speed for 15 seconds. Add butter, oil, and 3/4 cup buttermilk; mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened. In a small cup, using a spoon, mix together baking soda and vanilla, add to mixer. Increase to medium speed and beat for 1½ minutes to aerate and develop structure. Scrape down sides and add reserved egg yolk mixture, in two additions, blending until mixed. With a spatula, fold in beaten egg whites. Gently fold in 3½ cups coconut and toasted walnuts.
6. Coat cake pans and parchment with oil spray. Divide batter evenly between cake pans and level with spatula. Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Rotate pans after 15 minutes for even baking. Remove the cakes to a rack and let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and remove parchment liners. Turn the cakes right-side up and cool to room temperature on racks. While cakes are baking, prepare frosting.
7. For the frosting, beat cream cheese in a bowl until smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine sugar and butter, mix well. Add cream cheese, mix well. Add vanilla extract and Amaretto and beat until smooth. Remove about one quarter of the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a medium decorating tip; reserve for final decorating flourishes and refrigerate until ready to use. The remaining frosting in the bowl may need to be refrigerated for 15-30 minutes until it reaches spreading consistency.
8. On a cake plate, dab a quarter size dollop of frosting in the middle of the plate and place first layer, flat side down, centered on the plate. The dollop of frosting will help anchor the cake to the plate. Slide in four pieces of wax paper between the cake and the plate (to protect the plate from frosting smudges.) Drizzle cake layer with 2 teaspoons Amaretto and follow with a thick layer of frosting.
9. Place second layer, flat side down. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons Amaretto and again spread a thick layer of frosting.
10. Place third layer, flat side up. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons Amaretto. Although it is not absolutely necessary, we recommend applying a "crumb coat" – a very thin, smooth layer of frosting - to the top and sides of the cake; refrigerate until stable, about 30-45 minutes. Once the cake feels firm, apply the rest of the frosting to the top and sides with a swirling motion. Decorate top with toasted coconut. Apply ground walnuts around the sides, if desired. When frosting is set, gently remove wax paper. With the reserved frosting in the pastry bag, decorate around the bottom edge of the cake, and the top, as desired.
11. To set the cake and meld the flavors, refrigerate until an hour or two before serving. At this point, if you wish, embellish the cake further with pesticide free flowers and leaves. Whatever you use, make sure it is edible. For example, the leaves and petals of poinsettia and oleander are poisonous. Lovely choices are pansies, roses and orchids. Pansies are fragile, roses are long lasting, and orchids are hardy. Complement the blooms with ivy and citrus leaves, if desired. Filigree leaves, available from cake supply stores, are a gorgeous and unique accent. Serve the delicious cake simply at room temperature or with ice cream, preferably homemade.