Italian Coconut Cream Cake

It seems to be baby week/month in my world!  This past weekend was a christening, I just had a double baby shower at work, and in a week and a half I have another christening to go to.  All this new lil sweet peas joining our world sure is reason for celebration… and cake!

One of the women for the baby shower LOVES coconut.  I am actually fascinated by how much she loves coconut… the way she talks about it, sometimes I wonder if she would trade this baby for some coconut! 🙂

In order to get her good and coconut-ed, I decided to find a really good coconut cake that would be just the ticket.  I searched and searched, but mainly what I found was either a pie or something that was a plain cake with coconut frosting.  That simply wasn’t good enough for the idea I had in mind.

Then I came across a blog that had an Italian Coconut Cream Cake, and it just sounded perfect.

Making this cake was interesting – I haven’t really worked with a lot of coconut before (I only like coconut in German Chocolate Cake or Samoas), and mixing it into batter is a bit of a challenge.  I thought I was going along swimmingly, and then I got ready to take the beater off the mixer.  That’s when I noticed the giant clumps of coconut that had stuck to the beater instead of mixing into the batter – which I then got to pick off and remix.

One thing about this cake is it is delicate – it’s similar to a chiffon cake, where you fold in egg whites at the very end and then immediately bake the cake.  I can see how this would be a very delicate process – normally it’s somewhat difficult, but adding in the coconut with its oil/fat makes it even more difficult to prevent the egg whites from collapsing.  Gentle hands, and it works out just perfectly.

When I started making this frosting, I did a typical “Kat” move and didn’t read all the ingredients.  I was in the midst of getting ready to add coconut to the cream cheese frosting and then saw the line below and said “Huh.  Walnuts.  Interesting.”  I had no walnuts.  What I did have, however, was pecans.  Substitution is awesome 🙂

After making all these pieces, though, I realized that nothing in this had a very coconut-y flavor in my opinion.  The frosting was very good, but tastes mostly like cream cheese.  The cake was good, but didn’t have a strong coconut flavor either.  (Which is not surprising, because seriously, how strong a flavor is coconut?)  So I decided to do my best to fix it when I was constructing the cake.

Fix 1: When I went to Whole Foods a month or so ago, I kind of went a little crazy in the baking aisle and bought every flavor of extract they carried (they carry a lot, in case you’re interested!).  Lucky for me, once of the extracts I now have is coconut extract.  I immediately decided to mix this in with my simple syrup I would use to soak the cake layers.

Fix 2: I had some coconut leftover, and decided to toast it and incorporate it somehow.  Toasted coconut is yum-meee, and adds a nice texture to anything (I think).  Toasting also brings out the coconut flavor, along with a slight nuttiness which is delicious.  After toasting the coconut, I let it cool, and then put it on top of the frosting in between each layer as I stacked the cake.

Fix 3: After filling, stacking, and coating the cake I realized I had a problem.  While the cream cheese coconut pecan frosting was good, it was definitely NOT something that should be placed under fondant.  Can you say lumpy?  I had a little leftover cream cheese, so I made a small batch of plain cream cheese frosting, but instead of adding vanilla, I added coconut extract.  That stuff was GOOD.  And it helps to give me a more even coat of frosting.

So with these three fixes, I think the cake ended up absolutely delicious, and this is coming from a non-coconut-lover.  The toasted coconut gave such a good flavor, and the cream cheese frosting was just so amazing.

A side note though – cream cheese frosting is NOT what you should use if you are going to cover a cake in fondant, which unfortunately I found out the hard way.  Cream cheese frosting just never really hardens, so it’s very difficult to drape over, it just kind of squishes out everywhere, so you can’t get very good edges or anything to be truly smooth.  I did my best, but still wasn’t very please with the results.

Regardless – I would DEFINITELY make this cake again – but I would recommend all my edits for making it more coconut-y! 🙂

Italian Coconut Cream Cake (adapted from Honey and Butter)

  • 4 oz butter (1 stick)
  • 7.5 oz vegetable oil
  • 7 oz sugar
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 oz flaked sweetened coconut
  • 8.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz buttermilk, shaken
  • 2 Tbsp sugar, for coating

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour two 8″ pans (or spray with Pam w/ Flour), then place a parchment circle in the bottom of each pan.

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.  Set aside

Cream the butter, oil, and sugar until it gets light and fluffy (this is a bit of a weird direction, because it just looks wet and never really gets “fluffy”.  Just use your best judgement.)  Add the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla and coconut.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and buttermilk to the batter, starting and ending with the dry.

Fold in the egg whites in thirds.  Move quickly but do not overmix the batter – the whipped egg whites help the cake rise.

Pour batter evenly into the two pans, then sprinkle the top of each pan with 1 Tbsp of sugar.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Remove pans from oven and let cool in pans for 10-15 minutes, then carefully flip out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely.

If using at a later date, let cakes cool out of pan for around 10 minutes, then wrap in plastic wrap 3 times and place in freezer for future use.

Cream Cheese Coconut Pecan Frosting

  • 16 oz cream cheese (2 packages)
  • 4 oz butter (1 stick)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 lb confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup flaked sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter until it gets smooth.  Add the vanilla and the confectioners sugar and beat until light and fluffy (around 3-4 minutes).

With mixer on low, stir in coconut and pecans.  Set aside until ready for use.


Toast approximately 1 – 1 1/2 cups of coconut in a pan on the stove over medium-low heat, stirring constantly.  Set aside to cool.

Trim the top of each cake to create an even surface.  Cut each cake in half so you end up with four layers of cake.

Soak first layer of cake with coconut simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar boiled until the sugar is dissolved, plus 1 tsp coconut extract).  Spread with the cream cheese coconut pecan frosting.  Top with 1/3 of the toasted coconut, then with next layer of cake. Repeat with remaining layers.

After the top layer of cake is on, soak with coconut simple syrup and place in refrigerator for around 30 minutes, just to set.  Then coat with the remaining frosting, and refrigerate one more time.

If you would like to have a clean frosting on the outside, use my cream cheese frosting recipe, and substitute coconut extract for the vanilla, and use as the final coating of frosting on this cake.  Sprinkle with coconut or toasted coconut as desired (or be miserable like me and attempt to cover with fondant – your choice!)


2 thoughts on “Italian Coconut Cream Cake

  1. I just am so impressed by how good you are with your cake decorating! I seriously want to come by next time to watch (and eat any “mistakes” like, oops, sorry, Kat, my elbow slipped on that sheet of frosting, don’t worry, I’ll eat it).

  2. Oh my gosh, does this sound amazing!
    By the way, if you were to compile a book of baking stories, complete with mishaps, I would thoroughly enjoy reading it!

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