Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dinner Party: Italian Cream Cake

I am a firm believer that one cannot have a party without dessert. :)

This cake was the crown jewel of my dinner party. All things considered, it turned out quite beautiful... as a very novice cake decorator, my frosting didn't turn out quite as smooth as I had hoped, but it still made a pretty centerpiece for the table, nonetheless. And that's just the outside. The cake itself was light and melt-in-your-mouth moist with a mature, sweet flavor thanks to the toasted pecans and coconut that went into the batter. And while I was afraid that the cream cheese frosting would be too rich, it was the perfect compliment to the nutty, decadent cake... creamy and sweet without overpowering the other flavors in the cake. The three layers were pretty to look at once it was cut too, and gave a little testament to the amount of work than went into it, as well.

Italian Cream Cake
from Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

5 eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans toasted
1 recipe Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe to follow)
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Allow egg yolks, egg whites, and butter to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes (butter a little longer if necessary to ensure that it is soft). Meanwhile grease and flour three 9x1.5 inch round cake pans (if you only have 1 or 2 you can easily bake in batches... just let the pans cool in between). In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking soda; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350. In an extra-large bowl, beat butter and shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until well combined. Add the egg yolks and vanilla; beat on medium speed until combined. Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition, just until combined. Fold in coconut and the 1/2 finely chopped pecans.
3. Thoroughly wash the beaters. In a medium mixing bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold about 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten. Fold in remaining whites, being sure not to overmix the batter (or all of the work of beating those egg whites will have been for nothing). Spread batter evenly into prepared pans. 
4. Bake about 25 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cake layers from pans, and cool thoroughly on wire racks. 
5.Place one cake layer, bottom side up, on a serving plate. You may wish to put strips of parchment paper under the cake, which can easily be removed after decorating, to keep your cake plate clean. Spread about 1/2 cup cream cheese frosting on the top, and spring with 1/4 cup of the chopped toasted pecans. Place the second layer on top of this, round side up, and repeat. Place the remaining cake layer on top, rounded side up, and spread top and sides with the remaining frosting. Be careful not to tear the cake and to avoid getting crumbs in the frosting. Press remaining nuts into the frosting around the outside of the cake. Store, covered, in the refrigerator up to 2 days. 

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 1/2 to 6 cups powdered sugar

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.

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