I’ve written this post before in different words. Around the very same subject—cake. Making cake is a religious experience for me. Why, I’m not exactly sure. But it takes me to a place in my mind that dinner can never touch. It reminds me that we’re more alike than we think. Which is really important when things feel mostly polarized.
We traveled the whole summer long. I think between Kev and I, we’ve seen nearly every extended family member on both sides, twice. We’ve laughed, reminisced, had too many glasses of wine, and argued. Argued about the things that make us different. Like politics and religion. Like poverty, gender, and race. All topics that have the capacity to worse than divide us, to sever. Despite it all, I believe those conversations are deeply important to have, especially in mixed company.
During one of those trips, a trip to Texas, my sister and I made the wedding cakes for my brother’s wedding. It was there, between the tulle, wood-planked walls, and 230 guests that I remembered we are more alike than we think. At least in a room where there’s cake.
“Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side…
I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.”
—Maya Angelou, as seen most recently on the iPhone commercial
They cut the cake, fed each other, and almost as if on cue, everyone flocked across the room towards the cut slices. Their slices. The slices disappeared as fast as people came back to say thank you. People came back. To say thank you, even. We are more alike, my friends, especially between the first and last bite of a good cake. Between the bewitching hours with a newborn. Between the anger and acceptance phase of grieving. Between the aisles of the grocery store and at the gas station pump. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.
This Italian Cream Cake recipe could possibly bring about world peace. Between testing, making it for the wedding, and making it again for the blog, I’ve probably made it 15 times over the summer. I started with Cake Paper Party’s recipe and adapted it for our needs. She did all the hard work on this recipe—like pulling out the shortening and un-separating the eggs. Thank you forever, Summer!
Still, this cake takes a bit of work and a couple of power tools—requiring both a stand mixer and hand mixer. I thought for sure we’d blow a fuse while my sister and I made synchronized cakes, with two stand mixers and hand mixers running at once. The cake gods were on our side. (Speaking of the wedding cakes, I may do a full out post on how we pulled off the cakes if of interest. Long story short, we made a ton of sheet cakes for cutting. We faked the bride’s cake with decorated foam layers and a real top layer for cutting. We never would have been able to pull off a stable Italian Cream wedding cake.)
About this cake—it’s light yet rich with a hint of coconut. But not the over-sweetened coconut of your childhood memory. I’ve removed the nuts because I’ve never cared for the disruption of texture in a delicate bite of cake. I’d much prefer it on the top as a garnish, for easy removal if you wish. The frosting is light yet rich as well. I’ve used the sturdy cream cheese frosting recipe. It pipes and hold romantic swoops. It’s one part miracle. Despite the extra work and tools, this cake is so worth it. In a whole lot of ways, it’s a lot like marriage. And if you know what I’m talking about, we are more alike than you may think.
- 5 large eggs
- 2 c. pure cane sugar, divided
- 1 stick of unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. neutral tasting oil
- 2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 c. unsweetened, fine-shred coconut
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 c. buttermilk (Kalona 2% is my absolute favorite)
- 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
- Sturdy Cream Cheese Recipe
- Prep the ingredients. Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare cake pans by cutting parchment to size to fit the base of the pans. Using a paper towel, pour a bit of oil onto it and rub it around the inside edge of the pan. Pour in a bit of flour at tap it around the edges until evenly and lightly coated. Discard the rest. Place in the cut parchment. Set prepared pans aside. Genoise—Into a large bowl, add the eggs and 1 cup of the sugar. Take out the hand mixer and set aside. Creaming—Into a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the remaining cup of sugar and the stick of butter. Measure out the oil and set aside. Dry—In a medium bowl, add flour, coconut, soda, and kosher salt. Whisk to combine. Set aside. Wet—In a liquid measuring cup, measure out the buttermilk. Add extract to the mixture. Set aside.
- Turn the stand mixer on to medium-low and cream together the butter and sugar. Let that continue to do its thing. Meanwhile, make the genoise. Using a hand mixer beat the eggs and sugar on high until doubled in size and very pale in color, about 5 minutes. The color will move from yellow, to pale yellow, to barely yellow, almost white. When you pull your beaters through the mixture, ribbons will indent then smooth on the surface almost immediately. Set aside and check on the creaming mixture. When the butter and sugar are sufficiently combined, mix in the oil until evenly combined, using a spatula to wipe down the sides.
- Get the dry and wet ingredients. With the mixer on low, add the dry and wet ingredients a little at a time, quickly alternating between the two. This should take about 1 minute. Once combined, wipe down the sides with a spatula and beat the mixture on medium-high for 10 seconds.
- Get the genoise. With the stand mixer on low, slowly pour it into the batter. Once poured in, turn off the mixer and remove bowl from the stand. Using a spatula, fold the mixture together until evenly combined. For a good fold, firmly pull the spatula about 1/3 of the way around the edge before scooping through the bottom and then on to the top. No need to be gentle here. The batter is ready when everything is evenly combined.
- Evenly distribute batter into the cake pans. Bake for 25-33 minutes depending on the size of the pan. When the cake is ready, it will begin pulling away from the sides of the pan. When you lightly press on the center of the cake, it will feel semi-firm and spring back. Remove and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before removing.
- Run a very thin knife around the edges to loosen. When you shake the cake pan back and forth, it shouldn't stick to the sides. Carefully remove the cake onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the frosting. Once the cake is completely cooled, frost the cake, first removing the parchment paper. To ice the cake as pictured, add a little more than 1/3 of the frosting to the first layer. Smooth to a level plane. Top with the remaining layer. Add the same amount of frosting to the top layer and roughly level it. With the remaining frosting, add dollops around the sides of the cake. Smooth with a spatula. Finally, smooth the frosting on the top or pull swoops into it. Garnish as you wish. I did more flaked coconut and crushed pecan. Best served next day. Store uncovered at room temperature on the counter for up to 3 days.