Work is so engrossing for me that, when my Sweet Boy is away, I often realize I am sitting in total darkness, the sun has set, the black sky has swallowed up the day, and the moon has appeared out my window. The television set in my neighbor’s window flickers across the way and lights up the bare branches as they sway in the wind. It’s time to cobble together a dinner for one, tonight tuna with olive oil and mayonnaise, picholine and nicoise olives, little cubes of feta, whole pink peppercorns, thyme, and a little lemon zest. And then to bake a cake, for when the house is full and lively again.
This cake has made so many appearances at our table in the last 14 years since I first made it that I couldn’t count them. My friend Diane made it for my 30th birthday party and shared her recipe, but it always brings to mind my Honey Girl now, who loves it best. And since I’m missing her and anticipating our quiet week together in Ireland, I’ve been thinking about it, and about her smiling face across the table, at all of her ages, eating it, with and without front teeth. This is for you, my Honey Girl.
Italian Cream Cake
Yield: one three-layer 8-inch cake, about ten to twelve servings
From Dianne Libero, Tokyo, 1998
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. baking soda
5 eggs, separated
½ c. unsalted butter
2 c. sugar
½ c. shortening
2 c. all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur.)
1 t. vanilla extract
7 oz. angel flake coconut
1 c. pecans, chopped (optional)
additional coconut or white chocolate shavings or whole pecans for garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Lightly butter and flour three 8” cake pans.
- Mix the buttermilk and the baking soda in a small bowl and set it aside.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy and set them aside.
- In another large bowl, cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.
- Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating each thoroughly.
- To the butter and sugar, add the flour and the buttermilk alternatively, mixing gently.
- Add the vanilla, the coconut, and the pecans if you are using them.
- Fold the egg whites in gently with a spatula as not to deflate them.
- Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and smooth the tops.
- Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean, about 35 minutes. I rotate the position of the cakes halfway through baking so that they bake evenly. This cake is incredibly tender and moist, a real charmer, when it’s perfectly baked, so don’t wait for a perfectly clean toothpick. You don’t want wet batter, but don’t be afraid of a few moist crumbs clinging.
- When the cakes are cool, make the frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
12 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
¾ c. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ pounds confectioner’s sugar, sifted or whisked to remove any lumps
1 ½ T. vanilla
- Beat all of the ingredients together until smooth and creamy.
- To frost the cake, place a dab of frosting on a cake plate and place the first cake layer on top, flattest side up.
- Smear about ½ c. of frosting on the layer and spread it evenly. An offset spatula works best here, though any knife will do.
- Continue stacking and frosting the next two layers, always placing the flattest side of the cake up.
- When your stack is finished, put a very thin layer of frosting on the top and sides of the cake and place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Keep the remaining frosting at room temperature.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator and frost the sides generously.
- You may cover the cake with coconut or with shavings of white chocolate or stud it with whole pecans if you wish. A combination is also nice.
- The cake should be refrigerated. You may bring it towards room temperature before serving if you wish, but don’t let it sit out too long. It cuts best if it’s cool.