Italian Cream Cake
If I had known how much spoiling I was going to get today, I wouldn't have dreaded my birthday so much! Sigmund and the girls overwhelmed me with a stack of delicious books, anti-ageing skin care products (should I be offended?), a special dinner away with friends and a pair of diamond earrings. What a way to ease the pain of January! I also got lovely cards, funny cards and a few slightly rude cards . . . which, nevertheless, made me snort with laughter.
Two of my favorites are:
My idea of housework is
to sweep the room with a glance
Inside me lives a skinny woman
crying to get out.
But I can usually shut the bitch up
This last sentiment (oh yes, the truth does hurt) from one of my walking partners . . .
As with so many things in life, it is tough to maintain the proper balance between exercise and baked goods. On my birthday, I don't even try. Let me eat cake is my mantra.
For some reason, this year I had a yen for Italian Cream Cake. I hadn't made one in years, partly because mine never tastes quite as good as my grandmother's always did. When I was a child, it was my favorite cake -- and it made a perennial appearance at birthdays, especially the one I shared with my grandfather. I was the first grandchild to be born, on both sides of the family, and it was truly the catbird seat. My grandfather was the rather stern father of two boys, but he was a loving, indulgent grandfather to me. As far as I can tell, I got the biggest portion of his sweetness.
My grandfather had a notable sweet tooth, and I particularly remember how much he loved cookies. My grandmother always had freshly baked ones in a jar on the counter, and he would come into the kitchen and pull out a handful. (He had unusually large hands and a really efficient metabolism.) Whether you believe in nature, nurture or astrology, you can see that the cookie problem is really not my fault!
As far as I know, Italian Cream Cake is a Texas/Southern confection and nothing like that cake with ricotta cheese and candied fruits that sometimes goes by the same name. I searched all of my cookbooks, and could only find it one other place -- a church cookbook. Emeril Lagasse did a show on Deep South Desserts, and his recipe is nearly identical to the one handed down by my grandmother. It is a moist yellow cake, rich with coconut and pecans and topped with the the sort of cream cheese frosting that also tends to go on carrot cakes. I was a bit worried to serve it to English friends, as many kids "of today" don't seem to like nuts or coconut, but I really shouldn't have wasted my time fretting. In fact, if I were inclined in that way, I could have worried about having some cake left over for tomorrow! But why worry at all? I'm not sure why, but my friends have come up trumps this year and I am going to be celebrating all week long. It's my birth-week, I guess.
Italian Cream Cake
4 ounces of butter
4 ounces of shortening (Crisco or Trex)
2 cups of sugar
5 eggs, separated
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces buttermilk
2 cups moist coconut (do NOT use dessicated coconut)
1 cup chopped pecans
Prepare three 9 inch cake pans by greasing the sides and bottoms, and then lining the bottoms with wax or parchment paper.
Cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the 5 egg yolks, and mix until the ingredients are creamy and well-incorporated.
Sift together the flour and the soda, and then gradually add to the butter mixture – alternating with the buttermilk. You should end with the flour.
Slowly beat in the coconut and pecans.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they have firm peaks. Fold carefully into the batter.
Divide the mixture between three 9 inch pans. Bake at 350F/175C for 30-35 minutes. I baked my three layers in two different ovens. The top oven only required about 33 minutes, while the bottom oven needed about 38 minutes. The cakes should be golden brown, should spring back to the touch, and will pull slightly away from the sides when they are finished. Cool on wire racks.
8 ounces of cream cheese
4 ounces of butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
16 ounces/1 pound box of confectioner’s (icing) sugar, sifted
Cream together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla. When the mixture is light and fluffy, gradually add the sifted confectioner’s sugar. If the frosting is too stiff, you can thin it with a small amount of milk.