Trading Places: Her Italian Cream Cake & My Apple Pie
Anne Byrn Shares An Italian Cream Cake
REPie or Cake? Cake or Pie? Well, in my little world, Pie is Queen but a very gracious one who wants you to know that there is always room on the table for both. So, get ready because today my friend Anne Byrn and I have done a little sharing. Anne, who is a champion of all things cake, has kindly shared a recipe for Italian Cream Cake which you can read right here, and I’ve shared my recipe for A Thanksgiving Apple Pie over on her newsletter. It’s kinda like a two for one dessert day and what could be better than that!
Eugenia’s Italian Cream Cake
By Anne Byrn
My friend Rebecca emailed after Thanksgiving last year joyful that a cake proved more popular than the pies.
‘’My daughter-in-law made your Italian Cream Cake, and it was the hit of the day! Happy Thanksgiving!’’
And just like that, Italian Cream Cake became her new Thanksgiving cake, sidling right up to pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies, and without the fanfare of hand-rolled crusts, crimping, or dollops of whipped cream.
Best of all, that Italian Cream Cake was baked the day before. Filled with finely chopped pecans and coconut, it seemed to improve in flavor and texture as it sat alone in the dining room, away from the Thanksgiving kitchen chaos, just waiting patiently until someone took a knife to it and carved the first slice.
The story of Italian Cream Cake
In researching my book, American Cake, I learned there are two types of Italian Cream Cake. The first is the honest-to-goodness Italian version, and its earliest mention was in 1913 in Salem, OH, made by Long's Bakery at the Corner of Howard and Main Streets. By 1925, Italian Cream Cake was all over California, on restaurant menus and in newspaper grocery ads.
And in a 1937 Texas recipe, the cake is flavored with lemon and contains a cream filling. I learned Italian grandmothers added a dash of liqueur to the filling, and if you go into an Italian-American bakery today, chances are there will be an Italian Cream Cake - filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, candied fruit, and chocolate, perhaps.
But there is another version, which we will call the pseudo Italian Cream Cake, or Italian Cream Cake of the American South.
It contains coconut and pecans and is made moist with buttermilk and has been around since the 1970s. It is spread with a cream cheese frosting and has nothing whatsoever to do with Italy. But it has everything to do with community cookbooks throughout the South and Midwest.
The alter ego of the German Chocolate Cake? Maybe. Truly American? No doubt. Where else would a cake with coconut and pecans be called Italian?
People go wild over this cake
The recipe I bake comes from my friend Eugenia Moore of Nashville. She is a good cook who used to host elaborate Italian dinner parties and before online shopping would travel to Chicago to get the necessary ingredients.
She once confessed to me that the cake isn’t Italian at all, but it is outstanding, and drop-dead gorgeous. ‘’People went wild about it.’’
Reasons enough for me to bake it on Thanksgiving!
Plus, it’s an easy cake to bake, even for beginners. You just need to get a few things right about the ingredients:
Use all-purpose bleached or unbleached flour and to measure 2 cups of it, spoon it into cup measures and sweep the top level using a knife. Don’t scoop the measuring cup into the flour or you will wind up with too much flour and a dry cake!
And yes, this recipe contains vegetable shortening - which keeps it light and fluffy - but if you are against that just use all butter (2 sticks total).
It’s important to let the eggs come to room temperature before baking to get the most rise out of them. If you don’t have a couple hours to do that, just place them in a bowl of warm water for 15 minutes.
Lastly, you toast the pecans for the frosting to bring out their flavor. Don’t skip this step!
Place the frosted cake on a stand, lightly cover, and keep in a cool place - a dining room or your fridge until ready to serve. It doesn’t need whipped cream or hard sauce or ice cream.
But it would like some adulation what with being new to the Thanksgiving menu and competing with all those pies…
Recipe: Eugenia’s Italian Cream Cake