Taking time out for a birthday…

My husband’s birthday is fast approaching and we couldn’t very well celebrate with just soup.  So, we took a hiatus from the soup challenge for a special birthday dinner.   

My challenge was to make an Italian dinner.  We started with Bruschetta with Goat Cheese and Dried Tomatoes, then a herbed salad with baby greens, Penne Pasta with Chicken and Mascarpone Vodka Sauce (soon to be posted), and finally, the dessert.  I took a long time researching the perfect dessert to go with this Italian meal.  Finally, an epiphany:  Chocolate Italian Cream Cake with Gelato.

The best version I found for the cake was one published in Southern Living

Chocolate Italian Cream Cake
5 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Beat egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form; set aside.

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, beat butter and shortening until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until blended after each egg.

In a small bowl,  combine flour, cocoa, and baking soda and whisk together; add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.  Beat at low speed until blended after each addition.  Stir in coconut, chopped pecans, and vanilla. Fold in egg whites.  Pour batter into three greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans.  (I started by adding one heaping cup of batter to each cake pan, then another, and so on.  This helped me evenly divide the cake batter into the three pans.)

Bake at 325° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove cake layers to wire racks, and cool completely. 

Frost with Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing.

1 (8-ounce) package 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar (I always add more powdered sugar.  The frosting never seems thick enough with just one package.)
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 cup sweetened coconut
1 jar maraschino cherries, halved

Beat first 4 ingredients at medium speed in a bowl of a stand mixer until creamy.

In a separate bowl, combine powdered sugar and cocoa; whisk together to combine.  Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with powdered sugar mixture.  Beat at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in pecans.

Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish, if desired.

I layered maraschino cherries in the layers.

The first layer.

Then, for the gelato.  I based my recipe below on one I found at Great Chicago Italian Recipes

3 c.  milk (2%), divided
3/4 c. sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 T. grated citrus zest (I used zest from two Clementines.)
1/2 t. vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine egg yolks, 1 1/2 cup milk, and sugar.  Whisk to combine and cook over low heat, whisking often, until mixture reaches 170 degrees.  Remove from heat and strain mixture through a seive into a mixing bowl.  Discard cooked egg bits left in the seive.  Whisk in zest and vanilla.  Cool over an ice bath.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Freeze according to  ice cream machine directions.

Serve cake with gelato and enjoy!  We did.

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