Ah, Martha, Martha, Martha! For years I've been garnering accolades for Martha Stewart's amazing Italian Cream Cake, listed on pg. 555 of The Martha Stewart Cookbook. It's a moist, heavy cake I frost with a cream cheese icing spiked with a little sour cream and sometimes Fiori di Sicilia (although I adore this fragrant, orange/vanilla flavoring, a little bit goes a long way and I have a tendency to overdo it at times, necessitating long breaks in between uses). Everyone truly raves about it, and it's the kind of cake that pulls you back in for a second, guilty slice.
But Martha’s connection with this recipe compromises some of the pleasure for me. I don't want to cook from her cook book and even more importantly, I don't want to admit my signature dessert is really the creation of an obsessive-compulsive control freak who makes me feel inadequate every time I see the cover of her magazine at the check-out counter (even going to jail seemed to make Martha more successful--where is the justice in that??). I feel weak succumbing to her cultural power and just a little but used. But damn, this cake is really good.
I was relieved, then, when researching the possibility of finding a link to this recipe, to discover that Martha can't really claim this recipe as her own. After sifting through dozens of recipes, her only significant change is to leave out the coconut and nuts that are ubiquitous in every other recipe. Not a bad innovation actually, since I personally loathe coconut, but the measurements and ingredients are consistent with a cake made by Emeril Lagasse on his show. I don't really want to be associated with Emeril either particularly, but still, it remains a cake worth making. Suitable for any occasion when you just want a slam dunk dessert (I seek them out).
I do have a few tips:
1. Leave out the coconut (duh).
2. I can't vouch for those nuts.
3. Use cake flour and sift it twice before sifting it with the salt.
4. Increase the salt to 1 teaspoon.
5. Have all of your ingredients at room temperature (especially the eggs)
6. Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk instead of sifting it the dry ingredients.
7. Use Plugra butter! It really does make all baked goods taste better!
Any cream cheese icing will do, but I particularly like the Cook's Illustrated version with its added tablespoon of sour cream. The tang of the sour cream subtly enhances the buttermilk used in this cake (it's secret ingredient, actually) which a plain cream cheese icing fails to do.