The Italian Cream Cake Conspiracy

I’m constantly struck how neighboring regions have such different culinary traditions. Lousiville is just 5 short hours away from Chicago, yet it is unequivocally part of The South. Here, biscuits rule instead of Italian loaves, and people reminisce about country ham and salt rising bread. The pizza’s terrible but the barbecue kills. And when I find myself getting too depressed about hot dogs or Italian beef I drown my sorrows in a fifth of Kentucky bourbon. Balance, friends. Life is all about balance.

One cultural touchstone that I stumbled over just yesterday was Italian Cream Cake. A friend asked me for a recipe in the same way someone back home would ask to borrow a Cubs cap for a game. Of course you have one. Only…homie don’t play Italian Cream Cake. Yes, I had a recipe in my oddities file, but c’mon, is that for real? Chicago is bursting at the seams with Italians. I’ve eaten their cannoli, their zabaglione, their zeppole. Not once did one of them ever offer me cream cake.

Which is not to say such a thing does not exist. Different ethnic communities in different cities eat different things. Take New Orleans for example. Italians down there have been gobbling down muffuletta sandwiches since the 20’s at least. Ask some South side Chicagoans for some muffuletta and they’d either shrug or punch you (actually, probably both). So…I’m not necesssarily claiming Italian Cream Cake isn’t Italian. It may be just a kind of Italian I’ve never heard of.

There’s strikingly little to be found on the web about it. Though interestingly, the man everybody loves to hate, Emeril, has a recipe up from a show entitled “Deep South Desserts”. It is a very rich looking pastry indeed, and in fact reminds me of a Swedish dessert that can be found in Chicago (though apparently not in Sweden): Swedish Flop.

Which is starting to make me paranoid. Maybe this is some kind of evil super-rich stealth dessert that really has no origin. That’s so indulgent nobody is willing to take responsibility for it, so they push it off on the Italians, the Swedes, the Bolivians, anybody. Try it honey, it’s international! Oh yes, I can smell some kind of conspiracy here. And no one’s leaving this room until we’ve uncovered the truth.

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