Tiramisu is one of my all-time favorite desserts. I distinctly remember the first time I ate it—in Sorrento, Italy, in the restaurant of a small hotel where I stayed when I went on a school-sponsored Easter Break trip to Italy and Greece when I was 16. I don’t remember much about the rest of the meal there, but I do remember the tiramisu—rich and creamy with the hints of chocolate and coffee. I was hooked and that combination of flavors has been a real favorite ever since. Jason is also a lover of the chocolate and coffee flavor combo---I think I may have officially made him mine with my espresso brownies early on in our dating life—so it was only a matter time until he fell in love with tiramisu as well.
Not long after discovering Smitten Kitchen, I came across her recipe for Tiramisu Cake and knew that I had to try it at some point. Cut to Jason’s birthday last year when I first tried the recipe in cupcake form. At the time we were still engaged and living separately and I thought it would be easier to give him some cupcakes to take home than try and package up half of a two-layer cake. To say that he liked the cupcakes would be an understatement. The recipe was good but I still wanted to try the full cake form and so when I had a little celebratory dinner for my friend Lauren’s engagement this winter, I decided to give it a shot. While it didn’t disappoint, it wasn’t exactly how I wanted it. Both in cake and cupcake form, I found the cake layer to be a bit dry. And to me, there is nothing worse than dry cake. Jason didn’t seem to notice, however, and when it came time to select his birthday dinner he chose that as his birthday cake.
But I decided to try something a little different. After spending sometime looking for tips for ensuring a moist cake, I ended up back on Smitten Kitchen’s website reading through the Tiramisu Cake post comments to see if I could come up with a solution to my dry cake problem. Several other people had mentioned that it seemed a little dense and wondered if they had overbeaten the batter. Seemed plausible. I also thought about making additional espresso syrup to better soak the cakes in (we’ll get to that later). Somehow I ended up browsing through the rest of Smitten Kitchen’s celebration cakes and found what I had been looking for—a recipe for Espresso Chiffon Cake. Chiffon cakes are very light and airy thanks to whipped egg whites being folded into the batter. It seemed perfect to me—Tiramisu Cake made with the espresso chiffon as a base instead of the original white sponge cake. My brilliant idea was validated when I scrolled through the comments to find Smitten Kitchen herself mentioned she wanted to give this very combo a try sometime.
The result was WONDERFUL! I definitely like the texture of this cake much better than the last. Jason also agreed that it was a winning combination ….and what he would be expecting on his birthday until the day he dies. So I guess I will have plenty of time to continue to perfect!
A word of warning—while this cake is absolutely delicious it is not a quick and easy recipe (as you can see from the very long recipe that follows). I think I spent at least 2 hours in the kitchen Tuesday night making this cake (although that included the time needed for the cakes to cool). It has many parts—cake layers (three of them if you use the espresso chiffon cake), espresso syrup, a filling, and a frosting. But the effort is well worth it, believe you me.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen—basically I took parts of two recipes and put them together. You can find the original versions of both here and here.
For the cake layers:
¼ cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
6 eggs, whites and yolks separated
6 TBL of freshly brewed espresso or hydrated espresso powder* (I went with the latter- although the original recipe says doing might be too bitter, I did not have that issue)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon (only thing I would change next time is to decrease this to ¼ teaspoon—I found it to be a bit much)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cream of tartar
* to make, I took about three TBL of espresso powder and added ¼-1/2 cup boiling water
For the espresso extract:
2 TBL espresso powder
2 TBL boiling water
For the espresso syrup:
½ cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 TBL coffee-flavored liqueur or brandy (I used the former)
For the filling and frosting:
2 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 TBL coffee-flavored liqueur or brandy
2 cups cold heavy cream
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Cocoa powder or chocolate-covered espresso beans for decoration (optional)
To make the cake layers:
1.Preheat oven to 350. Line the bottom of three 8- or 9- inch round cake pans with parchment or waxed paper but do not grease.
2.In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, espresso and vanilla. Whisk lightly to blend. In a large bowl stir together flour, 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
3.Whip egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low until frothy. Raise the miser speed to medium-high and slowly add remaining sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks—DO NOT WHIP UNTIL STIFF PEAKS as cake will shrink excessively during cooling.
4.Add egg yolk mixture to dry ingredient and fold together just enough to combine. Add ¼ of egg whites and fold them in until just combines. Lightly fold the remaining egg whites just until no streaks remain. Divide evenly among the pans.
5.Bake for about 18 minutes or until a cake tester/wooden toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, run a butter knife around the edge of the pan to release the cakes. Invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.
To make the extract:
Stir espresso and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside. (Note if you use the hydrated espresso for the cake layers, you will have enough to skip this step)
To make the syrup:
Stir water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and 1 TBL of espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy. Set aside.
To make the filling and frosting:
Note: do not do this until you are ready to assemble the cake!
Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk until just blended and smooth (It helps if you let the mascarpone come to room temperature before making). Whisk heavy cream (with an electric mixer if you have one) until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir ¼ of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture. Fold the rest of the whipped cream in lightly.
To assemble the cake:
1.Line some counter space with parchment or waxed paper and carefully place each cake layer on the paper. Soak each cake layer with the espresso syrup. You can use a pastry brush or spoon—I recommend pouring it carefully over the top and then spooning it around to make sure the entire layer is covered. I’d actually recommend doing this BEFORE you make the filling/frosting.
2.Place strips of waxed paper or parchment paper around your cake plate. Place the bottom cake layer on the plate (the strips will help keep the plate clean during the icing process—trust me, it’s important). Smooth about 1 cup of the mascarpone cream over the layer and sprinkle half of the chocolate chips across the top. Top with the second layer of cake and do the same. Add the top layer.
3.Whisk the remaining 1-2 TBL of espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone cream (depending how coffee-y you like). Note: I actually forgot to do this part this time and it still tastes awesome so you can skip if you want to.
4.Smooth the frosting around sides and top of the cake. It’s good to start with a light layer (also called a crumb coat), and then go back over the entire thing with the remaining icing. I clearly haven’t mastered the art of icing (I chalk part of it up to icing at 10:30 at night) but just remember that whatever it looks like, it will taste good.
5.Decorate with espresso beans if you want to or you can dust the entire top with cocoa powder (Smitten Kitchen used a template to make a star shape on the top of hers)—whatever floats your boat.
6.Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight in order for the flavors to meld.