Lately, what with baking numerous kinds of Christmas cookies and treats, I realized I missed having the opportunity to bake a proper cake. A beautiful round cake with layers of pastry and filing. After all, you only get one birthday a year… Plus, everybody has been fed up with sugar and lost their appetite for such cakes because cookies, bars and candies were following us everywhere we went. However, that did not mean I couldn’t think about baking a cake. Even though it was not my birthday. Nor anyone’s birthday for that matter.

Until… a friend of mine decided to host a post-Christmas dinner. It has become a thing and it is always a lovely gathering because everybody is still in their best mood, you have some days off work and it is still to early to store your fat pants back into the closet… Or care about it just yet. So I swooped in asking if I could bring something to the table. Knowing me well, she suggested that I should bring a dessert. And knowing her well, the choice was obvious immediately – it had to be Tiramisu. Nay, a Tiramisu round layered cake! A win-win for both of us.

This is not an authentic tiramisu recipe – like with any other cake, I like to think about the recipe beforehand, make my research, combine the flavours I like and adjust them to my preferences. I also didn’t want to use raw eggs, which is a traditional way of making the filling. Instead of beating raw yolks into the Mascarpone, I made a custard using a double broiler method and whipped up some heavy cream instead of folding in raw whipped egg whites. There is nothing wrong with making it traditionally, as long as the eggs are fresh. But I played really safe that day and thought that many of you would appreciate a good tiramisu recipe without the usage of uncooked eggs.

Also, I did not add any liquor to the coffee, which is also a traditional ingredient (I think sweet Marsala wine is the right way to go, but Rum also works well). Instead, I cooked some wonderful Amaretto-flavoured coffee I got as a gift. Let me tell you, that Amaretto was just the right kick to the cake. It gave it a subtle, but distinctive aroma, which I think would have been overpowered by adding Marsala or Rum to the coffee as well. My tiramisu, my rules.

But I can tell you, my tiramisu is a fabulous tiramisu. The filing is so rich, yet light, creamy and decadent, not too sweet, a perfect balance to the bitterish ladyfingers. All the layeres merged in a pillowy soft cake that, although creamy, had a series of bold flavours, what with the Amaretto, coffee, cocoa powder dusted on top… And all gathered by a light and soft custard filling. Ummm, just imagine the perfection. Or even better, roll up your sleeves and go to the kitchen. No need to turn the oven on – just your stove.

preparation time: about 2 hours, requires cooling for several hours or overnight
baking pan size: Φ26 cm/10 in*

*Since this is a no-bake dessert and the “pastry” part/the base is made out of ladyfingers, you can choose any shape or size of the baking pan, assemble the cake in a trifle dish, or even make small individual portions by assembling the dessert cups in large pretty glasses and serve with a spoon. The measurements below will give you a large round cake with two layers of ladyfingers and two thick layers of cream filling. Try to evaluate how many ladyfingers you need to cover the bottom of your serving dish and assemble the cake to your liking – you may even do a single layer of ladyfingers and filling in a large dish… Anyway, this is an easily adjustable dessert so you may want to make use of that.

Ingredients for the base:

300 g ladyfingers also known as Savoiardi*
400 ml cooked coffee**

*Ladyfingers are spongy, but crispy cookies made of eggs, sugar and flour and shaped like a stick. Or a finger, if you will. Although you may make your own, buying them is a very easy way out. Look for a good quality as they give both flavour and texture to the cake.
Also, depending on the dish or pan you will be using to make the Tiramisu, you may need more or less ladyfingers. It is always better to have some extra than to realise you are 5 cookies short while assembling your final layer. I used 300 g exactly, but had a package of 400 g, just in case I had to squeeze an extra ladyfinger in the cake layer.
Once you soak the ladyfingers (more on that in the recipe step 7), they will immediately soften so you can even adjust their shape a little. Filling a round baking pan is harder than filling a rectangular one, so feel free to cut them, shape them, even lightly squeeze to fill the bottom tightly. It will all get covered with the filling anyway.

**I don’t do espresso. I cook my coffee, so I like it brewed and finely ground, Turkish style. For this recipe I used Amaretto flavoured coffee, but you can spice things up in numerous ways – add some Amaretto liquor to the cooked coffee, a teaspoon of Rum or Brandy, substitute 100 ml of coffee for Marsala wine or lighten it up with some water or milk. For all of you coffee-haters out there or the ones who want to make this cake also kid-friendly, soak the ladyfingers in warm cocoa, milk or chocolate milk.
However you drink your coffee and prepare the soaking syrup, the amount of liquid for soaking the ladyfingers should be around 400 ml. Again, you may not use the whole amount, but it’s better to have some extra on hand.

Ingredients for the filling:

200 ml milk
1/2 vanilla bean – optional
4 egg yolks
80 g granulated white sugar
20 g corn starch
250 g Mascarpone cheese, full fat
300 ml sweetened heavy cream, for whipping
cocoa powder for dusting the top
optional garnish: chocolate shavings, fresh seasonal fruit, whipped cream…

1. Start by making the custard. Use a double broiler method to make sure the custard is cooked slowly and nothing gets burned. Get two pots or saucepans that can fit securely one on top of the other. Fill the larger one halfway with water, put it over the stove and bring the water to a gentle simmer. Adjust the heat so it stays that way. Now put the smaller saucepan over the larger one filled with water and pour in the milk. Cut open the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and put both seeds and the pod into the milk. Mix shortly and allow it to come to a simmer.

2. In the meantime, in a separate bowl, wisk the egg yolks with sugar and cornstarch until the mixture gets lighter and gains some volume. You don’t have to beat it super thick, just try and get the sugar to melt into the yolks.

3. Once the milk is up to a simmer, slowly, in a very thin drizzle, pour it into the yolk mixture whisking constantly. Mix everything well and transfer the mixture back into the saucepan that the milk was heating in. Take the vanilla bean out, it will be easier to stir. Return the saucepan over a pot of simmering water and, whisking quickly all the time, cook the mixture until it thickens and starts to detach from the bottom of the saucepan. You should be able to see the trail of your whisk or wooden spoon (I prefer using a whisk) left as you whisk.

4. Once fully cooked, cover the very surface of the custard with plastic wrap so it wouldn’t form a skin and allow it to cool completely, first to room temperature, then in the fridge. It will take at least an hour.

5. Once the custard is cooled completely, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Make the coffee beverage, whichever kind you decide to use and add flavourings (Rum, Amaretto, Marsala, milk…) if using any. You should have about 400 ml of liquid alltogether. Pour it in a soup plate and let it cool slightly. Prepare the pan or serving dish. I suggest using the one with removable sides because it will be easier to take the slices out afterwards. However, any pan or even a trifle dish will do (see the comment above regarding the pan size).

6. Whip up heavy cream to soft peaks, mix in the Mascarpone cheese and finally, mix in the custard. Combine everything to a thick and rich cream filling.

7. It is now time to assemble the cake. When soaking the ladyfingers into the coffee, you have to work quickly. Soak them too much and the cake will be soggy. Soak them insufficiently and they will have a hard time softening once assembled. You can dunk them in the coffee with one quick move – not holding them in, just dunk and get them out of there! Or dunk each side of the cookie equally fast – allowing just the very surface to touch the liquid. Ladyfingers are spongy and apsorbent so they will soak up the liquid very quickly.

As you soak the ladyfingers, arrange them all over the bottom of the dish, placing them tightly close to each other. Feel free to cut them to get the exact dimensions that will fit your dish. Once the cake is assembled, noone will be able to tell.

8. Pour half of the filling over the ladyfingers and smooth it out with a spatula. Repeat the process once more – dunk the ladyfingers into coffee, layer them over the filling tightly and cover with the remaining part of the filling.

9. Cover the top with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to cool for at least 3 hours, ideally 6 hours or overnight. Once completely cooled and set, it is time to garnish. Add some more whipped cream on top if desired and dust thoroughly with cocoa powder (cocoa is a must!). Add some chocolate shavings or fresh raspberries on top if they are in season.  Enjoy with a good cup of coffee or a glass of dessert wine.

 

 

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TIRAMISU CAKE
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