If you’re still looking for a dessert fancy enough for an Easter dinner party, pretty enough to honor the arrival of spring, and which still falls under the category of chocolate desserts, here’s my latest suggestion: this airy cake I take great liberty to call Tiramisu.
Made up of four feather-light layers of chocolate genoise, christened generously with rum syrup and filled with an espresso-spiked mash-up of mascarpone and heavy cream, this cake takes some effort and care with its handful of ingredients (you’ll notice the instructions are quite detailed), but if you follow the instructions the result is a finely textured, impossibly light cake that can hold up to a myriad of syrups, fillings, and frostings you might throw at it. And I think you and your guests will find that the extra effort is worth it with every eye-rollingly delicious and perfectly textured bite.
This recipe was published originally in my first book, Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier (Down East Books, 2011), and the ingredients and instructions hold here. I've cleaned up the language a bit, and have decided to explain a little of why some of the more laborious tasks in the instructions help make a better cake. And as always, if you have questions feel free to email me at email@example.com. Or if you want to share your recipe successes (or failures! Those can be fun, too!) on Instagram, feel free to tag me @katehelenshaffer.
For the soaking syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup dark rum
For the cake:
- 2/3 cup flour (sift before measuring)
- 2/3 cup cocoa powder (sift before measuring)
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 8 large eggs
- 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
For the filling/frosting:
- 16 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- To make the syrup, combine 1/2 cup water and the sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and cook until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Allow the syrup to cool completely and then add the rum and stir. Store the syrup in a glass jar or plastic squeeze bottle in the refrigerator.
- To make the cake, grease by hand, or spray with vegetable oil, two 9” x 3” round cake pans. Line the cake pans with parchment paper. Explanation: The addition of parchment paper not only ensures that the cake will not stick to the pan (lots of eggs in the recipe mean increased risk of sticking), but also helps prevent too much browning or hardening on the crust of the cake.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Sift the flour and the cocoa together. Re-sift three more times and set aside.
- Clarify the butter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, until it starts to bubble and a layer of foam forms on the surface (this is the whey). Scrape off the foam with a wide spoon and discard. Remove the butter from the heat and allow the pan to sit for about minute so that the milk solids settle to the bottom. Pour the melted butter into a medium-size bowl, being careful not to take the cloudy, white milk solids that remain at the bottom of the saucepan. Stir the vanilla into the clarified butter. Explanation: The removal of the milk solids from the butter allows us to add the best flavor vehicle in the world (fat) while still ensuring a structurally sound cake. Milk solids add tenderness which makes a pastry delicious, but crumbly. We need our cake to hold together, yet remain light-as-air.
- Meanwhile, have a pot of simmering water ready. Break the eggs into the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk in the sugar, and place the bowl over the simmering water. While stirring gently, heat the mixture until it is a little warmer than room temperature. Remove from heat and immediately begin to beat at high speed with the whisk attachment for 8-10 minutes. The mixture is ready when it falls in ribbons that hold their shape slightly when the whisk is lifted from the bowl. Place the bowl that contains the clarified butter over the simmering pot of water and leave if for a minute or two while you complete the next step. Explanation: Heating the eggs slightly helps them whip up faster and airier.
- Remove the mixing bowl from its stand and sift the flour mixture onto the surface of the egg mixture in three additions, folding with a large rubber spatula between additions. Remove the bowl of clarified butter from the simmering pot and pour roughly two cups of the batter into the butter. With a smaller spatula fold the butter and batter together, and then pour this mixture into the larger bowl of batter. Fold together. Explanation: Folding carefully allows us to incorporate dry ingredients into our egg mixture without losing too much of their volume. The added step of pouring part of the batter into the butter, mixing, and then pouring back into the butter allows us to incorporate the fat quickly and efficiently, again, without sacrificing volume.
- Split the batter between the cake pans, smoothing the top with an offset spatula. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cake has come away from the sides of the pans. Remove from the oven and cool completely in the pans before inverting.
- To make the frosting, beat the mascarpone, cream sugar, vanilla extract, and espresso powder in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment until the cream is smooth and spreadable. Try not to overbeat, as the mixture tends to start to looking a little grainy. (But honestly, don’t worry too much if it does. As you can see in my picture, I took the frosting a little too far with my whisk. It was still delicious and smooth and beautiful.)
- To assemble the cake cut each layer in half so that you end up with four circular layers. Place one layer on your cake plate and douse it with the rum syrup (a plastic ketchup-style squeeze bottle works great for this). Allow the layer to soak up the syrup. Slather on a 1/2 inch-thick layer of frosting and top with the next layer. Douse this top layer with syrup, and then frost. Repeat this process for each layer. You will probably not use all the syrup. It will keep in the refrigerator until your next project.
- Cover the entire cake with frosting (if necessary, smooth out the sides of the cake by trimming with a long bread knife before frosting). Reserve a little frosting for eight “turbans” on top of the cake. Pipe these with a pastry bag and a large star tip.
- Toss a couple of whole coffee beans onto the tip of each turban and, if desired, pile a 1/2 pint of fresh raspberries onto the top of the cake. Then, using a fine sieve, dust the entire cake lightly with cocoa powder. Decorate with fresh edible flowers as desired.
- Refrigerate the cake and serve well-chilled accompanied by something bubbly to drink.