An Alcohol-free Tiramisu Cake (And How To Make Perfectly Flat Topped Cake Layers!)
It was my birthday some days ago and I suddenly wanted to eat cake! How many of you bake their own birthday cakes? I do some of the time, and have people ask me where the fun is in doing something like that?
To answer the question, though I’m not the best cake maker by any standards, especially fancy-shmancy kind of cakes, I am the cake maker in my home. And if I want a particular cake, and the way I like it then its best that I bake it myself.
The funny thing is that I am not really a cake person. I like certain cakes but rarely will you find me having more than a very small slice. When I do eat cake, I prefer the plain simple kinds that are usually served at tea time and I tend to avoid the kinds that are dressed up with copious amounts of buttercream inside and out.
I have however been dreaming about a cake for some time now. Not just any cake, but a Tiramisu cake. I really like Tiramisu but if I have to eat some then I have to make it myself. That’s a whole lot of work because living where I do, I cannot find theraw material for Tiramisu in the stores here so I would have to start withmaking the Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger biscuits, then the Mascarpone and so on. While home-made Mascarpone is easy, the Savoiardi biscuits take a little time, but the high humidity here right now would destroy them before they made it into a Tiramisu!
I could perhaps try one of the few authentic Italian restaurants here but then I would have to drive out and pay close to heaven for a serving. It also doesn’t help I’ve become a bit of a Tiramisu snob (and I’m no expert at Tiramisu) ever since I’ve made it at home, and nothing quite compares favourably.
So getting back to my Tiramisu cake, I decided to try out a version of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for the same for a couple of reasons. First, it seems to be an extremely popular cake from the versions of it that abound the net and food blogs. So I guess I couldn’t really go wrong with it.
Secondly, her recipe for the cake is very easy even though you might get a little worried and think otherwise looking at the length of the recipe. What’s a little different in Ms Greenspan’s recipe is that she uses a layer of chocolate chips in the filling for texture. I replaced chips with finely chopped chocolate as I didn’t want chips in my cake.
The cakes themselves are quite soft yet sturdy. I baked them in 9” cake tins as suggested but you might want to try baking them in 8” tins if you want a little more height to your Tiramisu cake. I made some changes to the original recipe. The main one was that I left out the alcohol, of course!
Also, Dorie Greenspan’s recipe calls for a coffee extract as well as a syrup while I made do with only a soaking syrup. The amount given in the recipe just gives the cake a coffee flavour and doesn’t really moisten the cake as much as you would expect in a classic Tiramisu.
You might want to make a little more of the espresso syrup if you want a really syrup drenched cake rather than a moistened one. I was fine with this because this is a cake and not a tiramisu, but if you would prefer a more moist cake, you might want to make a little more of the espresso syrup (about double the amount perhaps). You can also increase the strength of the coffee syrup if you really like a very strong coffee flavour.
The other important thing with this cake I was making was that I discovered a trick to make sure my cake baked with flat tops. Most of my cakes tend to dome when they bake and that’s just fine when you’re doing much with your cake after baking it, except dust the top with sugar or something similar. There’s something very homely and comforting about plain and rustic looking domed cakes. But I dislike them if I have to make a layered cake. First of all, some cakes don’t lend themselves very well to my inexpert techniques of cutting them into layers. So if I decide to divide the batter and bake the individual layers separately, then I have domed cakes which mean that I have to slice off the domes off. These mostly crumble and there’s no one to eat them and I hate wasting/ binning the pieces and crumbs. It’s not very practical to make trifle-like desserts to use them up every time I have to slice of the domes of my cakes either.
Then I discovered the “trick”. It’s not my idea and has been doing the rounds forages, but I discovered it only recently. Apparently there are these “baking strips” you can buy to wrap around your cake tins and the cakes will turn out with flat tops. Not only are these strips on the expensive side, I cannot get them here locally. However you can make very functional baking strips at home very easily. All you just need is an old towel that can be torn and recycled into baking strips and few safety pins. After the baking is done, wash and dry them out and they can be used again!
Take a clean old cotton hand towel and cut it into strips long enough to wrap around your cake tin and of width equal to the height of your tin. If you’re unable to get long enough pieces, you can always use two pieces pinned together to wrap around the cake tin.
Just before pouring the cake batter into your cake tins, wet the towel strips with water so that they’re really damp but nor dripping. Wrap them around the greased and floured (or lined) cake tins securing the ends with safety pins. Pour the batter into the tins, place them in the oven and bake according to instructions in your recipe. That’s it.
You will have perfectly flat topped cake layers that need no trimming/ levelling or anything else of the sort before you assemble them into your masterpiece. A Tiramisu cake may seem like a lot of work but it is quite easy to make, even more so when you consider it is a layered cake. So if you want a cake to make for a special occasion without spending all your time on it, this is the one to make.
This recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s From Home To Your’s.
For the cake layers:
For the espresso syrup:
For the filling and frosting:
- First make the espresso syrup. Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and bring it just to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the espresso/ coffee powder and mix well till it dissolves. Pour it into a heatproof bowl and keep aside till needed.
- Then prepare your cake tins. Grease and flour two 9” round cake tins and line the bottom with parchment paper. Dip your towel strips into water and squeeze out the excess water so that the strips are quite wet (damp is not enough) but are not dripping. Wrap them around the outside of your cake tins, and fasten the ends together well, using safety pins. Keep them aside till ready to pour the cake batter in.
- Now make the cake. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Put the butter and the sugar in another bowl and using a hand held mixer on medium speed, beat till creamy (about 3 to 4 minutes). Add the eggs, beating well after each addition and then beat in the vanilla. The mixture might look curdled, but that’s alright.
- Now add the dry sieved ingredients in two lots, adding the buttermilk after each addition. Beat at medium speed, scraping down the sides into the bowl, after each addition. Only just until well mixed.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake tins. Smooth the tops gently with a spatula.
- Bake the cakes at 180C (350F) for about 30 minutes till they’re golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the tins for about 5 minutes. Then unmould them, peel off the paper from the bases and let them cool completely on wire racks.
- Now make the filling. Put the mascarpone, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth. In another bowl, using a hand held mixer, whip the cold cream until it forms stiff peaks. Stir about 1/3 rd of this into the mascarpone and then lightly fold in the remaining cream.
- Now it’s time to assemble the cake. Place one cake right side up and using a slightly thick skewer poke a few holes through your cake. Remember you don’t want huge craters or your cake will fall apart at some point! Now generously brush the cake with about half the espresso syrup. Now smoothen the mascarpone filling (use a little less than half of it) over this and sprinkle the chopped chocolate evenly over this covering the top of the cake entirely.
- Put the second cake layer on the counter and once again, poke a few holes (only through this layer) and soak the top of it with most of the remaining espresso syrup, leaving about 5 tbsp of the syrup in the bowl. Turn this second cake over and align it over the first cake with the soaked side facing down. Brush some of the espresso syrup over the top of the cake, leaving about 2 tbsp in the bowl.
- Now make the frosting. Whisk in this last 2 tbsp of espresso syrup into the remaining mascarpone filling. If this frosting seems too soft, put it back in the fridge for 15 minutes to half an hour to firm it up before using. Refrigerate the cake as well.
- Smooth the frosting over the top and the sides of the cake and then decorate as you want. I used small milk chocolate bars to decorate the sides. Dust the top lightly with the cocoa powder.
- Refrigerate the cake for about 3 hours at least, before serving. This cake really does taste better the next day. This Tiramisu cake serves 12 to 16, depending on the thickness of your cake slices. While the cake feels pretty light it is quite rich.
And just in case you need an excuse or some justification to eat this cake or any cake I leave you with this quote from Jeanne Ray’s book “Eat Cake”.
“A slice of cake never made anyone fat. You don't eat the whole cake. You don't eat a cake every day of your life. You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that's safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what is served on the happiest days of your life.”