August 14, 2013 § 2 Comments
So I was all ready to tell you about these amazing green pancakes, that are so magical that even an almost-eleven-month old chomps down a half bunch of spinach for his lunch without a bit of fuss. And I will tell you about them soon, but I treated you to a savory recipe last time, and the title of this blog does have CAKE in it after all. Besides, one or the other of you might have an Occasion on the horizon, and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a good excuse to make this cake. Tiramisu cake people. For reals.
If you are an avid Cakesnail reader, you’ll note that I rarely post iced or glazed cakes. My genre of choice is the rustic tea or coffee cake. I like cake that is self-contained, can often be eaten on the go, and at any time of day. I personally prefer my cake mid-morning, by myself, with a mug of some warm, milky beverage or other. Don’t get me wrong, I do also love a towering slice of celebratory layer cake, slathered in buttercream, shared with friends. It’s just not a part of my everyday baking repertoire. (Also, I suck at decorating.)
That said, this take on the classic Italian coffee-and-cream dessert in cake form might just be enough to flip me over to the iced side. The method and assembly is so much easier than the end result suggests. You start out by making a couple of sponge cakes, moistened by buttermilk. They come out of the oven golden and so fragrant with vanilla that you will question the process and wonder if you should just dig into them there and then. I promise the end result is worth this initial self-restraint. When you are ready to assemble the whole cake – I made my sponges the night before for time and convenience’s sake – you level off the sponges, and prepare an espresso syrup, nicely spiked with brandy, or Kahlua, or some other booze that usually lingers in the back of the cupboard until Christmas. Lightly sweetened mascarpone is also given a brandy kick, then folded with whipped cream to billowing mounds. The sponges thirstily soak up the espresso syrup as you drizzle it over, and are sandwiched with some of that brandied mascarpone cream.
And then comes the decorating part. If you’re one of the what feels like 99% percent of people who have a Pinterest account and regularly turn out multi-layered party cakes with quirky scapes from classic books (not that I’ve been researching first birthday cakes recently and feeling like the world may have gone mad, not at all), then you will already be scoffing at the task ahead. If, like the rest of us 1%, decorating fills you with mild terror, you’ve found your cake. First up, you mix a bit of the remaining espresso syrup into the remaining cream, turning it a nice caramel latte colour. So long as you have a good amount of this cream, slathering it all over the top and sides of the cake shouldn’t be too onerous a task. It helps if you have an offset spatula: I used a regular table knife and it was fine albeit a bit more fiddly. The cake is accepting of a few bumps and swirls – it doesn’t have to be ice-rink flat. Next, decide if you want to include some kind of decoration on top. You could very easily just give the cake a light dusting of cocoa, and perhaps add a small mound of chocolate covered espresso beans in the middle, or around the perimeter. I was taking this particular cake along to an evening celebrating our friends’ emergent textile business, and the collection featured a lot of arrows, hence my decoration. I cut out two arrows from parchment paper, pressed them lightly against the top of the cake, then dusted with cocoa powder. The parchment paper was peeled away to reveal the arrow pattern. I promise – if I can do this, you can too. Maybe I’ll even stick it up on Pinterest while I’m thinking about that pesky birthday cake….
Adapted from: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
For the cake layers:
2 cups (220g) cake flour (or all purpose/plain flour is fine)
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 sticks (140g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200g) sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk
For the espresso extract:
2 tbsp. instant espresso powder
2 tbsp. boiling water
For the espresso syrup:
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
1/3 cup (65g) sugar
1 tbsp. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy
For the filling and frosting:
8oz (225g) mascarpone
1/2 cup (60g) confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy
1 cup (235 ml) cold heavy cream/double cream
2 1/2oz (70g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (55-60%), finely chopped, or about 1/2 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
Cocoa powder, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper.
Start by making the sponges. In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes, until well integrated and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. The mixture may appear curdled at this point – don’t worry as it will come back together. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans, smoothing the tops as far as possible.
Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up. You can at this point continue to the next stage of the cake assembly, or wrap the cakes well and refrigerate them overnight.
When you are ready to assemble and frost the cake, begin by making the espresso extract and syrup. For the extract, stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.
For the espresso syrup, stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the water/sugar syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.
Next, make the cream. Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth. Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch. Set aside.
You are then ready to assemble the cake. If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – use about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.
For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. Ideally with an offset icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. You can add chocolate covered espresso beans, in concentric circles, or in the center of the cake if you want to decorate it that way. If you are going to dust with cocoa or make a stencil, wait to do that until just before serving. At this point, refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving – this gives all the elements time to meld.
Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa. You can cut a shape out of parchment paper, press lightly against the top of the cake, and then dust with cocoa powder if you want a similar effect to the one pictured at the top of this post. Gently peel the parchment paper away to reveal the pattern and serve.