THIS CAKE. Oh, promise me you’ll make it? I’m aware it’s not immediately evident here on the blog, but I love to bake. I started to bake back when I was a kid, way before I learnt to cook actual meals. Baking is what I did to avoid boredom, my favourite weekend activity growing up in a rural village, far away from my school friends. I loved to get creative in the kitchen, adapting recipes as I saw fit to keep things interesting. And more recently, I fulfilled a dream of mine – to bake my own wedding cake. And it was beautiful, a 6-tier tower of elegant vanilla cupcakes, topped off with a 6 inch chocolate layer cake (with vanilla frosting!) for the chocolate-loving bride and groom. It was simply decorated with white sugar roses, white sprinkles and three pastel roses on top. It was perfect.
Anyway – back to this cake. Tiramisu Layer Cake with Ombre Mascarpone Frosting. This is the cake my dreams are made of. If you were to ask me what my favourite dessert is, chances are my reply would be tiramisu. Now, I’m a dessert lover and there are a lot of desserts I like. My favourites are anything with chocolate, caramel or coffee. Those are my favourite flavours and I’d far sooner pick one of those than a fruit-based dessert (although I love fruit desserts too and you can expect one on the blog soon!) But what would I pick out of all those if I could only pick one? What will I immediately go for if I see it on a menu? It has to be tiramisu. I just love the stuff. If my husband and I find savoiardi biscuits on sale in the supermarket, we’re in trouble. We inhale the stuff. Eep.
So, it was my birthday last Sunday and I love to bake something special to celebrate. This year, it simply had to be tiramisu in cake form. A tiramisu layer cake. Once the idea had been conceived in my mind, that was it, it had to happen. AND IT DID.
I was keen to make a layer cake with ombre frosting as I’ve never tried that technique before. It was surprisingly easy and the effect was incredible! Naturally, the cake layers had to be chocolate, coffee and vanilla. I don’t actually use vanilla when I make a genuine tiramisu but you can’t go wrong really, can you? I made a simple coffee syrup to soak the cake layers but I wished I had made more. As such, the recipe as written calls for twice the volume of syrup that I actually used but I’m absolutely confident it will work just fine for you. Alternatively, if you didn’t fancy making a syrup, you could soak the cake layers with a coffee liqueur instead – Kahlua would be perfect!
The pièce de résistance, however, is that frosting. Oh my dayz. Now, I’m a buttercream lover but come on, we can’t be putting buttercream on a tiramisu cake, can we? It just wouldn’t be right! This mascarpone frosting is perfect in so many ways. It’s oh so creamy and just subtly sweet – I’m not making health claims here but it was refreshing to make a frosting that wasn’t mostly made up of sugar. The other thing? It’s super easy to make. Bring your mascarpone up to room temperature and stir your sugar in with a spatula or wooden spoon and you’re done. Love it.
The recipe makes a lot of frosting – more than you need – but that’s no punishment, let me tell you. It’s almost frightening how easy it is to eat! I assure you, you’ll find ways to finish it off! Plus, it really is handy to have more than you need so that you can patch up any mistakes you might make when frosting the cake.
When my husband and I took a bite of this, we just looked at each other and both exclaimed “it tastes just like tiramisu!” It really did. You might ask, why not just eat tiramisu? Erm, because making and devouring a tiramisu layer cake is just so much fun! And just look at it – isn’t it gorgeous?! This was one of those serious kitchen pride moments. I love the process of taking an idea, however vague it may be and translating it into something real and beautiful. It’s such a rewarding process! I really do hope you’ll give this cake a try. It might not be the simplest of cakes but it is truly worth the effort, both in terms of taste and appearance! I just can’t get over that ombre effect. *heart eyes emoji*
So, to be clear. This tiramisu cake is made up of four fluffy sponge cake layers – one chocolate, two coffee, one vanilla. Each layer is soaked in rich, sweet coffee syrup and sandwiched with unctuous mascarpone frosting. And then the entire cake is covered in the same mascarpone frosting, in chocolate, coffee and vanilla and dusted generously with cocoa powder. The result? Utter bliss. I couldn’t think of a better birthday cake.
- 225 g (1 cup) unsalted butter
- 225 g (1 cup) golden caster sugar
- 225 g (1½ cups) plain flour
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 4 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons milk
- ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
- 1 tablespoon espresso powder
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons espresso powder
- 80 g (1/2 cup) golden caster sugar
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) water
- 750 g (26 ounces) mascarpone
- 115 g (1 cup) icing sugar, sifted
- 1-2 tablespoons milk
- ½ vanilla pod, seeds scraped
- 1 teaspoon espresso powder
- 25 g (1 ounce) 70% dark chocolate
- 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/180°C/350°F. Grease and line 2 (or 4 if you have them and the oven space!) 6" loose bottomed cake tins.
- Start by making the base cake mixture. You can make this like you would a regular cake, by creaming the butter and sugar, then beating in the eggs, milk and vanilla and then folding in the flour and raising agents. However, as you're going to be splitting the mixture and adding more flavourings, it really is easiest to simply make this in the food processor. The results are just as good.
- To prepare the cake mixture in the food processor: place the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and bicarb into the bowl of the food processor. Pulse a few times until the ingredients are combined. Add the eggs one by one, processing briefly after each one. Finish by adding the milk and vanilla seeds and process until just combined. Take care not to overmix the batter.
- The next stage requires just a little bit of maths if you'd like to be accurate, but don't worry if you don't have scales or don't want to do this. Weigh the entire batter mix. You then want to separate the batter into 3 portions - half and two quarters. Into the largest portion, carefully fold in the espresso powder. Into one of the smaller portions, fold in the cocoa powder. Leave the remaining smaller portion as it is.
- Split the coffee mixture between the two tins and level the tops. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes in the tin before removing and transferring to a cooling rack. Clean the tins, grease and line again and pour the vanilla and chocolate portions of the batter into each one. Bake as above.
- Place the espresso powder, sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved, Remove from the heat and cool.
- Place the mascarpone into a large bowl. Add the icing sugar, 1 tablespoon milk and the vanilla seeds. Using a spatula, stir together until the mixture is smooth, adding up to another tablespoon of milk if needed. Separate the mascarpone as you did the cake mixture - into roughly half and two quarters. If you choose to weigh it, aim for two portions of about 125 g, leaving the remainder in the original mixing bowl.
- Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool for one minute. After this time, stir the chocolate into one of the smaller portions of mascarpone. Stir the espresso powder into the other smaller portion of mascarpone. Leave the biggest portion as it is.
- Level the tops of the cakes using a bread knife if necessary. Pour the coffee syrup evenly over the tops of the cakes and allow to soak in. The cake will be easiest to assemble if you have a cake turntable in order to achieve a smooth frosting. If not, don't worry, you can go for a more rustic look!
- Place the chocolate cake onto the turntable (or cake stand). Spread a small amount of the vanilla frosting on top (you can do this as thick or as thin as you like, as there will be plenty of frosting). Place a coffee cake on top, followed by more vanilla frosting. Repeat with the remaining coffee cake and the vanilla cake, each time filling with vanilla frosting. Roughly spread some vanilla frosting over the entirety of the cake (crumb coat). Place in the fridge to set for 15 minutes.
- Once chilled, begin the ombre frosting. Starting with the chocolate frosting, very roughly apply the frosting to the bottom quarter of the cake. Next, roughly apply the coffee frosting to the next quarter of the cake. If the two layers overlap, that's good! It adds to the ombre effect. Cover the rest of the cake roughly with vanilla frosting. You will have leftover frosting which is helpful if you need to do any touch ups!
- Smooth out the frosting to achieve a clean finish as in the photos above, or leave the frosting more rustic if you prefer!
- Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cake to a cake stand. Dust the top of the cake liberally with cocoa powder for that final tiramisu touch.
This recipe makes a 4 layer 6 inch cake. If you wanted to, you could make an 2 layer 8 inch cake - just bake the cakes for 25 minutes each instead of 20. If you wanted to make a 4 layer 8 inch cake, simple double the cake recipe and bake for 25 minutes. I'd imagine you'd need to 1.5x the frosting recipe but you'd have to use your judgement for that.
The recipe for the cake layers is slightly adapted from Primrose Bakery - their book Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery is like a bible in my house. They are my go-to for any cupcake/cake recipes - the quality is incredible! I used their recipes to make my wedding cake and it turned out perfectly. I can't recommend them enough. I must visit one of their bakeries next time I'm in London! And for the record, their other books are fantastic too, but this is the one that has been on my shelf for years.
UPDATE: I’m really grateful for Lindsay and Celine who kindly let me know that they had trouble when making the chocolate portion of the frosting. They found that when they added the chocolate to the mascarpone it went runny and gritty. As a result of this, I chose to re-test that part of the recipe to see if I could figure out what was going on.
When I tested the recipe, I made 3 separate batches of the chocolate part of the frosting. For each batch, I let the chocolate cool for a different length of time, to test the effect it would have and to determine which was the best method. I let the first batch of chocolate cool for 1 minute, the second for 5 minutes and the third for 10 minutes. I was not able to recreate the issue that Lindsay and Celine had, but by far and away the best frosting was made when I let the chocolate cool for a minute only. The chocolate was still pretty hot in this instance, but resulted in a glossy, soft and easy-to-work-with frosting. When the chocolate had cooled for 5 and 10 minutes, the frosting still worked well, but took on more of a mousse-like consistency. Adding about a teaspoon of milk returned the frosting to a more glossy consistency, however, so if you were to leave the chocolate to cool for longer than 1 minute, the recipe would still work.
Celine mentioned that she had made the recipe on a hot day and wondered if that had affected the outcome. When I retested this it was on a cool day (about 17°C) but when I first made the cake it was a lot warmer, about mid-twenties. The recipe worked for me both times. The only other thing I would say is to ensure you use good quality ingredients – the chocolate I used was 74% cocoa although I’m sure anything around 70% would be great.
I hope all of this helps and if anyone has any questions about the method (the recipe has been updated accordingly since testing) or any issues please don’t hesitate to contact me – I’m very happy to help! 🙂
Don’t even ask me for a nutrition label – this is a celebration cake!! Indulge!
Note: This post contains affiliate links.