Great desserts, like making great coffee or anything requiring practice and precision is an art in itself. As a passionate baker and dessert lover, each time I bake I try my best not only to perfect or outdo my own techniques but I love the thrill of de-mystifying recipes. Most of these form my personal ‘bucket list of desserts to make’, and they consist of my favourite ‘most enamoured’ desserts, pastries and cakes.
The result of each de-mystification is a growing appreciation and utmost respect for the acclaimed. They range from that simple little cafe or bakery that I’ve either been reading about, referred to or even stumbled upon in my travels, to those served in the dessert menus of swanky hotels or restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of sampling. The one trait that I admire greatly of the best bakers and dessert creators is not only how they take such pride in their creations, but that they know what it takes to make the best dessert. Not just pleasure in taste, but that of serving love and soul within a sweet. It never goes unnoticed, especially by true dessert lovers and connoisseurs.
In 1993, there were two significant world events. One was the release of Sleepless In Seattle, an American romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The second was a scene in which the rest of the world outside of Italy first grew fascinated with a certain dessert known as TIRAMISU.
Jay (Rob Reiner) is helping Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) get back into the dating scene.
Sam Baldwin: What is “tiramisu”?
Jay: You’ll find out.
Sam Baldwin: Well, what is it?
Jay: You’ll see!
Sam Baldwin: Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is!
One of my most loved desserts has got to be Tiramisu. It’s one of my favourite classics, and whose isn’t? This rich and luxurious Italian aromatic coffee-layered classic is easier to whip up than you think, and guaranteed to impress your next dinner party guests.
Most tiramisu recipes use ready-made savoiardi sponge finger biscuits or sponge cakes. I like to make mine out of this recipe of my marbled coffee pound cake baked in a loaf pan. Hence my title for this post–it’s not just another Tiramisu.
Baking your own cake base for this Italian classic tastes so much better than going the way of the usual method of sponge biscuits, although some may think that not everyone will truly notice unless they had both to compare! Indeed if utmost quality isn’t a great concern, go ahead, do what you will, there are even cheat mixes you can buy these days but if you wish to learn the ‘from scratch recipe’, I’m pleased to share that it’s not that difficult either for even a beginner to embark on.
One question I always get is how I manage to make my dusted cocoa look so much darker and richer-looking. My secret? Dutch processed cocoa. Dutch process cocoa powder is natural cocoa powder that has been ‘alkalised’ to remove its acidity and make its PH ‘neutral’.
Dutch-processed cocoa also has a more intense “chocolatey” flavor while natural cocoa looks lighter in color. I much prefer the former for making chocolate ice-cream, most chocolate desserts, hot chocolate for drinking or even just to dust the tops of my mocha or cappuccino. It just has a much richer, toastier chocolatey flavour that beats other cocoa powders. It also yields a much richer deeper dark chocolate shade of colour that’s so much more more luxurious-looking and tasting than natural cocoa.
Back to my tiramisu recipe—I’ve included instructions for those who wish to use the short-cut method of using sponge finger biscuits. No judgement from me whatsoever, as you can well see. I’ve also made what I thought was an exciting discovery that using Philadelphia (Philly) cheese is just as good as mascarpone cheese. I also ditched the usual marsala used in Tiramisu. Unusual choices but hey, some of my best baking experiments are borne out of breaking tradition. It’s fruitful to remain curious, wouldn’t you say?
Pound Cake base for tiramisu
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 + ¼ C sugar (divide portions for 2 stages of addition)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tsp instant coffee granules (mixed with a little water)
In a large mixing bowl, add flour, 1 cup caster sugar, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Stir this addition of wet
ingredients into the first bowl of dry ingredients until just combined.
Pour the batter into a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
Mix about 1 TB boiling water into the instant coffee and mix well.
In a small bowl, add the remaining ¼ C sugar, stir in melted butter and instant coffee
mixture. Using a dessert spoon, drizzle all over the batter to give it a marbled, swirly
Bake at 350° for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out
clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Ingredients for assembling Tiramisu:
1 large loaf pan of pound cake (or 500 g savoiardi sponge finger biscuits)
600 ml thickened cream
250 g mascarpone (or 1 block Philly Cream Cheese)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup Kahlua coffee liqueur
500 mls espresso coffee (liquid) sweetened with
6 tsp sugar
Dutch-processed cocoa powder to dust and if preferred,
‘piped and refrigerated to set’ melted dark chocolate swirls (optional)
dusted with edible gold dust
3 packets Cadbury Flake chocolate bars; crushed (optional extra for decorating)
Mix thickened cream, mascarpone (or Philly cheese), caster sugar, and vanilla essence in a stand mixer. Beat on high until stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes or more)
Make a coffee syrup mixture of 250ml: extract espresso coffee and sweeten with 6 tsp sugar or to taste. Add 2-3 TB of Kahlua or coffee liqueur of your choice.
If using pound cake, slice pound cake into 3 layers, then drizzle coffee syrup over each layer randomly to give it a marbled effect. If using sponge fingers, dip sponge fingers into the coffee for several seconds but do not overdo it or let them get soggy.
If using pound cake, spread each layer of cake with a layer of cream evenly.
If using sponge fingers, layer the bottom of a 9” square baking dish with coffee syrup-dipped biscuits. Then spread with an even layer of cream.
If using pound cake, stack each layer on top of each other but leave the top layer empty. Fill a piping bag with a round tip and pipe a teardrop of cream in neat lines
till the whole top surface is covered with the piped teardrops of cream.
(If using sponge fingers, keep layering sponge fingers with cream until cream mixture is fully used). Dust dutch cocoa all over the top of the cream liberally and if preferred, top with crushed up Cadbury flake chocolate bars.
Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight before serving.
I used Kahlua coffee liqueur in my coffee syrup, but feel free to add your favourite—such as Bailey’s, Tia Maria or Frangelico.
Tiramisu is a dessert on my list of My Singapore Food Tribute To Lee Kuan Yew that features his favourite Singapore hawker delights. It seems the only clue to the dessert he loved divulged by his sister Monica Lee, was Tiramisu, and aside from this,what he ate daily for breakfast before work in the early days–Tau Huey (soy bean curd).