I looooove tiramisu. Love. It. It’s one of my fave desserts, especially when I’m in Italy. But I’m not in Italy everyday nor do I frequent the Olive Garden. So, I crafted a tiramisu hack to get all the deliciousness of the desert while saving time and money. I like to serve this tiramisu as the finale after a nice pasta dish along with limoncello and perhaps even my coffee granita. Have you been to Café de Oro near the Pantheon in Rome? If so, you know what I am speaking of- coffee granita is delightful and super easy to make at home. I’ll post a recipe for that icy frozen coffee goodness soon.
CAKE: What, no lady fingers you ask? Well, who stocks lady fingers on the regular? Bourbon, yes, always. Lady fingers? Not likely. Cake is easier, cheaper, and soaks up the coffee/Kahlua quicker. Just go with it. You will need vegetable oil spray to coat the baking dish, 1 package (18.25 oz) plain WHITE cake mix (I prefer name brand, any name brand will do), 1 1/3 cups buttermilk or milk, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (such as canola, corn, etc.), 3 large eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla flavoring, 1 teaspoon almond flavoring. **Do not use yellow cake mix or butter recipe cake mix- you want a light, airy cake – the coffee and liqueur are the stars of this show. Yellow cake and butter cake mixes are not good for this recipe because they detract from the coffee and liqueur flavors.
SYRUP: 3/4 cup hot water, 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder or espresso (I like the Starbucks packets), 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (add a tablespoon at a time to control sweetness), 1/4 cup Kahlua or other coffee flavored liqueur ( I do a little more booze because I like to party, just do it to taste).
TOPPING: Mascarpone cheese is traditionally used, but it’s expensive and sometimes hard to find. Instead, I use this nice, cheap alternative: 2 packages super soft, room temp cream cheese (make sure it is room temp otherwise you will get lumps and clumps when you try to cream it), 1 small pkg vanilla pudding mix (prepare as directed. I prep mine in a snap top container and shake it like a Polaroid picture until well blended and creamy. Then I place in freezer for a few minutes to firm up because I am impatient and want results now) , 2 tablespoons confectioners’ (powdered) sugar (sifted).
1. Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly mist a 13″x 9″ baking dish (I use Pyrex glass casserole dish) with vegetable oil spray & set the pan aside.
2. Place the cake mix, buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low-speed for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the batter on the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more. The batter should look thick and well blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it out evenly with the rubber spatula. Place pan in oven.
3. Bake the cake until it is a light golden brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 30 to 35 minutes (keep an eye on it, every oven temp is different). If you are unsure, insert a toothpick into the middle. If it comes out clean, it’s ready. Remove the pan from oven and place in on a wire rack to cool.
4. Meanwhile prepare the syrup. Place the hot water, coffee powder, and sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine until the coffee and sugar dissolve completely. Stir in the coffee liqueur. Once the cake is completely cooled, poke holes in the cake with a chopstick, dowel, or straw and spoon the syrup over the cake so that the syrup seeps down into the holes, making sure the syrup is evenly spread throughout the cake. Set the cake aside.
5. Prepare the topping. Make sure your cream cheese is very soft. If it is not, it will be lumpy and bumpy. Lumpy tiramisu is not sexy. I place cream cheese (in the packet) on the porch on a hot summer day to soften quickly. You can also nuke it: nuke in 10 second intervals so that you don’t over heat it and make it too runny. Cream cheese should be easily smooshable. Prepare the pudding according to directions on box, but do so in a tightly sealed Tupperware container. Shake it like a Polaroid picture until you see no lumps. Then pop the container in the freezer for about 5 min to set up quickly. Place the firmed pudding, cream cheese, and confectioners (powdered) sugar in a large mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. The mixture should look well combined and thick, but spreadable. Spread the topping over the syrup-soaked cake, using a rubber spatula to spread the topping out evenly to the edges of the cake. Place in the fridge to chill and firm up for a few hours before serving.
Just before serving, sift 3-4 tablespoons of cocoa powder evenly over the cake so that it just covers the top of the cake with a light dusting of cocoa . Slice the cake into squares (after it has chilled and firmed up) and serve whilemay want to use a spatula to help lift cake from dish to keep servings intact and looking pretty.
You can get creative and layer the cake in a trifle dish, pipe a border on the cake with the creamy topping, use a doily or template to make a design on the top of the cake when dusting cocoa powder topping, or double the recipe and create a layered version. You could also do a cupcake version of this recipe (I’ll let you decipher this method).
This cake is even better the day after once the liquid has gotten a chance to really soak into the cake.
*Store this cake, loosely covered in aluminum foil, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.