There’s only a few things I’ve ever named “the best” and this Tiramisu cake is one of them for good reason. Four layers of vanilla sponge cakes soaked in spiked coffee, frosted with a light and fluffy mascarpone cream and topped with a generous dusting of cocoa powder.
Why you’ll love this tiramisu cake
- It’s way more simple than it looks and sounds.
- It’s super light and fluffy, you could probably eat the whole cake yourself.
- It’s pretty customizable and can be baked in different sizes/heights.
- The mascarpone frosting is super easy to make, not overly sweet, and so fluffy.
I knew I had to make this cake after making my Tiramisu Latte. If you love a this cake, I think you’ll also like my lemon poppy seed cake, it uses a similar sponge cake with cream cheese frosting. My cranberry orange cake also uses a type of sponge cake with a light diplomat cream filling.
What is Tiramisu?
Tiramisu is an Italian dessert made up of lady fingers soaked in coffee, layered with mascarpone cream and topped with cocoa powder. The coffee is often spiked with alcohol like marsala wine or brandy. I went with amaretto (an Italian almond flavored liqueur) because it’s more subtle and compliments the cake SO WELL.
The mascarpone cream is traditionally made with eggs as well but since the cake uses a bajillion eggs, I simplified the cream to just mascarpone, heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Flour: I use all purpose flour in most of my recipes and I HIGHLY recommend using a digital scale, as flour is so often over measured.
- Baking Powder: Sponge cakes generally do not require a leavening agent since they rely on the eggs to lift the cake HOWEVER, I like to add a little baking powder anyway, as insurance lol.
- If you’re unsure or have experienced issues with the cake not rising, I definitely recommend the baking powder.
- If you’re confident to make it without, it should work as long as you DON’T grease the baking pan and just line it with parchment on the bottom. The cake needs to cling to the pan to help it rise and greasing the pan prevents that.
- Sugar: I used granulated sugar in the cake and the coffee soak. I used powdered sugar in the cream. If you prefer to have a more bitter coffee flavor and reduce the sweetness, cut the sugar out of the coffee soak.
- Eggs: there are A LOT of eggs in the cake. Make sure to use room temperature, large eggs (55-60g per egg).
- Pop them in hot water for a few minutes if they’re cold.
- Unfortunately I have not made this cake without eggs but some people have had success with using aquafaba for sponge cakes. I know The Banana Diaries has a vegan Tiramisu.
- Mascarpone: I tested this with different brands of mascarpone, they all worked however, some of the mascarpone’s held a little more water than others. My favorite was BelGioioso Mascarpone but if you find something with an even higher fat content, use that. The cheese should be smooth and creamy (not wet like cottage cheese or ricotta).
- If you use another brand and you see water in it (usually at the bottom) , drain the cheese to avoid adding extra liquid to the cream. You can also add an extra ¼-½ cup of powdered sugar and/or reduce the heavy cream by ¼-½ cup to stiffen it up a little.
- Make sure the mascarpone is cold, straight from the fridge when using.
- Dairy free cream cheese and coconut milk should work the same but will obviously have a different flavor.
- Heavy Whipping Cream: I recommend using the cream with the highest fat you can find and make sure it’s cold when adding it to the mascarpone.
- When you do add it in, you’ll notice the frosting getting softer first, just keep beating at full speed for a few minutes and the cream will “whip up”, stiffening the frosting. Once it’s holding good peaks, stop beating so you don’t over-whip the cream.
- Vanilla: I usually just use a simple vanilla extract in cake batters but I like to use vanilla bean paste for buttercreams and frostings, however extract works fine here too.
- Cocoa powder: I used a dutch-process cocoa powder for a darker color on top but any unsweetened cocoa powder works.
Step 1: Start making the cake by separating the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the egg whites with the sugar until it’s super thick and fluffy and holds stiff peaks.
Step 2: Add the egg yolks and vanilla and beat at medium-high speed until it’s combined.
Step 3: Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and beat at medium-low speed, just until the flour is mixed in. Use a rubber spatula to fold the mixture a couple of times.
Step 4: Distribute the batter evenly among the pans lined with parchment paper (can do two pans at a time).
Step 5: Make the coffee soak by dissolving the sugar in the hot coffee. Once the coffee has cooled a little, add the amaretto (or other flavoring).
Step 6: Make the mascarpone cream by beating together the cold mascarpone with the powdered sugar until it’s completely smooth.
Step 7: Add the vanilla bean paste and turn the mixer to medium speed. Stream in the cold heavy whipping cream in 3-4 increments, stopping to scrape the edge of the bowl each time.
Once all the heavy whipping cream is added, it may seem soft so turn the mixer up to full speed and it should thicken and hold peaks within a couple of minutes. Don’t over-beat once you’ve reached this stage.
Step 8: Assemble the cake by first flipping all the cakes over onto their tops (so bottoms up) and use a fork to make holes in them, similar to a poke cake (except smaller holes that are closer together – see photo below).
Then place the first layer of cake onto a flat surface and spoon ½ cup of the coffee mixture over the first layer.
*Some of my family members preferred the cake to be more “wet” so if you like it more soggy too, feel free to use three cups of coffee and do ¾ cup on each layer. I wouldn’t do any more than that as you’ll start to notice it weeping if there’s too much liquid and the cake will be less sturdy.
Step 9: Top with a generous layer of mascarpone cream. If you want to leave the cake naked like I did (it doesn’t dry out like traditional butter cakes) don’t spread the mascarpone all the way to the edge of the cake, leave a little wiggle room so that when you place the next layers on top, the cream will not squish off the cake.
*feel free to refrigerate the cake halfway through to make sure it stays sturdy.
Step 9: Create some swirls with a spoon on the top layer of mascarpone and then top generously with cocoa powder. *I refrigerated the cake overnight before topping with the last layer of mascarpone on top (look at the photo below, you can see the texture difference of the mascarpone cream that was placed fresh on top and the mascarpone cream that was refrigerated overnight between the layers).
I recommend refrigerating for at least 4-6 hours or overnight before serving so the coffee soaks well into the cake and the mascarpone cream can set. Serve cold or slightly chilled.
What pan to bake this cake in
I tested this cake in a few different sizes and I just loved the way this one looked. The cake photographed is four 8 inch layers which is really tall for a sponge cake and can be difficult to assemble. If you do it this way, just be very gentle with the last two layers and refrigerate quickly. Also when you get to slicing and there’s only half of it left, it will topple over so just slice the whole thing or lay it down.
The cake can be baked:
- Half batch – three layer 6 inch cake; about 7-8 oz each and bake for about 14-16 minutes.
- Half batch – two layer 8 inch cake; about 10-11 oz each and bake for about 18-20 minutes.
- Full batch – four layer 8 inch cake; about 10-11 oz each and bake for about 18-20 minutes.
- Full batch – three layer 9 inch cake; about 14 oz each and bake for about 18-20 minutes (do about ⅔ cup coffee soak for layer instead of ½ cup).
- Full batch – I haven’t tested this but you could try four layer 9 inch cake; about 10-11 oz each and bake for about 15-17 minutes
- Full batch – I haven’t tested this but I would assume you could bake it in two 9×13 inch pans (can do one at a time); about 21 oz each and bake for 25-30 minutes.
How to know when sponge cakes are done baking
Sponge cakes are fairly easy to assess when they’re done baking. The top will no longer look wet, it’ll have a light golden color, (don’t look for a golden brown color).
Gently press your finger into it and it should have some resistance and/or spring back. If it feels wet underneath the surface, leave it a few more minutes.
Try not to open the oven until it’s close to being done though.
Decorating this Tiramisu Cake
Sponge cakes are not as sturdy as traditional shortened cakes (like my vanilla cake) so again, the four layers is risky here. If you want to frost the outside of the cake, you will have enough mascarpone cream to lightly frost it; however, make sure to refrigerate the cake for at least 1-2 hours before frosting the outside.
If you want to actually decorate the cake with buttercream, you can use any type of buttercream recipe you like (there’s like 10 in my cookbook, Frosted) but my favorite for decorating is Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
However, since the sponge cake is soaked in liquid, it will settle over the next few hours so I recommend refrigerating it for at least 4-6 hours, preferably overnight, before frosting the outside of the cake. The cake will be a little shorter the next day and you don’t want that to ruin your decor.
I recommend piping a border of the Swiss meringue buttercream onto each layer of cake and using the mascarpone cream as a filling. You can see an example of this in my chocolate ganache cake. Refrigerate the cake for 30-60 minutes so the buttercream sets and then frost the outside.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can use dairy free cream cheese and coconut cream to make the mascarpone but the flavor will obviously be different.
All my cake recipes work well with a 1:1 gluten-free flour like Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour HOWEVER, I have not tested this with sponge cakes so I am not entirely sure. Please let us know if you do try it!
Not really, a sponge cake would make a very sad and soggy cupcake. You can use this mascarpone cream to frost my vanilla latte cupcakes and that would be pretty similar.
How to make ahead
To make the cake ahead of time you can make the cakes even a month in advance. When you remove them from the oven, let them cool for about half an hour and then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. Then place them in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air.
Make sure to work quickly if you frost them while they’re frozen, because the frosting can set way too quickly from the cold cake and make it difficult to spread. Or just pull them out of the freezer 1 hour before frosting.
To make the mascarpone cream ahead of time: I don’t prefer to make the cream ahead of time as it can be temperature sensitive but it is doable. You can cover it and refrigerate it for a couple of days. It won’t harden like buttercream does in the fridge but it may be a little more firm that you want it for assembling the cake so just mix it a bit to loosen it or leave it out for a few minutes.
To make the coffee ahead of time just follow the instructions until it’s done, place it in the refrigerator for a few days. Feel free to use it cold.
How to store finished cake
This tiramisu cake has to be refrigerated and is best served chilled. Unfortunately the cake doesn’t harden in the fridge so if you want to wrap it without messing up the cream, freeze the cake until it’s firm and then wrap it. Store it in the fridge for up to a week or freeze it for 1-2 months.
To freeze slices, place the slices in an airtight container and then place the container in a freezer bag, squeezing out all the excess air.
Thaw in the fridge overnight before serving and serve cold.
Thanks so much for reading today’s post, if you have any questions just comment down below. Make sure to leave it in the comment section because I can’t answer in the rating section.
If you make this fabulous Tiramisu cake, I’d love it if you left a star rating for me. If it’s less than five stars, please let me know why! 🙂
As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!
- 12 large eggs (55-60 grams each), separated
- 300 grams (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 240 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tsp baking powder *optional (read blog post)
- 480 mL (2 cups) strong coffee (I used 4 shots)
- 50g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
- 45 mL (3 Tbsp) Amaretto Liqueur *optional
- 24 ounces (3 small tubs) mascarpone cheese, cold (I recommend Belgioioso)**
- 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar, spooned and leveled
- 16 ounces (2 cups) heavy whipping cream, cold
- 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- tiny pinch of fine sea salt
- Cocoa powder for dusting (I used dutch)
- Preheat the oven to 350F (177C) convection (325F/163C conventional) and grease and line four 8-inch pans with baking spray and parchment paper.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of the stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, at full speed, beat until they're frothy.
- With the mixer on medium speed, stream in the sugar. Turn the mixer up to full speed and beat just until the meringue reaches stiff peaks.
- Pour in the egg yolks and vanilla and turn the mixer to medium-high speed, mixing, a few seconds, just until they're fully combined.
- Sift in the flour and salt (and baking powder if using) and turn the mixer up to medium-low speed, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.
- Scrape the edge of the bowl well and distribute the batter evenly among the four pans, about 10.5 ounces each, and bake for about 18ish minutes, until the cake is golden and separates itself from the edge of the pan. It will also spring back when you press on it gently.
- Flip the cakes over onto a tea towel and allow them to cool completely (I don't recommend flipping onto a wire rack, mine got suck on there before).
- Pour the coffee into a large measuring cup so it's easy to see how much you use per layer. Add the sugar and mix until it's dissolved.
- Once the coffee has cooled, add the amaretto.
- Place the cold mascarpone into the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl with a hand mixer) with the powdered sugar.
- Beat at low-medium speed until they're combined and then increase the speed to medium-high for 1-2 minutes, scraping the edge of the bowl halfway through.
- Add the vanilla and the cold heavy whipping cream in 3-4 increments, mixing well between each addition.
- After adding all the heavy whipping cream, the cream may look soft, turn the mixer up to full speed for 1-2 more minutes and it should stiffen up (like whipped cream does).
- With the cakes still flipped upside down on the tea towel, use a fork to stab the cake throughout, making holes for the coffee to soak into. (similar to a poke cake but smaller holes that are closer together; see photos in blog post)
- Place the first layer of cake upside down (so bottoms up) on to a flat surface and use a spoon or pastry brush to soak it with 1/2 cup of the coffee soak. (My family preferred the cake more 'wet' than I did so if you like a more soggy tiramisu feel free to use 3/4 cup of coffee per cake layer [you'll need three cups of coffee instead of 2 then] - I liked it with the 1/2 cup).
- Frost with a generous layer of mascarpone cream, try not to go passed the edge if you want a naked cake. Place the next layer of cake on top, upside down as well. If the cake feels unstable at any point, feel free to refrigerate it for 30-60 minutes before proceeding (store the mascarpone cream in the fridge when not in use).
- Repeat until the cake is assembled. Then swirl some mascarpone cream on top of the cake and dust with a generous amount of unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Refrigerate the cake for 4-6 hours to set, before serving.
*My family preferred the cake more 'wet' than I did. So if you like a more soggy tiramisu as well, like the cake fully soaked, feel free to use 3/4 cup of coffee per cake layer instead of just 1/2 cup. You'll need three cups of coffee instead of 2 then. You can add a couple of extra Tbsp of sugar and amaretto if you want, but it won't make a huge difference.
**I found this brand to taste the best and be most consistent in texture from all the brands in the grocery store. If you use another brand, make sure it tastes good before using it (I had a bad one) and make sure the texture is smooth and creamy and not at all curdled or wet. If it's just a little wet on the bottom, just avoid adding that liquid when making the cream.