Back in the 60's, when I was a young bride, I used to make a dessert called "Italian cream cake." But it's not the Italian cream cake that is popular today. No, it's a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of hot coffee and rum and layered with rum-sweetened whipped cream. Sometimes it was topped with shaved chocolate. Sound familiar? It's what we know as tiramisu today minus the mascarpone and zabaglione. Well, King Solomon said it right when he told the people, "there's nothing new under the sun."
Here's my recipe for tiramisu. We had it for Christmas dessert; that's when this photo was taken. If you like using store-bought ladyfingers or the Italian imported lady fingers, then you can skip the sponge cake recipe, but this is an easy and delicious spongecake that Italians have traditionally used for desserts like this for a long time.
Hot Milk Spongecake
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 eggs (2/3 cup)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. In small saucepan, heat milk until bubbles form around edge of pan. Remove from heat; set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Sift flour with baking powder and salt; set aside.
4. In small bowl of electric mixer, at high speed, beat eggs until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is smooth and well blended--about 5 minutes.
5. At low speed, blend in flour mixture just until smooth.
6. Add warm milk and vanilla, beating just until combined.
7. Pour batter immediately into an ungreased 9x9x1-3/4" baking pan or 2 greased and floured 8x1-1/2" layer-cake pans; bake 25-30 minutes, or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.
8. Invert square cake by hanging between 2 other pans; let cool completely. Remove from pan. Let layer cakes cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool thoroughly on wire racks. Serve plain, or frost as desired.
Note: If a larger cake is desired, double amounts of ingredients above. Use large bowl of electric mixer. Bake in an ungreased 10-inch tube pan 35-40 minutes. Invert pan over neck of bottle; let cake cool completely.
(There are many recipes for tiramisu. The traditional recipe uses zabaglione in the filling. While the eggs in zabaglione add a depth of flavor, the recipe that follows is a short-cut version that gives a traditional flavor and texture with half the work.)
Espresso Syrup: 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup strong brewed coffee or espresso
1/4 cup Italian or domestic brandy
Mascarpone Filling: 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 lb. mascarpone cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 lb. imported or domestic ladyfingers, or sliced spongecake
Syrup: Combine water & sugar in small saucepan. Bring to simmer, stirring occasionally to
dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, cool. Add coffee and brandy.
Filling: Whip cream with sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold cream into softened mascarpone.
Assembly: Place a layer of the ladyfingers or sponge cake slices in the bottom of a shallow 2-quart baking dish or gratin dish. Sprinkle with half the syrup. Spread with half the filling. Repeat with remaining ladyfingers or cake, syrup and filling, spreading the top smooth, using a metal spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before serving. (or freeze for up to 2 months.) Immediately before serving place cocoa in fine strainer and shake a light coating on surface.