Tiramisu Cake

Sometimes I feel like Life is a charismatic game show host. Microphone in hand, he leads you to the center of the stage, your stage, as an unseen audience applauds and whistles. When the convivial music swells and the lights dim, Life turns to you and his voice resounds across the room as he announces that it is time for you to make a decision. The audience immediately hushes to a whisper, rapt with attention, waiting to hear your answer with anticipation.

Three brightly colored doors stand in front of you. As your palms sweat and you wonder how you found yourself here, in this moment, Life turns to you and asks the question again.

Will it be Door Number One, Door Number Two, or Door Number Three?

I have a decision to make, and soon. The clock is ticking down and I find myself acutely aware of each minute as I panic to choose between the three doors standing before me today. Big Life Decisions were never my forte, but I'm not as afraid of them as I was just a few years ago. I've grown up a little since then (and gotten to know myself a little better). After fumbling around with Big Life Decisions for the last couple years, I've realized that, though they may be "big," there is nothing about them that needs to be permanent.

I don't do well with permanence or finality. As if to illustrate my point, while shopping with my mother yesterday, we stumbled across a set of brightly colored mixing bowls with a pricetag at seventeen dollars. I was thinking of buying them since I don't have a set to call my own. Discussing the pros and cons, my mother joked I would probably have these the rest of my life. The rest of my life?

I put them back on the shelf and walked away, not ready to make a decision that would have such far reaches, even if it was just a set of mixing bowls.

I can recognize the irony of needing to make a Big Life Decision when I can't even make a seventeen dollar decision. However, if there is anything I've learned about Big Life Decisions, it's that life tends to sort itself out and everything ends up all right, even if there are times when it feels like it won't. If I bought the mixing bowls and they weren't what I expected, the world wouldn't end. The walls wouldn't come crashing down. I'd trust that I would find a way for everything to be all right, even if it was just to toss them out and start anew.

So today, I choose door number one. I'm not sure quite what it will hold or where it will lead me. The ideal job for me might not be behind any of those three doors and, if it isn't, it's because it's not the right time in my life for me to find it. I've spent the last few months fearing the need to make this decision and, now that it has finally been made, it's time to find out the answer to the question on my mind.

What's behind door number one?

This Tiramisu Cake is light, creamy, and divine. I made it as a joint birthday cake for my sister and grandfather. The nine of us present at the party managed to finish off all but two small pieces (even after an Easter feast). This cake tastes just like tiramisu should. Two cake layers are soaked in espresso and covered with a creamy mascarpone frosting. The cake is sprinkled with a layer of cocoa powder and covered in a layer of chocolate shavings. To take it over the top, I added a ring of homemade ladyfingers around the edge and secured it up with a ribbon. Now this is one cake I wouldn't mind unwrapping...

One Year Ago: Blueberry Coffee Cake and Vanilla Pear Muffins

Tiramisu Cake
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

Cake layers
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease 2 8 or 9-inch baking pans.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract. Gradually add the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the cream.

Divide batter evenly between baking pans and bake for 28-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cakes spring back when touched. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing and transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Espresso extract
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons hot water

In a small bowl, whisk together espresso powder and hot water. Set aside.

Espresso syrup
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in kahlua and 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract. Set aside.

Filling and frosting
1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Kahlua (optional)
4-5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate shavings
Cocoa powder, for dusting
20-30 ladyfingers, for garnish (homemade and store-bought work equally well)

In a large bowl, whip heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks.

In another bowl, whisk together mascarpone, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and kahula. Whisk in the remaining espresso extract (about 1-2 tablespoons). Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture.

To Assemble
If the top of the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife to trim off the top of the cakes to make them level. Place one cake layer on a cake plate. Using a pastry brush, soak the top of the cake in 1/3 of the espresso syrup. Spread the top with 1/3 of the mascarpone frosting. Sprinkle with 2 ounces shaved semi-sweet chocolate.

While the second cake layer is resting on the counter, soak the top with another 1/3 of the espresso syrup. Carefully flip the cake upside down and place the cake on top of the other, soaked side down. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining espresso syrup. Spread the remaining mascarpone frosting over the top and sides of the cake.

Dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder until the mascarpone frosting is no longer visible. Press ladyfingers onto the mascarpone frosting on the outside of the cake, spacing them evenly apart. Secure ladyfingers with a ribbon lightly tied around the cake (brown ribbon looks nice, but cream colored ribbon provides a lighter touch). Sprinkle remaining chocolate shavings over the top of the cake.

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. I'd suggest making the cake one day prior to serving it as the flavors have time to properly meld, but if you can't resist cutting into it, I understand the temptation.