This Tiramisu Cake turns your favorite Italian dessert into a delicious and decadent layer cake. Coffee soaked layers paired with mascarpone buttercream.
This is going to be another one of those posts where you will hopefully learn something from my mistakes.
It’s no secret that I have fails in the kitchen more often than I’d like to admit. I figure most normal people do though, so why not just lay all the cards out on the table, right?
Things don’t always go how you expect. And this time, with this Tiramisu Cake, it was due to a rookie mistake on my part.
What is Tiramisu?
Tiramisu is an Italian dessert consisting of coffee-soaked lady fingers layered with a whipped mascarpone cream filling and dusted with cocoa powder. It is heaven.
To transform this delicious dessert into a layer cake I used the following:
- Vanilla cake layers
- Coffee simple syrup
- Mascarpone frosting
- Lady fingers
- Chocolate shavings & cocoa powder
How to Make this Tiramisu Cake
For the cake layers I used my favorite Vanilla Cake recipe. No tweaks, just straight up. I thought it would be the perfect base for this Tiramisu cake.
The coffee simple syrup is a must do. Not optional especially since soaking lady fingers in coffee is a key part of the traditional dessert! Adding the coffee syrup adds a delicious flavor and moisture to the cake. You can leave the liqueur out if you prefer though.
The mascarpone frosting is where I ran into trouble…
I am usually really good at making sure all of my ingredients are at room temperature. This is important so that all of the ingredients emulsify together and yield proper results when baking. I never mess around with this when it comes to cookie dough or cake batter, but I tend to be a bit less rigid when it comes to (some) buttercreams.
Even still, I usually check the ingredients to make sure they’re not rock hard. But I actually broke my favorite KitchenAid beater blade a couple of weeks ago because I tried to whip a large chunk of butter when it was still too hard! Sad times.
So this time, with this mascarpone buttercream, I actually cut my butter up into cubes so it would come to room temperature faster. What I failed to do though, and ultimately what caused the issues (I think), is that I didn’t properly bring the tub of mascarpone to room temperature. I didn’t even check it!
I don’t know why I didn’t check it. I guess I thought it would be fine (cream cheese usually is) or that even if it was a bit stiff, it would soften up while it was whipping. What I didn’t anticipate is that the butter and mascarpone would completely curdle and separate when whipped together.
Minor panic set in when I looked into the bowl. I thought that surely more whipping would fix it, so I added in the sugar and whipped it to oblivion. No dice. Honestly, I almost considered using it in this state (wtf Olivia?).
If we still had a grocery store close by, I would have run out and bought new ingredients, but that wasn’t really an option here. Thankfully, I came to my senses and tried a trick to see if I could save it.
How to Save Curdled Buttercream
What seems like a lifetime ago I remember dealing with a curdled/separated Swiss meringue buttercream.
I had frozen some leftover buttercream, thawed it, and started to rewhip it (which is what you should do after thawing). I guess it was still a bit too cold, because what was in my mixer looked like cottage cheese soup.
I’m not even kidding you. This mascarpone frosting didn’t look quite that bad, but it just didn’t look right (or taste right).
What I remembered from last time is that you just needed to warm the frosting up a bit so that it can emulsify properly.
So I grabbed my trusty hair dryer and started heating up the sides of the bowl while the mascarpone buttercream was whipping. The hair dryer has saved me from more than one baking disaster.
Sure enough, after heating it a bit and letting it whip some more, it came together perfectly. You can also heat the buttercream in bursts over a double boiler (whipping between heating) or microwave a small amount of the buttercream and add it back to the bowl and whip. You know, if you’d rather try something more professional, lol.
So learn from my mistakes, people. Make sure all of your ingredients are actually at room temperature, or you’ll have some ugly curdled buttercream on your hands. But if that happens, now you know how to save it now, right??
Alternatively, if you don’t want a buttercream, you could make a mascarpone cream like I have in my Strawberry Shortcake Cake. It is lighter and much less sweet but also softer and less stable. Both options will be perfectly delicious.
I’m not in love with how this Tiramisu Cake looks (shocker). I should have done something, anything, with the frosting on the sides. It’s too flat and boring. Ryan says it looks very art deco, which makes me like it a little bit more. Oh well, it’s the taste that matters and it tastes ridiculously delicious!
Really, it tastes just like tiramisu. You could just have tiramisu, but this way is better because it’s a CAKE.
Those coffee soaked layers are some of the best I’ve ever had. And the mascarpone buttercream has just the perfect balance of flavors. It’s a bit heavier than what you’d see in a traditional tiramisu, but I wanted the cake to have more structural integrity. Plus, I love a good buttercream.
If you love tiramisu and are looking for something a little different, then this Tiramisu Cake is for you!
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I convert this recipe?
- The recipe as-is will also work in three 6″ pans. For three 8″ pans, 1.5x the recipe. Baking time may need to be adjusted.
- To make cupcakes, all you need to do is reduce the baking time — start checking at 15mins or so. The recipe will make 18-24 cupcakes depending on size.
- For other conversions go here.
Can I make it in advance?
- The cooled cake layers can be baked ahead of time, double wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen for up to 3 months. Take out 2-3 hours before assembly.
- The frosting can be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated for 1 week for frozen for 3 months. Bring to room temp and rewhip before using.
- The simple syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a couple weeks.
- The finished cake (whole or sliced, stored airtight) can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Can I get the measurements by weight/grams?
- There is a Metric option in the recipe card. If you click it it will convert everything to grams.
- This conversion is done automatically and I cannot guarantee the accuracy but many readers have had success using the metric option for this recipe.
Tips for making this Tiramisu Cake
- Make your mascarpone is at room temperature If it’s too cold it can cause the frosting to curdle. See post for details.
- If you don’t want a buttercream you could make a mascarpone cream instead. It will be less sweet but also softer.
- For added flavor, you can add a layer of coffee-soaked lady fingers between the cake layers. This might work best for a two-layer cake (don’t cut the cakes in half horizontally).
- I was a little too generous with the frosting between the layers (I used about 1 cup per layer). A thinner layer between each would have balanced the cake better. This would also leave enough frosting to do some piping on top.
- The coffee liqueur in the simple syrup is optional – you can leave it out, and it will still taste delicious!
- I like to prepare my cake pans using Homemade Cake Release then line with parchment.
- Learn how to keep your cakes moist using Simple Syrup.
- To help ensure your cake layers bake up nice and flat, check out my How to Bake Flat Cake Layers post!
Coffee Simple Syrup:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp instant espresso powder
- 1/4 cup coffee liqueur or dark rum optional
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk (or any milk) room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter room temperature
- 2 cups mascarpone room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- unsweetened cocoa powder
- chocolate shavings
- lady fingers
Coffee Simple Syrup:
- Bring sugar, water, and instant espresso powder to a boil in a small pot over med-high heat. Simmer for 1min. Remove from heat and stir in coffee liqueur or rum if desired. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 8″ cake rounds and line with parchment.
- In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt until well combined. Set aside.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on med-high until pale and fluffy (approx 3mins). Reduce speed and add eggs one at a time fully incorporating after each addition. Add vanilla.
- Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk). Fully incorporating after each addition.
- Bake for about 30-35mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
- Place cakes on wire rack to cool for 10mins then turn out onto wire rack. Cool completely.
- Beat butter and mascarpone until fluffy (2 mins). Add powdered sugar one cup at a time. Add vanilla and beat until fluffy (3 mins). Do not overmix.
- Cut each cake layer in half horizontally.
- Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or serving plate. Brush generously with about 4 Tbsp coffee syrup. Dust with cocoa powder if desired (I did).
- Top with approximately 3/4 cup of mascarpone buttercream and spread evenly.
- Repeat with remaining layers and crumb coat the cake. Chill for 20mins.
- Frost the cake with the remainder of the buttercream and smooth the sides and top.
- Dust top with cocoa powder and/or sprinkle with chocolate shavings, and press lady fingers into the sides if desired.
When I tried to make the frosting, the mascarpone almost immediately curdled and separated (after beating with butter for less than 30 seconds at medium speed.) My ingredients were not cold, so I’m not sure why this happened. Should I have used the whisk attachment?
Hi Jessica! Usually curdled buttercream means one of the ingredients was too cold. Were the butter and mascarpone completely at room temp? Mascarpone can be tricky to work with and has been known to split easily if too cold and/or overmixed.
I had the same issue and all mine were at room temp. Not sure how to fix it, and now I’m out of ingredients and time for when i need it to be done. Otherwise recipe was working great
Hi, The recipe looks so good! I am planning to make a three tier cake with three different cakes. Do you think this cake will be fine as the middle tier?
Hi Nomchin! As long as the tiers are properly supported it should be fine.
Just got done with baking the cakes! So far so good (well other than one of them getting a bit burnt at the bottom, but I’ll just cut it off).
I was wondering if I should cut the two in half before I freeze them? Or should I do that when assembling?
Hi Mathilde! Either would work but I would do it during assembly when the cakes are still slightly cold. It will be easier as they wont be as fragile.
Thanks for the advice! I ended up deciding to wait until assembly.
I’m thinking about making the frosting today, do you have any advise for bringing the mascarpone to room temperature?
Hi Mathilde! I usually let the container sit on the counter for a couple hours. But you can spoon scoops of it onto a plate or something to speed up the process.
What is used to frost the lady fingers on the sides of the cake in the photo?
Hi Bobbin! That’s actually how they came when I bought them. Similar to these ones: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Balocco-Savoiardi-Lady-Fingers-17-6-oz/104441638
Abbey W says
I made this with the mascarpone cream instead of the buttercream frosting, and it was perfect. I made the layers and syrup in advance, and whipped up the cream and assembled the day of serving. The mascarpone cream was just enough to have the naked cake effect- you’d have to increase amounts to have enough to frost the sides. For me- it was perfect just like that- good balance between cream and cake, and not overly sweet. My sister loved it as her birthday cake, and it was easy to put together. This one is getting added to the recipe box! Thanks!
Hi Abbey! So happy you loved it. Thanks for your tips and feedback!