I began studying Japanese in 2000 and one thing I heard as a recent-ish current event about Japan was that there was a craze for tiramisu. A lot of my information about cutting edge Japan was influenced by books about Japanese culture written in the early 90s or late 80s when Japan was a big mysterious deal. Lots of business etiquette, flashy hair bands, street fashion, and tiramisu. Turns out tiramisu really hit its peak of chicness in Japan in 1991, so my information was more than a little behind the times and the hair-band-and-street-fashion scene was pretty drastically different when I went there a few years later in 2003.
Oh well. Turns out tiramisu is still incredibly delicious. Japan of 1991 knew what it was doing. My own first encounter with tiramisu was a tiramisu gelato that I encountered in, of all glamorous places, the local mall. I grew up in Idaho and Idaho wasn’t big on fancy Italian desserts and the mall was still the coolest place to hang out as a teenager in the 90s. My first tiramisu experience may not be very cool, but it exposed me to a dessert that used flavors I wouldn’t have normally been interested in (rum, coffee).
These cupcakes came to be from a duel request for both tiramisu and cupcakes. Turns out this combination does exist and Martha Stewart has it covered with her tiramisu cupcake recipe. The recipe can also be found in her Cupcakes cookbook, of which I am a big fan since it has detailed pictures of each recipe.
This was a moderately difficult recipe. It certainly wasn’t brain surgery level difficult (I’m looking at you, macarons…), but I wouldn’t recommend it for a beginning baker. I also think not having a stand mixer would have made the endless egg whipping really tedious.
This recipe was interesting because it takes the components of tiramisu (ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, coffee, alcohol) and combines them in a new way. With the cupcakes, the base is made of vanilla sponge cake (the ladyfingers equivalent), a coffee/alcohol soak is brushed on, and then the frosting is sweetened mascarpone dusted with cocoa. I was particularly impressed that the cupcake base was sponge cake and not simply regular yellow cake.
I only made a few modifications to this recipe, mostly in the name of keeping the cost of it reasonable. I didn’t use a vanilla bean, but instead used vanilla extract. And the coffee syrup calls for sugar, coffee, and marsala, but I didn’t want to buy an entire bottle of marsala to only use two tablespoons. So I substituted golden rum instead, since I had some languishing.
The trickiest part of this recipe was whipping the egg yolks. It took a lot longer than I expected on the highest setting of my mixer to get them to the right consistency and I think it would have been really frustrating with a hand mixer, but of course doable. (Maybe I’m just traumatized from too much whipping of egg whites to stiff peaks via hand mixer…)
But with a stand mixer the eggs were on autopilot. Brushing the coffee syrup onto the cupcakes was not. This was by far the most tedious part of the entire process and I kept thinking, “How can I still have so much of this stuff still left? Will this ever end? SOAK FASTER!” However, all was redeemed when I got to dust cocoa powder all over my counter.
A note on the frosting. The recipe says the frosting can be applied the night before. I was bringing these to work and so I got up at 6 AM to make the frosting and they were eaten at 2 PM. In that 8 hour span the frosting maintained volume and form, but the tops of the cupcakes fell very slightly from the exposure to the moisture in the frosting. I would not recommend letting frosting sit on these for an extended period of time.
And the taste? Perfect! It was like a mini serving of tiramisu. They looked fancy and dramatic and were delicious. I loved them and they will be my go-to impressive fancy cupcakes.