Light and fluffy vanilla cupcakes with a coffee liqueur soaked centre, creamy marsala mascarpone filling and silky Italian meringue buttercream frosting!
Tiramisu is a wonderful, creamy and boozy, coffee-flavoured dessert which originates in Italy but is now undoubtedly one of the most popular and best-loved desserts for so many people around the world!
I am a massive Tiramisu fan and always opt for this luscious dessert as soon as I see it crop up on a restaurant menu! And it goes without saying that, as such an ardent lover of this timeless classic, I have of course tried to interbreed it with many other dessert favourites, such as my Tiramisu Meringue Roulade which is to DIE for, Tiramisu No Bake Cheesecake (both recipes coming soon!), and now - Tiramisu Cupcakes! Did you that the Italian phrase "Tira mi su" translates as "pick me up"? I don't know about you, but with a name like that, this dessert is just asking to be reborn as a cupcake, because what better "pick me up" is there than picking up a beautiful, easy to eat, tasty little cup cake and shoving it in your mouth when you're feeling low?
Advice - if you've never made Italian buttercream before, I advise reading the section below on the buttercream before attempting the recipe instructions!
The base of these little delights is a very soft, light and fluffy vanilla cupcake. The recipe for these varies slightly from your standard vanilla cupcake in so much as they call for egg whites only in the batter, as well as the incorporation of sour cream, both of which help make the resulting cupcake super light, yet moist, and pale in colour.
We also use a little oil in these cupcakes to help keep them moist for longer!
I've used a self raising flour that has a relatively low protein content (8.7%) - BAKER'S TIP: The lower the protein in your flour, the less glutenous the crumb of the cake, making for a lighter cupcake with a close crumb, so when shopping for your flour, its worth checking the nutrition label if you want to make soft and tender cakes. In the UK many self-raising flours will have roughly 9.5-10% protein, but some (such as Carrs Self Raising) have a lower protein content and are more suited to making soft sponge cakes. You can of course, use any self raising flour you have in your cupboard; although the resulting cake may not be quite as tender, it will still be soft and light and taste great!
Alternatively, if you are from the US, I recommend using cake flour, which is easily accessible in America, and usually has an even lower protein content than self raising so is ideal for these cupcakes. You can make your own cake flour (use this guide), or buy it online, but you will need to remember to incorporate 3/4tsp baking powder and omit the 5g cornflour in this recipe!
Once cooled, the cup cakes are cored using a sharp knife or cupcake corer to create a hole that reaches about 3/4 of the way into the cup cake. This is where we are going to cram our yummy mascarpone filling, but beforehand, the holes are lightly soaked with a Tia Maria or coffee liqueur mixture. The best way to do this is with a pastry brush to get a nice even coating but you can just sprinkle the mixture in with a tea spoon. I also light to lightly coat the tops of my cupcakes with the mixture too for an extra coffee hit!
A small spoonful of mascarpone filling is then poured into the carved hole. This filling is a lightly whipped mixture of marsala wine (an Italian sweet wine from Sicily), chilled mascarpone and icing sugar. Marsala wine will give the most authentic tiramisu flavour, but you can use other sweet spirits such as almond liqueur, Grand Marnier, sweet sherry or madeira wine - you will want to opt for a sweet substitute rather than rum or brandy, as we are not using an overly sweet frosting.
Once filled, we push the cored centred back onto the top of the cupcakes to cover the hole. They won't look too pretty but don't despair - the buttercream will be piped on top to hide the mess!
Italian Meringue Buttercream
For me, this is the pièce de résistance of the cup cakes, and brings the whole cake together with a beautiful texture and subtle flavour of coffee and marsala wine. The buttercream is made by beating marshmallowy Italian meringue with softened butter, resulting in a beautifully light and silky texture which is not overly sweet, unlike regular buttercream which uses softened butter and a ton of icing sugar making it very sweet and quite heavy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with American buttercream - I love the stuff usually, but this European style buttercream lends itself so nicely to a tiramisu cupcake, a dessert that is traditionally supposed to be light and creamy and only subtly sweet. I've tried a few tiramisu cupcakes with American buttercream and, honestly, they may as well have been cappuccino cupcakes - the sweetness of the buttercream completely overpowers the tiramisu flavours.
These cupcakes are literally tiramisu in cupcake form!
I won't lie, this buttercream is definitely more work and requires care, attention and patience. It can seem quite intimidating but if you follow the directions properly, you should have no problems!
To make Italian meringue, we place sugar and water in a small saucepan and, without stirring, bring to the boil. Meanwhile, the egg whites are whipped on a medium low speed until the sugar mixture begins to bubble, at which point we need to check the temperature with a thermometer. Once at 105C, the mixing speed of the egg whites is increased to form soft peaks. Once at 113C, the sugar syrup is immediately removed from the heat and, with the egg whites still whipping on high speed, slowly poured into the egg whites in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl - do not incorporate all at once unless you want some lovely scrambled egg whites! There will be a hardened stream of sugar down the side of the bowl as it cools, but this is normal, do not try to incorporate it - Just let it sit there and do its thing!
Continue to whip the meringue on high speed for about 10-20 minutes to allow the mixture to cool and develop into stiff glossy beautiful peaks. This mixture must be whipped continuously until cooled to room temperature before beating in room temperature butter a little at a time. See how frequently I mention "ROOM TEMPERATURE" here? It's important! If the butter is too cold, or the meringue to warm, it can completely ruin your buttercream!
After about half of the butter is whipped in, the mixture will start to curdle and you will panic and want to cry but DO NOT FEAR! Just keep going and the mixture will eventually bring itself back together. What you will hopefully have after another 5 minutes is a beautifully light and silky buttercream that you will want to spoon out of the bowl, straight into your mouth!
What if I don't have a sugar thermometer?
I do really recommend investing in a thermometer for absolute precision - there will be less chance of things going wrong and having to start your syrup again! However, you can test your sugar manually by dropping a small amount of the syrup into a bowl of cool water. The syrup should set quickly into a soft, malleable ball - test with your finger to check its consistency. If the sugar syrup dissolves straight into the water, the sugar isn't ready, if the syrup turns hard rather than soft, the sugar has been over cooked.
You can also use Swiss Meringue Buttercream which, although has a slightly different process, is more or less the same in terms of texture and flavour, although I find it a little harder to pipe with. And hey, we are making an Italian dessert - let's try and keep with the theme here!
Creamy & Light Tiramisu Cupcakes
Prep time: 1 Hour
Cooking time: 18-20 minutes
Difficulty: Requires Skill
Makes: 14 cup cakes
195g self raising flour (Remember! Low protein where possible!)
5g Corn flour (corn starch)
1/4 tsp baking soda
90g softened butter
19g flavourless oil
200g caster sugar
3 medium egg whites (roughly 85-90g)
120g sour cream
120g Milk (whole or semi skimmed)
2 Tsp Vanilla extract
1 Tbsp instant coffee
2 1/2 Tbsp warm water
2 Tbsp Tia Maria (or coffee liqueur)
100g chilled mascarpone cheese
1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp Marsala wine
35g icing sugar
Italian Meringue Butter Cream
100g Egg whites
300g Softened butter
1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/2 tsp coffee extract
1 1/2 tbsp Marsala wine
1. Preheat your oven to 175C and line muffin tins with cupcake cases
2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and cornstarch thoroughly
3. CUPCAKES: Using a hand held mixer or stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the softened butter with 100g of sugar for about 2 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add the oil and remaining 100g sugar and beat for a further 30 seconds. Add egg whites in three stages beating in until just combined. Slowly beat in sour cream and vanilla until combined. Sift in flour mixture in 3 stages, folding until just incorporated and no white streaks appear (NOTE: it's okay to have some white flour streaks after the first 2 additions of flour - if you try to fully fold in the flour in the first 2 stages you may over mix by the time all of your flour has been incorporated!) Slowly add milk and fold until fully combined - do not over mix! The batter will be a medium thickness.
4. Fill cup cake liners just over half way full - if you fill beyond 2/3 the tops will rise too high and over brown and will look like muffins! Place in middle rack of oven and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until set on top and a skewer, when inserted, comes out clean.
4. COFFEE SOAK: Whilst cup cakes are baking, dissolve the instant coffee in the warm water and add the Tia Maria. Set aside until required.
5. When cupcakes have baked, allow to cool completely to room temperature on a wire rack
6. MASCARPONE FILLING: As cup cakes cool, beat your chilled mascarpone until creamy. Add the icing sugar and beat until smooth, then mix in the marsala wine. The mixture should not be too runny or too thick, but just hold its shape.
7. FILL CUPCAKES: When cup cakes have cooled, use a cup cake corer or sharp knife to carve out the cores of the cupcake, being careful not to cut through the bottom of the cake. Use a pastry brush to brush the coffee soak on the inner walls of the cupcake and lightly coat the tops. Spoon in a small amount of the mascarpone filling before placing the cut-out cores back on top of the carved holes like a lid.
8. ITALIAN MERINGUE: Place 200g sugar in a small pan along with 50g water and bring to the boil. As the syrup boils, preferably using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, start slowly whipping the egg whites and salt on a low speed (YOU DO NOT WANT STIFF PEAKS AT THIS STAGE).
When the sugar mixture starts to bubble, check the temperature of your syrup with a candy thermometer - once you reach 105C, increase the speed of your egg whites but be careful not to over whisk to stiff, dry peaks. Pay attention to not let your syrup surpass 115C - as soon as your syrup reaches 113C, remove from the heat and slowly pour the syrup in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl into the egg whites as they whip on high speed. Continue to whip on high speed for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture has cooled and stiff, glossy, silky peaks have formed.
9. ITALIAN BUTTERCREAM: Once the meringue mixture has cooled to room temperature, start to incorporate your softened butter 1 tsp at a time. It is important that your meringue has cooled or the butter will completely melt! Keep adding butter and whisking on high speed until you have a beautiful, silky buttercream. The mixture will curdle about 3/4 of the way through but will bring itself back together - just keep going! Once the buttercream has fully developed, whisk in the coffee extract and Marsala.
9. Fill a piping bag with your buttercream and decorate your cakes as you choose. Sift cocoa powder or grate some dark chocolate on top to finish!