SEEMS a while since we made a cake together, so I’ve dug through my mind’s recipe Rolodex for a lovely, elegant cake I’ve not made in a while, one which seems to suit the prevailing conditions.

I’m in the mood for lighter recipes, but it’s still cool enough to crave the occasional slice of something decadent and chocolate-y. So how about a Tiramisù gateau?

Most of you will have heard of the classic Italian dessert Tiramisù. Created back in the 1960’s (although it is based on recipes several hundred years older than this), it has had a bit of a rollercoaster ride through years of veering popularity and derision.

I suppose it had its heyday in the 1980s, when Italian restaurants were enjoying their salad (insalata?) years.

Huddersfield, seemingly well populated with Italian families, had more than its fair share of great trattorie – We were spoiled for choice with Da Sandro, Sole Mio and Alla Scala (whose juicy, rich Tournedos Rossini lives long in the memory) all providing great authentic menus full of mouthwatering classics like Fritto Misto – that fragrant, rustling bowl of crisp deep-fried fish and seafood, crying out for a squirt of fresh lemon – or a good risotto Milanese, creamy and satisfying.

There were translucent slices of ham and salami, sweet and fragrant, to be enjoyed with fresh fig or melon. We tried Calzone pizzas, doughy volcanoes popping open in a torrent of molten, stringy Mozzarella cheese and piping hot deep-red tomato sauce. Oregano and basil entered our culinary vocabulary.

To this day, one of my very favourite dishes, which I first ate at Sole Mio, is the classic Saltimbocca Alla Romana, veal escalopes wrapped in Parma ham, under which one tucks several fat sage leaves before frying in oil and butter until crisp, before dousing in lemon juice and a splash of wine. It’s a dish that positively bounces with flavour.

Of all the desserts that featured on practically every menu, there between the lemon sorbet and the profiteroles, was, almost without fail, the tiramisù.

Its name means ‘Pick Me Up’ in Italian, but perhaps translates better as ‘Cheer Me Up’, for it is terrific comfort food. Sometimes a disappointing slab, bought from an uncaring catering supplier, but more often a wedge taken from a well-crafted example, made to a family recipe, the tiramisù is a wonderful rich dessert made by soaking sponge fingers (Savoiardi) in espresso coffee, and layering these up with a rich cream made with beaten eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese, plus a little booze (often Marsala), with a little cocoa or grated chocolate is sprinkled on top to add a nice complimentary flavour.

When I was a young chef, I had the opportunity to go and work for a while at the famous Walnut Tree Inn, near Abergavenny, back in the 90s a terrific restaurant with a great reputation. I was taught by the great chef Franco Taruschio, who knocked up a superb Tiramisù.

It was he who told me that the recipe should include not Marsala but rum, a drink the rest of the world don’t realise the Italians are very fond of. I suspect their fine seafaring tradition has something to do with this penchant for a drink made in the Caribbean and South America. Since then, I make mine with rum. Of course, the booze you include is up to you. A coffee-infused dessert such as this would be fine with Kahlua, Tia Maria, or even a good brandy. Just as long as it has that necessary boozy kick. And this recipe is merely a reconstructed tiramisù, substituting the sponge fingers for layers of sponge cake.

It’s a nice twist, and is wonderful served with an extra dollop of sweetened cream and a cup of strong black espresso. Aprons on!

For the sponge cake:

4 fresh free-range eggs

175g unrefined golden caster sugar

125g plain flour

For the chocolate ganache:

125g bitter chocolate

125ml double cream

A small knob of butter

A pinch of Maldon salt

For the mascarpone layer:

2 fresh free-range eggs, separated

25g unrefined golden caster sugar

250g fresh mascarpone cheese

The seeds of 1 vanilla pod

175ml double cream

75ml golden rum


A few shots of espresso or very strong black coffee

Cocoa powder

100g bar dark or milk chocolate, for grating

A little whipping cream

A little icing sugar

3 x 20cm springform cake tins (or use 1 and repeat)


First, make the chocolate ganache. In a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, cream and butter with a little pinch of salt, and allow to melt and become smooth. Whisk well.

Remove from the heat and chill, then allow to sit at room temperature. It should be a nice soft texture.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC / Gas 6. Line your cake tins if necessary.

Whisk the sugar and eggs in a bowl until very pale and fluffy, then carefully and quickly fold in the flour. Gently spoon the mixture into the cake tins and bake until golden, about 15 minutes.

Allow to cool before removing from the tins.

To make the mascarpone filling, add the egg yolks, rum and vanilla seeds to the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Whip the cream to a soft peak and fold in, and finally whisk the egg yolks to a medium peak, add the 25g sugar and whisk to a set peak. Fold into the mascarpone mixture.

To assemble the cake, sprinkle coffee over each of the sponge discs, making sure it’s quite well soaked.

Spread a little ganache over each cake. On the bottom layer, spoon half of the mascarpone cream, smooth with a palette knife, and gently place another cake disc on top.

Repeat the process with the remaining mascarpone, and top with the final ganache-covered cake disc.

Using a fine grater, grate the chocolate bar over the ganache, patting it down, then dust the assembled cake lightly with cocoa powder.

Whip the cream and fold in a little sieved icing sugar, and serve this separately.