Friday, October 19, 2018


It is not a secret that I love coffee, nor that I love using it in desserts. Back when I started drinking coffee, I used to love flavoured coffees, especially latte macchiato. Although today I prefer doppio espresso without any sugar or milk, sometimes a flavoured latte macchiato can be a nice change, especially if flavoured by freshly made caramel sauce.
Coffee and caramel make for such a wonderful flavour pairing, so it is only natural to make it into a charming little cake, perfect served with strong espresso, and additional homemade caramel sauce. The richness of the caramel filling is cut by the flavourful espresso cake layers, yet delightfully balanced by the fragrant vanilla syrup. A complete dessert experience for coffee lovers.

For the espresso cake layers
150 grams unsalted butter, softened
150 grams granulated sugar
3 medium free-range eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
150 grams plain flour
15 grams cornflour
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
200 grams sour cream
For the vanilla syrup
50 grams granulated sugar
50 ml cold water
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
For the caramel filling
200 grams granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
40 grams cornflour
30 grams plain flour
700 ml whole milk
250 grams unsalted butter, softened

Because the luscious filling starts with a rich caramel custard that needs a bit of time to cool down, start by taking away about 200 ml of whole milk, and whisking it really well with sifted cornflour, plain flour, and the egg yolks in a medium bowl, and set it aside. Pour the granulated sugar in an even layer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or a skillet, then place the saucepan over medium heat and let the sugar melt slowly. Do not rush this process, turn up the heat, or stir the sugar at this point. It is a quite slow process at this point, and it will take some time for the sugar to start melting. Once it does start to brown around the edges, slowly and gently move the melted parts towards the centre.
Keep cooking the sugar over medium heat, whilst keeping a close eye on it, until it starts to turn darker in colour and become very fragrant. Once it becomes a deep amber colour, very carefully, in a slow stream, pour the rest of the milk, and let it come to a boil. If you notice the caramel hardening at this point, fret not, it will completely melt into the milk by the time it starts to boil.
When the milk starts bubbling up, add in the mixture of corn starch and egg yolks in a steady stream, and cook until it thickens up, about 2-3 minutes, and it will become a rich, fragrant custard. Remove it from the heat and strain it through a mesh strainer, just in case there are some pieces of hardened caramel. Pour it into a large container, cover the top of the cooked custard with cling film, and let it cool down to room temperature.

While the custard is cooling down, make the espresso cake layers. Place the softened butter into a large bowl, tip in the sugar, and whisk with an electric hand mixer, until much paler in colour, and very aerated in texture. Crack each egg into a separate ramekin, then beat them into the butter and sugar, one egg at a time, until blended. Add in the vanilla bean paste, and combine it well. Sift in the flour, cornflour, instant espresso powder, and the baking soda, and mix only until combined. Finally, add in the sour cream, and mix on low until just blended.
Line four small round cake tins (15 cm), divide the batter evenly between them, and level it as much as you can. The batter will be thick, and almost resembling brownie batter, so it will need a bit of help with the levelling. Bake them in a preheated oven, at 180°C (350°F), for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through the baking. Check them with a toothpick around the 15-minute mark, just to make sure they do not overbake. Let the baked cakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then take them out, arrange them on wire racks, and let them cool completely.

To make the vanilla syrup, add the granulated sugar into a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and pour all of the water over it. Scrape the whole vanilla pod, and add all of the beans into the sugar. Place the saucepan over high heat, bring the mixture to a rolling boil, and let it cook until all of the sugar has dissolved, about a minute. Let the syrup cool down completely before using.
When the custard has sufficiently cooled down, take a large bowl, add in the room temperature butter, and whisk with an electric mixer on high, until it becomes very light and creamy, almost resembling buttercream. Whilst the mixer is running, add in the cooled custard, a spoonful at a time, until well-blended and looking silky and smooth.
To assemble the cake, level the cake layers if needed, then soak each layer with the vanilla syrup. Place the first cake layer on the serving platter, then add one fourth of the filling on top, and smooth it out completely. Place the second cake layer on top, and continue stacking the cake until you use up all of the cake layers. Use the remaining fourth of the caramel filling to frost the entire cake generously. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, before serving. Yields 16 rich servings.