I love tiramisu but I hold it to high standards. I want it to really pop with the flavors of bold espresso and tangy mascarpone. It can't be too sweet. Lady fingers are a non-negotiable. (Seriously, you'd be surprised at some of the shams I've had.)
So I wasn't really expecting the Ciao Bella! ($3.25) cupcake from Sift to nail the flavor profile of tiramisu—I thought at best I'd get a coffee and cream flavored cupcake. But I guess you don't win Cupcake Wars for nothing (owners Andrea and Corey Fanfa won the Food Network show in 2011, and undoubtedly there was a "make this non-cupcake food into a cupcake" challenge).
It starts with the base, which is a ever so slightly crunchy layer of crushed lady fingers. On top is vanilla sponge cake with the signature Sift texture: extra moist and just a little dense. It conceals a good sized pocket of coffee icing which, with its potent espresso flavor, was definitely my favorite part. The crowning mascarpone frosting is light and smooth, not stiff, tacky, or greasy. Sweet with a hint of tang, it doesn't overwhelm the cake.
A dusting of cocoa powder on the top ties all the elements together and adds the final tiramisu touch. All together, it was my favorite cupcake in a long time...probably because it felt like I was eating a different dessert all together.
About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios