PRETTY IN PINK, NOT JUST FOR GIRLS
I was brought up to be the consummate girl: older sister was the future doctor (or, more accurately, Doctor, with a capital “D”), the other two were boys, and that left only me. I followed mom through Sears and J.C. Penny when she decided to go clothes shopping, I accompanied her to the grocery store, I was assigned the household tasks of dusting and vacuuming, drying the dishes and most everything else that needed to be done. I wore ribbons in my long, albeit unruly hair and was given dolls on my birthday. Yet, as much as I was truly a girl, scared of cockroaches and snakes, adoring department store clothing departments and looking for beautiful jewelry at the yearly local antique fair, not even minding dusting while singing along to the 5th Dimension, I was never really a true girlie girl.
True, I loved collecting and playing with Barbie’s, yet between preparing them food and feeding them and having them make out with my brother’s GI Joe, the only thing I loved was dressing them up in skin tight mini dresses (the tighter and the mini-er the better) and high-heeled pumps. I was more fascinated with the women that they were and that maybe, just maybe, I could become than just as dolls; the “playing dolls” bored me. I loved them for the rebels I saw them as, not “let little girls dream of being doctors or lawyers” – Barbie didn’t do that in the Sixties, but more as strong, powerful and sexy women. And always well fed. The rest of my free, after-school time was spent shooting baskets or playing Hot Wheels with Andrew, putting on song-and-dance variety shows with Michael, or reading.
Growing up in that beachside town where blond, leggy and sun-tanned made for the ideal woman, what hope did I have? I felt my differences acutely, yet learned to make the most of them. I wasn’t a “pink and ruffles” girl, I liked the unusual in clothes as I did in games, even if it meant getting teased and laughed at. If it was bright and wild, I loved it; that cherry red skirt with the bright white zipper that scooted straight up the center front ending in a huge, mod ring pull, belts worn on the outside of my shirt rather than through the belt loops of my pants, fringed suede vests and anything with the hint of avant-garde. After all, prim, girlie clothes would have simply looked silly with my white white skin and black frizzy hair.
In food, I lived the same passions. Pink wasn’t my thing. Raspberries were too insipid and strawberries, that most girlie of fruits, were best eaten straight from the plant. I never asked for a scoop of lovely, pastel pink ice cream or pink frosting on my cupcakes, overly sweet white icing got scraped off along with the neon-colored roses. In fact, I hated and shunned anything at all with strawberries, from pie to shortcake to Pop Tarts to milkshakes. Not. My. Flavor. Period.
Deep, dark chocolate cakes and icings, thick, creamy chocolate cream pies or pudding piled high with whipped cream were my choice, and dense, sharply-flavored cherry was the only fruit pie filling I would choose. Coffee ice cream, chocolate chip pancakes, chocolate fudge or salt water taffy. At restaurants, the Mud Pie or the chocolate cream pie always won out, and I could down so many Whoopie Pies, S’mores or Little Debbie Chocolate Swiss Rolls at one time that no one would have ever considered it ladylike.
So why my sudden fascination with Red Fruit Tiramisu? #1 Son Clem makes the most divine, the world’s absolute best Tiramisu. Amaretto and coffee and deep, dark, unsweetened cocoa. Rich and luxurious, the nearest one can get to the most perfect dessert. Why change anything about it? Why take away the two flavors that I love the best, coffee and chocolate, and introduce strawberries to the delicate, creamy smooth mascarpone filling? Strawberries? My dessert nemesis! A shiver runs up my spine just thinking about it. Well, it all started with Les Reims Roses.
The “biscuit rose de Reims” is a fascinating cookie first produced in Reims, the city of French Champagne, in 1691 and is still found today in every grocery store across the country. This local delicacy is a baked meringue-type treat the color of roses and dusted liberally with powdered sugar. The “Reims Rose” is traditionally served with and dipped in either Champagne or any of the red wines produced in that region, a necessary procedure to soften this crunchy cookie. We love the flavor and texture of the Reims Rose and often buy them to eat dipped in a tall, cold glass of milk. The lovely color is most definitely unique for a cookie, and we have long discussed using them, this oh so French sweet, in the preparation of a dessert. And, of course, Tiramisu came to mind.
And the strawberry, that much maligned fruit (in our house, at least), that sweetest of ruby-red jewels, trimmed, sliced and served chez nous quite simply doused with sugar and slathered with whipped cream, is indeed a local speciality. I walked over to our local fruitier, greengrocer, and picked up a pint from St. Julien de Concelles and 2 pints from La Chapelle sur Erdre, both right outside of Nantes, a stone’s throw from home. The local strawberry deserved at least some recognition from me, and certainly deserves my respect, praise and admiration, being so sweet and succulent, so summery and healthful.
And I finally made the Strawberry Tiramisu. And it is, well, it does taste like a creamy strawberry shortcake, yet the sweet berries set against the delicate cream with its barely-there hint of Amaretto, is summer itself. The men in the family loved it, JP deemed it divine.
I followed Clem’s recipe for the mascarpone filling and decided to use Amaretto as the flavoring, although this can be replaced with the more Italian marsala or even a teaspoon of vanilla extract for an alcohol-free dessert. The Reims Roses can easily be replaced with the more traditional Lady Finger biscuits or even slices of plain genoise or sponge cake. The cookies I crushed on the top of the Tiramisu can be replaced with some crushed almond-flavored Amaretti biscuits or left off entirely. The strawberries can be mixed with, or replaced with, raspberries or blackberries, just as you like. I decided to go as local as I could and added a slug or two of Le Nantillais, a local sweetened fruit concentrate used in cocktails. This can be replaced with a dash of water and sugar to taste, an unsweetened fruit juice or a fruit syrup, just enough to thin the strawberry purée a bit.
And I do admit that I loved the beautiful pink color of this dessert…. Second best to the color of coffee and chocolate.
PRETTY IN PINK STRAWBERRY TIRAMISU
2 – 3 pints of strawberries, local and in season, naturally, or any summer berries
20 – 30 biscuits, ladyfingers or enough sponge or other cake for two layers
4 very fresh eggs, separated
2 cups (16.5 oz, 500 g) mascarpone
½ cup (100 g) sugar or to taste
4 Tbs or more Amaretto
Prepare the purée to use to soften and soak the biscuits or cake:
Place a pint of berries in a saucepan with a slug or two of juice or syrup or water. If thinning it with water, add sugar just to lightly sweeten if needed. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and allow to simmer for just a couple of minutes, mashing and puréeing the berries with a spoon or potato masher. Remove from the heat, pour into a wide, shallow bowl and allow to cool.
Prepare the Mascarpone cream (follow Clem doing this as he prepares his traditional Tiramisu here):
Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Set the whites aside is a large bowl.
Beat the yolks until thick and pale. Add all of the sugar except one tablespoon and continue beating until thick.
Add the mascarpone and 4 tablespoons of the Amaretto, and fold all together until very well blended and creamy.
Beat the whites until they start to stiffen. Add the remaining tablespoon of sugar gradually as you continue to beat the whites stiff. The whites are ready when you can turn the bowl upside down and they don’t budge.
Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone/egg mixture, using a spatula. Start with about a third of the whites to lighten the mixture. Then add a second third, then the last, carefully folding the whites into the mixture after each addition so as not to break the air in the whites.
Taste the mascarpone cream, adding a bit more sugar or Amaretto to taste.
Prepare the Tiramisu:
Trim the strawberries and slice.
Whether using individual molds or glasses/dishes or one larger serving dish, spoon and spread a thin layer of the cream mixture on the bottom.
Take one Reims Rose or Ladyfinger at a time, trimming to fit your mold if necessary, and soak in the fruit purée, briefly but thoroughly, until soaked through and soft, but not too long that the cookie falls apart. I tried to get a bit of the purée to stick to the cookie.
Line the mold with the purée-soaked cookies, pushing them together so as not to leave spaces between the cookies. Add a layer of sliced strawberries, as many as you like pushed together.
Now spoon more of the mascarpone mixture into the mold, smoothing over the cookies, forming a rather thick layer.
Repeat with a layer of purée-drenched cookies, then the mascarpone to the top of the dish. Finish with a decorative layer of sliced strawberries. Sprinkle the top with crushed Reims Roses if you like (though you may want to do this just before serving so they stay crunchy).
These can be made in one large, deep, preferably glass (to see the beautiful layers) serving dish or in individual glass bowls. I decided to mold two of them in circular molds, first cutting out a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom and placing on a small doily. To remove the mold, simply but carefully move the molded Tiramisu to an individual serving plate by lifting under the doily with a spatula, then very gently jiggle and twist slightly back and forth, lifting the mold straight up. Once you feel the Tiramisu release, just lift the mold straight up. The rest I made in a glass baking dish, though I could have used one slightly larger….
Tiramisu is best made in the morning to be served after dinner at night. Left overnight in the fridge, the cookies may release a bit of liquid, but it is still so exquisitely delicious! Using the Reims Rose cookies, which are thicker and crispier than traditional ladyfingers, they definitely needed to be left in the fridge overnight to soften.
Too girlie? For you to decide...