AS YOU LIKE IT… a Daring Baker’s Challenge
I’ve made it pink and girlie, all dressed up in berries and frivolity, drenched in exotic red fruit Nantillais and ready for summer fun. I’ve made it rich and movie-star chic, adorned in sweet, tangy cherries, tender, perfumed chocolate ladyfingers nestled deeply in a luxurious cloak of cool, creamy sophistication. And son goes the oh-so traditional route. But, then again, it’s traditional for a very good reason, isn’t it? He blends and stirs with care and love, eggs cracking, beater whizzing, coffee steeping and the kitchen starts to smell like an old-world café where gentlemen dressed in elegantly tailored suits sip their caffè coretto, deep, dark espresso splashed with the tiniest hint of Amaretto, adding just a touch of mystery and warmth. And then she walks in, long, delicate, cloudlike biscuits bathed in the dark, bitter potion and wrapped in lush, smooth mascarpone, whipped up into ethereal lightness, soft and pale like alabaster skin, lightly kissed by more earthy Amaretto and aromatic vanilla and draped in a velvety blanket of bitter cocoa and then chilled until as cool and deep as the cold, dark gaze of some old film femme fatale. And together it is heaven.
Tiramisu! The most glorious, most perfect of all desserts, divinely rich, lush and voluptuous, a delicacy to savor, spoonful by sensuous spoonful. Let it sleep overnight, do not disturb, then pull it out of its icy resting place and scoop up a morsel and taste, roll it around on the tongue, tickle your taste buds and you’ll discover a luxurious sensation, silk sliding over bare, gently perfumed skin, flavors mingling, bitter coffee and cocoa losing their edge as they meld into one with the delicately sweetened mascarpone cream, followed mischievously by that nutty bite of Amaretto, Tiramisu’s most perfect mate. Tiramisu, cool and comforting all at once, like being pulled out of the cold wind into a warm embrace.
Indulge! I certainly can’t resist! If it’s in the refrigerator I am constantly, surreptitiously sneaking spoonfuls. Too dreamy! It’s my weakness, my guilty pleasure, my one silly foible. My knees go all wobbly and my heart beats just a little quicker when one is near. Tiramisu is always on my sideboard when company rings the bell and an elegant, impressive finale to a meal is called for. So light and airy I can convince myself that just a small dish can’t hurt, that a bare dusting of cocoa powder will satisfy my chocolate craving without pulling me into a whirlpool of chocolate frenzy, that a treat meant to be savored slowly, a delicacy to linger over will appease, will soothe me all evening long like one slow dance or a final glass of champagne.
We discovered Tiramisu, that most Italian of all desserts, while living in Italy. And it was love at first bite. Tiramisu was to be had everywhere, from the family pizzeria to the most refined ristorante. And it was always delightful, rich and creamy and good. Yet now that we are back in France, it is rarer to come across except at our local Italian bistrot or the Italian stand at the marketplace. And, of course, Clem decided several years ago to create his own, to master the Tiramisu, and master he did. He now makes the most outrageously fabulous, delicious Tiramisu on the planet, so captivating, utterly delightful, and thanks to him the barrier for Tiramisu is now set quite high. And I am, I must admit, often disappointed when I taste a Tiramisu elsewhere. One must find the perfect balance of ladyfingers and cream, the perfect quantity of espresso soaked into the fingers leaving them moist rather than soggy, whole yet not dry. The cream must be thick and rich yet creamy and velvety smooth and whipped up to airy lightness. There must be just enough Amaretto and coffee flavor to accentuate, to compliment the delicacy of the mascarpone cream without either being lost or being too bossy. It must simply be, well, perfect.
And this month’s Daring Baker challenge was, of course, Tiramisu. Tiramisu chosen by this month’s fantastic hosts, both dear friends and incredible bakers, Deeba of Passionate About Baking and Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen. Their challenge recipe is a combination of recipes from Carminantonio from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession. Some of the individual recipes I kept as is, others I changed. These are the recipes I followed.
FOR THE TIRAMISU :
PREPARE THE MASCARPONE, THE ZABAGLIONE AND THE VANILLA PASTRY CREAM THE DAY BEFORE ASSEMBLING THE TIRAMISU!
MASCARPONE CHEESE *
Recipe from Vera of Baking Obsession
This recipe makes 12 oz (345 g) mascarpone
2 cups (500 ml) whipping/heavy cream, pasteurized but not ultr-pasteurized, 25% to 36% fat
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.
Vera’s notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it’d been cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.
Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.
* I must admit that my first try at mascarpone was a complete disaster so it ended up being washed down the sink. If I had had more time I would have reworked the recipe using what I learned this first time. Ah well. Luckily, I can easily purchase Italian mascarpone at my grocery store.
Adapted from the original recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home combined with my own recipe
This recipe makes anywhere from 24 to 45 ladyfingers.
3 large eggs, separated
6 Tbs (75 g) sugar
¾ cup (95 g) cake flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
6 Tbs (50 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
Separate the eggs. Place the yolks in a large mixing bowl. Place the whites in a medium-sized metal or plastic bowl and add a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line 2 large baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper. I “glued” down the corners of the parchment with a dab of softened butter just so the parchment lay flat.
Beat the egg whites on low for 30 seconds then increase the beater speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. Continue beating while sprinkling on about a tablespoon or 2 of the sugar until the whites are stiff.
Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and the vanilla until thick, pale and the batter forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted up. Using a spatula, fold the whites into the yolk mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the flour also added in 3 times, until smooth and well blended. Do not overfold.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5" long and 3/4" wide strips (or larger or smaller as needed) leaving about 1" space in between the strips.
Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten.
Now sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the ladyfingers. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes then turn the baking sheets around back to front and continue baking until the fingers are lightly golden, about 5 minutes more depending on your oven.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing them with a metal spatula onto cooling racks to cool completely.
2 large egg yolks
3 Tbs (50 g) sugar
¼ cup (60 ml) Amaretto (you can replace the Amaretto with Marsala or coffee)
¼ tsp vanilla
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Amaretto (or Marsala/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
VANILLA PASTRY CREAM
1/4 cup (55g) sugar
1 tablespoon (8g) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk.
Whisk until smooth. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling.
Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream at least 25% fat
¼ cup (50 g) sugar **
½ tsp vanilla
** Next time I will use half this amount of sugar or adjust the sugar quantities in the zabaglione and/or pastry cream.
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla in a chilled mixing bowl and, using chilled beaters, beat for several minutes until thickened and stiff peaks hold.
ASSEMBLE THE TIRAMISU
You will need :
1/3 cup (75 g) mascarpone
The Vanilla Pastry Cream
The Whipped Cream
36 more or less Ladyfingers
2 cups (500 ml) strong coffee or espresso at room temperature
2 – 4 Tbs Amaretto to taste, optional
Several tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
Have a your recipient ready, either individual molds, glasses, cups or rings or an 8-inch round dish or ring (as I used) or an 8-inch square baking dish or a rectangular dish of the same volume. (see Clem filling both a glass serving dish as well as individual rings here)
In a mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone, the Zabaglione and the Pastry Cream together just until smooth and creamy. Carefully fold in the Whipped Cream using a spatula. Fold in Amaretto to taste. Place the coffee in a large bowl or soup bowl.
For one ring or dish, place about a ladleful of the mascarpone cream on the bottom and spread evenly. Working quickly, dunk ladyfingers, one at a time, into the espresso or coffee until moist but not soggy. Line the bottom of the ring or the dish with the soaked ladyfingers, pushing them together or using pieces of fingers to fill in any gaps. Spoon a third of the remaining mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers and spread evenly. Repeat with the imbibed fingers, a third more of the cream, more ladyfingers then finish with cream (I did only 2 layers of ladyfingers rather than 3).
Cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, unmold the Tiramisu if in a ring. Sprinkle generously and completely with unsweetened cocoa powder just before serving. Keep uneaten Tiramisu in the refrigerator.
I found the final mascarpone-zabaglione-pastry cream-whipped cream mixture much too sweet, although the sweetness was less pronounced the second and third days, but I suggest cutting back on the sugar by reducing the quantities a bit in the whipped cream, the zabaglione and the pastry cream each. The ladyfingers are fantastic and in fact I whipped up a second batch right away when I decided to line the edge of the Tiramisu all around in the style of a charlotte. So easy and so delicious! Personally, I still prefer Clem’s Tiramisu; I find it tastier as well as being much simpler to put together. Deeba’s and Aparna’s version is preferred if you do not want to eat raw eggs. And I enjoyed the challenge of the different parts and most definitely will try the mascarpone again.
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