It’s Not As Hard As It Looks: Tiramisu

February 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

There are a lot of things that look really hard before you do them–knitting with cables, for instance, which looked so hard before I realized how simple it is.  Or watercolor painting.  Or (although I don’t really remember, but I imagine) walking.  When it comes to cooking there are lots of things that intimidate me, and it is true to my tendency to improvise gets me into trouble, but I’ve found that if I take the time to figure things out I can make all kinds of awesome things.

Like tiramisu.

Tiramisu is certifiably awesome. Anyone who says differently cannot be trusted.

A couple of weeks ago I made tiramisu for my Bible study’s Italian potluck using this recipe.  I thought that it was going to be a lot harder than it was.  Guess what? It’s easy!  It’s just not quick.  It’s fairly time consuming just because you have to make several different parts and then assemble them, and then you have to wash all of the bowls that you made them in (I think I counted a minimum of six bowls dirtied during the tiramisu process. Thank goodness for the Kitchen Fairy, that’s all I’m saying).  And THEN you have to let your tiramisu chill in the refrigerator overnight (and trust me, it will not be amazing if you do not let it chill overnight).  Tiramisu is not an instant gratification kind of project, but you know what?  Good things come to those that wait.  And by ‘good things’ I mean ‘delicious and creamy desserts’.

Tiramisu has three components: a Mascarpone cheese filling, whipped cream, and ladyfinger cookies soaked with coffee and liqueur.

The first part of the Mascarpone cheese filling needs to chill for an hour in the refrigerator, so start there–and by the way, if you’ve never heard of Mascarpone cheese before (I hadn’t!) you’ll be interested to know that it’s an Italian cream cheese.  Look for it with the specialty cheese in the deli section of your grocery store.

Mascarpone Cheese Filling:

6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
16 oz of Mascarpone cheese (you won’t be using the cheese just yet, but go ahead and leave it out on the counter to soften)

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small saucepan (discard the whites, or save them for an egg white omlette).  Whisk the sugar into the yolks until combined, then whisk in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture boils (this took about five minutes for me).

boiling egg mixture--watch out! as it bubbles it might spit a bit

Let it boil gently for one minute, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool slightly.  Cover tightly and put in the refrigerator for one hour (I transfered the mixture into a different bowl  and covered the surface with plastic wrap).  Leave the Mascarpone cheese out while the egg mixture chills so that it will soften.

egg mixture transferred to another bowl and covered with plastic wrap

Now you have an hour to kill!  Perfect, because you have ladyfingers to make (you could buy prepackaged ladyfingers, but where’s the fun in that?  Besides, they’re really simple).  I used this recipe.

Ladyfingers:

4 eggs, separated
2/3 cup white sugar
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup coffee liquor (you won’t be using these two ingredients until later, when you assemble the tiramisu)

Place egg whites in bowl and beat with an electric mixer on high until soft peaks start to form. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and continue beating until stiff and glossy. In another bowl beat egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whip until thick and very pale in color.
Sift flour and baking powder together (the internet advised me to sift thoroughly for the best results, so I sifted the flour and baking powder onto a paper plate, then moved the sifter to another paper plate, used the first plate as a funnel to transfer the flour back into the sifter, and sifted again.  I did this twice, which may have been overkill).  Fold half the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Fold in flour, and then add the remaining egg whites. Keep folding gently until the flour is well incorporated.  (I was really focused on what I was doing at this point.  Way too focused to take pictures).
Preheat oven to 400F. Line two 17 x 12 inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit large pastry bag with a plain 1/2 inch round tube or if you’re using a disposable piping bag just cut off the tip (you could also use a heavy duty freezer bag* and cut off one corner).Transfer mixture to pastry bag and pipe out onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.

*I’ve seen lots of tutorials that blithely instruct the reader to use a ziplock bag for piping.  Most of them aren’t more specific than that, but I am here to tell you that you ONLY want to use a heavy duty freezer bag.  This is not a time for bargain brand ziplock sandwich bags. Why? Because they will explode on you.

For my test batch of tiramisu I piped out three inch ladyfingers, but then I had to fit them into the bottom of my pan, which was a bit of a jigsaw. So for my second batch I got clever:

Ladyfingers piped to match the dimensions of my pan. Yes, I am a genius.

I took the pan that I was going to assemble the tiramisu in, set it on a piece of parchment paper, and traced around the bottom with a pencil.  Then I moved it over and traced it again (making sure that both outlines would fit on one cookie sheet–otherwise I would have used a second piece of parchment paper).  I turned the paper over so that the pencil marks were on the bottom and voila! a perfect template of my pan.  I just piped the ladyfingers out to match.

See how neatly the ladyfingers fit? It's like they were MADE FOR IT.

Now you have your ladyfingers cooling (you can speed up the cool time by sliding the parchment paper off of the cookie sheets and onto a wire rack) and your egg mixture has been in the refrigerator for an hour, so you can get it out and finish it by folding the 16oz of softened Mascarpone cheese into the egg and stirring until well blended.

Two components down! Only one to go!

Whipped Cream:

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine in a bowl and beat with an electric hand mixture, gradually increasing the speed to high, and beat until it is light and fluffy and soft peaks form when you lift the beater.  (Be careful not to overbeat, unless you’d rather have butter than whipped cream).

And now it is assembly time!  Arrange a layer of ladyfingers in the bottom of your pan and and brush them with a mixture of strong coffee and coffee liquor (remember the coffee and liquor that I mentioned before? this is when you use it). Most recipes say to dip the ladyfingers, but I don’t like my tiramisu too wet so I wanted a lot of control. My original recipe (the one I used for the test batch) also called for coffee and rum, which I didn’t like–I thought it was too strong and bitter, so definitely splash out for some coffee liquor (or omit the liquor and just use coffee and vanilla extract, if you want your tiramisu alcohol free). I brushed each ladyfinger three or four times–you want them to be saturated, but not dripping.

Once your ladyfingers are boozed up to your satisfaction, cover them with half of your Mascarpone cheese filling, spreading it in an even layer. Then take half of your whipped cream and spread it out in an even layer, and repeat with another layer of ladyfingers, another layer of Mascarpone cheese, and another layer of whipped cream. Top with a sprinkling of shaved chocolate.

Put the assembled tiramisu in the refrigerator for the night, and go get some well deserved rest.

Then have tiramisu for breakfast.

Tiramisu topped with chocolate shavings and rolled wafer cookies. It's definitely part of a nutritious breakfast!

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