A Tiramisu Worth the Effort! (Daring Baker Challenge: February 2010)

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I have made Tiramisu before, but I never made each component of Tiramisu before - and never one that could match this complexity of flavor. This month's challenge included making the Savoiardi (Ladyfinger) Biscuits, mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, and pastry cream before assembling into the ultimate enjoyment of this heavenly dessert. I began on Februrary 12th or 13th with the making of the mascarpone cheese.

The mascarpone cheese recipe came from Vera at Baking Obsession. I started with Sassy Cow Creamery heavy cream, and patiently waited for it to heat to 190 degrees. The direction noted that it may take 15 minutes of gentle heating, but it took me close to a half an hour. The 2 cups of cream I started with was sweet and delicious, but my outcome was not quite as delectable as I would have liked. It's an easy process, simply heat the cream and at the 190 degree mark, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. As I have never made mascarpone before, I was going on the cues in the directions - basically a thickening of the cream until it was like a "well-done creme anglaise".

I let it cool and then let it drain through a layered cheesecloth. I did not take pictures of that process, I noticed as I was going through them, and it could be because when I went to transfer it from the cheesecloth to a glass container the cheese was stuck on the various layers of cheesecloth. I had 4 layers of cheesecloth, and I had to peel away each layer of cheesecloth to reveal more usable cheese. I had to scrape it off with a spoon and managed to salvage most of it. It seemed to be the proper consistency, but I don't know why it separated into the cheesecloth instead of holding together into a soft mound. The consistency seemed proper, but the flavor seemed a little off to me; it was almost bitter and very acidic, and almost all trace of the sweet cream was gone. I don't know if it was the cream expiration date (which was close) or what, but my result wasn't inedible so I stored it for a couple of days until Tiramisu assembly time. I did use it in the final assembly, and since it was added to whipped cream, zabaglione and pastry cream, I noticed no detectable off taste.

Heating the heavy cream for mascarpone cheese.

The next phase of my journey was the Savoiardi Biscuits. I have never thought about making these before, but now know that I will never regress into buying them ever again. They were fantastically easy and exactly what you look for in a Ladyfinger, sans the expense and sometime difficulty in finding. I only had a few left over, and kept them in a glass jar, and they were crisp and fine for a good two weeks, also good to know. The recipe is from Cordon Bleu at Home:

Ladyfingers/Savoiardi Biscuits

  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 6 T. granulated sugar
  • 3/4 c. cake flour (or 3/4 c. AP flour + 2 T. cornstarch, which is what I used)
  • 6 T. confectioner's sugar (I didn't measure this)

Preheat oven to 350 and line two baking sheets with parchment.

Beat egg whites using a hand held mixer until stiff peaks form, and then gradually add granulated sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, as well as glossy and smooth.

I used a tip from Audax Artifex here and beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon yellow instead of mixing lightly with a fork. I had great results, so I would continue doing it this way! Fold the egg yolks gently into the egg whites, and do not overdo the folding. Then sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently again until just mixed. Be gentle, or the mixture could deflate and lose too much volume.

Fill a pastry bag with a plain tip, although I used a star tip, and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5 inch long by 3/4 inch wide strips, leaving about an inch in between them. I made mine a bit shorter.

Sprinkle half the confectioner's sugar over the ladyfingers, and wait 5 minutes. The sugar will "pearl or look wet and glisten". Dust with remaining half of confectioner's sugar, and slide into the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the sheets and bake another 5 minutes or so until they look light golden and puffy, but are still soft.

Cool slightly before removing to a rack to cool completely. I had a bit extra batter in the pastry bag that sat the duration of the first batch, and then piped and cooked them. I actually preferred the texture of the batter that sat those 15 minutes extra! You can visibly see the difference:

Batch one.

Batch two.

Ladyfingers complete, I moved on to the creams. The zabaglione and pastry cream recipes came from the Tiramisu recipe: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from the Washington Post, July 11, 2007.

I used port wine in my zabaglione, since that is what I had on hand, and I was absolutely shocked at the depth of flavor from such simple ingredients. Please find the recipe at the link above, but the ingredient list contained 2 egg yolks, sugar, 1/4 c. of port, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Lemon, vanilla and port mixed carefully with egg yolk over very gentle heat yielded a sinfully luxurious result. I had never truly understood the complexity of this dessert before now...and could see exactly why each of these steps was crucial to an end result worth waxing poetic over.

The pastry cream was beautifully lemon yellow and also fortified with lemon zest, egg yolk and whole milk (which I subsisted half and half mixed with skim milk). The two creams are mixed with the whipped heavy cream and mascarpone cheese, and then the dessert is ready for assembly.

This recipe was very well written, since I had perfect amounts of all ingredients for my finished product. I had a bit of extra mascarpone and maybe 10 little ladyfingers, but otherwise my proportions were spot on. The only thing that I drastically altered was the amount of coffee and sugar the ladyfingers were dipped in.

The original called for 2 c. of brewed espresso and 1/2 c. sugar! This was only to dip the bottoms of the ladyfingers in, mind you, so I used 1 c. brewed espresso and about 1 1/2 T. granulated sugar (and a splash of rum...no extracts here!). I had ample liquid for dipping, and even enough leftover to enjoy a couple Savoiardi on the side! I'm sure I didn't miss the extra sweetness either.

I alternated layers of soaked ladyfingers and cream, and then waited for the long rest of 24 hours before enjoying the results of properly married flavors and textural perfection.

It was ready for the grand reveal by noon on February 16th...and of course after the photos, Boy-O and I had to try it. I tried to explain the concept of "dessert sharing" to him, but it only lasted a couple of bites before he was trying to outpace me. Rightfully so, since the combinations of all the component flavors were much tastier than I imagined they could be. The ladyfingers kept a surprising amount of their heft, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of coffee flavor that came from such a quick baptism into the liquid. The lemon was a pleasant surprise as well, I never really thought about lemon and coffee before, but I LOVED it! I'd say he did too, since he had a funny little chuckle after each bite...like he couldn't believe I was letting him eat it.

After a Loop class, I rushed home to a dinner I prepared mostly by remote method. I had forgotten about my class, and invited Maeckel for dinner (and dessert). I made oven-baked brown rice (for which I relied on my never used timed-bake feature), and an Asian-type pork chop in the Crock Pot, and quickly sauteed some Savoy cabbage and onions for a side dish when I got home...not a very Italian supper, but still very good. We waited to eat the Tiramisu until after the Boy-O went to sleep...and two of the three of us like it immensely. I sent some along home with Maeckel, and then had a piece everyday until it was gone. I'm proud to say that this took until Friday the 19th, and that it only improved with age.

If there could be a down side to Tiramisu, it is that it is deceptively rich. It feels weightless and light in your mouth, but in making this true version, I know the facts about heavy cream and egg yolks. But for once in a while, though, I don't know if I'll be able to top this recipe. It is a classic, and next time, I'll certainly enjoy it after a more Italian dining experience.

Many thanks to Aparna and Deeba for a fantastic challenge! I think I'll rest on the laurels of this Tiramisu for a while...

Meanwhile, I am planning to make some more mascarpone cheese after a visit to the Milwaukee Winter Farmer's Market today. Crystal Ball Farms was selling little pint glass jars to beautiful, organic heavy cream, and I felt overwhelmingly compelled to try again. Their milk is pasteurized, but not homogenized, so maybe I will see a marked difference in my end product. I don't know what I'll be doing with the finished mascarpone, so if you have any ideas, please send them my way!