Things have been reeeeaaaaally quiet over here on the baking blog – lest you think I hadn't noticed my neglect, rest assured that it's been bugging me for weeks. I started working full time in April and since then my free time has been less plentiful and often takes place outside the hours of good natural light so essential to food photography. I also lived in an apartment with a shared kitchen stocked with other people's things, so I never knew what supplies I had to make a recipe.
None of this is an excuse, though. I should have prioritized this blog more. Baking makes me happy, as does blogging about it, but for some reason I haven't done either for the past few months. It's been a rough year, but I'm finally starting to feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, which should mean more energy and time and love to put into baked goods. The only catch is that I'm moving again, this time to Italy – I'll be living off savings and spending my days writing and yoga-ing and writing and hiking and writing. Hopefully a new book will form in those months of having nothing on my plate but writing and pasta. In which case, you may not see me here for a little bit longer. That said, should I find myself in need of a break from the computer screen, which is pretty likely, and hiking isn't doing the trick, you can bet I'll share whatever concoction I whip up over there on this blog here – fair warning, though, I'm not bringing my nice camera, so it'll be all-iPhone pics, all the time.
I knew I wanted to share this big change in my life with all of you (especially those of you who have been SO patient while I post so erratically!), so when a recipe for tiramisu landed in my inbox, it seemed like serendipity; I decided (despite this disturbing typo in the recipe) that I wanted to make it to celebrate my upcoming move and announce it here on the blog that has seen me through so many changes in location and circumstance. There were, as is customary in my life, a few things that went differently from the plan, but I got there in the end and the result was delicious – I can only hope my non-food-related life winds up so successful!
The first issue was the recipe's call for dark rum. Gross. I hate rum, always have, and no that's not because I had a bad experience in college with it or anything. I just think it tastes bad. So I did a bit of research and it turns out Marsala wine is the more traditional Italian booze of choice for tiramisu – brandy, kahlua, frangelico, and amaretto were other tasty-sounding options, but I went with the most traditional. And then I added brandy too.
The next stumbling block came at the grocery store. Not only did I get the last box of cocoa powder (seriously, Safeway? How do you not have that ALWAYS in stock?), but I had a surprising amount of trouble finding ladyfingers. After peering at every label on every shelf in the cookie and cake aisles, and checking the frozen section and the bakery, I finally gave up and wung it – Nilla wafers seemed like the right flavor, at least, and I the little pound cake rounds we used to use to make strawberry shortcake on Father's Day were probably a decent match for texture, if liable to get a bit soggy... I grabbed both and went on my frustrated way.
So my ingredients made a bit of a motley crew, but I figured it was appropriate that I was taking a traditional Italian dish and bastardizing it with processed American ingredients – you're welcome, Europeans! Plus, it's in my nature to work with what I've got, and thank goodness it is or I'd never make any progress in baking or in life.
So I pressed on. Whisking the egg yolks with the sugar produced a sort of grody looking mixture:
But the mascarpone made it look a bit better, and the whites went glossy and peaked with little trouble:
Once I blended the two together and added a dash of brandy, things were starting to look and smell a lot more appetizing:
Next up, the assembly. I poured the espresso and wine into a shallow bowl and swirled them together, then I got to dipping and layering.
The first cake I dipped soaked up the coffee like, well, a sponge. Way too fast. It started falling apart on the way to the compost bin. So for the next one I was much quicker, barely letting it touch the surface of the liquid before pulling it back out and placing it in the dish. Layer of cream, another barely-dipped cake, and another layer of cream. Boom, experiment the first, finished. Next up was the Nilla version – I did the first of two in a mason jar so I could bring it in to my friend Stacy at the office.
That little hand doohicky, which is technically a cocktail stirrer, came in super handy (har har) for spreading the cream in the lower layers of the jar. As for the Nillas, I legit submerged them, for about 6 seconds each, flipping them over every second, and they got just about the right amount of saturation.
I must say, the tiramisu-in-a-jar is a very pretty project, if a LOT of dessert. I'd suggest using much smaller jars if you decide to follow this example for gifts (remember, this stuff needs to stay refrigerated) or a dinner party (it's great to make the day before).
Soon, I was finished. I'd cut the recipe into 2/3 of the original amounts (easier than it sounds, because many of the measurements are divisible by 3) because I only had one cup of mascarpone, so I would up with three hefty portions in manageable containers for our wee fridge. I'm going to give you the original measurements below, though, not to worry.
After letting them all rest in the fridge overnight, while I went out to a delicious Italian dinner, despite my pledge to eat nothing but Asian food until I leave, I did a taste test for breakfast this morning (hey, it has coffee in it, it counts as breakfast!). And the results are in: the sponge cake version did indeed have a texture more like that we expect from an authentic tiramisu, but it was a bit sweet, while the Nilla version had a more subtle flavor and a bit more toothsomeness. Both, though, were SUPER tasty, which was a relief after all the twists and turns this process took.
In a week and a half I'll be sitting in a cafe, eating the real thing (!!!), but until then this American bastardization is doing just fine. Ciao, tutti!
Americanized (But Still Delicious) Tiramisu
adapted from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
NB: This recipe uses raw eggs! I don't worry much about salmonella these days, but I did make sure to buy the freshest organic eggs I could find, just in case.
In a medium bowl, whisk until pale yellow:
3 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
Using a spatula, fold in:
1.5 c mascarpone, slightly softened
In a separate bowl, beat until stiff, glossy peaks form:
3 egg whites
Gently fold into the yolk/mascarpone mixture, adding a dash of brandy if you like, and set aside.
Mix in a wide, shallow bowl:
1.5 c espresso or very strong black coffee, room temp
1/4 c Marsala wine
Dip Nilla wafers or sponge cake (or ladyfingers if you can get 'em – you'll need about 40) into the coffee-booze mixture just long enough to soften them: for Nillas this is about 6-7 seconds, for sponge cake it's a flash, and for ladyfingers it's about 5 seconds. Allow any excess liquid to drip off your cookie/cake.
Arrange the cookies/cakes in the bottom of a 9-inch round trifle dish, round baking dish, or a selection of mason jars or glass bowls, until you have one single layer (breaking them as needed). Spread a ⅓ of the mascarpone filling (if you're using one big dish – otherwise work conservatively so you don't run out of cream before you get to your last jar/bowl) over the cookies/cake in an even layer. Repeat until you have 3 layers of ladyfingers and 3 layers of mascarpone filling (I did 2 layers in each bowl, and 4 in the mason jar – use your judgment).
Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours. Dust with cocoa powder just before serving.
PS In the interest of full disclosure (we're all about transparency here at Linzers in London), I have to tell you that as I typed out this recipe I realized that I DOUBLED THE SUGAR when I made this. OMG. I am a mess. On the other hand, the tiramisu still turned out to be scrumptious – yours will likely be less sweet, though, which I can't imagine is a bad thing. Don't be like me. Pay attention to your recipes! On the other hand, whenever people say that baking is an exact science, this is the kind of thing I think of...