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.
When I heard that this month’s challenge was tiramisu, I was less than enthusiastic. My family doesn’t drink coffee or care for the flavor of it in desserts, and we also don’t do alcohol, so tiramisu doesn’t have much to offer us. But I’ve never made ladyfingers, zabaglione, or homemade mascarpone before, so I took on our personal flavor preferences as an additional challenge for this recipe, and made a tiramisu with no coffee, marsala or rum extract.
My family are big tea drinkers, and we have quite a collection of loose leaf tea, so I decided that I would substitute in tea for all the other liquids in my dessert. I chose black teas because they are the strongest, and I thought they would assert themselves the best. I went with a vanilla tea for the zabaglione, and a chai tea to soak the savoiardi.
First off, I had to make the mascarpone cheese, as it needed the longest time to set up in the refrigerator. Because the tiramisu only required a small amount of mascarpone, and because my strainer is not particularly large, I cut the recipe down to 1 1/2 cups of cream. I don’t have a double boiler, so I always have to scrounge for an appropriate bowl to use as a bain marie. Here I started out with a glass batter bowl, but because of the imperfect fit, the water just kept boiling away and my cream took a good half hour to heat up. Eventually I gave up the bain marie and just put it in a small saucepan. Shortly after, the cream hit 190F and I added the lemon juice. It thickened almost immediately, and I poured it off into a strainer lined with damp paper towels.
After several hours in the fridge, it had firmed up beautifully into a round of mascarpone cheese. Very easy to make, and much cheaper than the store-bought sort; I’ll be doing this again!
The next morning, I mixed up a batch of vanilla pastry cream, flavored with vanilla and orange zest. Once cooled, it was a bit thinner than I would have liked. I think I should have heated it slightly longer, but I always worry about curdling, and it did coat the back of the spoon.
Zabaglione came next, and mine was flavored with black vanilla tea rather than marsala or coffee. I always understood that zabaglione needed to be whisked vigorously over a double boiler in order to give it a light, foamy texture, but this recipe didn’t seem to require that, as it just gets whipped together with cream, mascarpone, and pastry cream later on. My zabaglione took close to half an hour of gentle heating, this time in a silicone-bottomed metal bowl, to thicken up according to the recipe’s description. It ended up reminding me very much of caramel, both in color and texture.
While the pastry cream and zabaglione chilled in the refrigerator, I made my savoiardi, which turned out to be really easy to make. Essentially a meringue with egg yolk and a bit of flour folded in, they came together quickly and I got them piped out onto two trays, each cookie about the size and length of my own fingers. They don’t call them ladyfingers for nothing.
One of the more unusual aspects of these little cookies is the fact that you dust the unbaked cookies with powdered sugar to help them bake up with a little bit of a crunch.
My cookies came out a little on the flat side, but I was pretty pleased with them overall. My son took one look at the trays cooling on the counter and started begging to taste the cookies, so we shared one. I thought they had a good texture but were pretty bland; I can see why they are traditionally dunked in coffee or wine.
At this point everything was ready to assemble. I brewed some chai tea, unsweetened, and let it cool while I whipped some cream and folded it together with my pastry cream, mascarpone and zabaglione. I used a small casserole dish as a mould, and lined it with plastic wrap on the off-chance that I would be able to unmould the tiramisu for serving. My cream mixture was pretty soupy, though, probably because of the pastry cream, so I wasn’t optimistic about my chances of that. I lined the mould with vertical ladyfingers and then started layering cookies and cream. The recipe provided exactly the right number of savoiardi for my dish (minus the two we snacked on) and filled the dish perfectly. I did have to whip a bit of extra cream to go on top of the last layer, as I didn’t quite divvy my cream filling evenly. Out of concern for the soupy texture, I decided to freeze my tiramisu overnight.
The next day, I took my tiramisu to a lunch party at my aunt’s house. Between the drive up to Portland and the lunch itself, my dessert thawed just enough to become creamy and still hold together; we didn’t attempt to unmould it. It may not have tasted quite like a traditional tiramisu, but it was still delicious and seemed well appreciated. The savoiardi soaked up the chai flavor beautifully, and the hint of spice played well with the subtly vanilla-orange cream. One of my cousins, who isn’t big on dessert, actually went back for a second piece, so that seems like a good review to me. I thought it was delicious too, but mostly I was just relieved that it didn’t disintegrate into a big sloppy mess. (That happened later, when it completely thawed on the car ride home.)
This was an interesting challenge, and I think I successfully made not only a tiramisu, but one that avoided both coffee and alcohol. I doubt that I would make it again unless specifically requested to do so, but it was fun to try, and I will use the mascarpone and possibly the savoiardi recipes again in the future. Ladyfingers can be hard to find, so it is good to have that recipe up my sleeve. I should note that I greatly preferred this tiramisu half-frozen, which kept the ladyfingers from being unappetizingly soggy and gave the cream filling a texture akin to ice cream. Thanks so much to Aparna and Deeba for the challenge selection, and be sure to check out all the amazing tiramisu creations at the Daring Bakers Blogroll.
For the savoiardi:
3 eggs, separated
6 T sugar
3/4 C cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 C all-purpose flour + 2 T corn starch)
6 T confectioner’s sugar
For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 T sugar
1/4 C Marsala wine (or port, coffee, or strongly brewed black vanilla tea)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest, optional
For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 C sugar
1 T all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon or orange zest, optional
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 C whole milk
For the whipped cream:
1 C chilled heavy cream
1/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
To assemble the tiramisu:
2 C brewed espresso (or chai tea), warmed
1 tsp rum extract (optional)
1/2 C sugar
1/3 C mascarpone cheese
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
For the savoiardi: Preheat your oven to 350F degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites using a hand held electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulated sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5″ long and 3/4″ wide strips 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. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness. Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.
Bake the ladyfingers for 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack. Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks. This recipe makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2″ to 3″ long) ladyfingers.
For the zabaglione: Heat water in a double boiler. In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/tea), 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.
For the pastry cream: 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.
For the whipped cream: Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.
To assemble the tiramisu: Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8″ by 8″ should do) or one of your choice. Mix together the warm espresso or chai tea, rum extract (if desired) and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.
Now to start assembling the tiramisu. Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a ladyfinger in two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered. Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
Repeat to create 2 more layers, using 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight. To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please. Cut into individual portions and serve.
Source: Carminantonio’s Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11, 2007; and Cordon Bleu At Home.
Homemade Mascarpone Cheese
2 C whipping cream, pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
1 T fresh lemon juice
Heat the cream in a double boiler, stirring often, to 190F. 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; it will become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise, and cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You should 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 or thick paper towel, and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (still in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days. This recipe makes 12 oz of mascarpone cheese.
I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, induced in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.