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At boarding school, we were given ‘tiramisu’ for dessert about once a month. I remember it as a foul concoction of supermarket jam scrolls, packet custard, and raspberry jelly. (Or whatever leftovers the cook decided to ‘inventively’ combine.) It was not one of my favoured desserts in those days.

The tiramisu that was set as the Daring Bakers’ February challenge is, however, entirely different. It is an ‘authentic’ tiramisu and was, needless to say, an infinite improvement on the circa 1997 school version.

This buonissimo challenge was set by Aparna and Deeba of ‘My diverse kitchen’ and ‘Passionate about baking’, respectively. Their tiramisu was based on a recipe by Carminantonio Iannaccone in The Washington Post.

However, the baking fun did not stop here. For this challenge, we were also required to make savoiardi (or ladyfinger) biscuits and our own mascarpone cheese. The biscuits were based on a recipe in Le Cordon Bleu at Home and the cheese was based on a recipe by Vera at Baking Obsession.

According to our challenge hosts:

Classic tiramisu is made of alternate layers of espresso soaked ladyfinger biscuits and a cream made from mascarpone cheese and zabaglione.

The perfect tiramisu is a balance of flavours of a sweet zabaglione, strong coffee, marsala wine, creamy mascarpone cheese and the dusting of unsweetened cocoa.

I note that nothing was mentioned about stale jam scrolls.

Apologies for the epic-ness of this post. Unfortunately, this was unavoidable because the Daring Baker version of tiramisu is epic! It is deceptively complex. It involves many steps to be taken over several days. They are as follows:

  • Make savoiardi biscuits (3 wks-1 hr before assembly)
  • Make mascarpone (3-1 days before assembly)
  • Make zabaglione (3 days-4 hrs before assembly)
  • Make pastry cream (3 days-4 hrs before assembly)
  • Whip up some cream (immediately before assembly)
  • Make a biscuit-dipping mixture (immediately before assembly)
  • Assemble tiramisu (at least 1 day before serving time; can keep in the freezer for months)

As you can see, this was somewhat of an ordeal! I’ll put all the ingredients first, and then outline how we tackled each step…

Ingredients

Spelt savoiardi biscuits
6 eggs, separated
150g granulated sugar (we used caster, because that’s what we had)
1.5 cups/190g cake flour, sifted (or 1.5 cups all purpose flour + 4 tbsp corn starch) (we used 228g of spelt flour and no corn starch)
100g confectioner’s sugar (icing sugar)

Mascarpone
2 cups/474ml pasteurised (not-ultra pasteurised) cream (between 25-36 percent milk fat; we used 35% milk fat)
1 tbs lemon juice

Zabaglione
2 large egg yolks
3 tbs sugar (we used caster)
¼ cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port) (we used Martini rosso vermouth because we already had it and it seemed appropriate because it was Italian!)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest

Pastry cream
¼ cup sugar (we used caster, again)
1 tbs all purpose flour (we used 1 tbs spelt flour)
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 lge egg yolk
¼ cup/ 175ml whole milk

Whipped cream
1 cup/235ml chilled cream (about 25% milk fat, though not really important)
¼ cup sugar (we omitted as we felt that it was already getting a bit sweet for our tastebuds)
½ tsp vanilla extract

Biscuit-dipping mixture
1-2 cups/ 470ml warm brewed espresso (we made it in a stove-top Bialetti type contraption – again, the Italian way!)
1 tsp rum extract (we just used the Martini rosso, to taste)
½ cup sugar
(For the fig version, we instead used some ‘wild willow water’ mixed with sugar syrup)

Assembly
36 savoiardi biscuits (very approximately, depending on your construction design)
75g mascarpone (we accidentally used the whole qty above, by mistake (340g), and it still tasted great)
1 quantity zabaglione
1 quantity pastry cream
1 quantity whipped cream
1 quantity biscuit-dipping mixture
(A couple of figs if making the fig version)
2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Berries, to serve (optional)

    

Spelt savoiardi biscuits

(Make three weeks to one hour before assembly; this makes 30-45 biscuits)

Because our lovely lady, Emily, is wheat-free, we made the biscuits with spelt, rather than wheat, flour. We have had some spelt-disasters in the past, but this time, no problem! Em has discovered that to substitute spelt flour for wheat flour, you must add 20 percent extra spelt flour than you would wheat flour. I think our biscuits worked out pretty well (particularly because wheat-free baking can be quite precarious), and they were simple and quick to make.

I’ve doubled the original recipe here, because we did not have quite enough biscuits. Better too many than too little!

  • To make, first preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. We were using a spectacularly old oven at a beach house, so we stuck an oven thermometer in it to double-check the temperature.
  • Line two baking trays with baking paper.
  • Beat the egg whites with a hand-held mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually, add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff, glossy and smooth.
  • In a separate small bowl, beat the yolks lightly with a fork, and then fold them into the meringue.
  • Sift the flour over this mixture and fold in gently until it is just mixed.

  • Fill a pastry bag with the batter and pipe into 10cm long and 2cm wide strips. Leave about 2-3cm in between each strip as the biscuits will expand in the oven. (Or, pipe to (just under) the width of your final tiramisu dish so that they fit in perfectly.)
  • Sprinkle half of the icing sugar over the biscuits and wait for five minutes. The sugar will begin to glisten. Then, sprinkle the remaining sugar. (This gives the biscuits their crispness.)
  • Remove the excess sugar by lifting the tray on one side and tapping it gently.
  • Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes, then rotate the trays and bake for 5 minutes. The biscuits should puff up, and turn lightly golden brown. (Our lower-tray biscuits burnt slightly on the bottom but we managed to scrape it off and no harm was done. Lesson: monitor biscuits and perhaps switch the levels that your trays are on when you rotate them, depending on your oven.)
  • Cool the biscuits on the trays for five minutes. Remove with a spatula when still hot, and cool on a rack.
  • They should keep for 2-3 weeks in an airtight container.

  

Mascarpone

(Make three to one days before assembly; this makes 340g)

This recipe seemed a little intimidating, but miraculously, it worked!

  • First, squeeze the lemon. (You don’t want to be wasting time doing this later when you should be monitoring your cream!)
  • Place a heat-resistant bowl on top of a saucepan of barely-simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water or the mascarpone could become too hot. (Or, you could use a double-boiler.)
  • Pour the cream into the bowl.
  • Heat the cream, stirring often. If you have a thermometer, the cream should come to 190°F/88°C (I note, however, that on the DB forums plenty of people had trouble bringing their cream to this temperature and were staying at the stove for up to an hour. I guess you shouldn’t get TOO hung up about exact temperatures.) I did not have a thermometer, so I just waited until small bubbles kept trying to push up to the surface. I observed that the surface of the cream, if I stopped stirring, sort of moved and was agitated. Just like it wanted to boil soon, but was not quite ready. This made sense because 88°C is just below boiling point (for water, anyway). This should take around 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Add the lemon juice and continue heating, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. The Daring Baker instructions helpfully note: ‘ 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.’ This exactly describes what happened to my cream. It did not ‘obviously’ curdle, though it coated the back of my spoon (see picture).
  • Remove from the bowl and let the mixture come to room temperature. It will thicken up as it cools.
  • Line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth (I used chux) and set over a bowl. Put the mixture in the sieve. Do not squeeze or press the cheese into the sieve. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  • I was sceptical as to whether my cheese-making would be successful, but the thinish custard-like mixture somehow transformed itself overnight into perfect mascarpone cheese! Too easy.

 

Zabaglione

(Make three days to five hours before assembly)

  • Set up a home-style double-boiler, just like for the mascarpone.
  • In the bowl that goes on top of the saucepan, but off the stove, mix together: egg yolks, sugar, alcohol, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until it is smooth.
  • Place bowl on top of saucepan. Cook the mixture over a low heat, stirring constantly for about 8 minutes. It will reach a thickish custard. It may bubble a bit.
  • Cool to room temperature and place, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

  

Pastry cream

(Make three days to five hours before assembly)

  • In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract.
  • Add the egg yolk and half the milk and whisk until smooth.
  • Place the saucepan on a low heat. Stir constantly to prevent 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 (ours was ready after about 9 minutes). If the mixture is still lumpy, you can push it through a strainer.
  • Cool to room temperature and place, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

  

Whipped cream

(Make immediately before assembly)

  • Combine the cream, sugar (if using) and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer until the mixture holds stiff peaks. As mentioned above, we omitted the sugar because we felt that there was already too much for our tastebuds. We’re not massive fans of overly sweet food.

 

Biscuit-dipping mixture

(Make immediately before assembly)

  • Whisk together the warm espresso, alcohol and sugar in a shallow dish. Set aside to cool.
  • For our fig version, we also made a sugar syrup, and mixed it with ‘wild willow water’.

  

Assembly

(Make at least one day before serving time; can keep for months in the freezer)

  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. As I stated above, the DB recipe only called for 75g of mascarpone, but we accidentally used all 340g of the original quantity. We did not even notice until we began to write this blog post. I think it may even have been a fortuitous mistake, because it would have lessened the sweetness and possibly increased the solidity of the original version.
  • Add the zabaglione and pastry cream, mixing until just combined.
  • Gently fold in the whipped cream.

  • Choose a serving dish to act as a mould for the tiramisu. The recipe suggests about 20 x 20 cm, but we used two dishes of about 10 x 10 cm, because that’s all we could find. It fitted perfectly into these. Lining the dish with plastic wrap can help you to remove it later.
  • Trim the biscuits to fit the dish, if need be. We also sliced the biscuits in half, across-ways, because we didn’t have enough.
  • Working quickly, dip the biscuits into the espresso mixture (about 1 second per side) and place side by side along the base of the tiramisu dish. Cover the entire base of the dish.
  • Spoon about ⅓ of the cream mixture on top of the biscuits. Use a knife to spread and cover the biscuits evenly, all the way to the edges.
  • Repeat to create two more layers. (For our fig version, we also included a few layers of sliced figs.)
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve with berries or fruit. (Some on the DB forums suggested freezing the tiramisu for about half an hour prior to serving, just to make it extra solid.)
  • Alternatively, you can freeze it and serve much later.
  • (Don’t tell anyone, but we cheated and served the tiramisu after about 4 hours. What can we say? We had hungry guests!!)

     

The tiramisu tasted SO good. The original, non-fig, version was particularly spectacular. This just goes to show that sometimes tradition is tradition for a reason. The fig version did not have strong enough flavours, though it was still pretty good.

Yes, this is a pretty involved dessert. However, I would definitely make it again. It would be great for a dinner party because you could prepare it all (over the days and weeks) beforehand and then just stick it in the freezer. This way, it would involve almost no preparation on the night; one of the key dinner party food criteria.

BUT, we decided that if we made this again, we would definitely buy the biscuits, and possibly buy the mascarpone. Then again, life (and cooking) is about the journey, not the destination (as my yoga teacher says)!

[PS: I forgot the 'mandatory DB lines':  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.]

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13 Responses to “Tiramisu: classics are a classic for a reason.”

  1. trissalicious says:

    Homemade definitely tastes much better than store bought or something that comes from a packet – am glad you enjoyed the tiramisu – it does look delicious! I also had trouble with the mascarpone but in the end – it turned out fine! Well done!

  2. Mary says:

    It looks fantastic. I thought the fig sounded amazing, but it’s too bad it didn’t taste quite as good as it sounded:( My fave was the raspberry Amaretto version.

  3. eggly says:

    Mmm, they look great! This was a fun post to read (your boarding school ‘tiramisu’ sounds horrific!) and I’m really intrigued by your fig variation. Anything with fig tends to get my attention. Shame it didn’t turn out as you hoped, but it still sounds wonderful. Great job. :)

  4. Lisa says:

    This looks great! Your mascarpone set up a lot firmer than mine, I think I am going to have to have another go at it. Those figs look so pretty, it’s a shame you did not like the combo. I love the idea of a fruit tiramisu

  5. s says:

    beautiful beautiful versions..very creative.
    http://forkbootsandapalette.wordpress.com

  6. deeba says:

    How wonderful. Love your take on the tiramisu and how beautifully it came together! very nice indeed!

  7. chef_d says:

    I made the classic version too and I would have to agree with you tradition is tradition for a reason! Yummy looking tiramisu and very beautiful photos!

  8. Lovely tiramisu. Very nicely done.

  9. Aparna says:

    Stale jam scrolls! Really?
    Well, I hope that memory is gone for ever. :)
    I don’t get spelt here but looks like the ladyfingers worked.
    I like fresh figs, but yes the original was the best.
    Thanks for baking with us.

  10. Natalie says:

    You did a fabulous job on your challenge. I love the fig version. I can believe that you’d have to do something to intensify the fig flavor with all the pastry cream, zabaglione and whipped cream added to it. I’d so glad this challenge eradicated a horrible school lunch room memory for you. Actually any memory like that needs to be burned from your consciousness. Although, I’ve got one of this ham casserole microwave dinner that will never leave…it was way beyond nasty.

    Natalie @ Gluten a Go Go

  11. You did so well on your tiramisu! And figs and roses? So gorgeous and inspired! :D

  12. Y says:

    What a fantastic tiramisu. I love your process photos, and the end result slices so perfectly! :)

  13. marcellina says:

    Boarding school food is never any good, is it? But your tiramisu is brilliant! Love your blog!

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