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’ve always had a special fondness for tiramisu. I remember the first time I ever tried it: I was still quite small, and my mother had ordered it at a restaurant. I eyed the thick, white, cocoa-dusted concoction with some suspicion: it looked a lot like whipped cream, which I didn’t like. But I tried a bite – and then asked for another. It was one of the first times I found myself enjoying something without having the faintest idea of what was in it.
Tiramisu was also the first dessert Laurent ever made for me. His father has a killer tiramisu recipe, although it’s quite different from the traditional one. Most tiramisu recipes I’ve come across consist in ladyfingers dipped in espresso, and stacked with a mixture of mascarpone cheese, raw egg yolks, and whipped egg whites. Laurent’s family version, however, is egg-free: the filling consists only of espresso-flavoured mascarpone, folded with sweetened whipped cream. It has the advantage of freezing very well, and if you eat when it’s only half-thawed, it’s like eating a really fancy ice cream.
But Aparna and Deeba, our hostesses for this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge, gave us yet another kind of recipe. And to make it even more challenging, they asked us to make our own savoiardi biscuits (a.k.a. ladyfingers) and mascarpone cheese. Talk about making it from scratch!
This was definitely one of the most interesting challenges I’ve ever taken part in. It was also one of the weirdest ones, as far as my experience was concerned: it’s like practically every isolated part of the challenge ended up slightly wonky and flawed – and yet, when combined, they yielded a perfectly respectable – dare I say delectable – dessert.
First, the savoiardi biscuits. I have a hard time with cookies: they rarely come out perfect. Still, I was less nervous about these, since they were destined to be hidden away inside the tiramisu anyway. I knew I wanted to make individual dessert portions, rather than a full-sized cake, so I customized my biscuits to fit my serving bowls and made them itty-bitty: they were more like ladypinkies, or babyfingers, than ladyfingers.
Making the batter and piping it was no problem: I managed to not crush my whipped egg whites, so the batter was nice and light. I sprinkled it twice with icing sugar, as indicated. However, I failed to properly shake the excess sugar off the baking sheet… You know that feeling, where you not only know something is going to go wrong, you know exactly why it will go wrong, and yet you still choose not to do anything to prevent it? I knew that the excess sugar would caramelize and burn in the oven – everyone knows that. But for some reason, I left it there, as if I wanted to see for myself.
So, inevitably, my savoiardi biscuits ended up with a layer of burnt caramel on the bottom. But the top part was still acceptably light and puffy. Good enough for me!
Next, the mascarpone cheese. Heating the heavy cream in a makeshift double-boiler took much longer than it was supposed to, but apparently I wasn’t the only to have this problem. In the end, I got tired of waiting, poured in my lemon juice, and let everything thicken. Then I drained the concoction and let it hang out in the fridge for 24 hours, hoping for the best. When I took it out, my “cheese” was as hard as ice-cold butter! Fortunately, it didn’t taste like butter… It would have to do.
Next came the zabaglione, an egg yolk-based custard, flavoured with Marsala wine. This also involved a double-boiler. I hadn’t made custard of any kind in a long time, and had forgotten how much they can set overnight in the fridge. So while there were no significant problems with the zabaglione, it was, in fact, slightly overcooked.
I had the same problem with the pastry cream: I overcooked it, and it ended up with something that was almost more like flan, the way it held together.
So, in the end, none of my individual tiramisu components would have been acceptable if they had been meant to be eaten on their own, or as a star ingredient in a dessert. Fortunately, there was no “star” here. As it turned out, the components balanced out each other’s flaws, and came together in harmony. First, I mercilessly beat the stiffness out of my mascarpone with a fork. Then I energetically whisked in the zabaglione and pastry cream, until I had something that was actually almost creamy, instead of mostly lumps. And when I folded it the sweetened whipped cream and saw how smooth and silky it made everything, I knew this was going to be OK.
I wanted to try something other than the usual espresso-flavoured tiramisu, so I made two versions. For the first, I dipped the biscuits in a mixture of blackcurrant liqueur (a.k.a. cassis), simple syrup and blackcurrant syrup (for extra aroma); we’re quite the cassis fans around here. Then I topped it with fresh raspberries – they were ridiculously expensive, but I really, really wanted them in this dessert. I didn’t add anything to the cream, so that I could sample the naked flavour; it was actually really, really good, with just a subtle note of Marsala. I was glad to have cut down on the vanilla extract here and there, as I’m not too fond of it when it’s overpowering.
For the second version, I dipped the biscuits in Bailey’s Irish Cream, and added a handful of melted dark chocolate discs to the cream. Combining Bailey’s and chocolate was a no brainer: they just go together. And this version was definitely better suited to winter.
A final word: normally, tiramisu is ready to be served 24 hours after it is made. But in my case, it tasted much better the day after that: the biscuits had absorbed more moisture, making the textures and flavours blend, leading to a smoother, creamier dessert, whereas the biscuits stood out too much after only 24 hours. But it could just be because my biscuits were a little odd to begin with.
I definitely learned a lot with this challenge. And I was also reminded of a lot (such as: custards and creams don’t need to be quasi-solid before going in the fridge). And I had fun – lots of fun. I want to thank Deeba and Aparna for this terrific challenge, and I recommend that you go to the Daring Kitchen to check out the challenge recipe and the other Daring Bakers’ tiramisu!