Ah, so this is what yesterday’s post about mascarpone was for. Of course, tiramisu — probably our favorite dessert. We’ve never tried to make tiramisu before, mainly because we already knew where to get the best tiramisu we’ve ever eaten. (It was at a local Italian restaurant that has since changed hands, but we haven’t tried the new owner’s version yet.) In the meantime, we’ll try our hand at scratchin up this classic Italian dessert.
This recipe is based on one by Gesine Bullock-Prado who, single-handedly, has the best-looking cakes around; you can find the original in her book Bake It Like You Mean It. We did take a few liberties with the filling and assembly, but the recipe for the ladyfingers is corrected using her errata list.
Right up front, we’ll tell you that we had a few issues — we didn’t know about the errata — but, with the correct version, you shouldn’t have the problems we had.
Finally, note that we cut our cake down in size — our baking sheets are about third sheets, instead of half sheets — which is reflected in the pictures, but not in the recipe.
First up, let’s cover eggs. The best eggs are from the healthiest hens (makes sense, right?), and the healthiest hens are those that get to do “hen things,” namely, scratch and peck, peck and scratch, eat grass and bugs, and bugs and grass. It’s free-range all the way. For the Kahlua, we guess you could buy some, but we went with some homemade coffee liqueur that we’d received as a gift. Mascarpone: well, we scratched up our own yesterday, and it’s easy enough that we recommend it for everyone. If you don’t have 2 drops of lemon juice, use a pinch of cream of tartar, instead; if you don’t have cream of tartar, just omit (the lemon juice is there to help the egg white whip, not for flavoring, and the salt will help with that, anyway). Note that the cocoa is Dutch-processed, meaning darker and less bitter, because the acid in the cocoa has been neutralized. Use the best cocoa you can find and afford. We use Valrhona, which we feel is one of the best. Finally, maple syrup. Many people think that the grade of maple syrup refers to the quality. It does not. It refers to the color, nothing more. In fact, the darker (grade B) syrups often have more flavor and are less costly than the fancy grade A syrups.
Procedure in detail:
There are three parts: make the ladyfinger cake, make the filling, and assemble. Of the three, making the filling is the most involved, but it’s not too difficult and probably the most resilient; just follow along step-by-step, and you’ll be fine.
Make the ladyfinger cake:
Mise en place. You’ll want to separate the eggs cold and let them warm (less likely to break a yolk), and, when you’re whipping the egg whites, you don’t want to stop and measure sugar, so just get everything for the cake ready. It’ll go much more smoothly.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a half-sheet baking pan with parchment, then butter it lightly. You’ll definitely want to use parchment here, as these ladyfingers do not have any butter in them, so they’ll be prone to sticking.
Beat egg whites. Place the egg whites, lemon juice, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium until the whites are foamy, about a minute.
Add sugar. Increase the speed of the mixer to high and slowly add the sugar to the egg whites. Keep beating until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks, about 2-3 minutes. In case you’re wondering, you’ve just made a French meringue.
Transfer. Scrape the egg whites into a clean bowl and set aside.
Beat yolks and syrup. Place the egg yolks and maple syrup in the bowl of the mixer (no need to wash — sweet!), and beat on high until pale and thick, about 5 minutes.
Add dry ingredients. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the egg yolk mixture, and, using a wide spatula, gently fold until mixed. (Our photo uses half the correct amount of eggs, because we didn’t know about the errata sheet.)
Fold in whites. This always seems trickier than it is. The secret is to add the egg white mixture in thirds, folding them in after each addition. The first addition might deflate significantly, the second addition, not so much, and the third will make sure the mixture is light and fluffy.
Fill pan. You’ll note that our batter didn’t come anywhere near filling the pan, but that should be corrected in the recipe above. Add the batter to the pan and smooth evenly.
Bake. Bake the ladyfinger layers for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Then remove and cool completely in the pan.
Wash up. Once the cake goes into the oven, it’s a good time to wash up the various bowls and other implements and prep yourself for the next stage.
Make the filling:
Gel Kahlua. Place half of the Kahlua in a microwave-safe bowl and sprinkle with the agar-agar. Let stand for about 3 minutes so much of the agar-agar can dissolve.
Microwave. Place the Kahlua in the microwave, set to 50% power, and microwave in 10-second intervals. Swirl the mixture in between, and stop once all the agar-agar is dissolved. Set aside.
Make base filling. Combine the egg yolks, maple syrup, and remaining Kahlua in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place over a pan of simmering water and whisk. Keep whisking while heating until the mixture thickens and forms thick strands when you lift the whisk, about 5 minutes.
Beat until cool. Attach the mixer bowl to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high until room temperature, about 5 minutes.
Transfer. Transfer the egg yolk mixture to a large bowl (all the filling will end up in here) and refrigerate.
Whip mascarpone and cream. Place the mascarpone cheese and the heavy cream in the mixing bowl (no need to clean, yay!) and beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes.
Mix in gelled Kahlua. We’re going to mix the Kahlua with the agar-agar into the egg-yolk mixture in two steps. Remove the egg-yolk mixture from the refrigerator and stir a tablespoon of it into the Kahlua and agar-agar mixture. Stir until smooth. Now, pour the Kahlua and agar-agar into the egg-yolk mixture, and, using a wide spatula, fold until smooth. (This step is akin to tempering egg yolks when making custard).
Fold in whipped cream cheese. Add the whipped cream/mascarpone mixture to the egg-yolk mixture in thirds, folding gently with a wide spatula between each addition. Once you’ve folded in the last of the whipped cream and mascarpone, the filling mixture is finished.
The assembly is basically making three layers of ladyfinger cake, filling, and cocoa powder, with each layer of ladyfinger cake brushed with Kahlua. The only difficultly is that the filling is very soft, so we need to pop the cake into the freezer to firm as we assemble.
Release cake. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the ladyfinger cake and invert over a cutting board. Pull away the parchment from the bottom and trim away any browned edges. (Remember, your cake will look better because you’ll be using the correct recipe above, instead of the incorrect version in the book).
Slice into thirds. Use a tape measure and slice the ladyfinger cake into three equal-size rectangles.
Layer. Place one of the layers on a serving plate and brush lightly with Kahlua. Don’t soak the cake; just a light brushing will do. Top with a third of the filling and dust with cocoa powder until it’s well coated. Place the second ladyfinger rectangle on top and brush with Kahlua.
Freeze. You probably noticed how soft the filling was when you brushed the second layer with Kahlua. Very soft and squishy. Let’s fix that by placing the cake in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Layer. Add another third of the filling on top, dust with more cocoa, and place the final layer of ladyfinger cake on top. Brush with the remaining Kahlua.
Freeze. Again, the filling is soft, so pop the cake into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm.
Layer. Finally, top with the remaining filling, spreading it evenly, and dust with the remaining cocoa.
Serve. It’s recommended that you serve this immediately, but we refrigerated ours for a bit and it was fine.
The filling for this cake is fantastic. Light, with a slight coffee-maple flavor. It would be perfect with a chocolate cake, too, so keep that in mind; we are. We can’t fairly rate the ladyfinger cake part because we used an incorrect recipe (One of the advantages of eBook versions is that they’re easily correctable, right? Apparently not.), but we will say that this recipe is pretty involved, so we’d have to give it four stars in the worth-the-effort category; well, maybe five using the correct version.