Last week, I spent all my time at the library, studying biochemistry, and I only went home to sleep. It was awful, as studying usually is, but after a week of suffering I took the exam and later found out that I passed. Needless to say, I was so happy about it, that I couldn't wait to come home and bake something.
Macarons to be exact.
First, I read the recipe on Not So Humble Pie a million times. Then, in the afternoon, it occurred to me that I needed a candy thermometer. Which I don't have. Went to the store to buy one. They didn't have any. Came home and found a recipe for making the batter without a thermometer on 17 and Baking. Made the batter and piped the macarons. Put them in the oven. Sat in front of the oven the whole baking time. And what do I get for all that?
No feet! And I also have to mention that they were just plain ugly. I was so disappointed that I almost wanted to give up baking forever. But, instead I decided I'm just going to give up macarons. Forever. Me and macarons are obviously not meant to be.
I needed a whole day to recover from the disappointment. I really don't like failing. Anywhere. Not at school and especially not in the kitchen. The only thing that came out of my oven and went straight into the trash were coconut cupcakes that were supposed to be made with evaporated milk, but I substituted that with heavy cream. Yes, I did that. But at least back then I knew what was the cause for the disaster. This time though, there were so many things that could have caused the failure, that I didn't even bother to think about it.
Then I went into the kitchen and didn't come out for 6 hours. One of the things I made was tiramisu, the dessert that the Daring Bakers made recently.
I joined the Daring Bakers two months ago after seeing the beautiful pictures of their challenges. They made a few very good looking desserts (Tiramisu, Nanaimo bars...) and that's when I found them and decided to give them a try. Unfortunately, the month when I joined, the challenge was a dessert with oranges. I don't like oranges. I didn't like the recipe at all. So I didn't make it. Next month (april) the challenge was steamed pudding. I didn't love that either so I didn't make it. But the Tiramisu challenge was creeping up on me since I saw the recipe (and the pictures!). I knew that after all the disappointment, this was the right moment to make it.
The recipe was taken from the Daring Bakers' forum (February challenge). It's best to make the mascarpone, vanilla pastry cream and zabaglione a day before and assemble the tiramisu the next morning.
Mascarpone Cheese (from Baking Obsession) (makes 340 g - only 75 g needed for the Tiramisu)
474 ml/2 cups whipping (25 - 36%) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you don't 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. Don't 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 creme anglaise. It will cover the back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will 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 and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface. Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate in the sieve overnight or up to 24 hours. Keep refrigerated and use within 3-4 days.
Tiramisu (from The Washington Post)
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons (50 g) sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) Marsala wine or port or coffee
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Heat water in a double boiler (or place a heat-proof bowl in a pot with about an inch of water in it and heat it on the stove; make sure the bottom of the upper bowl doesn't touch the water). In a large mixing bowl mix together the egg yolks, sugar, Marsala (or port or coffee), 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.
1/4 cup (55 g) sugar
1 tablespoon (8 g) all puropse flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup (175 ml) whole milk
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. Now 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.
1 cup (235 ml) chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup (55 g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
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.
Ladyfinger - Savoiardi biscuits (from Cordon Bleu At Home) - makes 24 big ladyfingers
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons (75 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (95 g) cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
6 tablespoons (50 g) confectioners sugar
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), 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's 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, you could also use 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 confectioners' 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 in 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 slighlt 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 until required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.
Assembling the Tiramisu
2 cups (470 ml) brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup (110 g) sugar
1/3 cup (75 g) mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi - ladyfinger biscuits (or less)
2 tablespoons (30 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8'' by 8'' should do) or one of your choice. Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone 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.
Working 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 into 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 lady fingers 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.
This is by far the most complicated recipe I have ever attempted to make. But it's also one of the most rewarding ones because we all had to wait for more than a day before we could eat it and we were even more excited about it. I have never piped anything in my life, so the ladyfingers were a first, but somehow I managed to make almost all of them the same size and shape. There was not enough batter for 40 cookies though. I made less than 20. I have never tasted store-bought (or any other) mascarpone, so I don't really know what it's supposed to taste like. But I do know, that after a night in the refrigerator it was really hard, almost like butter. But I still used it as the recipe says. The pastry cream and zabaglione weren't hard to make, but after I mixed everything with whipping cream, there really wasn't enough of the cream mixture to make 3 layers. So when I wanted to cover the third layer, I whipped some more whipped cream and used it instead. Next time I make it (and yes, there will be many next times...) I'll probably double the recipe, so I can make a larger tiramisu. This time, I assembled it in a baking pan because it was just the right size. It wasn't the prettiest tiramisu I have ever seen (which you can see in the picture), but it was so good!
I used Cointreau instead of vanilla extract, which is a liqueur, made with orange peels. I thought it would give the tiramisu a different taste, but it didn't. I'll definitely make it again, but probably bigger and I'll try to make the ladyfingers the same size, so it looks better when it's cut.
Approximate cost: 4 €