By Steve Peters
Happy birthday, to me.
It’s my birthday this week, and in celebration, I made myself my favorite dessert: tiramisu. Tiramisu is made with a light sponge cake (also called a finger or biscuit) that is soaked in coffee, brandy and coffee liqueur. This is then layered with a whipped cream and mascarpone cheese mixture and a bit of chocolate. Perhaps you can see why when translated from Italian, tiramisu means “pick me up.”
I first made tiramisu for a party in my high school Italian class. We had a quite a few parties now that I think about it. At the time, I didn’t know where to find lady fingers, and instead, I made my own sponge cake. Although it was the best thing I had ever made — granted, I was 16 at the time — I don’t think it’s worth making your own cake for tiramisu. Decent lady fingers can be found already prepared in the bakery department of grocery stores such as Hannaford. They’re inexpensive too. Sometimes they’re hidden or not well stocked, so you might want to call ahead and check. Or try checking with a local bakery. Just don’t confuse them with some prepacked thing in the cookie aisle.
If you’ve never used mascarpone cheese, it’s basically an Italian cream cheese, but better. It’s creamier, milder and richer. Look for it in the specialty cheese section of the grocery store. Don’t worry, it’s reasonably priced as well. Tiramisu is the most well-known use for mascarpone, but it could also be added into lasagna, mac and cheese, or even to top some fresh fruit with honey. Regular old cream cheese won’t make a suitable replacement.
Although I get excited when I see tiramisu on restaurant menus, it’s almost never as good as when I make it at home. This version is less sweet than others, and with plenty of coffee and brandy, doesn’t lack in flavor. If you’ve never made one yourself, you should give a tiramisu a try for your next Italian dinner night. With no baking and just a little cooking, all it really takes is arranging the layers in the pan.
makes 1 cake
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup heavy cream
5 tablespoons brandy
12 ounces strong coffee or espresso
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
30 lady fingers
4 ounces dark chocolate
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
Fill a medium-sized pan with about an inch of water. Place a glass or metal mixing bowl into the top of the pan so that it is stable. Add the egg yolks, half of the sugar and 2 teaspoons of the vanilla extract into the bowl. Bring the water in the pan to a gentle simmer and whisk the ingredients together as they heat. The mixture should become light yellow and double in size after 3-4 minutes. Afterwards, remove the bowl from the top of the pan and turn off the heat.
With an electric mixer, whisk together the mascarpone, heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of brandy until stiff. Fold in the cooked egg yolk and sugar mixture.
In another bowl, combine the coffee or espresso with the coffee liqueur and the remaining sugar, vanilla extract and brandy. Set aside for a few minutes. Use a peeler to make small curls with the dark chocolate.
Line a bread loaf pan with a piece of parchment that extends up the sides. This will help to remove it from the pan later. One at a time, gently and briefly dip the lady fingers into the coffee, then arrange into the bottom of the bread pan in a single layer. Be careful not to over soak. They should still be mostly solid and not too soggy. It will depend on the size of your lady fingers how many it will take to form a solid layer. It took me 10 for each layer.
Cover the lady fingers with an ample layer of the mascarpone cream, then sprinkle over some of the dark chocolate and cocoa powder. Repeat the process with another layer of soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and chocolate. Then repeat once more after that. There should be three layers of each and you should finish with the chocolate and cocoa.
Transfer the tiramisu to the fridge to firm up for at least two hours or as much as a day in advance.