I made Tiramisu for the first time about…um…maybe 9 years ago for Bill’s birthday. I wasn’t new to the family any more, but I still felt self-conscious about some things, like making dessert. Anyway, Bill requested tiramisu, so I found a recipe and did my best. I wasn’t happy with how it turned out – it was too liquidy – but there was no time to make something else, so that’s what was served. Bill’s nephew Joe got the first serving. He was oh, maybe 15 or something at the time. He took one bite and sang out "RUMMMMM!" and I cringed. No wonder it was so runny. But everyone loved it – probably because of the rum.
I’ve made it a few times since over the years, and if I can give any advice to you out there, it would be this: USE THE CRISP LADYFINGERS IF AT ALL POSSIBLE – THEY’RE CALLED SAVOIARDI. And I put that in all caps because it makes a huge difference in how liquidy your dessert turns out. I also put it in all caps because I actually did NOT use them when I made this dessert, and while it came out nice – tastewise and all, it was seeping coffee. And why? Because I used the soft, cake-like little ladyfingers the bakery at the local Stop & Shop makes, and they are like starving sponges when you dip them into the coffee…and then they are like mush .0000002 of a second later. So it is worth it to take the time to FIND the Savoiardi if you possibly can. I shouldn’t have been such a slug.
Anyway. That’s enough of that.
One of the issues with making Tiramisu is the whole raw egg thing. Traditional recipes call for egg yolks, that are just beaten with sugar but not cooked, when making the creamy filling part. Other recipes avoid the eggs completely, which solves the salmonella worries, but takes a few too many steps away from tradition for me. The best compromise I have seen is to make a Zabaglione, also spelled zabayon, which is a smooth, light, custardy sauce made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. When you make the zabaglione, you place the yolks, sugar and wine in a double boiler, or a bowl set on a pot of simmering water (the bowl must not touch the water, however, or it will cook the eggs too much.) Anyway, while the mixture is over the water, you whisk and whisk like there’s no tomorrow, and what you’re doing is incorporating some air in the mixture, which lightens it, and you’re also very, very gently heating the yolks and killing any pesky salmonella critters that might be hanging around. The texture of the final product is soft and foamy and voluptuous.
So. First thing you need to to is make the zabaglione. Oh, and since it’s for Valentine’s Day, how about a chocolate zabaglione? (If you don’t want chocolate, leave out the cream and chocolate in this recipe.)
4 T heavy cream
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate (either chips, or chopped up)
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar and a pinch of salt
1/3 cup Marsala wine
In a small saucepan, scald the cream (heat it to almost a boil) and stir in the chocolate chips
until they are melted and the mixture is smooth.
Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine the yolks, the wine, and the sugar and salt in a bowl
and set the bowl on a pot of simmering water.
The water should only be about an inch deep, and the bowl must not touch the water, so the shape and size of the bowl you use is rather important.
Whisk the egg yolk mixture constantly for about 4-5 minutes. The texture of the mixture will change – it will thicken and increase in volume a bit as well.
Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the melted chocolate/cream mixture.
When combined, pour into a shallow pan (I used a glass pie plate) and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator until completely chilled.
While the zabaglione is chilling, you should assemble the following:
8 oz mascarpone (an Italian cheese similar to cream cheese) (room temp if possible)
1/2 heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar (separated into two 1/3 cup amounts)
2 1/2 cups espresso (warm, not hot)
1/4 cup dark rum (optional)
25-30 crisp ladyfingers (Savoiardi)
Place the heavy cream in a mixing bowl and beat until it starts to thicken. Slowly add in 1/3 cup sugar and continue beating until firm peaks form.
Fold the cream into your mascarpone. (* It’s helpful if the mascarpone is soft, otherwise you’re folding a soft texture into a rather firm texture, and you could end up with lumps of mascarpone if you’re not patient and careful.)
Then fold the chilled zabaglione into the cream and mascarpone mixture
and set aside.
Add the rum (if you’re using it) and the other 1/3 cup sugar to the espresso and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
You’ll also need an 8 x 8 inch baking pan, or a standard sized loaf pan, or, if you want to be Valentine-silly like me, you can use an 8" heart-shaped cake pan. Whatever shape you decide on, you want to line it with plastic wrap so that the plastic hangs way over the edges of the pan. (Why? Because you’re eventually going to unmold this onto a serving plate of some kind, and the plastic keeps the tiramisu from sticking to the walls of the pan. That’s why.)
Okay. Now, one at a time, dip the ladyfingers in the coffee mixture and arrange on the bottom of the pan.
Spread one third of the zabaglione
on top of the ladyfingers.
Continue with more ladyfingers,
and the final layer of zabaglione.
Cover with the ends of the plastic wrap
and chill for 6 hours. Yes, 6. Okay, 5 will work, too. But if you are going to unmold this dessert, you need to give it plenty of time to set first.
(The spatula is yours to do with as you wish.)
When you’re just about ready to serve, get about half a cup of heavy cream, some sugar (maybe 2 tablespoons) and orange extract if you have it. If you don’t, vanilla is fine. Whip the cream like you did earlier, adding the sugar when it starts to thicken, and stirring in a few drops (use it very sparingly, you just want a hint of flavor) of the orange extract at the end. If you want to get fancy, get a piping bag with a large star tip and fill that with the whipped cream. If you don’t want to bother with that, you’ll just need a spatula to spread the cream with. Also, you’ll need some cocoa powder in a sifter, and either shaved chocolate or mini chocolate chips.
Take the pan of tiramisu out of the fridge. Have your serving plate ready.
It should be bigger in diameter than the pan. Carefully peel back the plastic wrap covering the tiramisu.
Place the plate upside down on the pan.
Slide your hand under the pan, and hold the plate in place with your other hand. Now, in one quick, bold, fearless motion (I always say "No guts no glory" at moments like this – I know, I’m weird. But it’s my way of psyching myself up.) flip the plate and pan over. Set them down on your work area and if the pan looks like it isn’t nicely centered (if you care about that), now is the time to gently slide it where it needs to go.
Then, remove the pan.
And then carefully peel away the plastic wrap.
Now if, like me, you end up using the softer ladyfingers (you can also use pound cake if you can’t find any sort of ladyfingers), and you find the tiramisu is seeping coffee onto your plate, set a few paper towels around the plate so the edges of the towel are touching the coffee. They’ll soak up whatever liquid is there while you decorate the top.
Yay – you’re almost done! Now, either spread or pipe the whipped cream on the top of the tiramisu.
(You can do the sides, if you want to, but I like the look of the layers.)
Then dust with cocoa powder
and sprinkle your chocolate shavings or mini chips on top and – TA-DA!! – you did it!
Now serve some up…
and, of course,