Saturday, February 27, 2010

Darking Bakers: Tiramisu (February 2010)

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.

Here's a bit about Tiramisu from our challenge hosts:
"This divine Italian dessert translates to mean ‘pick me up’, supposedly referring to the ‘kick’ provided by the strong coffee, sugar and alcohol in it!

On the other hand, a slight mistake in spelling it as "Tiramuso" could end up meaning that you were "pulling a sulky face"! Classic tiramisu is made of alternate layers of espresso soaked ladyfinger biscuits and a cream made from mascarpone cheese and zabaglione (an egg custard).

The perfect Tiramisu is a balance of flavors of a sweet zabaglione, strong coffee, marsala wine, creamy mascarpone cheese and the dusting of unsweetened cocoa.

So when, where and how was tiramisu born?
Tiramisu is said to have its origins in Treviso (Italy), and there are quite a few stories about how it came to be created.

One story traces the tiramisu as far back as the Renaissance claiming that it was first made in honour of the visit of Grand Duke Cosimo di Medici to Tuscany. Yet another one points to the tiramisu being an adaptation of the "Zuppa Inglese" referring to the sponge cake and cream layered English Trifle.

However, experts in this area generally agree that the tiramisu as we know it today, was born in the ‘70s.

Some believe that the Tiramisu was created in the Le Beccherie (a restaurant in Treviso). Others suggest that Tiramisu was first made in 1971 by an Italian baker named Carminantonio Iannaccone in a small bakery in Treviso, Italy."

What a challenge this was! I was excited to try my hand at this dessert, though I typically do not enjoy it while out and about at restaurants. I find that the texture (fairly mushy) is not my favorite, the coffee flavor is not something I enjoy and if I'm going to have dessert there are usually a plethora of other items on the menu I would rather have.

That said, I have always wanted to know how it was made so that I could possibly change it up to make it into something that I would enjoy. You see, in my quest to become an Italian Nonna (grandma), this would need to be a staple in my recipe box. Also, since I had just taken a pastry class from an Italian chef, I was feeling inspired when I started to tackle this challenge.

(Instead of showing you the step by step of the recipe, I thought I would share my thoughts...let me know what you prefer!).

The recipe was very well written and easy to follow once you have all the ingredients. I will say that my sink is FULL of dishes though. It seemed that each thing used a bowl along with a this or that. I'm not complaining, I love a sink full of dishes as long as the result is worth it.

I did not make the mascarpone cheese from scratch. I could not find the proper kind of cream. The other Bakers in our private forum said to shy away from using ultra-pasteurized cream, which is all I could find. I suppose I could have made the 45 minute trek out to "the country" to a place that sells direct from a dairy, but honestly I did not have the time or mental energy to do that this time. Sorry to the hosts, but I passed on this part (hoping it would not fully disqualify me as a participant).

The ladyfingers were probably the most challenging for me due the folding and egg whites. I know I need to practice with those more in order to become more competent and confident. They seemed to turn out really well though. The part that I thought was fairly simple was the custards. BUT, it seems that like any good challenge those parts that you think will be simple turn out to be a challenge and vice versa.

My custards didn't seem to want to set. As you will see in the glamour shot, the top layer is a bit goopy (is that a word!?). I am going to consult with my new Italian chef friend to see if he can diagnose what went wrong.

I am also not sure I soaked the ladyfingers long enough in the sweetened espresso. As most of you that ready my ramblings here know, I am not a coffee girl... ick.... so I think I thought that if I barely dunked the ladyfingers that the flavor would be reduced. Of course, this could be true, but at the same time it changed the dish a bit. The ladyfingers were still fairly "solid" when I cut into the dessert.

The one thing that did surprise me was how absolutely easy (and delicious!) the whipped cream was! I know I had seen fresh whipped cream made on tv before, heard all about how easy it was, but never really believed it was *that* easy....but it is! I literally dumped the ingredients in the trusty Kitchen Aid, attached the whisk, turn it on and *poof* a few minutes later I had really delicious whipped cream! Try this if nothing else!

Taste...OK, I have to admit. At the time I am posting this I've not actually tasted the whole thing. I've tasted the goopy cream, which was really good. I tried a ladyfinger and thought that while good, it would likely not be very good on its own (which is likely why they are normally incorporated into other desserts). I am hoping to convince myself to try a small piece later just so I can report back. In the meantime, I am also gathering feedback from my co-workers as I brought in the dish to share. Check back for an update!

UPDATE: So I finally got an opportunity to taste my creation. I must say it was good, but the coffee flavor was too much for me to make it through a whole serving. Feedback from the people at work was that it was really good. One person did say that the ladyfingers were a bit dry, but not so bad that they did not finish the portion they took. recommendation is that if you enjoy tiramisu, give this a go....if you are like me and are not/were not too fond of it before, you likely will not like this version either. Piacere! (Italian for Enjoy!)
The not-so-glamorous glamor shot
PS: Happy Anniversary to me! This blog has now been up
and cooking for one year!
Thanks to everyone who reads it...if you have any suggestions,
recommendations or requests, please let me know!
The Recipe: Tiramisu
The recipes for this challenge are presented in the following order:
A. Tiramisu (includes zabaglione and vanilla pastry cream)
B. Mascarpone Cheese
C. Ladyfinger/ Savoiardi Biscuits

Tiramisu is made up of several components which can be made separately and ahead of time and put together the day before serving. Making tiramisu from scratch requires about 2 to 3 days (including refrigeration) from when you start making the mascarpone to the time the tiramisu is served.

The zabaglione and pastry cream also need 4 hours to an overnight for chilling, as does the main dessert. The flavours mature after an overnight rest, and the dessert can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days.
Once assembled, the tiramisu can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately.

(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
This recipe makes 6 servings


For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder
For the zabaglione:

Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ 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.

For the pastry cream:
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.

For the whipped cream:
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.

To assemble the tiramisu:
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 cheese 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.

Now to start assembling the tiramisu.
Workings 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 lady finger 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 ladyfingers 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.

(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
This recipe makes 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

474ml (approx. 500ml)/ 2 cups whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
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 do not 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. Do not 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 crème anglaise. It will cover a 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 (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours.

Vera’s notes: The first time I made mascarpone I had all doubts if it’d been cooked enough, because of its custard-like texture. Have no fear, it will firm up beautifully in the fridge, and will yet remain lusciously creamy.

Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.

(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
This recipe makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2" to 3" long) ladyfingers.

3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
6 tablespoons /50gms confectioner's sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C) degrees, 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 granulate 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 is 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 confectioner's 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 on 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 slightly 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 till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

  • If you cannot find Marsala, port wine is considered a good substitute.
  • If you would rather not use alcohol in your tiramisu due to diet restrictions or because you want to serve it to children, you may replace the Marsala with an equal amount of espresso or coffee.
  • Many people, especially those who are not excessively fond of coffee, might find brewed espresso very strong. In this case, please feel free to dilute the espresso or coffee to the desired strength.
  • It is generally suggested that cream with 25% fat is best for making mascarpone, but 36% works just as well.
  • It is acceptable to use lime juice in the marscapone cheese.
  • The mascarpone recipe below is for approximately 340gms of mascarpone. The tiramisu recipe requires only 1/3 cup/75gms so you may scale down the recipe to requirement or put the extra mascarpone cheese to other equally good use. (100gms cream will yield approximately 75gms mascarpone)
  • While using the double boiler to make the mascarpone as well as the zabaglione, always ensure that the bottom of the bowl on top doesn't touch the bottom of the lower one. It is important to use a stainless steel bowl to pour your cream into, while making the mascarpone.
  • Ladyfinger batter is very fragile so fold in the flour and yolks very carefully into the meringue so that the whites don't lose their volume.
  • It might be a good idea to decide the size of the dish in which you intend to set the dessert, and make the fingers to a size which would fit that dish. This makes it easier when assembling the tiramisu later. Do remember that ladyfingers/ savioardi puff up a little while baking.
  • Ladyfinger biscuits may be stored up to a week in an airtight container.
  • Placing the bowl (in which cream is to be whipped) and the beaters of the hand held electric mixer in the fridge for about 1/2 to 1 hour before hand makes the cream whip up very well.
  • Do not dip the ladyfinger/ savoiardi into the coffee solution for more than ONE second, or they might become very fragile & disintegrate. Extra soaking is likely to spoil the end product, making it soggy.
  • If you would like to de-mould your tiramisu from your dish (cutting can be easier and neater this way, you can line your dish with plastic wrap (leaving a little extra on the sides of the dish) and then start assembling your tiramisu. Once the tiramisu sets in the refrigerator, you can use the overhang to pull the tiramisu out of the dish.
Enjoy with Love,

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daring Cooks: Mezze (February 2010)

The 2010 February Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

From Michele: “The challenge is to prepare a Mezze (pronounced “mez”) Table including, but not limited to, homemade Pita bread and Hummus. If you’re not familiar with mezze, it’s more of a style of eating than a specific recipe or recipes. Mezze is a bunch of small dishes served all at once—sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Spanish Tapas. It can be served as appetizers before a meal, or as the meal itself.

A simple mezze meal could be something like pita bread, hummus, olives, roasted almonds, and some feta cheese. If you want to be more elaborate you can add salads, other dips, cooked beans, roasted meat or fish, a variety of flatbreads, and on and on. The presentation is important as you want your mezze table to be just as appealing to the eye as it is to the stomach. I know that eating this way isn’t second nature to most people, but it can be a fun way to share a meal with those close to you.”

I was excited about this challenge because I have eaten mezze style before at Lebanese restaurants. The smaller portions and variety can be a fun way to try new things. I decided that beyond the required pita bread and hummus for the challenge I would add my absolute favorite olives (more on these later) and tabouli.

I had made hummus before so I knew this was going to be the easy part! The ingredients are typically on hand with the exception of tahini. Tahini is a sesame paste and can be replaced with peanut butter but I chose to purchase some at the store to make a more authentic hummus.

I whirled the (canned and drained) chickpeas in the food processor then added the other ingredients. It smelled so good.

Once I was done with the hummus I decided to make the tabouli. Instead of doing it from scratch, since I wasn’t sure I would like it and the ingredients could be a bit pricey, I bought a box mix. The instructions were very easy…pretty much just add water, olive oil and fresh tomatoes, then chill. Easy…done.

I moved on to the pita bread. As you may have read before, breads or yeasts and I have a love hate relationship. I love to attempt, but hate that I always am afraid they won’t turn out. So with some fear I got started. At the first “rest” I was still was not feeling very confident.

After I started to add more flour, I think I gave up stirring a bit too soon. As I was kneading I had to keep adding flour so that it wouldn’t stick to the counter. This didn’t seem to make too big of a difference other than I was COVERED in flour and bread dough! A messy process for sure!

Once it was in the bowl for the “rest and rise” phase, I was feeling a bit better (the smell of a yeast dough rising is amazing), but still worried it wouldn’t rise. But, it did! It was still very sticky once I went to divide and conquer the dough for the individual breads. I didn’t get any pictures of this process because again my hands were covered in flour and dough. They rolled out much like the dumplings I had made before…very springy dough.

The first batch went into the oven and I think that the oven was not hot enough yet. They turned out alright, but did not puff or balloon up as expected. I waited to put the next batch in until I knew the oven was at the required temperature and they puffed up beautifully!

All in all this challenge, though messy, was not that difficult for me but I was still glad to do it. Making your own pita bread could come in quite handy on weeks like we had last week when the snow storms create panic and the bread and eggs are gone from the grocery store. Most people that would attempt to make their own breads would likely have all the ingredients on hand or could easy purchase them during a snow panic. The hummus is high in protein and fairly good for you…it is easy to share with others as well. Just make sure that if you are sharing with a loved one you both eat it if you plan on kissing….it does pack a decent garlic punch!

Now, more about the olives in the glamour shot below. These olives are the best I have ever had. They simply have a flavor that others do not compete with. They are Mama Leone’s Double Stuffed Rockets. They are a green olive stuffed with jalapeño and garlic. They have a great balance of heat. I do not find them to be too hot unless you eat several quickly…but the cure for that is a swig of milk. If you would like to try these olives, they can be purchased online from Leonard Mountain. The folks that run this company are top-notch and wonderful people. I have no trouble endorsing them or their products (for free! unasked even!). Their other olives and breads are great too. Give them a try.

The Recipes:
Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook

2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)

1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.

2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).

4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.

5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
A big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) OR use peanut butter or any other nut butter—feel free to experiment) (1.5 ounces/45 grams)
Additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste

1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.

2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Enjoy with Love,