Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge for February: Tiramisu

Like so many other members of the Daring Bakers, I was both pleased and a little nervous at the prospect of making tiramisu completely from scratch for the February challenge. This particular version of tiramisu contains no fewer than four separate recipes--homemade mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream, and ladyfingers! Not to mention sweetened whipped cream as well. It took some time to prepare the main components, let most of them chill, and then to assemble the final dish. The best aspect of the challenge, for me, involved successfully making some nice ladyfingers. The mascarpone cheese process was pretty interesting, too.

What did I really think of my tiramisu once it was done? Well, while the final product was intriguing and tasty, I must admit I had some reservations about it. The fluffy filling contains citrus zest, for one thing, and that particular flavor profile was slightly too evident, I thought. Were I to make a tiramisu again, I think I'd omit the citrus zest, and refrain from mixing the mascarpone cheese, zabaglione, pastry cream, and whipped cream all together. It seemed to me there was just a little too much going on in this creamy mixture and some of the qualities of the individual components got lost in the shuffle. (I wonder if anyone else who did this challenge may have felt that way too? Maybe it was just me . . . )

I veered from the recipe below by using coffee and a little Kahlua in the zabaglione sauce, instead of port wine or Marsala, and I also used coffee mixed with a bit of Kahlua to soak the ladyfingers.

All in all, though, I must say I thought this challenge was well worth my time, and I learned some useful lessons while preparing it. Many thanks to Deeba and Aparna for conceiving this challenge and sharing it with us!

(While the photos below are mine, the blurb and recipes come directly from the Daring Bakers website.)
* * * * * *

"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."


(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.


(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. 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.

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. 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 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.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Snow Fortress Extraordinaire . . .

Last Monday didn't turn out as I'd expected. But that was okay, because a couple of things--one of them quite remarkable--were created here instead. It all commenced when I came down the stairs at about 6 a.m. that morning and found my husband, who was preparing to leave for the airport on a business trip, reading a message on his Blackberry. Glancing toward me, he announced with undisguised disdain, "They've cancelled school. We've got barely two inches of snow on the ground, and they've called a snow day. Ridiculous!" And with that he finished his preparations, kissed me goodbye, and drove off.

No sooner had he left than the sky was awash in a whirlwind of plump white flakes. As the morning advanced, it became a deluge--picture an explosion in a flour mill. My own plans had been to spend a good chunk of the day studying for the midterm exam scheduled to take place in my retail baking class the next day. I'd figured it would be nice and quiet here, and I'd be uninterrupted while both my boys were in school. No dice on that front. I couldn't complain, though, and didn't envy my husband having to drive to the airport in a blizzard and then wait around for an ice-covered plane to take off.

What to do? Well, as you and I both know, there is something about a snowy day that strongly impels bakers to bake, so I determined I'd just go with the urge, make the most of it, and cram for my midterm--about which I was not too worried--that evening. That decision led to these dusky hued, espresso laden, chocolate saturated cookies. More about them in a moment.

What were my kids doing while I was baking? Building the mother of all snow-forts, in our front yard, with a bunch of my oldest son's closest friends. Readers, if the fate of America rests on the stamina, smarts, creativity, and joyous optimism that teenagers like these seem to possess in spades, then I think we're probably going to be okay. Yes, I suspect that us anxious Baby Boomers may actually be able to rest easy.

Over a period of perhaps four hours, ten or eleven kids erected a structure that easily exceeds the size of my dining room, out of enormous snow-bricks--each brick a foot thick and a couple of feet long. With four stalwart walls standing at least five feet tall all around, the fort was impenetrable to even the fiercest snowballs. Passing cars slowed to a crawl as their drivers first gaped in astonishment, and then grinned openly, at the spectacle. It was something alright, a snow castle extraordinaire. As I aimed my camera and snapped away at the laboring kids, I kept thinking, "This is the one snow-fort they're going to remember and talk about for the rest of their lives, hands down."

Luckily for me, besides playing in the snow, these kids also like mega-chocolatey cookies.

About the cookies . . .

This recipe hails from the 2009 Holiday Baking issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine, and it's no ordinary cookie formula. This cookie is a delivery device for profound chocolate intensity. I've never seen anything quite like it. It relies on an almost grotesque quantity of chocolate--both unsweetened and bittersweet melted in the batter, and semisweet in the chips--for its very existence. The flavor is so derivative of the very essence of the cacao bean that it's almost painful. People who don't like chocolate will hate this cookie. Seriously.

It contains, comparatively speaking, a puny amount of flour at just half a cup, but a sufficient number of eggs to help hold everything together. The texture of the cookies is mostly soft, a little chewy, and not at all crunchy even after a couple of days. The recipe calls for a couple teaspoons of instant coffee powder, but I used the opportunity to try out the little jar of King Arthur Espresso Powder that I recently ordered. I used just one judicious teaspoon of that, since it's pretty concentrated stuff.

Rather than give away all of its secrets, I'll let the recipe speak for itself. Before I completely clam up, though, two things to keep in mind: Be sure, as the recipe indicates, to let the dough sit for 20 minutes or so (and this does not mean in the fridge) before you portion it onto cookie sheets, and be absolutely sure to let the cookies cool almost completely on the cookie sheets, not on cooling racks. Those are critical points for success.

Triple-Chocolate Chip Cookies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

1 and 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (it doesn't have to be softened)
2 tsp. instant coffee powder (I used barely 1 tsp. of instant espresso powder)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
1 and 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the bittersweet chips, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir it frequently, until the chocolate is completely melted, smooth, and glossy. Remove the bowl from the pan and set it aside to cool slightly.

Stir the coffee/espresso powder and vanilla extract together in a little bowl until dissolved.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment., at medium-high speed until the mixture is very thick and pale, about 4 minutes.

Add in the vanilla and coffee mixture and beat until that's fully incorporated, about 20 to 30 seconds.

Reduce the speed to low, add the chocolate mixture, and mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and table salt. Take your large mixing bowl off of the mixer. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture, and the chocolate chips, into the batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes until the batter firms up. Don't chill it. It's going to look very thick and shiny, kind of like brownie batter.

Using a portion scoop (I used a #40 scoop, which holds 2 Tbsp.; you can always make the cookies larger or smaller, though, as you please), place the cookies 2" apart on your baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are shiny and cracked on the top, about 11 or more minutes.

When the cookies appear done, let them cool completely on the cookie sheets, which are placed on top of cooling racks. Don't try to transfer the cookies directly to the racks while they're warm or they'll just crumble apart; wait until those babies are cool!

Recipe full disclosure! This recipe appears on pages 4 and 5 of the "Holiday 2009" issue of Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking issue. The article, "Triple-Chocolate Cookies," in which it appears, was written by Stephanie Alleyne.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Arrivederci to Winter: Orange Polenta Cake with Sweet Citrus Glaze . . .

Citrus zest in a cake. Olive oil in a cake. Cornmeal in a cake. An accordion in a cake. Okay, maybe not that last one, but all the others? Yes. Today's the day for an orange polenta cake, drizzled with a sweet citrus glaze. Is it Italian? Oh, you betcha. Does the olive oil make it taste strange? Only in the mysteriously delicious sense of the word.

Though pyramids of vibrant winter oranges are still ubiquitous in every grocery store around here, that will soon change. Do you realize we'll set our clocks forward by an hour in just about two weeks? I can hardly believe it, but I welcome spring's approach with open arms. Winter's bloom has faded. Bring on spring. Bring it on, I say!

I'd been wondering lately if the crocuses might already be nudging the soil aside beneath the snow, on the south side of my house. I investigated that possibility this afternoon, and I'm pleased to report that, sure enough, they've made their debut. In Michigan, crocuses are quite the vernal harbinger. They're hopeful little messengers of warmth to come. To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite poems, one could say they're "looked for like mail." And I have been looking for them.

Now, about this cake . . .

The plan to whip up a bright, citrusy, polenta-and-olive-oil cake had been simmering on my mental back-burner for a while. Never having tried one before, I perused several recipe versions before settling on this one. It comes from the book Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, by pastry chef Gina de Palma (Babbo being Mario Batali's famous restaurant in NYC). A slightly simplified, but almost identical, version of the recipe in the book also appears here, in Babbo's website.

This particular cake's lack of heaviness appealed to me. Some of the polenta cake formulas that I'd read through contained not only a generous portion of olive oil, but also butter. One that sticks in my mind (probably because it would also have stuck in my arteries) contained almost four cups of finely ground almonds in the batter in addition to olive oil, almost a pound of butter, and five eggs. Yikes. Alright, if that's what you're in the mood for, but I had no desire to bake a cake with such heft. Cakes like that emit a resounding thunk when placed on the table. No thunking allowed. All thunking is currently prohibited.

My adapted version of the recipe includes no lemon or lime zest in the batter--just orange zest-- and only orange and lemon juice in the glaze. Aside from those small changes, I did a little rewording of the directions here and there.

I want to mention that I used Meyer lemon juice in the glaze. A cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange, the Meyer's color is luminous, like a lemon that's blushing. Its juice is distinctly different, too--sweeter, with perhaps more character. Meyer lemons seem to pop up briefly at this time of year, at least in this neck of the woods, and they're not expensive.

Orange Polenta Cake with Sweet Citrus Glaze

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1 and 1/2 cups, plus 1 Tbsp., unbleached All Purpose flour
3 oranges
3/4 cup instant or fine polenta (I just used regular Quaker brand cornmeal)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease or spray a 9" springform pan. Dust the pan with flour.

Grate all the the zest from the oranges. Set the zest aside for the cake batter, and set the fruit aside to use in the glaze.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until they're pale yellow and have tripled in volume (about 3 to 4 minutes). Beat in the reserved orange zest.

Alternate adding in the dry ingredients and the olive oil to the egg mixture. Begin with one third of the dry ingredients, then add half the olive oil. Continue, ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition only until it's incorporated. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. The cake is done when it springs back when touched in the center, when the cakes pulls away from the sides of the pan, and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Note from Jane -- My cake took at least 35 to 40 minutes to bake. I recommend you cover the top of your cake lightly with foil as soon as it gets golden on top, just in case you need to leave it in the oven much longer!)

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack, for 12 to 15 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan. Let the cake finish cooling completely on a rack.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. Sift 2 cups of confectioners' sugar into a large bowl. Squeeze at least 2 Tbsp. of juice from the orange, and at least 1 Tbsp. of juice from the lemon into a small bowl. Make sure no seeds remain in the juice; strain it if necessary. Add the juices to the large bowl and mix into the sugar with a spoon or a whisk until completely smooth.

If the glaze is too thick, add more of the juices or a few drops of water. Too thin? Add in a bit more of the sugar.

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow it to set until it's completely dry. (The sugariness is more subdued, and the citrus flavors are more at the forefront, when the glaze is dry.)

If you want to do so, carefully remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan and transfer it to a serving plate. Store any leftover cake well covered.

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