Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Daring Bakers Challenge February 2010: Tiramisu

For some unexplained reason, Germans claim that they make the best Tiramisu. The person uttering the claim never says that he or she makes the best Tiramisu, but, rather, that their grandmother, or their spouse, or their mother, or their father makes the best Tiramisu. I'm not saying every German does this, but I have heard this more times than I have fingers and toes, so I'm going to safely say that the people I know and their friends and friends of friends have all conspired against me to drive me slowly insane with this phrase.

While I have had some very good Tiramisu here, it slowly wears on you, because it is simply one of the most popular things to serve at parties, or, at least, at all the parties to which I've been. See conspiracy theory above.

Thus, I'm really not a fan of this dessert. With heavy feet, I dragged myself through the February Daring Bakers Challenge, wondering if I was really a Daring Baker, or if I simply hated Tiramisu.

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.

I wasn't sure I'd even be able to participate in the challenge, because I spent most of February in dark movie theaters, watching a total of 25 films during the Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival. There were more duds this year than last, and even though I only watched a mixed cross-section of the films- there were about 300 shown- everyone seems to agree that this year the festival was a bit off.

In any case, the last film was last Sunday, and so I had a week to prepare for the Challenge. So I started the following Wednesday with the making of the marscapone. The recipe is sourced from Vera's Recipe for Homemade Marscapone Cheese. I'll have all recipes together at the end.

I didn't have a double boiler until yesterday. I was eying a bowl-with-a-handle water bath bowl to use as a double boiler, but the kitchen store I frequent had it for 20€, and at that price it was just too extravagant. I splurged 9€ for the regular flat-bottomed stainless steel bowl. I would probably have gotten it had I not been getting a conical sieve on that particular trip.

In the glass bowl, the cream never got to 190F, and the addition of the lemon juice seemed to do nothing. Also, putting it in a strainer with cheesecloth also appeared to do nothing.

However, in the end, I did get some pretty nice marscapone that even tasted like the real thing.

I sort of hemmed and hawed until this afternoon when I decided to get started. First was the Zabaglione, which was actually my favorite part.

I actually used a Madeira wine which I had lying around since I didn't want to buy more wine that no one in this household would drink. We tend to veer towards strong Belgian ales as well as local Berlin Beer.

Here's the aforementioned stainless steel bowl in use as a double boiler. It fits perfectly over my orange pot.

After the Zabaglione, it was the vanilla pastry creme. After getting the technique of the Zabaglione down, it was ridiculously easy.

And, though it took 12 minutes of constant stirring, it tasted wonderful. Both of these went into the refrigerator after cooling to room temperature.

Next were the Ladyfingers. I still don't have a the egg separating technique down. Yolks kept breaking, and I even thought about investing in one of those egg yolk separator tools, but in the end decided that it didn't matter as long as no yolk got into the whites.

One of the things I absolutely love about my Electrolux mixer is the whipping bowl. The whips spin around the donut bowl. This concoction of egg whites and sugar was ready in just under three minutes.

And the yolks were folded in.

Not the Zip-Loc logo on this bag. It's made under license by Toppits, who also puts its logo on the bags. Unfortunately, all the non-freezer bags have that annoying plastic closing piece, which ensures that the bag is never hermetically sealed.

Going by scale, the Ladyfingers were a bit too big. I should have made a double- or triple-batch.

Here's the marscapone cheese ready for use.

And the Zabaglione and vanilla pastry creme.

First you mix the marscapone, Zabaglione, and pastry cream.

Then fold in some sweet sweet whipped cream.

I didn't have enough Ladyfingers, so I pretty much improvised.

And broke them apart for the following layers.

The results did not look pretty.

Because the main Tiramisu will be donated to a birthday party, I made a small one on the side for myself. After all, I also need a sweet reward after all that hard work.

I was very skeptical- I've eaten lots of Tiramisu in my time here. And it's usually been quite good. But this one, even after all that work, was heavenly. Maybe it's because it is the first one I've ever had that was made completely from scratch. In any case, there's going to be a bunch of happy German ladies on Monday claiming that their friend's boyfriend makes the best Tiramisu ever.

I can't wait.

Here are the recipes. They're also available on the Daring Bakers Website.

Marscapone 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.

Ladyfingers/ Savoiardi Biscuits
(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
75g granulated sugar
95g cake flour, sifted
50g 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.


(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
60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

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

For the whipped cream:
235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu:
470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon rum extract (optional)
110gms sugar
75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
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.


  1. How impressive. I like that you made your own marscapone. I would have stopped with the zabaglione, and some berries. Is there anything you don't love about your mixer?

    Anne Marie

  2. Yummmmmmmmmmmm. :)

    I love your story that goes along with it!!!

  3. i have a feeling that now you will be the person everyone refers to when they say that someone they know makes the best tiramisu. well done once again!

  4. Anne Marie- What is funny about the mixer is that I whip up eggs or cream at the highest speed, and knead bread at the lowest.

    Thanks everyone for the great comments. Everyone loved the Tiramisu, though they said it had a bit too much alcohol.

  5. Great story about the tiramisu--now you'll become a real urban legend, as the story of your tiramisu spreads far and wide! I loved this challenge because I rarely make tiramisu. I found the rsults delicious, but was even happier with what I made with the leftovers (caribou marsala)!

  6. LOL! I've never heard any Germans claiming their friend or a friend of a friend makes the best tiramisu. But I have to admit, my mother in law makes a pretty good tiramisu. LOL. Your mascarpone looks perfect - mine turned out like butter!!!!