Friday, March 26, 2010

Notes on a Fancy Italian Dessert

Many years of my life were spent without knowing the awesomeness of tiramisu. Actually, many years were spent disliking the way coffee tasted, even though I loved the way it smelled. So it would follow that once I discovered that I actually could, indeed, enjoy coffee (thank you, Starbucks, for adding sugar and cream and flavorings)...I discovered the fabulousity of  tiramisu. By the way, I tend to make up words. I get it from my mom. Embrace it. It extends one's vocabulary exceedingly well!

So, tiramisu. It's delightful. And difficult to make, I'm just gonna be very honest here. But Jeremy and I love it. I have wonderful memories tied to this dessert...when Jeremy proposed to me (about two years ago exactly) he cooked a wonderful dinner of chicken spaghetti with tossed salad. And for dessert we had tiramisu that he had picked up from the Carriage House Antique Mall Cafe' in Jackson. We'd eaten it there several times and enjoyed it immensely. (By the way, I taught Jeremy how to enjoy coffee. Many, many times he had turned down his parents' offers of coffee over the years - it's their favorite beverage. But they drink it black. And we cannot. Oh, we cannot.)

Tiramisu is fancy - it's perfectly special. It reminds me of getting proposed to, which is always a nice memory. =) Jeremy's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and we had a family birthday party for him at our house a few days later. I am HUGE fan of The Pioneer Woman and had previously filed away her recipe for tiramisu in hopes of making it for a special occasion. Her recipe title is Tiramisu - You Can Do It. Yes, You Can. YES, YOU CAN. Jeremy's birthday proved to be the perfect special occasion to try it. =) Wait, "Do or do not; there is no try." I think Yoda and The Pioneer Woman would get along.

Now, since we live in small town of six thousand-something, a couple of the ingredients were a tad trying to track down. First: mascarpone cheese...a wonderful Italian cheese, sort of like our cream cheese, but not enough like it to be interchanged. (I have since looked at the Kroger in neighboring Jackson, but no mascarpone cheese there either.) I did find it at the Publix in Chattanooga. I had high hopes for also finding the ladyfinger cookies there, too, but no such luck!

So I made the ladyfingers. Well, let me rephrase that. I made some ladyfingers from Ladyfingers. I wasn't crazy about them. They were kinda fun to make - I used a gallon-sized ziplock bag with a snipped-off corner to pipe them on the parchment covered cookie sheet.

But something didn't seem right. If I made them again I would add a pinch of salt and some vanilla, I think. They were bland. And so I waffled back and forth about actually using them in my tiramisu. After all, here's how much the mascarpone cheese cost me...and I had to buy TWO of them.

In my infinite wisdom (or fear of ruining an expensive and time-consuming dessert) I decided to have another try. I absolutely loved The Pioneer Woman's Strawberry Shortcake Cake and have made the spongecake recipe itself several different times since - in regular and miniature cupcakes, not just cake. It has a fabulous flavor. And not bland at all! So I decided to try piping it in ladyfinger shapes. I was pretty proud of myself for thinking of this, I gotta say.

But here's what happened once they were cooked...

I had to laugh when I turned the oven light on. Oh, well, it's a layered dessert. Who is gonna know, right??

You see them making fun of the true ladyfingers in the background? They totally were taunting them.

Next I had to make the custardy stuff, which had to chill and then be mixed with the mascarpone cheese and sweetened whipped cream. I do not own a double boiler, so I made do with a makeshift one, as was suggested by the Pioneer Woman herself.

The recipe calls for Marsala wine, which I did not include in my version. I think I actually cooked the custard stuff too long or on too high a temp maybe. It didn't exactly look like hers, especially after it was chilled. But it all ended up alright. She warns her readers not to whip the concoction to death...that a few lumps were normal. But for mine to be incorporated into the mascarpone cheese and the whipped cream (which I kind of ruined the integrity of) I had to whip it. Oh, well, it tasted super fabulous. I made some very strong coffee to drizzle over the ladyfinger layer and added a little almond extract along with the vanilla extract - in substitution for more Marsala wine.

As I layered the dessert, I got distracted. Don't get distracted. This is what happens when you get distracted...

I forgot to drizzle coffee on the second layer and had to scrape up the creamy layer to correct my mistake. Yeesh.

I was nervous about how it would turn out...and tired. When I set the dish in the fridge that afternoon, I thought to myself, "This may be a once-in-a-lifetime recipe." I waited to see how the overall taste was - and feedback from the fam - before I decided this for sure.

The verdict? It was a winner. Everyone loooved it. Even our two-year-old friend! She wanted seconds. =)

And my mom, who doesn't like coffee. I have to say, I didn't pour too much coffee over the layers because I didn't want it to be too terribly strong. Next time, I would do a little more. That's right...I said "next time." I would make this again. Now that I have my notes and know how things should go. =) I think the first ladyfinger recipe would be satisfactory, with my additions of salt and vanilla. Just gotta find some mascarpone cheese...preferably on sale.


  1. Oh, I love the Pioneer Woman too! Except, I hate her too because I've gained probably 80 pounds due to her recipes. Ok, maybe 80 pounds is an exaggeration but you know I probably could! I'm going now to check out her strawberry shortacke recipe as I just bought a bunch of strawberries!

  2. Seriously, the strawberry shortcake cake was delicious. =) I had several comments from my family that it was the best strawberry cake they'd ever had. Enjoy! And her stuff is definitely NOT low-calorie. Wow.

  3. I MUUUSSSTTT check out The Pioneer Woman. This looks amazing, and it is yummy!! One of my favorite college memories is splitting my first tiramisu with Dr. Mac, who was my college idol. Here's a tip on the Mascarpone. You could look for it in Nashville at the Trader Joe's in Green Hills. The upside, is it is organic mascarpone with no artificial sweetners, etc. The other upside is that it will cost you less than the Publix in Chatt. Oh but Jeremy's family is there, so you already have a reason to be in Chattanooga. Hm. This is the story of me trying to be helpful. Looks delicious!!!

  4. Erin, oh, that we had a Trader Joe's around here! That's awesome that it's organic and costs less. Yes, we're gonna be in Chattanooga from time to time anyway BUT! We have family in Nashville also - and they live close to Green Hills. =) Thanks for the hint!

  5. Happy birthday, Jeremy!! (better late than never.)

    Okay, color me impressed. This stuff is so intimidating to me. I can't believe you even attempted it. But look how great it turned out!! Good for you. :)

    Also, I hate coffee, too. Blegch. The smell is good in the morning, but the taste is horrible. How old were you when you got over that? Maybe I'm on the same track you were...

  6. PS. You are beautiful! Your hair looks wonderful. And you and Jeremy make quite the adorable couple.


Your comments make me smile! Don't worry if you don't have a Google account - you can comment anonymously, but just leave your name, too. Let me know you were here, even if this is an "old" post. =)