Friday, March 22, 2013

A Birthday Surprise - Tiramisu!

A very good friend of mine (I'll call her B) recently had a birthday!  Prior to her actual birthday, her mother (who lives out of town) called me to see if I would help plan a surprise girls night out dinner for B to celebrate.  Of course I would!  Over the course of a couple of weeks, the mom, husband, and I deviously planned a get-together for B.  The best part, other than the dessert, which I promise I will get to, is that the surprise dinner gave me the excuse to spend an afternoon with B.  My strategy for getting her out of the house was that I was totally stressed out with being pregnant and building a house and having way too much stuff on my plate (which is unfortunately all true!) and needed some girl-time.  So we spent an afternoon together and then I took her to dinner, where another 6 of our friends happened to be waiting!

Honestly, if you are a busy mom like we both happen to be, how often do you get to spend an entire afternoon hanging out with a girl-friend?  Extremely rarely, in our cases.  So it was a beautiful gift to spend the day with my friend!

Anyway, in the planning of this happy event, B's mother mentioned that B's favorite dessert was tiramisu.  Mmmm.  We happen to share that favorite, I must admit.  And it just so happens that for Thanksgiving I had dinner with some friends who served the best tiramisu I had ever eaten (and honestly, I have eaten a LOT of tiramisu) and I had gotten the recipe!  A perfect opportunity to try out this recipe for myself!

This recipe comes from The Best of America's Test Kitchen.  It is super, as they do so much testing on each ingredient to figure out how it can be perfect, that all you have to do is follow directions!  And voila!  Perfect tiramisu!

The first thing you do is to prepare the coffee mixture for the ladyfingers.  This contains strong coffee, instant espresso and dark rum.  Mmmm...  Make sure all of the espresso granules are dissolved and set it aside for later.

Now, make the yummy cream part.  Beat egg yolks with sugar and salt until the mixture is pale yellow.  Add some dark rum and a bunch of mascarpone and beat until there are no lumps.  Put this into a separate bowl and then beat some heavy cream in the mixing bowl you were just using.  Once it holds stiff peaks, gently fold it into the mascarpone mixture.  You have now created the delectable filling part.  I think could eat the entire bowl...

Oh, and here is where I think many restaurant tiramisu's go wrong.  Some use cream cheese instead of mascarpone.  Bad idea.  It is just wrong.  For an Italian dessert that highlights mascarpone, you must actually USE mascarpone.  Cream cheese makes it just taste weird. 

It is time for the lady fingers.  This is another crucial element of tiramisu.  If you get the wrong ones, or if you soak them too long, you end up with mush.  Do not shop in the bakery section of your grocery store for lady fingers.  Go to the International food section or wherever you can get actual Italian products.  These Biscotti Savoiardi are what you want for tiramisu - they are nice and crisp and dry.  The ones in the bakery section are more cake-like and not hard enough.  

Remember the pan of coffee/rum you created earlier?  Find that and get it nice and close to a 9x13-inch pan.  Take a lady finger, put it into the mixture, roll it over, remove it quickly and put it in your pan.  The entire process takes just a couple of seconds.  Do not submerge the lady fingers, instead do a quick dip and roll.  This helps keep the lady fingers nice and crisp but moistened enough to have the right texture.  Do this one by one and press the lady fingers into a tight layer on the bottom of your 9x13-inch pan.

Start layering.  Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers, making sure you get it to all the edges.  Smooth out the top and sprinkle with a pretty thick layer of cocoa powder.  Then repeat the entire process, starting with the lady finger dip.  Cover the entire pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.  Sprinkle the top with grated chocolate (if desired) and serve chilled.

adapted from The Best of America's Test Kitchen
serves 10-12

2 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee, at room temperature
1 1/2 TB instant espresso granules
9 TB dark rum
6 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds mascarpone (NOT at room temperature)
3/4 cup cold heavy cream
14 ounces dried lady fingers
3 1/2 TB Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup grated semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (optional)

Stir the coffee, espresso, and 5 TB of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish until the espresso granules dissolve.  Set aside.

Using a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the yolks at low speed until just combined.  Add sugar adn salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow., scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula a few times.  Add the remaining 4 TB rum and beat at medium speed until just combined.  Scrape the bowl again.  Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, scraping the bowl a few times as you go.  Transfer the mixture to a different bowl and set aside.

Using the same mixer bowl (don't bother cleaning it!) beat the heavy cream at medium speed until frothy, then increase the speed to high and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks.  Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of the cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain.  Set aside.

Working one at a time, dip a lady finger into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and then transfer to a 9x13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.  The entire process should take no longer than 2-3 seconds per cookie.  Arrange the cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, as shown in photo on blog, breaking and/or trimming the cookies as needed to fit them neatly into the dish.

Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers.  Use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture to the sides and corners of the dish and smooth the surface.  Place 2 TB of the cocoa into a fine-mesh strainer and dust the cocoa over the mascarpone.

Repeat the dipping and placement of the lady fingers over the top of the cocoa, spread with remaining mascarpone mixture, and dust with remaining 1 1/2 TB of cocoa.  Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.  Sprinkle with grated chocolate, if using, and serve chilled.

A happy birthday girl!

You might have noticed that this recipe uses raw eggs, alcohol, and caffeine, three things pregnant ladies are theoretically supposed to avoid.  I used pasteurized eggs in order to feel better about the raw egg situation, and used decaffeinated coffee for the brewed coffee.  It still had the rum and the espresso, but I did what I could do.  I decided that for me, three "bad" things worked together to make it okay.  There were two other pregnant friends at the table, and I told them the situation so they could choose for themselves.  The Best of America's Test Kitchen does include a variation for making tiramisu without raw eggs, but honestly it takes more effort and I decided I was comfortable with using pasteurized eggs.   There is no way for me to have tiramisu in front of me and not indulge.  I could probably eat the entire pan, I love it so much!  

Yum.  Mr. Clever Mom was seriously anxious about making sure he got a piece of tiramisu.  Between the time I finished the tiramisu and then took it out of the house, he must have reminded me about a zillion times that I needed to bring some home for him.  Of course I brought some home for him!   He loves tiramisu about as much as I do!  

The birthday surprise was a success.  B and I had a wonderful afternoon together, she was shocked when we arrived at the restaurant and saw everyone there, and the dessert was a huge hit with everyone.  (I did send leftovers home with many guests - it is too dangerous to have in my house!!)  Happy Birthday to my good friend!  I am so honored to have been part of your celebration!

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