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This dessert is ubiquitous both in Italy and the U.S. And the versions are so numerous that it's hard to describe the "real" tiramisu. This one is close to the version we learned to make there, and is one of the best I've had. (That's probably a very subjective response to enjoying the rewards of one's own labor.)
6 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/2 ounces) sugar
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar*
1 tablespoon warm water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia OR 1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest OR 1/8 teaspoon lemon or orange oil (all optional)
1 cup (4 ounces) unbleached pastry flour OR Mellow Pastry Blend
1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) potato flour
pinch of salt
*Cream of tartar helps stabilize the protein in the egg white by chemically "cooking" it just a bit with its acidity. According to Rose Beranbaum (The Cake Bible author…a must-have if you're interested in cake-baking and the "whys" and "whats" of the ingredients she calls for), 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar for each egg white produces the best result without fear of over-beating. You'll find some Italian recipes that call for a couple of drops of vinegar to accomplish the same thing.
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) strong Italian coffee* OR 2 tablespoons espresso powder dissolved in 1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) rum
4 large eggs, separated**
2/3 cup (5 ounces) sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
semi-sweet chocolate for shaving, or cocoa
*If you're using commercially made Italian savoiardi, they'll soak up a lot more coffee than homemade ones, so you may need as much as 3 cups of coffee.
**The eggs in this recipe are uncooked, and eating raw eggs may expose you to salmonella contamination. Immuno-compromised people, and the very young and elderly, may wish to use pasteurized eggs, which are available at some grocery stores.
Although it's possible to buy Italian savoiardi in many grocery and specialty stores, it's always fun to know you can make them yourself. So when you have time to make this part of tiramisu and/or you're ready to try something new, here's a version, after a number of tries, that works quite well. Parchment paper will make this a much easier job, and is highly recommended. Note that there is no fat in these little cakes, a small saving grace when you see what goes into the filling.
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in one medium- to large-sized mixing bowl, and the yolks in another. Make sure you don't get any yolk in the whites, as that will prevent them from beating up nicely. It's OK to get a bit of white in the yolks, however, which is why we're beating the whites first.
Beat the whites until they're frothy and, using a sieve to break up lumps, sprinkle in the cream of tartar. Beat until soft peaks form when you lift out the beater. Then slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form when you raise the beater. It's important to get them very stiff, as it's the air in the beaten whites that does the leavening. Set the whites aside.
Beat the yolks until they're beginning to lighten up. Then slowly dribble in the remaining half-cup of sugar and continuebeating,about 5 minutes, until they're very light and form a ribbon when you lift the beaters out. Add the warm water (another Rose B. technique), and the flavorings. Beat again, until the mixture is light and aerated.
In a small bowl, mix together the pastry flour, potato flour and salt. Sift this mixture over the egg yolks, add about a third of the whites, and mix gently, until the flour is incorporated; a whisk does this nicely. Whisk in the remaining whites.
Place parchment paper on a couple of baking sheets. If you have a pastry bag with a half-inch tip, it's perfect for forming the ladyfingers. If you don't, take a zipper-lock or other heavy-duty plastic bag, and cut off one bottom corner so you have the equivalent of a half-inch diameter hole. Scoop your batter in, taking care to keep the corner with the hole pointed up. This is a bit tricky but I managed, so you can, too. (If you've got access to another pair of hands, this will facilitate the process.) Ladyfingers should be about 3 1/2 to 4 inches long by 1 to 1 1/4 inches wide. The hole you've cut is designed to have you make 3 or 4 passes back and forth to achieve this dimension, adding to the top with each pass for greater height. Remember to tip the hole up when you've deposited enough. It'll be messy but you'll get better. By about your third baking sheet full, you'll be pretty good. Because they won't be very visible once they're in the tiramisu, what they look like isn't really important; they'll taste good, anyway.
Bake these small fingers for about 8 minutes. They won't have the height of commercial ones, but don't be concerned about that. You made them and they taste good; that's what's most important. Remove the ladyfingers from the oven when they've become golden brown, and let them cool just for a minute or so before you transfer them to a rack to cool completely. You want to remove them with the back of a spatula while they're still flexible, so they won't crack. With this amount of batter you should be able to make about 50 ladyfingers, enough for four single layer pans of tiramis (or 2 double-layer pans). Use what you need, and freeze the rest. Yield: about 50 ladyfingers.
This filling is sufficient for one single-layer pan of tiramisu; it's easily doubled to make a double layer, or two pans.
Make the coffee and let it come to room temperature while you're preparing the rest of the filling. (Hot coffee will dissolve the savoiardi and you'll have a mess on your hands.) Add the tablespoon of rum.
Separate the eggs, putting the whites in one medium- to large-sized mixing bowl, and the yolks in another. If you make sure you clean and dry your beaters thoroughly, it doesn't make any difference which you beat first, yolks or whites. As I mentioned before, it's OK to get a little white in the yolk, but not the other way around.
Beat the yolks until they're light. Slowly add half the sugar and keep beating for almost 5 minutes until, when you lift the beater out, the yolks ooze like a ribbon. Beat in the mascarpone and the remaining tablespoon of rum. Set the mixture aside, and clean and dry your beaters.
Beat the whites until they're foamy, drizzle in the remaining sugar, and beat until the whites are stiff. Fold them into the yolk mixture.
Take 14 or 15 savoiardi or ladyfingers, dip them in the coffee/rum mixture, and layer them into the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch (or 2-quart) baking dish, preferably glass. You want them well-flavored but not totally saturated. If you're making one layer, scoop all the egg/mascarpone mixture on top, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 to 3 hours. For two layers, scoop half the mascarpone mixture atop the first layer of ladyfingers, then top with the remaining ladyfingers and remaining mascarpone. Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa or, better still, shave chocolate over the top. Yield: 16 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (2 ladyfingers, 25g): 64 cal, 1g fat, 2g protein, 5g complex carbohydrates, 6g sugar, 51mg cholesterol, 27mg sodium, 62mg potassium, 23RE vitamin A, 1mg iron, 7mg calcium, 29mg phosphorus.
Nutrition information per serving (1 piece, about 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inches, 79g): 163 cal, 11g fat, 4g protein, 2g complex carbohydrates, 9g sugar, 93mg cholesterol, 108mg sodium, 66mg potassium, 86RE vitamin A, 8mg calcium, 48mg phosphorus, 13mg caffeine.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XII, No. 4, Spring 2001 issue.