WHO COULDN’T USE a little pick-me-up? I know I could. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, which partly explains my recent lack of timely posting on this blog. I won’t get into that now, though, because you want the scoop on the dessert in the photograph. You, no doubt, are already anticipating a rise in spirit, because you’re aware that “pick me up” (at least in Italian) means one thing only in food world: that luscious, creamy cloud of caffeine-soaked bliss known as a tiramisu. Mmmm, feeling better already.
And beware, because this is also a Daring Bakers post, and that’s got to mean something extra good. This month’s challenge? Tiramisu entirely from scratch. Yes, you read that right. From scratch, completely. As in homemade ladyfingers and homemade mascarpone, to which you add zabaglione and two different creams to obtain the final filling for the dessert . . . which you then assemble with care and stare at in awe. (No, you don’t; you grab a spoon and tuck in.) Sounds like a lot of work for a home cook? It is. So much so that I have a confession to make upfront: I bailed on one of the creams. I did it because I was short on time. But really, when your dessert is already loaded with enough heavy cream to make investing in a dairy cow seem like a good idea, plus more eggs than your current cholesterol count can afford, well . . . I think everyone will forgive my slovenliness. Believe me, this dessert does not suffer for the lack one bit. You could even get a whole lot lazier and still come up with something stellar, so don’t let me (or my numeration of cream and eggs) scare you off.
Now, I love tiramisu. Love it. It’s a dessert I long ago decided was a perfect food. Perfectly ethereal and worth every whopping calorie. It’s also one I stopped ordering out in restaurants or purchasing from pastry counters, because back in the early 1990s, I found a recipe that’s both easy and very, very good. It’s from the cookbook Italy, a Culinary Journey: Classic Recipes from the Regions of Italy, which is included in my blog’s page of recommended reading, here. When you can make something easily at home that is far superior to what you end up with commercially, well—you look no farther. This tiramisu actually became the dessert that, for years, people most requested me to bring to parties or make for their special occasions. Once, I must have quadrupled the recipe at least, to make a giant tiramisu in the form of a sheet cake with a powdered-cocoa “30″ stenciled on it for a friend’s birthday. There are never any leftovers, believe me.
All this is to say, I feel loyal to this recipe, which is the real deal, and I would never consider betraying it with some traditional, coffee-flavored facsimile. Enter the green tea version of the Daring Bakers challenge recipe, which was a tiramisu from Baltimore pastry chef Carminantonio Iannaccone, as featured in the Washington Post (a link appears in the credits at the end of my recipe). Chef Iannaccone’s recipe stands out for a couple of reasons, say the challenge hosts: first for its use of zabaglione (Italian cooked egg custard traditionally flavored with Marsala), which incorporates pretty much the same ingredients as what’s in my beloved Italian cookbook yet removes the raw-egg factor; next for its addition of pastry cream and whipped cream in addition to the mascarpone. This, as I’ve already indicated, seems like overkill, but although I ditched the pastry cream, I did end up thankful for the whipped, which added back volume that I somehow lost in preparing my mascarpone and zabaglione. (Did I cook them each longer than required? The taste was amazing, and the consistency seemed right, so why did I end up short a few ounces?)
Veering from coffee to tea was no stretch, and once I hit on green tea, then ginger was not far behind. Lemon (juice or zest) was already a part of some recipe elements, so I really had very little tweaking to do in order to create a refreshing dessert version of one of my favorite potions—one that’s high in antioxidants, too. (You could almost convince yourself that this tiramisu is healthy.) A knob of ginger, a sprinkling of sweet matcha powder . . . and the TEA-ramisu is born.
You can read more about the Sweet Matcha Ladyfingers, a large part of this challenge, in my previous post.
As an enticement, here’s a better look at them:
A few words about the mascarpone, and then my final recipe. I found the idea of making mascarpone intriguing. I would never have thought to do it, though I generally take pride in being a from-scratch kind of gal. Somehow, mascarpone just seemed like an ingredient in its own right to me, more like a raw food than something you’d create. That’s idiotic, but nevertheless how I looked at it. Then I realized that I’d never even read the label on a tub of store-bought mascarpone; if I had, I guess I would have known that it’s nothing more than cream and citric acid. It’s worth mentioning, too, that although some folks would have you believe that a certain type of cream is better than another, my experience of this recipe is that it really doesn’t make enough difference to worry over. Use heavy cream, it’s fine; use ultra-pasteurized, that works, too. It’s all damn good.
Making the mascarpone (the recipe is included as a method step below) is not particularly difficult, but it does help to have the right equipment. Some notes: First, although the recipe I was following calls for putting a heat-resistent bowl into a shallow skillet of boiling water (yes, the bowl touches the water) in order to heat the cream, I advise you to go ahead and use a regular double-boiler or its equivalent. Do yourself a favor and make sure the bowl in which you heat the cream is stainless-steel (no Pyrex). Otherwise, like me, you may spend way more time than needed to bring the cream to the right temperature, and who really has an extra half hour? (Speaking of temperature, you’ll have more confidence with the help of a kitchen thermometer; the original recipe provides some guidance about getting by without one, but I am not including that here, since really there’s no good reason why you don’t have a thermometer, is there? Go get one; it’s a great investment.)
One final tip: if the mascarpone seems too loose for the cheesecloth and sieve (or if the opposite is true and its the cheesecloth that seems loose), do what I did and slip a paper coffee filter between the sieve and the cheesecloth. It worked like a charm.
Now that I have gone through the process, I know what to expect. I will say that—especially with the ginger I added—store-bought mascarpone can’t hold a candle to homemade. I’m very likely to make my own from now own, plus I’ll be doubling the recipe. Can’t have too much of a good thing. Which goes for the Lemon-Ginger Zabaglione I created, and the whipped cream as well (all three pictured below). In fact, once I return to my coffee-flavored standby tiramisu, I may even try to incorporate some of what I’ve learned here. A compliment I never thought I’d give, but there you go. Thank you, Daring Bakers.
Fresh Ginger Green Tea-ramisu
The sweetened heat of ginger, the refreshing zing of lemon. These flavors come together in an ethereal cloud of bliss held together with homemade matcha ladyfingers that are steeped in brewed green tea—nothing could be better. This recipe requires some advance planning, but it’s well worth it. Two to three days should do it, though most of that time is not “active” but rather chill time for the individual components and for the assembled dessert. Once put together, this Tea-ramisu will keep in the refrigerator for a couple days, and you can also pop it in the freezer, making it the ideal choice if you need a unique make-ahead dessert to free you up on the day of a party. Prepared cake-style, or served with a dash of whimsy in individual teacups, this is a recipe certain to impress guests (if you can bring yourself to share).
Yield: Serves 6-8
1 recipe Sweet Matcha Ladyfingers (can be made up to 2 weeks ahead)
1 cup Ginger Mascarpone (recipe included in method below), made with:
- 2 cups organic whipping cream (heavy cream is OK, and if you can find it easily, try pasteurized rather than ultra-pasteurized, though either is fine)
- 2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup Lemon-Ginger Zabaglione (recipe included in method below), made with:
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup good-quality dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup heavy cream, for whipping
1/2 cup plus 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2 cups brewed green tea, cooled to room temperature
Sweet matcha powder for garnish
Two to three days in advance of serving, make the Ginger Mascarpone. Bring water to a simmer in the base of a double-boiler. In the top of the boiler, pour the cream and add the slices of fresh ginger. Heat the cream, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until it reaches 190 F. This is supposed to take around 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice and heat, gently stirring, until the cream thickly coats the back of your spoon. You may see some curdled whey streaks when you stir. Turn off the heat. Remove the top of the boiler containing the cream and let cool for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of damp cheesecloth and set this over a bowl. If your cheesecloth is a loose weave, you may want to first line the sieve with a paper coffee filter. Strain the cream into the sieve, discarding the ginger. Do not squeeze the mascarpone or press on its surface. When completely cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (still in the sieve over the bowl) overnight or up to 24 hours. The mascarpone should be used within 3-4 days. [A note from Vera, the original recipe-writer: "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, yet will remain lusciously creamy."]
One to one-and-a-half days in advance of serving, make the Lemon-Ginger Zabaglione. In the top of a double-boiler, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, wine, ginger, and lemon zest. Place over low heat, stirring constantly until you obtain a thick custard, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Once cooled, transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
One half hour before assembling the Tea-ramisu (the day before serving), place a bowl and beaters into the freezer to chill. If you want to create a Tea-ramisu that you can unmold for presentation on a serving dish, then butter the bottom and the edges of a small spring-form pan and line with parchment paper. Set aside. Remove bowl and beaters after they’ve chilled for about 15-20 minutes, and pour 1 cup cream into the bowl. Add in 4 Tablespoons granulated sugar. Beat on high speed until fully whipped.
Make the Tea-ramisu filling. In a large bowl, lightly beat the mascarpone to soften and smooth it just a bit. Do not overbeat, or you risk making butter! Then, using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, blend together the mascarpone, zabaglione, and whipped cream until incorporated.
Assemble the Tea-ramisu. Place the brewed green tea, mixed together with remaining 1/2 cup sugar, in a shallow pan or pie plate. One at a time, dip the matcha ladyfingers quickly into the tea, no more than a second, and use to line your serving dish, spring-form pan, or individual ramekins or teacups. Remember if you’re going to unmold the Tea-ramisu from a spring-form pan, that the bottom of the pan will become the top of the dessert; plan for the final look you want to achieve. Once you have a layer of ladyfingers in place, use about half the filling, then add more ladyfingers. Alternate layers of dipped ladyfingers and filling until dish is full. This may just be two layers of each element, depending on the size of your chosen dish. When you’ve finished, cover the Tea-ramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours before serving.
When thoroughly chilled and just before serving, dust the top of the Tea-ramisu with sweet matcha powder.
Credits and Original Recipe Links:
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.
Links to the original recipes, which I adapted to create my own flavor variations, can be found here: