Monday, May 3, 2010

pure evil

Tiramisu is stealthy, man. It's been on restaurant menus for so long we hardly even notice it. Our eyes glaze right past as we look for something more interesting, less fusty. Tiramisu pre-dates molten chocolate cake's ubiquitousness. But don't feel sorry for this overlooked, underappreciated dessert. It is pure, unadulterated evil.

No one officially knows where the recipe originated. So it's safe to assume the devil made it. Booze! Sugar! Fat! Raw eggs! Krispy Kreme bread pudding has got nothing on tiramisu. It's practically diet food in comparison. Maybe you could fry the lady fingers, or mix some bacon bits into the mascarpone, but other than that, you can't really make tiramisu more rich than it already is. 

There are modern takes on tiramisu: lime curd and fresh berries, white chocolate and spiced pear, or, more bizarre, pumpkin. There are quick-fix, 15-minute versions with whipped topping, Jell-O pudding, and other monstrosities. And then there is the classic version: ladyfingers, coffee liquor, boozy zabaglione, whipped cream. Layer, layer, layer. Dust a little cocoa powder on top. Then chill it in the fridge until it forms into something otherworldly: a cloudlike mass of lusciously silky badness so soft you can eat with a spoon. When I served it after our very hearty lamb ragu dinner last weekend, people went for seconds. Seconds. After eating pasta. "This is very light," someone said. I chuckled to myself.

In a world where nothing is decadent enough--sandwiches with two pieces of fried chicken in place of the bread, foie gras in dessert form, bone marrow on toast points, burgers slathered with lardo--why is tiramisu so unloved? It might not be the hippest dessert to grace a menu, but it has timeless appeal like bananas foster, or chocolate pudding. But with a mean streak.

I smell a comeback. A coffee-scented, creamy, cocoa-flecked comeback. Who's with me?

I cut this recipe, from Gourmet, in half. But if you're feeding a bigger crowd, go for the full-sized version. I also found that the amount of coffee liquor wasn't enough, so I upped it a bit. Taste as you go.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

1 cup boiling-hot water

1 1/2 Tbsp. instant-espresso powder

1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
5 Tbsp. coffee liqueur (like Tia Maria, or Kahlua)
2 large egg yolks
1/8 cup dry Marsala (you can also use dry Vermouth in a pinch)
1/2 lb. mascarpone (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
about 20 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers)

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Stir together water, espresso powder, 1/2 tablespoon sugar, and coffee liquor in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool.
Beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined. Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly. Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger (quickly!) into the coffee mixture, line the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan with one row of ladyfingers, trimming edges to fit if necessary. (I find it's easier to cut the dry cookie to fit, then dip it.) Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan. Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with cocoa. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let tiramisu stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving, then dust with more cocoa, if desired.


Janet said...

I love Tiramisu!! It is a dessert you don't see a lot of anymore, but it's so easy to make. Like you, I made some for a dinner party and everyone loved it.

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

I don't find it to be tired. Especially when you're doing Italian! I've never made it, but last week I did an icebox cake for my boss, which is similar because it's really just {deliciously} soggy cookies, right? xxSAS

Lisa said...

Janet: It's so nice for dinner parties, right? Tastes better the longer you let it sit!

Sarah: You know, I think icebox cake is much cooler in a retro way. There's just something about tiramisu that screams "dust-covered-red-sauce-joint" to me. And tasty.

Unknown said...

The description at the beginning of this post is awesome. Tiramisu as pure evil, who would've thunk it.

Daniel said...

If it was really evil, it would be made with real ladies' fingers.

Lisa said...


Emilia said...

The Krispy Kreme bread pudding link seems to be broken. Not that I should really be even considering it.....


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