COOKING ADVENTURE #22: Tiramisu
You don’t want to read this. Truly, in your heart, you are saying to yourself, “I could click out of this right now. I could remove myself from reading about this disaster to come.” Or, you could continue. Only the brave should. For this is one of the dumbest cooking adventures to date, folks. And I lived it. And by the end of it, my reaction was very much like this.
Tiramisu is an Italian dessert, a cake made with layers of coffee and liquor-soaked ladyfingers, a marscapone/egg yolk cream, and finally whipped cream and cocoa powder. I have been dying to try and make this utterly decadent dessert since I began my cooking adventures five months ago. I was ecstatic, I tell you. So when the opportunity to make it finally came, I leaped at it with overzealous joy. And I leaped over a few important ingredients by trying to substitute them with others. Here’s where things get weird.
Tiramisu has a bevy of odd and seemingly exotic ingredients (to me anyway) ranging from marscapone to lady fingers. I found myself in trouble the moment I stepped into my grocery store and failed to find either one. The first one; it’s marscapone! You’d think they would have it. Nada. So I opted for a substitute: low-fat cream cheese. When whipped with whipping cream and sour cream, it works just as well. It would have been fine if I’d remembered to pick up the sour cream. Next, the lady fingers. It’s a freaking sponge cookie, people. And the simplest of cookies to find, you would think. However, apparently just like green onion, there is NO WHERE in midcoast Maine that these things can be found. And if there is, they were hiding them. I mean, are these things on the endangered ingredients list or something?
I eventually found something that I thought would make a good substitute. Stella Doro makes a cookie called the Anisette Sponge. I thought, “Wow, it’s even by an Italian cookie maker! I’ve scored!” This thought was swiped away from me like an ice cream cone from a child when I eventually opened the package and the sickening stench of licorice hit me full on in the face. Apparently, I didn’t bother to discern the fact that the name of the cookie had “Anise” in it. Blast it. I HATE licorice. That’s one of the few foods that I can truly say I hate with conviction. And now I had a whole package of cookies with that awful reek filling the kitchen and it was too late to bring them back. Shit.
My first step on this recipe was an easy one for me: separating eggs. Like I’ve said on another post, this was one of the few things that I was born to do in the kitchen. I separated those eggs like a master egg separator. Six yolks went into a stove top saucepan along with 3/4 cup sugar. I mixed these together with a whisk until the yolk had soaked up the sugar, turning everything golden yellow. Next, I added 2/3 cup milk to it, whisked it in, and turned the heat up on the front burner to medium low. Within no time, the yolk mixture began to bubble and I continued to stir it for another minute while it did so. During this, I was spat at by the saucepan and it managed to hit me on my upper arm with a nice spot of yolk. Soon, I took it off the burner and allowed it to cool, before throwing a cover of tinfoil over it and putting it into the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
A half an hour into my wait, I started up some coffee and moved to make my whipped cream. I pulled the whipping cream out of the fridge and the mind-of-its-own electric mixer. Pouring 1 and 1/4 cups of whipping cream and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla into the bowl, I held it against me as I flipped the switch on the mixer. It jolted to life and I spent the next ten minutes standing there whipping the cream until it solidified and stood up on its own. It looked like I’d captured clouds in a bowl and it smelled heavenly.
I turned my attention to the “marscapone” problem. I pulled out the two blocks of low fat cream cheese, opened up the packages and dumped them in a mixing bowl. I added a splosh of heavy cream to them. I had no sour cream. This would have to work. I started up the electric mixer in with the cream cheese and it was like I was trying to walk a rabid dog or something on a leash. The electric mixer kept turning off and on, off and on because I couldn’t hold the bowl still. Apparently, this was some very cold and very stiff cream cheese… Eventually, I gained control of it and the cream cheese softened enough that I could fold it into the yolk mixture. The directions said to whisk it together. I glanced at my whisk which I’d dumped in the sink after using it on the heated yolk mixture. I didn’t feel like washing it so I just opted to stir everything together with a spoon.
I gave my arm a work out, that’s for sure. By the time I was done, I could feel the muscles pulsing and had to pry my hand open to get the spoon out of it. I pulled a smaller bowl out of the cupboard and poured the 1/4 cup coffee into it. Then, I took my new bottle of Bacardi Rum from the cabinet, unscrewed the cap, and attempted to pour about 2 tablespoons of it into the coffee. I say ‘attempted’ because I’m sure that I poured at least four maybe even five in as well as managed to drip rum all over the place. Grumbling, I cleaned it up. I couldn’t add anymore coffee to the mixture, because I’d poured myself a cup with the remainder of it and had already added milk and sugar to it.
I moved to the package of revolting anise cookies, and pulled one out, inspecting it. The directions said to cut the cookies in half, length wise, dip them in the coffee/rum mix and place them on the bottom of an 11×7 baking dish. I don’t own a baking dish of that size unfortunately. I have a monstrous 13×9 which I was tempted to use but didn’t. I also have a 9 inch round baking pan and a 5×7 baking dish. I opted for the latter of these and it turned out to be an okay size. I debated how to cut the cookies. Chances were I was going to slip up and cut my own finger lengthwise instead of the cookie. So I chose not to cut them. This was stupid. Even as I dipped the first cookie into the coffee mixture, I knew I didn’t have enough. The cookie soaked up a tremendous amount of it. And of course, as I soaked each cookie, each one broke apart leaving little floating blobs behind to taint the coffee/rum mix. I ended up placing six soaked cookies on the bottom of the pan and had completely run out of coffee/rum. I would have to make another cup of coffee. And because I didn’t want to waste another filter or more grounds, I re-used the same one. I slap my head at the idea. It would be much weaker. Oh well, this recipe was already going to hell.
The coffee eventually brewed, I added another dash of rum to it and continued with the recipe. Over the six that I’d put down on the bottom of the dish (they didn’t even cover the entire bottom!), I spooned a ton of the cream cheese yolk mixture and spread it around over the cookies with the back of my spoon. Then, I applied spoonfuls of the vanilla-infused cumulus whipped cream and spread that. Onto another layer, I soaked more of the anise cookies in the weak coffee and placed those on top. I already had a problem. I was running out of space depth-wise. I’d have to pack things down. I tried this and found that my spoon neatly peeled a ton of cookie matter off of each one it touched. I gave up before I’d finished.
After using the rest of each mixture on top, I turned to the finishing touch: cocoa powder. I grabbed the new tub of it from the bottom of my kitchen rack and peeled off the top. In doing so, it tore open a corner of the protective seal inside and cocoa popped out all over my hand. That was the tipping point to my insanity right there. I wiped it up, laughing maniacally as I peeled the rest of the seal off and more hit the counter top. I dipped a spoon into the dark powder and dropped heaps of it onto the top of the whipped cream until it was evenly covered. Then, I placed a tinfoil cover on the dish and shoved it into the fridge to chill for 4 to 6 hours.
The result? It actually tasted pretty good. The cookies are definitely the weirdest part of this recipe. It’s basically anise, coffee, and rum together and that’s not exactly appetizing. But the cream cheese mixture and the vanilla whipped cream do a pretty good job of covering that flavor for the most part. I enjoyed a piece of it with my parents the next night and have decided despite my mistake before, this is a recipe I will try again. Provided I find an alternate to the Anisette Sponge cookie… like pound cake! Might have been a good idea if I’d looked up “Replacements for lady fingers in tiramisu” on the internet, before I went on my grail-like search for them. Oh well, I learned my lesson.
Next week on Cooking Adventures, we’ll be tackling something even more frightening than anise cookies. Something in which I have serious doubts about. Cornish Game Hen with Rosemary and Garlic is next week! Stay tuned!