Understandably, he didn’t give me the actual recipe, but he did share the most important ingredient: Madeira wine. It’s a fortified Portuguese wine from the islands of Madeira and the bistro uses it as a replacement for the more typical Marsala wine found in most classic tiramisu recipes.
I searched a ton of tiramisu recipes online and decided to use this one from Gourmet magazine 2003 as a base, and modify it as I went.
Let me start off by saying that this seemingly easy dessert is actually quite the process. It’s not a complicated process, but a process nonetheless. I think I used every clean bowl in my cupboard to make this one dessert. And it took me about an hour to actually make from start to finish (though I was stopping to take photos along the way).
Here are the ingredients for my modified recipe:
3 large eggs, separated
Sugar, divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup measurements (* I didn’t fill my measuring cups up the whole way, I just didn’t want to use as much sugar as the recipe called for so I eyeballed a little less.)
1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese or 1 scant cup (* I have a confession to make here. I screwed this up. The mascarpone I bought listed the amount in grams and I didn’t bother to do the conversion or measure it out in a measuring cup. I bought the large container of mascarpone (475 g, or what I later discovered to be 16 ounces) which turned out to be double the amount that the recipe called for. Believing that tiramisu needed to have a good amount of mascarpone, I threw in the entire container. This definitely screwed up the recipe but read on to see my assessment of the final dessert and the texture/taste.)
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 cup very strong brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Strong espresso is essential for the full coffee flavor. I made mine in the French press.)
1 cup Madeira wine (* The original recipe called for 2 cups of espresso and just 2 tablespoons of booze. That was NOT going to do for my taste, so I decided to go with half the amount of espresso and an equal amount of Madeira.)
4 Packages of Lady Fingers (I used Milano brand Giant Lady Fingers.)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
And here’s how you do it (instruction from Gourmet’s recipe, with my additional thoughts in brackets):
Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.
Beat in mascarpone until just combined.
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks.
Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks.
Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.
Stir together coffee and Madeira in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, and transfer to a glass baking dish.
(** Ok, this is where I will have to modify the recipe again next time I make it. The original recipe said to soak the ladyfingers for about 4 seconds on each side, which I started to do but they seemed too dry. But then when I soaked them for longer, they started to fall apart and I thought that would ruin the dessert. Next time, I’m going to soak them for as long as I can before they completely fall apart and I might even try pouring some of the coffee mixture on top of the ladyfingers once they’re placed in the dish. They were not ‘wet’ enough for our liking. Using this amount of liquid and soaking the ladyfingers for approx 5 seconds a side resulted in more of a cakey consistency, so if you’re into that, then keep it as is. Next time, I’ll keep extra espresso on hand and try doubling the liquid to 2 cups espresso, 2 cups Madeira.)
Repeat with more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. (*I layered some of them so that they were slightly overlapping in some places.)
Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture.
Let me start by saying that this, my very first attempt at tiramisu, paled in comparison to The Milford Bistro’s. I have a long way to go and many versions to try. But, I do think this recipe is a good start.
We invited friends for dinner and had everyone at the table give their constructive feedback.
We all felt that the flavors were very much there. One bite and you could definitely taste the strong flavor of espresso, the richness of the mascarpone (especially since I used too much! Oops!), and the booziness and special flavor of the Madeira. It tasted like a good tiramisu.
But, texture-wise, Neil and I both felt that it was a bit too cake-ey (not dry by any means but just not ‘wet’ enough). We wanted more saturation in the cookies. We also felt that we wanted it to be boozier, though our guests thought it was boozy enough. We tend to be extremists though, so maybe it’s just us.
Also, the mascarpone cream was too cheesy, which made for a very heavy dessert. At the time I tasted it, I still hadn’t realized my mistake and thought that next time I would just use less mascarpone. Well yes, next time I will follow the recipe better and definitely use less than I did (since I doubled it by mistake), though I might actually use a bit more than what’s called for (maybe a scant cup plus a few more tablespoons). We thought the texture was too thick and heavy and needed to be silkier. Less cheese will definitely help that.
And, as I mentioned above, I think next time I’ll try soaking the ladyfingers and then pouring some extra liquid right on top after they’re layered in the dish so they really soak it in. This would mean probably doubling the liquid measurements. As it was, I nearly ran out of the liquid I had.
At the end of the day, if I wasn’t trying so hard to analyze this recipe, it was delicious and a great ending to a meal with friends. It also kept well in the fridge for a few days, and the flavors seemed to have intensified over time.
I will definitely keep trying to perfect this recipe with the hopes of one day living up to the dessert that inspired this crazy tiramisu extravaganza in the first place.
If anyone out there has any suggestions, techniques or awesome alternative recipes for tiramisu that they’d like to share, please do! This process has already been sort of a ‘pay it forward’ kind of deal, thanks again to Chris at the Milford Bistro.
**** UPDATE **** Since writing this post, I’ve gotten a tip from Toronto food personality and writer Christine Picheca who told me that I used the wrong cookies! She said you have to use savoiardi biscuits which are much more porous than lady fingers so a light dip on each side (as the original recipe from Gourmet called for) would probably do the trick to get the consistency and texture that I like. Thank you Christine! I will definitely change cookies for my next attempt at creating the perfect tiramisu.