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Perfect Tiramisu, Part 3: Communal Table’s Original Recipe

1 Mar

Those who have been following this blog may remember our tiramisu saga that began a few months ago. And for those of you who are new here, you can read the first two installments of mine and Neil’s crazy quest to find the perfect tiramisu recipe here and here.

This may just be the end though, because the recipe I’m posting below came pretty close to tiramisu nirvana.

After my last try at homemade tiramisu, I knew I wanted to make it again but didn’t think I’d take on the challenge for a while. It’s not that making this classic Italian dessert is hard, it’s just time consuming and I wanted to make sure the next attempt would get it right.

But after reading about our earlier trials and tribulations, my sister Jayme requested that I make it for her birthday this year. And that’s what started my little tiramisu science lab, if you will.

This time, I decided I was going to develop my own recipe. I wanted to use Madeira wine once again and I knew we were after a saturated consistency in the cookie layer and a smooth, creamy texture in the cheese layer.

After my last try, Toronto food expert Christine Picheca chimed in with some advice and told me to ditch the ladyfinger cookies and try savoiardi biscuits instead. Because they’re more porous, she said they would give me the consistency I was looking for. Last time the ladyfingers I used made for a very cakey and dryer tiramisu than I wanted.

I researched a lot of different recipes this time around, some using anywhere from 3-6 eggs, some using anywhere from 3 tbsp to a whole cup of sugar and some using more or less mascarpone.

Most recipes claiming to be ‘authentic’ (including the one on the savoiardi biscuits package) only called for egg yolks and no whites. None of them called for whipping cream, which I thought seemed wrong the last time I made it but I didn’t want to stray from the recipe I chose to follow at the time.

To make sure I was using the best possible ingredients, I made a special trip to Fiesta Farms, one of our favorite places to shop for quality food in Toronto. Their selection of ethnic food items, especially Italian products, is amazing and I even found mascarpone cheese imported from Italy.

I actually planned on only using the egg yolks, but I found the consistency of the mascarpone to be too dense. So I whipped up two of the whites, mixed them in and the consistency seemed just right for our taste.

People have lots of opinions about what kind of espresso to use and how to brew it (espresso machine, Italian stovetop espresso pot etc..) but I think that most good-quality strong espresso will do and you should brew it any way that makes sense for you at home. Once again I made mine in a French press using really good quality Italian espresso and I really think that’s fine. We do have a stovetop espresso maker but I just didn’t feel like using it. The result I got was perfect. I do of course agree that you should always use espresso and never regular coffee grinds, but how you make it is up to you.

And so, after lots of geeky research, discussions and testing, the recipe that follows is completely original to Communal Table and, if I do say so myself, pretty freaking awesome.

Everyone at my sister’s birthday celebration raved about it. My brother-in-law told me that he doesn’t normally like tiramisu or any dessert with alcohol in it (we’re clearly not blood-related) but even he really liked it! How’s that for a stamp of approval?

The savoiardi biscuits really made a huge difference. They made for a lighter, fluffier cookie layer and did take in the liquid much better than denser ladyfingers. The whole dessert was light while still being nice and rich, intense in flavor and totally satisfying. Everyone wanted more, and that’s how I know we’ve come as close as can be to perfection.

Communal Table’s Tiramisu

Serves approx 10-12, using a large rectangular pyrex dish

4 egg yolks

2 egg whites

3 Tbsp sugar

2 x 250 g containers of mascarpone cheese (you will use 1 whole container plus ¾ of the other. One container = approx 1 cup)

1 generous cup strong espresso

1 cup Madeira wine (or a strong alcohol of your choice like brandy or rum)

48 savoiardi biscuits

Cocoa powder

Brew your espresso and let it cool.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar for a few minutes until you get a smooth consistency and all of the sugar granules are incorporated and disappear.

Add the mascarpone into the egg mixture and beat on a medium setting to get a smooth, creamy texture.

Clean the beaters and get a fresh bowl. Beat the egg whites for a couple of minutes until they’re nice and fluffy. Don’t over-mix. You don’t want them to form heavy peaks (like you do for meringue).

Fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture. Once again, don’t over-mix.

Pour the cooled espresso into a shallow, flat-bottomed bowl or pan and add in the Madeira.

Place your pyrex dish (or tiramisu receptacle) right next to the espresso bowl and get your biscuits ready.

Lightly dip each biscuit in the espresso mixture, sugar-side up, then transfer to the pyrex dish and place sugar-side down. I cannot stress enough how light of a dip the savoiardi biscuits need. They are very porous and will get really soggy fast if you let them sit in the liquid.

We like our tiramisu to be very wet so I dunked the entire biscuit into the liquid and swished it around for a second. If you like a more cakey consistency, make sure you really dip lightly on one side only or use thicker ladyfinger cookies.

Line the entire pyrex with the dipped biscuits. Cover the layer of biscuits with a layer of mascarpone mixture. Don’t use too much, you just want enough to cover the entire layer, but don’t put it on too thick.

Continue with the rest of the savoiardi biscuits, placing them on top of the mascarpone mixture to create another layer. Top that layer with the rest of the mascarpone mixture and spread evenly.

Cover the tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate (make sure you’ve cleared a good space for it in your fridge beforehand!) for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, sprinkle the tiramisu with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Special thanks to my tiramisu-convert bro-in-law Stewart for the photos

Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet

9 Nov

Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet

Most home cooks have a favorite kitchen appliance or tool. For me, it’s my ice cream maker. Friends of ours gave us their ice cream maker to ‘babysit’ while they lived overseas a couple years ago, and it was love at first sight. They’ve since moved back to Canada and reclaimed their machine, and we got one of our own as a wedding gift. As I’ve indicated in previous posts, our ice cream machine has gotten a pretty good workout over the past year or so.

One thing I hadn’t tried making before this summer was sorbet. But when we spotted a bunch of intense, sweet lemon basil a couple months ago during a trip to the St. Lawrence Market, I knew a sorbet would be the best way for the flavour to shine through. I checked out a couple of sorbet recipes online to get an idea of ingredients and proportions, and went to work on creating my own recipe. I decided to add pineapple, primarily because we had half a leftover pineapple in the fridge, but also because I thought it would complement the flavour of the basil nicely. And, I decided to try using agave in place of sugar.

Here’s my recipe for Pineapple Lemon Basil Sorbet:

1 C lemon basil leaves, chopped
1/2 pineapple, cored and cubed
1/4 C agave
1 C water
2 tbsp tequila

Blend basil, pineapple, agave and water in blender until well mixed. Stir in tequila (this is optional, but a little alcohol slows the freezing process a bit, improving the texture). Freeze in ice cream maker.

That’s it. This was such an easy process – even easier than making ice cream, really (which is already a fairly simple process). And the results were more than worth the minimal effort. The lemon flavour of the basil and sweetness of the pineapple really went well together. And as much as I love making (and eating!) ice cream, sorbet is a lighter, refreshing alternative that I’ll definitely experiment with again.

Perfect Tiramisu, Part 2: The quest for perfection at home

6 Nov

After Chris Pengelly from The Milford Bistro generously gave me the secret to the bistro’s perfect “Swedish Tiramisu”, I had to try making it myself.

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.

all three mixtures before folding them into each other

Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

final consistency of the mascarpone cream

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.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill tiramisu at least 6 hours in the fridge. (I made mine 24 hours in advance of serving it and it worked out great.)

Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa powder.

My final assessment:

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.

Food Find: Coffee Oil

30 Aug

Neil and I have a bit of an obsession with olive oil. Specifically, Spanish olive oil. It all started a few years ago when I produced a television segment about an olive oil shop in Montreal called Olive & Olives. I had no idea that a little TV story would be the start of such a big culinary obsession. The owners of Olive & Olives take a lot of pride in the oils they bring into their lovely store, and most of them are Spanish. The depth of flavor in Spanish olive oils is amazing, ranging from very green and fruity to strong and peppery. After our first visit, Neil and I left with armfuls of different bottles.

When our stash of oils from Montreal ran out, we knew we had to seek out a place in Toronto that could give us our fix. And that’s when we found The Spice Trader and Olive Pit on Queen Street. They’ve now moved into a new space but the original setup had The Spice Trader on street level and The Olive Pit as its own little store downstairs. I have too many great things to say about The Spice Trader and their range of spices (not to mention the wonderful owners who always share recipes and tips with their customers) so I’ll save that for another post. But discovering The Olive Pit was one of the best things that has happened to our humble kitchen.

The owners of the store are a lovely couple who know their olive oils. They let customers taste-test their oils and will give you a little ‘olive oil 101’ if you’re interested in learning about the differences between countries, olives and blends. They bring in a special Spanish olive oil that they bottle themselves and it’s one of our favorites. They also carry a citrus olive oil that I sometimes dream about when I’m making a salad and trying to figure out what to use as a dressing. And they have a selection of specialty syrups (like Rose and Lavender – right up my alley!), vinegars and condiments.

But our most coveted discovery at The Olive Pit is Coffee Oil. When the owners first told us about it we were skeptical, thinking it had potential to be gimmicky. We were wrong. Just smelling the incredible oil, you understand that this is serious stuff. And the taste is nothing short of heavenly. If you love coffee and you love olive oil, as we do, it’s worth investing in a bottle. It’s a blend of two very precious and delicate flavors. There’s nothing more to it than cold pressed extra virgin coffee oil made from Guatemalan Arabica coffee beans and olive oil made from Arbequina olives from Catalonia, Spain. You can really taste the essence of coffee and the good quality of the olive oil that it’s blended with.

What does one do with coffee olive oil, you ask? To be honest, we have yet to experience it in different savory dishes, though I can absolutely see how well it could work with so many different flavors. One suggestion is to drizzle it over avocado slices with coarse salt (yum!) or over grilled fish & seafood. There are a few recipes and serving suggestions that come inside the special gold box and we will definitely try them out.

But what we’ve been using the thick, golden liquid for is Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream. To me, it’s perfection. There is a recipe for ice cream that comes with the oil, but Neil came up with his own based on his olive oil ice cream, which we’ve posted about previously. It’s smooth and creamy but not heavy and the flavor suggests the essence of coffee but not an overpowering hit of it, like you might get in some coffee ice creams. Because there’s nothing artificial in the oil, the flavor you get in the ice cream is soft and clean-tasting. It’s the kind of thing you want to eat slowly and appreciate with every bite.

We usually serve it straight up in coffee mugs but last week we decided to pour the ice cream mixture into a colorful loaf pan to freeze into a mold and we sprinkled the top with crushed Amaretti cookies. The idea was to serve it in slices, but it didn’t exactly turn out as planned. It may have needed a few more hours in the freezer. Either way, it tasted amazing and the Amaretti added another layer of flavor and a nice crunch.

Neil’s Coffee Olive Oil Ice Cream

2 cups 1% milk
1 cup 5% cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup coffee oil
Large pinch of salt
1 tablespoon alcohol (to slow the freezing process; I use vodka, since it has no flavour)
About 10 amaretti cookies, crushed

In a blender, combine milk, cream, sugar, salt and oil. Turn on ice cream maker and add mixture to to the freezer bowl; add vodka early in churning process. Once ice cream is mostly frozen, pour into a serving container and top with crushed amaretti cookies. Cover container with plastic wrap and place ice cream in freezer for several hours.

To serve, cut ice cream into slices and plate, or scoop into bowls.


Vacation on a Plate: Grilled Pineapple with Tequila-Brown Sugar Glaze & Coconut Yogurt

25 Jul

A few weekends ago, Neil’s mother made us a dessert that I’ve been craving ever since. The flavors stuck with me and I knew I would have to make it for myself.

The original recipe for Grilled Pineapple with Tequila-Brown Sugar Glaze is from Bon Appétit circa 1997. My mother-in-law modified it slightly, soaking the pineapple in the heavenly liquid for a few hours and serving it with homemade margarita ice cream and toasted coconut ice cream; THAT was pure heaven in a bowl.

And I modified it tonight, soaking the pineapple overnight to really absorb the tequila goodness and serving it with coconut yogurt and some lime zest. The result was a dessert that made my whole family feel like we had checked out and taken a trip to the tropics. A little ‘vacation on a plate’, if you will.

The smell coming off the barbeque as the pineapple rounds cooked was amazing. My dad said it smelled like toasted marshmallows, as the warm, sugary, caramely- scent wafted through the air.

The coconut yogurt was a last minute addition when it caught my eye at Fiesta Farms. I hardly ever buy full-fat yogurt, but this was a treat that was well worth it. I bought Liberte brand and it was creamy and delicious with real pieces of coconut throughout.

Here’s my version of this sinfully good but fairly guilt-free dessert:

Grilled Pineapple with Tequila-Brown Sugar Glaze and Coconut Yogurt

Serves 6-7 people

3/4 cup tequila

3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I actually used Splenda’s brown sugar blend – a mix of real brown sugar and Splenda – so I used a little less than ¾ cup)

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into thick rounds

1 pint of coconut yogurt

Zest of 1 lime

Stir the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves.

Marinate the pineapple in the mixture, cover and refrigerate. I let it sit overnight for about 24 hours, but you can marinate it for 2-3 hours and it should be just as good (though maybe not as ‘boozy’)

When you’re ready to grill, turn the BBQ to medium heat. Grill pineapple until brown, basting with tequila mixture and turning occasionally, about 5-10 min total.

Serve immediately with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of lime zest.

Then, try to resist drinking the remaining marinade. Neil basically asked me for a straw. Luckily I distracted him and decided to save the remaining liquid in an air-tight container in the fridge. We may attempt some special drinks with it this week…

Olive Oil Ice Cream

27 Apr

Olive oil ice cream

In today’s post, a few words about what ended up being dessert to our six-month anniversary meal the other night. I got my hands on an ice cream maker more than a year ago, and quickly went a bit mad with attempting new flavour concoctions: sour cream-brown sugar, rose-strawberry-cinnamon, lavender-blueberry, zabaglione. Those were ones that worked. Alas, I’ve been less successful a few times, too (parmesan or avocado ice cream, anyone?)

One flavour I tackled early on, and continue to go back to time and time again, is olive oil. I first heard about the idea of olive oil ice cream from a recipe I read online that originated in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop book. I then heard that Mario Batali was serving a version of olive oil gelato in his NYC pizza resto, Otto. So, I tracked down his recipe, too, and after playing around a bit with the ingredients, came up with my own version. Mine’s a bit lighter (3 egg yolks vs. 6 in Lebovitz and Batali’s recipes… or sometimes I don’t use any at all) and less sweet (1/3 cup sugar in mine, vs. 1/2 cup in Lebovitz’s and a whole cup in Batali’s, who, granted, uses double the milk and cream). And it’s stood the test of time, in my kitchen at least. In fact, after trying Batali’s version at Otto, my wife declared my version better. And who am I to argue with my wife?

The eggless version of my recipe follows. I honestly make this and most of my ice creams without eggs most of the time, for several reasons. Eliminating the custard-making process makes the whole thing much, much quicker. And of course, removing the eggs makes the finished product healthier (realize I wrote healthiER, not healthy!). Finally, with several flavours – particularly with this one where the taste and the mouth feel of the olive oil is so intense – I just don’t think the extra creaminess added by the custard is neccessary. Still, if you’d rather make a version with eggs, the custard-making steps are outlined in the recipes I linked to above.

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