Tag Archives: tiramisu

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


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.

Perfect Tiramisu, Part 1: Perfection in the most unexpected of places

4 Nov

This past summer Neil and I went on an unforgettable trip to Italy. We ate our way through all the amazing places we visited making for an unforgettable culinary experience that resulted in more photos of food than of ourselves.

One of the things that we were most excited to sample was Tiramisu.

It had become a bit of a running joke between Neil and I; in our four years together we had never had good tiramisu together, despite our efforts to track it down all over the place. We had been to tons of restaurants, all claiming to have ‘the best’ or ‘the most authentic’ tiramisu and we would continuously give them the benefit of the doubt, and with one taste, we’d look at each other and know that our search would have to press on.

Though we had never experienced a great tiramisu together, we knew that we were united in our quest, looking for the same qualities in the seemingly-simple dessert; a tiramisu that was really boozy and ‘wet’ in texture, with silky mascarpone cream and a really intense coffee flavor. What could be so hard?

With a fast-approaching trip to Italy, we knew that our search was most likely going to come to an end. We promptly ordered tiramisu on one of our first nights in Rome.

And we never ordered it again.

It was terrible. In fact, it was probably the most disappointing addition to our ‘terrible tiramisu’ list because, well, it was Italy! If the dessert was that much of a let down in its country of birth, then it was probably time to give up. And we pretty much did.

And then, a few months ago we found ourselves in Milford, Ontario. A small, quiet little town in Prince Edward County. We stayed at the charming and hospitable Milford B&B and by fluke had made a reservation at The Milford Bistro, just a few doors down. It wasn’t something we planned, we just sort of happened upon it.

From briefly reading about the place online, we knew that it was owned by Chris and Veronica Pengelly, a husband-wife team who had found their dream in the small town.

Dinner was a set menu with a few options to choose from because it was the busy weekend of the Taste! event. When we originally scanned the menu, Neil and I snobbily (yes I will admit, we can sometimes have moments of snobbery when it comes to food) gave each other a look that said “this seems kind of boring”. The menu was simple and uncomplicated and we had to choose our dessert option when we ordered our mains. The choices were tiramisu or crème brulée and we chose one of each, assuming we knew what we were in for.

The entire meal, course after course, was a huge, unexpected, delightful surprise.

Keeping in tune with the philosophy of so many restaurants in the county, the food was so fresh, the ingredients so pure and well treated. We couldn’t believe how flavorful our simple salad of local greens and carrots tasted, along with handmade cheese biscuits and the most savory and lovingly-prepared (you could taste the love, I swear) lamb with root vegetables. We enjoyed the meal so much that we both admitted and discussed how wrong we were to initially judge (admitting we’re wrong is not something Neil or I are very good at, by the way!).

But even still, when the dessert came, we kind of expected the same mediocrity that we had experienced everywhere else.

How wrong we were.

With just one bite, I knew this was it. We had found it; the perfect tiramisu in the most unexpected of places! You can see in the photo above just how liquid-ey (but not too liquid-ey!) and creamy this dessert was. It was incredibly boozy in the best of ways, but not overwhelmingly so that it overtook the other flavors of intense coffee and silky cream. It was perfection. We had to take a moment to properly take it all in.

But the story doesn’t end there. We had no idea that this specimen of perfection was actually a very special recipe that meant a lot to The Milford Bistro itself. When I grabbed our waitress to compliment the dessert, she told us that we were lucky it was on the menu that night because it had been taken off their regular menu months before.

It was called “Swedish Tiramisu” and it was a family recipe from owner Veronica’s Swedish roots. Veronica used to make it herself when it was on the regular menu and her husband (and bistro chef) Chris later told us that they were used to people swooning over the dessert and coming from far and wide just to have it again.

But to our dismay, the waitress told us that after battling a sudden and unexpected illness earlier in the summer, Veronica had passed away at only 39 years old. Understandably, her husband pulled the dessert from the regular menu and it hadn’t been made since. Until that night.

I remember shuddering at the sad story and looking over to see Chris, who was still in his chef whites, gabbing away with some bistro guests like the gracious host that he is. Neil and I decided that we had to go over and tell him personally how much we enjoyed our meal and especially, how perfect his wife’s tiramisu had been. He was so lovely to talk to, so grateful for the feedback and such an inspiration, we thought, given the fact that he’s continued on with the bistro so flawlessly.

We left feeling warm and satisfied and deeply touched by Chris and Veronica’s story. It seemed somehow fateful that we ended up there by chance, on just that night.

I emailed Chris a few days later after trying to research “Swedish Tiramisu” online to find out what made it so special, and not finding any information about it. Chris emailed me back right away saying that the reason they named their version of the classic dessert “Swedish Tiramisu” is because it was created by Veronica’s mother who had passed it on to her. We weren’t going to find any information about it because it was unique to them. The secret ingredient (of course there had to be a secret ingredient!) is actually Madeira wine instead of the typical Marsala Wine. He said that it gives a special flavor.

Well, the whole experience was special, in my opinion. I want to thank Veronica and Chris Pengelly for giving my husband and I a special memory of an unforgettable meal, and our first experience together tasting the most exceptional tiramisu we’ve ever had.

We loved it so much that we vowed to try making our own based on The Milford Bistro’s version…. Stay tuned for ‘part 2’ of this post!

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