Archive for February, 2010


Banana Walnut Tiramisu

I’ve been so busy lately that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all, but then I’ll get in the kitchen and start baking , my “relaxation therapy” to help me focus. While it seems that I haven’t been baking lately by my entries, the opposite is true. I went to a cocktail party last weekend at the house of a lovely woman from my bookclub and made homemade “ring-dings” which I will get around to posting one of these days. I have also been working on croissants, but that’s another story.
I taught a workshop yesterday on how to make gumpaste easter lilies which took some time to get everything together.

gumpaste lilies

I am also involved in a cake decorating competition so please come back and visit  to see photos of the cake. Whew!…

Okay, so this month’s bakers challenge is Tiramisu. You are either going to say “It’s easy to make” or “no way, too much work” and in this case you are correct both ways. What I really liked about this recipe was that you have to make everything involved, including the mascarpone cheese, the ladyfingers, zabaglione and pastry cream. For this same reason I can see a lot of people turned off. So… you can easily simplify this recipe by using store-bought marsapone cheese and ladyfingers. You could probably even get away with using vanilla pudding for pastry cream. Every once in a while though, take the time to really make all the components of a recipe,  the self-satisfaction is well worth it.
For this recipe I modified it and made it a banana-walnut tiramisu. I also used some Kahlua in the soaking liquid.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.


Mascarpone Cheese – Vera’s Recipe (Baking Obsession) for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese.
Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger Biscuits – Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home
Tiramisu – Carminantonio’s Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007

 Tiramisu is made up of several components which can be made separately and ahead of time and put together the day before serving.
Making tiramisu from scratch requires about 2 to 3 days (including refrigeration) from when you start making the mascarpone to the time the tiramisu is served. So this challenge requires some prior planning.

Please read the instructions as you need to begin making the mascarpone at least a day in advance.
The zabaglione & pastry cream also need at least 4 hours or overnight for chilling, as does the main dessert. The flavours mature after an overnight rest, and the dessert can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days.
Once assembled, the tiramisu can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately

(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
This recipe makes 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

474ml (approx. 500ml)/ 2 cups whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream (between 25% to 36% cream will do)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a wide skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-low so the water is barely simmering. Pour the cream into a medium heat-resistant bowl, then place the bowl into the skillet. Heat the cream, stirring often, to 190 F. If you do not have a thermometer, wait until small bubbles keep trying to push up to the surface.
It will take about 15 minutes of delicate heating. Add the lemon juice and continue heating the mixture, stirring gently, until the cream curdles. Do not expect the same action as you see during ricotta cheese making. All that the whipping cream will do is become thicker, like a well-done crème anglaise. It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly. You will see just a few clear whey streaks when you stir. Remove the bowl from the water and let cool for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with four layers of dampened cheesecloth and set it over a bowl. Transfer the mixture into the lined sieve. Do not squeeze the cheese in the cheesecloth or press on its surface (be patient, it will firm up after refrigeration time). Once cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate (in the sieve) overnight or up to 24 hours. Now, that being said I just used 2 paper coffee liners (one inside the other) and it worked great.

(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
This recipe makes approximately 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2″ to 3″ long) ladyfingers. So easy to make!!
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (I used 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 Tablespoons + 1/4 cup ground walnuts)
6 tablespoons /50gms confectioner’s sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 F (175 C) degrees, then lightly brush 2 baking sheets with oil or softened butter and line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites using a hand held  or standing electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Gradually add granulate sugar and continue beating until the egg whites become stiff again, glossy and smooth.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks lightly with a fork and fold them into the meringue, using a wooden spoon. Sift the flour over this mixture and fold gently until just mixed. It is important to fold very gently and not overdo the folding. Otherwise the batter would deflate and lose volume resulting in ladyfingers which are flat and not spongy.
Fit a pastry bag with a plain tip (or just snip the end off; you could also use a Ziploc bag) and fill with the batter. Pipe the batter into 5″ long and 3/4″ wide strips leaving about 1″ space in between the strips.
Sprinkle half the confectioner’s sugar over the ladyfingers and wait for 5 minutes. The sugar will pearl or look wet and glisten. Now sprinkle the remaining sugar. This helps to give the ladyfingers their characteristic crispness.
Hold the parchment paper in place with your thumb and lift one side of the baking sheet and gently tap it on the work surface to remove excess sprinkled sugar.
Bake the ladyfingers for 5 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until they puff up, turn lightly golden brown and are still soft.
Allow them to cool slightly on the sheets for about 5 minutes and then remove the ladyfingers from the baking sheet with a metal spatula while still hot, and cool on a rack.
Store them in an airtight container till required. They should keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

(Recipe source: Carminantonio’s Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
This recipe makes 6 servings

For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk
(After chilling I also added 3/4 C pureed banana)

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract

To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed (I used 1 1/2 c espresso and 1/2 cup Kahlua)
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder

For the zabaglione:
Heat water in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a pot with about an inch of water in it on the stove. Place a heat-proof bowl in the pot making sure the bottom does not touch the water.
In a large mixing bowl (or stainless steel mixing bowl), mix together the egg yolks, sugar, the Marsala (or espresso/ coffee), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.
Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler or place your bowl over the pan/ pot with simmering water. Cook the egg mixture over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 8 minutes or until it resembles thick custard. Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the pastry cream:
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and the milk. Whisk until smooth.
Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling. After about 12 minutes the mixture will be thick, free of lumps and beginning to bubble. (If you have a few lumps, don’t worry. You can push the cream through a fine-mesh strainer.)
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
Combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until the mixture holds stiff peaks. Set aside.

To assemble the tiramisu:
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8″ by 8″ should do) or one of your choice. I used an 8″ round pan and lined it first with plastic wrap.
Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese with a spoon to break down the lumps and make it smooth. This will make it easier to fold. Add the prepared and chilled zabaglione and pastry cream, blending until just combined. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Set this cream mixture aside.

Now to start assembling the tiramisu.
Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy. Immediately transfer each ladyfinger to the platter, placing them side by side in a single row. You may break a lady finger into two, if necessary, to ensure the base of your dish is completely covered.

putting some filling in helps stabilize the outside "wall"

Spoon one-third of the cream mixture on top of the ladyfingers, then use a rubber spatula or spreading knife to cover the top evenly, all the way to the edges.
Repeat to create 2 more layers, using  ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight. You can also put it in the freezer at this time
To serve, carefully remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle the tiramisu with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh strainer or decorate as you please. Cut into individual portions and serve


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Happy Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day! I baked some sugar cookies last night and today Scarlet (my 3 yr old) and I decorated them. I used my new Designer Stencils and she used a tiny squeeze bottle. Get out and decorate some cookies today with your loved ones!!

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Chocolate Blackout Cake

A slice of heaven…

Seven years ago, when I decided to make my own wedding cake(s) I started out by researching on the web and countless cookbooks. While I had been teaching myself cake decorating , I had not done anything on that scale and knew I needed some help.The book that I finally settled on was The Wedding Cake Book by Dede Wilson. I read it cover to cover (more than once) and it was an  incredible learning  tool on instructing me on how to put it all together. It is still one of my favorite cake decorating books and I really love Dede’s recipes. She was also kind enough to make some suggestions to me when I contacted her 2 years ago about planning a wedding cake for a dear friend of mine. It was 90+ degrees (F)  in August and an outdoor wedding! Anyway, her latest book is titled Unforgettable Desserts and I am starting to  bake my way through it. While many of her recipes have a long list of ingredients and may be  slightly challenging for beginner bakers, all of her recipes have very clear instructions and so I would tell people not to be afraid of going a little farther in their baking level. That being said, the following recipe is actually super easy! It is a black cocoa blackout cake and I made it this past weekend to bring to a friend’s dinner party. I think this could be my new signature cake… It is simply outstanding. Warning: you must love chocolate. It is super intense and flavorful. The secret is “black cocoa” a specialty product sold by King Arthur Flour. It has the color and flavor of Oreo cookies and when combined with natural cocoa in this recipe, it gives the cake an extra deep chocolate boost. I am sure that if you didn’t have it though you could also use the best cocoa available to you.The filling is a rich homemade chocolate pudding, which is best if made the day before so it has time to thicken up. This cake is out of this world……


1/4 C sifted cornstarch
2 C whole milk
1 C heavy cream
1 1/4 C sugar (I used 1 cup)
6 ounces good quality unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped ( I used 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 72%)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(I also added 1 egg yolk for extra richness)

Put the cornstarch in a small bowl.
In a measuring cup, combine the milk and cream.Drizzle a few tablespoons of the milk mixture over the cornstarch and whisk until smooth (this is commonly called a slurry). Pour the remaining milk/cream into a saucepan with the slurry,sugar,chocolate and salt. Cook over medium-low heat,whisking often, until the chocolate melts, then watch it carefully as you bring it to a gentle  boil. Whisk it often, it should thicken up in about 2 minutes. If you are adding the egg yolk, temper it with a few tablespoons of the hot pudding and then whisk in the warm yolk to the pudding before cooking it the 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and transfer to an airtight container. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface and then cover with the lid. Refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
3 C all-purpose flour
2 C sugar
1/3 C sifted black cocoa
1/3 C natural cocoa
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
2/3 C  flavorless oil, such as canola or sunflower
2 Tbsp apple cider or distilled white vinegar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Coat two 8 inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper, and then spray the parchment.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour over the dry  ingredients, whisking until well combined. Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans. Firmly tap the bottom of the pans to dislodge any air bubbles.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs when removed.Cool the cakes for 10 minutes then unmold and cool completely. If necessary, trim the layers to be level, reserving the scraps.
To assemble the cake:
Slice both cake layers in half horizontally. Three layers will be used to assemble the cake and the 4th layer  crumbled by hand into a bowl with any other scraps; these will be used for the exterior of the cake. Place one layer on a serving plate, bottom side down. Cover with thick layer of pudding. Top with another layer of cake and another layer of pudding. Top with the 3rd layer of cake, bottom side up. Cover the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the pudding (it will be thick enough to cling to the cake). Cover the sides (and top) of the cake with the cake crumbs, pressing them gently into the pudding to adhere. Refridgerate for at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours (if you can wait) before serving


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