All around my house, tucked into the bottom drawers of my nightstand and slipped between cushions in the couch are friendship bracelets. I know it’s dorky. I know it’s third grade. But I can’t help it; I’m drawn to the beautiful, brilliant colors of the thread, and there’s something homey and sweet about a friendship bracelet that I can’t help but find appealing. Knot by knot, keeping the fraying ends wrapped around my fingers, I always start the bracelet with anticipation.
Then it inevitably happens. I keep the bracelet taped to my knee and work while I listen to the radio or watch TV, and I tie a few knots when I can’t fall asleep. But soon I forget, or my fingers begin to stiffen from pulling and untangling the long ends of string. Finally the bracelet is left unfinished somewhere in the house, depending on where I was when I last worked on it.
Weeks later, I’ll stumble across the two-inch-long strip of intricate pattern, the loose strings twisted together into a rainbow knot. I’ll recall my enthusiasm and the care with which I chose the colors, and suddenly the desire to make the bracelet returns again. But instead of picking up where I left off, I start again, choosing new colors and a new design. And the cycle simply repeats.
I remember when I was little, I did the same thing with writing. Even as a kid in elementary school, I knew I wanted to write books when I grew up. Whenever I saw something beautiful, like an incredible rosy sunset or a weathered stone, I’d try to think of the perfect words to capture it in writing. I was always writing novels in my mind, but only rarely would I ever put them down in pen.
In the middle of the night I’d frequently wake up from a dream so tangible, I’d be scared of losing it. Before the memory could escape me, I had to scribble it down on a scrap of paper, planning to turn it into a story. As I slowly slipped back into sleep, I’d begin to write the first sentences in my head, but come morning, I wouldn’t follow through. Who knows why!
To this day, I am more passionate about the written word than anything else, but it still takes a lot of effort. I’m taking a fiction writing class right now and I’ve never been so excited about a subject before, and the homework is keeping me writing creatively. And 17 and Baking thankfully forces me to reflect on my week and write a bit of nonfiction every week, too! It turns out, all I need is a little responsibility and I’ll rise to the occasion.
But there’s one thing I do that I rarely ever have to force myself to complete. From sketching ideas in my planner to photographing the final product, I don’t experience any hesitation or reluctance while baking. It isn’t just my obligation to blog. Somehow baking seems effortless, even when it takes a lot of work, and I couldn’t imagine stopping halfway.
I’ve had crash-and-burn disasters which, were they not kitchen related, would ruin my whole day. But when it’s baking, I manage to wash all the dishes in the sink, take a deep breath, and start over. Rather than dampen my spirits, it only fuels my motivation and my determination to see success. Even if I’m starting over for the third time, a dozen eggs cracked, and my hair covered in flour, I manage to find happiness in measuring sugar and melting butter.
I also frequently take on massive tasks or complex assignments. I can easily spend five hours working from start to finish, an accomplishment that might have worn me out in the past. Take this month’s Daring Bakers challenge, which included ladyfingers and a four-component filling. In total, including baking the ladyfingers and assembling, the whole process took a week… Despite a little grumbling, it didn’t ever cross my mind not to finish.
And the final result? Completely and utterly gorgeous. The tiramisu is creamy and just moist enough, decadent without being heavy. I wouldn’t have expected any less!
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.
I know I’m a little late this month… whoops. Life got in the way this weekend, but here I am now :) See you all in March!
The ladyfingers were so delicious on their own that I ate too many and had to make a smaller tiramisu. They had such an airy crispiness that even my mom adored them. As for the filling, separately, the four components – mascarpone, zabaglione, pastry cream, and whipped cream – were alright on their own. When mixed together, though, the result was amazing.
I used Grand Marnier, orange extract, and orange zest throughout the tiramisu. After a night in the freezer, the filling in the tiramisu had the texture and flavor of a creamsicle. Soft, smooth, with a fragrant orange flavor. Although the four components are time consuming and a bit complex, I admit the result was worth it.
Finally, I have to confess about the mascarpone. I did make it. But something was wrong with my cream… I checked it before I started and it seemed fine, but as I began cooking it gave off a strange smell. I thought it might be the cream curdling like it was supposed to, so I went on. The final result had the lovely creamy texture of mascarpone, but a distinctly bitter, tangy aftertaste. I didn’t have time to restart, so I bought a tub, but in the future I’ll try again.
From Cordon Bleu at Home
Makes 24 big ladyfingers or 45 small (2 1/2″ to 3″ long) ladyfingers
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons /75gms granulated sugar
3/4 cup/95gms cake flour, sifted (or 3/4 cup all purpose flour + 2 tbsp corn starch)
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 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 10 minutes, then rotate the sheets and bake for another 5 minutes or so until the 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.
From Baking Obsession
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. Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.
Adapted from the Washington Post
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
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), Grand Marnier and orange 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. It may bubble a bit as it reaches that consistency.
Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
Orange Pastry Cream
Adapted from the Washington Post
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml orange extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk
Mix together the sugar, flour, lemon zest and vanilla extract in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. To this add the egg yolk and half the milk. Whisk until smooth. Now place the saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from curdling. Add the remaining milk a little at a time, still stirring constantly. 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.
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
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.
Makes an 8″ by 8″ dish, 6 servings
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese (see above)
Orange zabaglione (see above)
Orange pastry cream (see above)
Whipped cream (see above)
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8″ by 8″ should do) or one of your choice. 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. Working 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. 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 12 ladyfingers and the cream mixture for each layer. Clean any spilled cream mixture; cover carefully with plastic wrap and refrigerate the tiramisu overnight.
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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