I read somewhere that you should never try a new recipe if you plan on sharing the end result with others. The logic behind this advice is intended to save you from the humiliation of failure should your kitchen experiment go awry. While I’m sure this suggestion has proven helpful to some, I wholeheartedly disagree. There’s no fun in making something safe—a proven winner—because the whole joy of cooking (at least for me) comes from my connection to the process, not the end result. Julia Child was quoted as saying, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a ‘What the hell?’ attitude.” My thoughts exactly. That being said, I’ve had my fair share of flops, but they’ve taught me to let go and move on (which has only served to further fuel my courage in the kitchen).
So when my friend Paula asked me to bring dessert to her cookout, I was inspired to try and make Tiramisu. When I embark on this kind of challenge I usually pull a few recipes and start to get a feel for the ingredients and the process. Tiramisu is an icebox cake, so there’s no cooking involved, just assembly. How hard could it be? And with espresso, chocolate, heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, and brandy as the ingredients, how bad could it taste, even if I screwed up? After flipping through a few books, unable to find a recipe that really spoke to me, I just decided to wing it. What can I say—I like to live on the edge.
Be forewarned: there’s enough espresso in this recipe to grow hair on your chest and enough brandy to give you a bit of a buzz. This dessert is not for the vice-free partygoer. This dessert is the life of the party.
First, choose the dish you’re going to use. I initially pulled out a large 8 x 12 inch baking dish but as I started to place the lady fingers in the bottom I realized that I wouldn’t have enough cookies to fill the entire container. I ended up choosing a slightly smaller, oval dish. Whatever you have will work perfectly.
1 package of Savoiardi cookies (Italian ladyfingers)
3-4 shots of espresso (you could probably use strong coffee as a substitute)
1 pint heavy cream
8 oz mascarpone cheese
6 T brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar
any good quality chocolate you have laying around (to shave on top)
Prepare the espresso first so it has time to cool (you can let it rest in the fridge while you get everything else ready). Whip together the heavy cream, mascarpone cheese, brandy, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks form.
Now for the fun part! Pour the cooled espresso into a shallow bowl. Give each lady finger a quick dip in the espresso (on both sides) and place it in your dish of choice. The key to the dipping is to keep it brief; do not let your ladies bathe too long or you’ll get soggy tiramisu. Layer the bottom of your dish with the caffeinated (or caffeine-free) cookies and then pour half of the whipped cream concoction overtop. Shave a little chocolate over the cream.
Repeat the entire process, creating a second layer. Place in the fridge for an hour or (if you’re a planner) overnight.
Over at the barbecue, I admit I was the tiniest bit anxious about how my dessert would actually taste, but when those vrttis (thoughts, mental interruptions) popped up I just doused them with my vodka tonic and continued having fun. By the time I got to the Tiramisu it was half gone. It was a huge hit! A few people told me they loved that the ladyfingers still had texture, and I enthusiastically explained to them the secret of the “quick dip”. They were amazed.
I loved this dessert so much I decided to make another one today; this way I get to share the recipe with you and I get to eat it again at my family’s Memorial Day barbecue. (It’s not all looks, folks.) I was so excited to make it I forgot to add sugar to the whipped cream, but I’m confident it will still taste good. Attitude, after all, is as important as the ingredients.