Tackling Tiramisu

There are very few non-chocolate desserts that I will give the time of day.  My absolute favorite non-chocolate dessert is butterscotch brownies, which continue to baffle me with their non-chocolaty deliciousness.  There are some things that cannot be rationally explained and I believe this is one of them.  Next on my list of acceptable non-chocolate desserts is tiramisu, but only a handful that I have tasted in my life are up to snuff.  One absolute deal-breaker is any trace of almond.  In my opinion, it does not belong in tiramisu.

I tried to make tiramisu once before in my life.  It was not a success.  I went a little overboard on the coffee and put in about twice what the recipe called for because those lady fingers just didn’t look saturated enough as I was assembling the dessert.  The next day, my tiramisu was sitting in a puddle.  The taste wasn’t bad, but I definitely had a texture issue to work out.  Unfortunately, I had volunteered to make this dessert because my mom’s boss and his family were coming over for dinner.  They were sports and cleaned their plates.   It was on that fateful day that I learned firsthand the valuable lesson that one should never prepare an unfamiliar dish for the first time when company is coming over, particularly company you would like to remain in good standing with.  Instead, I would highly recommend preparing something that you have perfected.

My mother did not get fired in case you were wondering.

Since my tiramisu had knocked me down instead of picking me up, it was a while before I was emotionally ready to tackle it again.  My neighbor Anna is Italian and a wonderful cook and baker, so I decided it was safe to try to make tiramisu again with her.

I only allowed myself to measure the dry ingredients and did not deviate from the recipe in the slightest.

For the most part.

When Anna and I were discussing the ingredients for the dessert, I offered to pick up the lady fingers.  She informed me that that would not be necessary as we would be making the cake portion ourselves because it would be a better texture and flavor.  Boy was she right on about that.

This recipe is a long one, but it’s not difficult.  It originates from Southern Living magazine, circa 1988. Heregoes:

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with wax paper and then butter and flour the wax paper so the cake does not stick.

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Separate 4 eggs and let them come to room temperature.

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Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and let it cool.

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Brew some potent coffee and put 1 cup of it aside to cool. (I would recommend drinking the rest of it if you’re sleepy because this is going to take a while.)  Add ¼ cup of sugar and a miniature of Kahlua to the coffee.

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Sift together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

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In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and ¾ cup of sugar until light and thick.  This will take about 5 minutes so I would recommend stretching beforehand if using a handheld mixer.

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It will look something like this when it’s ready.

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Then pour in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 teaspoon of ‘niller extract.

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I love vanilla extract.

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I also really like this nifty little gadget that allows one to dust cocoa powder on things.

Sorry, I got sidetracked by the idea of something chocolate.

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In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until they are frothy and then add in ¼ cup of sugar.  Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and beat the egg whites until they are stiff but don’t overbeat.

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Add half of the egg white mixture and half of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture.  Fold the mixtures together until combined.  Repeat with the remaining half of the mixtures.

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Pour the batter onto the sheet pan.

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Spread the batter evenly across the sheet pan using a spatula.

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Then pop it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and the center springs back.

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Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan and then turn it out onto wax paper and let it cool completely.

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Carefully remove the wax paper from the bottom of the cake as that is not a texture you want in your tiramisu.

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Then, cut off the edges of the sponge cake so no one has to experience a crunchy/stiff bite of tiramisu. Remember, it’s all about texture.

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For the filling, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it forms peaks.

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Then beat together ½ cup sugar and 1 pound of mascarpone cheese.

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Fold together the mascarpone mixture and the heavy cream.  If you’re feeling rebellious, add a few drops of vanilla extract into the mixture.  In my experience, a little extra vanilla extract never hurt anything.

It was Anna’s idea.

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Next, cut the cake in half and place one half on a serving dish.

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Brush half of the coffee mixture onto the cake using a pastry brush.

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It should look something like this.

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Dust the cake generously with cocoa powder.

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Then sprinkle on some chocolate shavings.

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Spread half of the filling mixture over the first layer of cake.

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Easier said than done. Don’t be alarmed if some of the chocolate shavings get mixed in.  No one will ever know and it will still taste good.

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Repeat this process with the second layer of cake and filling.

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Coffee mixture…

Cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.

Filling…

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Some more cocoa powder…

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Smooth the sides with a knife.

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Decorate the top with dark and white chocolate shavings.

Then let the cake sit overnight in the refrigerator and enjoy the next day (preferably not with your mom’s boss unless this is at least the second time you’re making this recipe).

Here are the recipe cards:

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(We deviated from the recipe a little bit by adding Kahlua instead of sherry or Marsala.  Don’t tell anyone.)

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

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Boston

I’ve spent 13 years, the majority of my life, in Boston.

I went to middle school, high school, undergraduate and graduate school here.  It’s where I learned to drive and where I started my business.  It’s where I have met people who have been very important in my life.  In large part, it’s where I became who I am.

But there’s always been a part of me that belonged to the South.  It’s where my family is from and it has always felt like home. I have visited my extended family in Kentucky at least twice a year for my entire life.  I used to cry on the way back from visiting Kentucky when I was little because I wanted to live there so badly.

I guess as I was planning my move to Nashville I was thinking mostly of the excitement of living in a new city, in the South, within an easy car-ride of my extended family.  I knew that would mean leaving behind some great people, but it didn’t really sink in until this week as I said goodbye to my clients, my friends and people who have become like family to me.  I always loved the South because of the genuine people, but it turns out I have found some really wonderful people in these Northern parts, too.

I will miss my friends.  Even though most of them are dispersed throughout the country (and even the globe), there were a few good friends who stayed in Boston that I saw regularly after we graduated.  I will certainly miss our get-togethers and those last remnants of college.  I guess we are officially grown-ups now as all of us start new phases in our lives with new jobs and new homes.

I will miss my neighbors. The kids I once babysat are now driving, but they’ll always be those cute little kiddoes in my mind who kept it real.

I will miss my clients.  When people invite you into their homes, even though it’s for business, there’s no getting around the fact that you will learn about their lives and often develop a friendship.  I have had many wonderful clients that I have gotten to know well and I will certainly miss our meetings.

I will miss my trade network.  Working alongside people in the design and building trades, you make small talk to make the day more pleasant, you see how hard they work and how they are just good, down to earth people.

And then there are people who don’t fit into just one category, but span many.  Although we are certainly an unlikely pair as she is 44 years my senior, I will greatly miss a woman I have known for over a decade, who has made window treatments and pillows for my parents and then for my clients after I started my interior design business.  She gave me great support and advice as I was starting my business and she has become a very close friend and mentor.  Whenever I would bring fabrics over for a job, we would quickly go through the details and then just talk.  Sometimes we would be so deep in conversation that an hour would go by before we knew it.  Even though for most of my day I am in a hurry, I’ve always cherished my talks with her.

It goes without saying that I will of course miss my parents terribly, but my hope is that they will move back to the South to be near me and my sister in the very near future.  So I’m just thinking of this separation as temporary because that’s the only way I can get through it.

I’ve had some great times here with some really great people, but I am excited to finally get my wish to live in the South.  Just like the best chocolate, it’s bittersweet.

Thank you for everything, Boston.  I will miss you.

(But don’t worry, I’ll be back to visit 🙂 )

Sugarlump

P.S. Thank You

The great thing about cleaning out my parents’ house as I prepare to move is finding little treasures like old pictures, cards and papers dating as far back as kindergarten.

The bad thing about cleaning out my parent’s house as I prepare to move is cleaning out my parents’ house.

We have accumulated a lot of stuff that has not been thinned since…..ever.

(WARNING: tangent ahead)

I’ve decided I like organizing, but not “cleaning out.”  Give me a closet full of items tangled up and in a heap and I will gladly put like with like and in nice boxes and baskets, all labeled, color-coded and sorted by occasion/season.  After all, I used to organize the silverware drawer just for kicks when I was in elementary school.  I know, I’m weird.  I can’t help it.

I do NOT, however, care for “cleaning out,” which includes deciding what to throw away, give away or keep, because this involves many messy (and HEAVY) piles, bins, trash bags, nosy cats and 459 trips up and down the stairs from the warzone to the garage.

After completing this process in several rooms this past week, I still have to organize and store what is NOT going with me to Nashville AND pack what IS going with me.  And THEN I have to drive 18 hours, haul the “keep” pile (mountain?) up TWO flights of stairs and UNpack it.  YIIIIKES!  Maybe I’ll just stay in Boston.

Oh wait, nope.

My love for the South is greater than my hatred for “cleaning out,” so I’m sticking to my plan (but apparently not to the point of this post.  My bad.)

Anyway, back to my first point: I have come across some real treasures in this “cleaning out” process, such as this card from my little seeester, Eugene:

Although she has no recollection of this card, judging by its content, her lovely cursive handwriting, and the fact that this card was created using a card program popular in our household at the turn of the century, I have concluded that this card dates back to the day after my sister tried to amputate her arm.

That may be an exaggeration.  It was her finger and it was unintentional (allegedly).

It was just after her 10th birthday, the height of her horse phase.  She had received several toy horses as gifts.  These particular toy horses come packaged as if they are going to gallop off the shelf, with layers and layers of cardboard, molded plastic and lethal plastic ties that keep the horses’ legs bound to the cardboard.  My sister was in the family room trying to free her toy horses from their boxy oppressors when her scissors slipped from the lethal plastic tie and launched into her left index finger which was holding up the box.

I was up in the attic on the computer when a calm voice and a trail of blood drops made its way toward me.  Upon processing this scene, I realized that this was not good but tried to keep my cool.  I was 13 at the time and obviously could not legally drive my sister to the emergency room.  Oh and my parents weren’t home.  Did I forget to mention that?  My mom was on a business trip and my dad was at a dinner in Boston and somehow in the 2 hours between when our nanny left and when my dad was due to arrive home, my sister and I found ourselves in a situation requiring professional medical attention.

After calmly escorting my sister down to the bathroom, I pulled the scissors out of her hand (turns out I should have left them in there, but I thought she might contract tetanus or something terrible) and wrapped her finger up tightly in a towel.   As she sat tight and with very few tears, I called my dad and asked him what I should do and he told me to call my neighbors to see if one of them could drive us over to the emergency room where he would meet us as soon as he could.

I then called one of my neighbors.

Ring, ring, ring…ring… “We can’t come to the phone right now, please leave a message.”

I figured maybe they were having dinner or something so I tried again immediately, hoping these back-to-back calls would communicate a sense of urgency.

Ring, ring, ring…ring… “We can’t come to the phone right now, please leave a message.”

Hmmm (translation: AHHH!).  I tried one more time and then decided they must not have been home.  Then I called my other next-door neighbors.  They did not pick up after several calls either.  I was about to lose my cool, but remembered that my sister was watching me very closely so I called my dad again and asked him what to do.

He told me to call 911.  All of the sudden, this seemed very serious and scary, but somehow I called 911 and the ambulance arrived a few minutes later.  As we were getting into the back of the ambulance, the second neighbor I called came running out of her house, got in the ambulance and traveled with us to the hospital.  At this point, I started to tear up, but my sister (the injured one) kept her cool.

We arrived to the hospital quickly and the doctor checked out my sister’s wound.  My dad got there shortly after.  After seeing my sister’s wound under fluorescent light and hearing the doctor say she needed stitches, I started to feel a little light-headed and had to go back to the waiting room until Eugene was all stitched up and released from the ER.

Even though she was the brave one for not freaking out when she stuck a pair of scissors in her finger, she made this very nice card to thank me for taking care of her.  The card was very sweet and thoughtful, but the P.S. note cracks me up:

As if I didn’t catch on to the sentiment on this card, she just wanted to be sure I got the message in the postscript.  I don’t know why I find this so funny, but I do. Even though that was not an evening I would like to relive (and I’m sure Eugene wouldn’t either), I’m so glad I found this card because it is so Eugene and it makes me smile.

To help you make sense of this post, I have put together a list of takeaways:

  1. Always answer your phone because it might be your panicking 13 year old neighbor calling about a scissors accident
  2. Deliberate long and hard before deciding to have children
  3. Packaged toys (particularly horses) pose a threat to your life and opening them may result in stitches
  4. Don’t move to a new place or you will be subject to some “cleaning out”
  5. “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
  6. (what?)
  7. P.S. Thank you

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

Sugarlump