I promised you a Hazelnut Tiramisu, and a Hazelnut Tiramisu I will deliver.
But first, a few words on a subject of great angst for Miss Menu: Coffee.
As someone who loves to eat, enjoys lingering over a good meal and has a general obsession with all topics of gastronomic interest, acquaintances often jump to the understandable, but totally bogus, assumption that I have something of a sophisticated palate. Some even go so far as to guess that I’m an arbiter of good taste: one who lives for truffle season, only eats food within a five-mile radius of her dwelling and makes her own wine in her spare time. While I may be enthusiastic and willing to experiment when it comes to food, if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s sophisticated. I don’t turn up my nose at fast food, and I might venture to admit that I would, in fact, be caught dead at an Applebee’s (probably ordering the laughably-sized appetizer platter smorgasbord, in fact).
So it’s all the more vexing and, yes, a little bit embarrassing when I have to ‘fess up, add insult to injury and admit that I just don’t like coffee. I love the concept of coffee – the social aspect of meeting at the coffee house for good conversation, the post-dinner ritual of ending a meal in a coffee-induced haze. Heck, I even enjoy the smell of it. But a tall cup of jo – even with loads of cream and a scourge of sugar – is just not my cup of tea.
Enter tiramisu. This intensely-espresso-flavored dessert did not make its way onto my taste buds’ radar for years due to obvious reasons. But it’s such a ubiquitous dessert that, a couple of years ago, I decided to make a concerted effort to learn to like it. And, in doing so, I had my fingers crossed that this sweet treat might help ease me into a healthy relationship with coffee. In other words, I had high hopes that tiramisu would be the gateway drug to turning me into a highly caffeinated and fully functioning member of society. The kind of girl who can waltz into any Starbucks and order with brisk authority, instead of ashamedly mumbling my request for a blueberry scone and a fruit smoothie. You know, a grown up.
The results? A mixed bag. I am now successfully obsessed with tiramisu, while simultaneously moderately repelled by a cup of coffee. My sister even tried to train my taste buds by feeding me bites of tiramisu (Edo’s Squid tiramisu, no less) followed by straight sips of espresso. And I choked down a few sips before crying uncle. But the only semi-adult coffee drink that I can handle is the Frappucino. So, now what I’m left with is a palate that is most thoroughly obsessed with tiramisu. And a wallet left significantly weaker by $5 Frappucinos.
Whether or not this caffeinated journey has left me better off is hard to say. Actually, scratch that. It’s pretty easy to say that this journey has added a pound or two to my figure while subtracting more than a few dollars from my bank account. But I’ve had a lot of fun along the way. Most recently, I experimented with creating a tiramisu for a crowd of 50 to end my mother’s surprise birthday bash. As a veteran tiramisu taste tester but a virgin tiramisu maker, research and testing were the keys to sweet success for this particular event. I loved the idea of bring out a colossal tray of tiramisu to feed 50, practically staggering under the weight of the behemoth dessert.
My first attempt that I tested on coworkers was a bit lackluster. The bite of liquor was too weak while the dusting of bittersweet chocolate on top was far too strong. But I put these lessons learned to good use in the final version which, I just have to say, was fairly mind-blowing, thanks to a joint effort with Sister Menu! The recipe is relatively simple, but with lots of steps that must be carefully timed. And when you’re quadrupling the recipe below for a crowd of 50, that doesn’t make things easier, so two sets of hands are highly recommended.
Now, a word on supplies: I found it hugely helpful to borrow a legitimate double boiler to prepare this recipe. For those not in-the-know, a double boiler is a set of two pans, one smaller than the other. The smaller pan fits into the larger pan without touching the bottom, the idea being that you simmer water in the larger pan and heat ingredients in the smaller pan over the simmering water.
Many recipes call for a raw-yolk component, but since I wasn’t familiar with the eating habits and preferences for this particular group of 50, I decided to play it safe by cooking the eggs fully in a sweet and smooth custard beforehand. To do this requires a gentle, slow and consistent heat that, in Miss Menu’s opinion, only a double boiler can properly provide. True, you can fashion your own device by propping a small bowl into a larger one, but the convenience of an official double boiler is huge. So, being short on storage space, I borrowed one for this recipe. I also had to borrow a huge (fantastic red enamel) serving dish to live out my vision of one staggeringly large dish of tiramisu – but for the recipe below, an 8×8 glass pan will work just fine.
This particular version is inspired by my far-off-mentor in all things kitchen-related, Nigella, in her most recent cookbook, Nigella Kitchen. As a certified hazelnut-fanatic, I could not resist this twist on the classic dessert.
- 5 large egg yolks (discard or save egg whites for another use)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup Frangelico hazelnut-flavored liqueur
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 12-14 ounces mascarpone, at room temperature
- 1 cup espresso, cooled (or 6 tablespoons espresso powder dissolved in a cup of boiling water)
- 1 cup Frangelico hazelnut-flavored liqueur
- 24-30 ladyfinger cookies
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, VERY finely chopped
- 2 ounces toasted hazelnuts, VERY finely chopped
In the larger bowl of the double boiler, bring an inch or two of water to a simmer. In the smaller of the two bowls of the double boiler, combine the egg yolks with sugar and mix with an electric mixer until well combined, thick and yellow, about 2 minutes. Add in Frangelico and set over the simmering water. Whisk fairly constantly for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. (Now would be a good time to cool the espresso, if you haven’t already done so!)
Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream and vanilla with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. It helps to place the bowl in the freezer before hand, and to remove the cream from the refrigerator at the very last minute, to help the cream along in the soft-peaks-process. Set aside.
Place the softened, room temperature mascarpone in a very large bowl. Fold in the whipped cream and the cooled egg mixture. Taste and sigh with rapture. This stuff is good, and could be consumed in vast quantities by itself.
Pour the cooled espresso and the remaining Frangelico in a low, shallow dish like a pie plate. One-by-one, quickly dip each ladyfinger in the espresso mixture, giving it a fast flip – speed is of the essence here. If you let the ladyfingers linger too long in the liquid, they’ll disintegrate in a flash, so you want to be sure that they absorb as much of the espresso/Frangelico flavor as possible without reaching that fall-apart-consistency.
Layer half of the semi-soaked ladyfingers tightly (overlapping if necessary) in an 8×8 dish. Cover with half of the filling mixture and spread. Top with another layer of tightly packed, semi-soaked ladyfingers and the second and final layer of the filling mixture. Using a very light hand, sprinkle with hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate to barely cover. Refrigerate.
You’ll want to let this sit in the refrigerator a good 4 or 5 hours, at the very least, to let the flavors meld together. Remove from the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.