Difficulty Rating: Easy (if you use lady fingers from the store) Hard (if you make the cake)
Tiramisu is a well-known dessert that originated in Northern Italy. It literally means "Pick Me Up", due to how much espresso is in it. Venice is especially known for it's tiramisu. We ordered it when we were there. It didn't look like much. It was basically a small round of cake soaked in espresso and kahlua and topped with a glop of a cheese-cake like substance with chocolate shavings. Eh. But then we tasted it. Nirvana! Angels sang and everything!
In America I have had a few different versions of tiramisu, but none like the one I had there. So I set out to duplicate it. First, you have to make a 2-layer genoise--which is French spongecake, OR find a store with ladyfingers. Now, because I think most of you are going to opt for using ladyfingers instead of genoise, I'm going to give you directions for the version with ladyfingers first, and genoise second. Hence, "Tiramisu 2 Ways"
Most food markets that carry gourmet items will have ladyfingers. I have found them at Scotts Valley Market, Safeway and at Shopper's Corner. Call around and you can find 'em! The rest is so easy, it's ridiculous...
The Easy Way:
1 2-layer 9 inch genoise cake
OR 2 packages of 12 fresh lady fingers (cakes not cookies)
2 C heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs- yolks only
3 T sugar
1/3 C powdered sugar, sifted
8 oz. whipped cream cheese (it's in a tub, already whipped, use Philadelphia brand)
8 oz. fresh marscarpone cheese (if you can't find it, use 8 oz. whipped cream cheese)
Coffee-Kahlua Soaking Solution and Garnish:
1/2 C very strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled
1/4 C Kahlua
1/4 C sweetened cocoa OR shaved chocolate curls (shave chocolate bars with a razor sharp knife)
Whip the cream to soft peaks in a medium bowl. In another, larger bowl, whip the egg yolks and sugar on high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 2 minutes. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated on the marscarpone, then add it and cream cheese to the egg yolks and 3 T sugar and whip on low speed until just blended. The mixture may look slightly separated or grainy. Then, using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the mixture along with 1/3 C powdered sugar and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the coffee and Kahlua to make the soaking solution. Get out a clean pastry brush if you have one to apply the solution. A tablespoon will suffice in a pinch.
If you are using lady fingers, split them in half, keeping them attached to each other as much as possible. Cover the bottom of a a 9-inch baking pan , a souffle dish, a trifle bowl (see picture) with ladyfingers, split side up. Brush ladyfingers liberally with soaking solution. If you like Kahlua, really soak 'em. If you don't like Kahlua only soak 'em halfway through. Glop on half of the marscarpone mixture and spread it evenly over the lady fingers. Put on another layer of lady fingers and repeat. Garnish with sprinkled sweetened cocoa and/or shaved chocolate. You can also use goblets, large wine glasses or martini glasses as serving dishes for tiramisu (see picture). Just do the layers (it's OK to be somewhat messy) inside the glasses.
The Harder Way:
If you are making a genoise instead of using ladyfingers, good for you! It's really not that hard, it just takes time. Here is Paula Peck's recipe:
6 large eggs (separate whites from yolks)
1 C sugar
1 C sifted flour
1/2 C low salt or unsalted butter, melted and clarified (skim all the white stuff off the top)
1 t vanilla
If eggs are cold, put them in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes before you start. Then separate eggs; whites into a large mixing bowl and yolks into a medium mixing bowl.Add vanilla to egg yolks and set aside. Beat egg whites in a large mixing bowl until they hold soft peaks. Beat in sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue to beat until egg whites are very stiff, about 5 minutes in all. Fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the yolks. Pour over remaining stiffly beaten whites and fold until just combined. Sprinkle flour, a little at a time, alternately with cooled clarified butter, folding gently only a couple of times after each addition. You should end up with a mixture where the flour/ butter have just disappeared into the batter. Pour into 2 9-inch cake pans lined with baking parchment. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. Cool.
From here on out, follow the rest of the tiramisu recipe above, simply substituting the cake layers for ladyfingers. If you use serving dishes that are 9 inches, your layers should fit perfectly. Or you can always cut them to fit. However, if you wish to use goblets or glasses instead of larger serving dishes for the tiramisu, you will have to cut or rip up the cake layers into pieces that will fit into the glasses in layers with the marscarpone mixture.