Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feb 27: Daring Bakers Tiramisu

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.

Aparna (My Diverse Kitchen) and Deeba (Passionate About Baking) are setting the Daring Bakers a challenge this month to make their own Tiramisu, from scratch.


This divine Italian dessert translates to mean ‘pick me up’, supposedly referring to the ‘kick’ provided by the strong coffee, sugar and alcohol in it!

On the other hand, a slight mistake in spelling it as "Tiramuso" could end up meaning that you were "pulling a sulky face"!

Classic tiramisu is made of alternate layers of espresso soaked ladyfinger biscuits and a cream made from mascarpone cheese and zabaglione (an egg custard).

The perfect Tiramisu is a balance of flavors of a sweet zabaglione, strong coffee, marsala wine, creamy mascarpone cheese and the dusting of unsweetened cocoa.

Aparna and Deeba have chosen Baltimore pastry chef Carminantonio Iannaccone’s version of tiramisu for a couple of reasons.

* Firstly, his recipe is different from most other tiramisu recipes as he makes a zabaglione, an egg custard which is flavoured with Marsala wine (you may use coffee instead). Even more important is that his zabaglione is cooked so there is no risk from using raw eggs.
* He also makes a vanilla flavoured pastry cream which we haven't seen in other tiramisu recipes.

You MUST make your own savoiardi/ladyfinger biscuits and mascarpone cheese with the given recipes.

Sponge cake may be not be used as a substitute. After all, a large part of this challenge is making those biscuits.

Mascarpone Cheese – Vera’s Recipe (Baking Obsession) for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese.
Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger Biscuits – Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home
Tiramisu – Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007


Tiramisu is made up of several components which can be made separately and ahead of time and put together the day before serving.

Making tiramisu from scratch requires about 2 to 3 days (including refrigeration) from when you start making the mascarpone to the time the tiramisu is served. So this challenge requires some prior planning.

The zabaglione & pastry cream also need 4 hours to an overnight for chilling, as does the main dessert. The flavours mature after an overnight rest, and the dessert can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days.

Once assembled, the tiramisu can be frozen till you need to serve it, in case you are not serving it immediately.

[As usual, my comments are in red. I've always wanted to make tiramisu. This is an extra challenge with making our own Mascarpone and Ladyfingers. Fun times!]

(Source: Vera’s Recipe for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese)
This recipe makes 12oz/ 340gm of mascarpone cheese

500 ml whipping (36 %) pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), preferably organic cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

[Only two ingredients and heat, this should be easy peasy. Right?]

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.

[I used a large pot of water which held more than the specified 1" of water. I figured the more water the faster the heating. The plate on the bottom was meant to act as a buffer between the bottom of the pan and the bottom of the bowl. Easy Peasy!]

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.

[The reality... even with the extra water which retains the heat... the cream took longer than 15 minutes to heat up. Maybe my thermometer needed to be submerged more, but the cream seemed to hold steady at 175. How could this be? The water itself was 195.

I even turned up the heat to increase the water temp and still no budge in the temperature. I rationalized at 55 minutes, the cream has to be at 190F.

I added the lemon juice and stirred. As seen in the picture below, there was definitely thickening.]

It will cover a back of your wooden spoon thickly.

[Here's how I checked the back of the spoon for thickness. My finger left a streak on the back of the spoon. My wooden spoons are so well oiled they shine... lol]

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.

[The unveiling - stored in the refrigerator overnight over a double layer of coffee filters and covered with plastic wrap.]

[Instead of a soft, spreadable cheese... I ended with a flat firm disk of something akin to cream cheese. However, the flavor was rich and creamy. That's a good thing.]

Keep refrigerated and use within 3 to 4 days.

(Source: Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home)
This recipe makes approximately 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.

[Sugar added to the whipped egg whites and whipped to stiff peaks. Notice the glossy shine of the eggs]

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.

[Sifting in the flour and gently folding into the egg mixture.]

[No photos for the rest of the Savoiardi sequence. Camera battery needed recharging.
I tried to make small Savoiardi, but only ended up with 27 Ladyfingers.]

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.

(Recipe source: Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007 )
This recipe makes 6 servings

For the zabaglione:
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar/50gms
1/4 cup/60ml Marsala wine (or port or coffee)
1/4 teaspoon/ 1.25ml vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

[Making the zabaglione... Marsala, sugar, lemon zest, egg yolks and vanilla.]

For the zabaglione:
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), vanilla extract and lemon zest. Whisk together until the yolks are fully blended and the mixture looks smooth.

[The raw mixture in the double boiler.]

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.

[The cooked, thickened, egg mixture.]

Let cool to room temperature and transfer the zabaglione to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the vanilla pastry cream:
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1 tablespoon/8gms all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup/175ml whole milk

For the pastry cream:
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.

[The sugar-flour mixture mixed with the egg yolks. I was concerned the flour would create lumps when mixed with the liquid. I took a page out of making roux - mix the fat with the flours.]

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.

[The final bit of cream added to the cooking mixture.]

[The finished pastry cream... the thing about flour thickened sauces, the mixture will continue to thicken when cooled. I cooked the mixture until the whisk left streaks at the bottom of the pan.]

Cover with plastic film and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until thoroughly chilled.

For the whipped cream:
1 cup/235ml chilled heavy cream (we used 25%)
1/4 cup/55gms sugar
1/2 teaspoon/ 2.5ml vanilla extract

For the whipped cream:
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

To assemble the tiramisu:
2 cups/470ml brewed espresso, warmed
1 teaspoon/5ml rum extract (optional)
1/2 cup/110gms sugar
1/3 cup/75gms mascarpone cheese
36 savoiardi/ ladyfinger biscuits (you may use less)
2 tablespoons/30gms unsweetened cocoa powder

To assemble the tiramisu:
Have ready a rectangular serving dish (about 8" by 8" should do) or one of your choice.

[Layered the bottom of the 8 x 8 with plastic wrap. My objective is to flip over the tiramisu for presentation.]

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.

[The cream cheese style mascarpone cheese.]

[To lighten the mascarpone, I forced it through a sieve.]

[The mascarpone over the zabaglione-pastry cream mixture.]

[The mixture ready for lightening into the whipped cream.]

[Mixing all the stuff together.]

Mix together the warm espresso, rum extract and sugar in a shallow dish, whisking to mix well. Set aside to cool.

[Used instant expresso, sugar and real rum. No rum extract for me... Pull out the good stuff! A little for the tiramisu and a little for me!]

Now to start assembling the tiramisu.
Workings quickly, dip 12 of the ladyfingers in the sweetened espresso, about 1 second per side. They should be moist but not soggy.

[The homemade Savoiardi ready for the coffee mixture.]

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.

[The first layer down and ready for the filling.]

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.

[As I finished the tiramisu... I realized I was going to be short some ladyfingers (too much sampling???) I had to push the edge together with a couple slices of Italian bread. (See the upper left of the picture.] The bread filled the voids between layers so the cream filling would not ooze out.

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.

The Unveiling:
[Refrigerated overnight, flipped over onto a serving platter.]

[A coating of cocoa powder gives the top a nice uniform look. :-) ]

The finished dessert...
The Tiramisu was delicious. Not overly sweet and not too boozy from the rum.
The lemon was slight. It tasted stronger in the pastry cream. Overall the dessert turned out nice and was described as refreshing.

Thank you Aparna and Deeba for hosting this month's delicious challenge.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Feb 23, 2010: Tofu Tuesday Silky Smooth

Welcome to the third edition of Tofu Tuesday!

Today's tofu of choice is silken tofu, which is sometimes referred to as Japanese style tofu.

Silken tofu is a soft, custard-like tofu that is often used in soups. Also, some vegetarians use mashed silken tofu as a replacement for mayo or sour cream.

For today, I'm improvising a soup using silken tofu. No recipe just flying by the seat of my pants. I do that sometimes since I am a wild and crazy guy. lol!

Started with homemade chicken broth and vegetables. Nappa cabbage, frozen peas and frozen corn, plus sliced green onions for added flavor.

Bring it all to a boil and add cubed tofu.

Earlier I had mixed some cold cooked rice with a little salt and sesame seed oil.

Baked in a 350F oven for 30 minutes. I'm trying to make sizzling rice soup without having to deep fry the rice.

The rice came out dried, but will it sizzle when added to the soup?

No. No sizzling from the rice, but the rice rehydrated in the soup and added a little nuttiness.
The silken tofu gave a pleasant smooth bite to the soup. A nice contrast to the rest of the soup.
Hurray for improvising! :-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Feb 15: Michoacan-Style Pork Carnitas

Watching PBS... I got to hankering to make carnitas.

Typically, the carnitas recipes I've run across cooks the pork by braising and the final step is to crisp up the meat by roasting in the oven or pan-frying. My first attempt at carnitas, Carnitas 2008

What caught my eye about this recipe is the pork is cooked in fat, sort of like a confit.
It's intriguing... yet a little daunting cooking in all that fat.

However, I'm always looking for a good carnitas recipe so I decided to give it a shot.

The recipe is based upon Chef Rick Bayless's recipe.
However, I scaled it back by 1/4th.

Michoacan-Style Pork Carnitas (

2.5 lbs Pork Shoulder (skin-on picnic shoulder is a good choice, too)
1.5 lbs Pork Belly
2 T Lime Juice
1 T salt
1 lb Lard
1 C of Bacon Grease
2 Slices of Bacon
Vegetable oil as needed


1. Mix together the lime juice and salt. Smear the mixture on all sides of each piece of pork, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

[I actually kind of backed off of using the whole 1T of salt for fear of creating salt pork. In the end, I probably used 1/2 T of salt and 2 or 3 T of lime juice.]

2. Heat over medium-high heat until the lard or oil reaches about 275 degrees.

[Lard, bacon and veggie oil.]

[As I was melting the lard, I remembered I had a stash of bacon dripping in the refrigerator. Yay! More flavor being added to the lard!]

Carefully lower in the pieces of pork, excluding the juices. (Add the bacon, if you're using it.) Adjust the heat to between medium and medium-low. After the oil's initial frenzy of having received the moist pork, it should settle into what looks like a brisk simmer when you have the temperature right. You'll notice, too, that the temperature will have dropped to just above 212 degrees - the boiling point of water - indicating that the meat is literally simmering in the oil. Using a pair of long tongs or one of those large Chinese wire strainer/skimmers, gently move the pieces of meat every 10 minutes or so.

[After adding the pork, I added about another cup of veggie oil to bring up the oil level. Added a couple extra slices of bacon for more flavor. This is the simmer phase of the cooking process, 212F. That's one big pot of oil!]

[Just in case... I added a splatter screen to minimize the mess.]

3. In about 1 1/4 hours, the meat should be completely tender, but not falling a part - start checking it at about 1 hour.

[After 70 minutes, the oil temp was raising, 230F at this point.]

When it is completely tender - meaning you can pretty easily pull it away from the bone - remove it to a large paper towel-lined pan. The carnitas are ready to eat - though they may not be as brown as you're expecting. (They will, however, take on more of a golden color as they begin to cool.)

[The meat was removed from the oil onto a paper towel lined dish.
The oil was heated to 325F for a final frying.

Yikes! The final 325F fry created quite a mess with a lot of splattering.
Be careful with this step.]

To give them a richly browned exterior, heat the oil to 325F.
Fry one piece at a time and let brown - it'll only take 45 seconds to a minute.
Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until you're ready to serve.

[After the final fry, I sprinkled a little SusyQ, garlic powder and onion powder onto the hot carnitas.

The finished carnitas... shredded with a fork. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.
Note the thick bark - crispy brown layer on the surface!]

The Finished Carnitas - Carnitas Tostada.


The Layers:
Corn Tortilla
Refried Beans
Red Onions
Green Onion
Sliced avocado and extra tomato served on the side.

Notes about the recipe...
1) Cooking at 325F created a lot of splatter.
* Too much moisture from the pork belly and skin?
* Next time will not use pork belly nor will I buy skin-on pork.
2) In lieu of the 325F browning step, just frying longer with higher heat will probably be good enough.
3) The 1/2T was enough salt.
* Read other recipes online where people actually pour orange juice into the simmering oil.
* Also, can add other spices to the oil or into the marinade.

Overall, a tasty version of carnitas with a lot of potential and variations to add extra flavor to the pork.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feb 14: Daring Cooks - Mezze

The 2010 February Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

[My comments for this challenge will be in red.]

The challenge is to prepare a Mezze (pronounced “mez”) Table including, but not limited to, homemade Pita bread and Hummus. If you’re not familiar with mezze, it’s more of a style of eating than a specific recipe or recipes. Mezze is a bunch of small dishes served all at once—sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Spanish Tapas. It can be served as appetizers before a meal, or as the meal itself.

The MANDATORY recipes for this challenge are the Pita Bread and the Hummus.

[Alright now... The pita recipe looked pretty easy, but I had a heck of a time getting the recipe to work. I'm very familiar with bread baking so when I made the first batch very wet, soft and sticky I decided to try again.]

[However, I made the hummus first since the dip would benefit from resting to allow the flavors to meld]

* The recipe for the hummus was adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

Hummus – Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If you’re using dried beans you need to soak them overnight and then cook them the next day which takes about 90 minutes.

1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams) [I used a 14 oz can of chickpeas which weighted 8.7 ounces drained and rinsed.]
2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml) [2 lemons gave about 7T of juice]
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
a big pinch of salt
4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
(1.5 ounces/45 grams) additional flavorings (optional) I would use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste [I stuck with the basic recipe and did not add extra flavors]

1. Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.
Drained and rinsed canned chickpeas.

2. Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher) adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.

3. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

[I've always wanted to use this stuff. The can always looked intriguing.]

[The oil has separated from the ground sesame seeds. Reminds me of old-fashioned peanut butter. It was actually a pain to mix the sesame and oil together. However, the flavor was quite delicious.]

[Letting the food processor do all the work - the finished hummus]

[When the hummus is plated, olive oil and parsley are used to garnish the hummus.]

* The recipe for the pita bread was adapted from the book Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

[As mentioned above, I had a difficult time with the pita bread. I made the recipe twice. The first time weighing ingredients and the second time using volume measures. My advice is to use volumetric measures. The weights are a bit off. Note: I stripped the weight measures from the recipe.]

Pita Bread – Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise and about 45 minutes to cook

2 teaspoons regular dry yeast [I only had instant yeast so I halved the amount of yeast to 1 t.]
2.5 cups lukewarm water
5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) [6 C of AP flour did the job.]
1 tablespoon table salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.

[The consistency at this step is like a thick pancake batter.]

2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well.

Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

[My first batch was very soft and wet. The image below shows the second batch - soft, slightly sticky, but not as wet as the first batch.]

Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

[Dough is properly raised when your finger leaves an indentation in the dough]

3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).

4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.

[Lesson learned after the first batch to minimize sticking- use a silicone pad to knead and work the dough. Use plastic wrap to roll the dough.]

5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

[Baked on a pizza stone... Of all the rounds I baked only 1 puffed up as expected. I had to take a picture of my only success! LOL! The rest of the rounds turned out like Naan, an Indian flatbread.]

The finished pita and hummus.

My plate showing the rest of the Mezze - Rice pilaf, mashed egg with sesame seed oil, Cucumber (Riatta?), Tomatoes and Avocado and an eggplant dish. Thank you Mabel for bringing over these dishes!

I enjoyed the hummus. It was very lemony (I like lemony) and the tahini added a nice flavor. Next time, I'd add some cumin for extra flavor.

The pita was okay. I don't think I'll try making it again. The main reason being fresh pitas can be purchased locally which makes it more convenient then making my own.