Homemade ladyfingers and tiramisu
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying
Five golden rings
Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree
Tiramisu, like eclairs, is mostly made of air. I know this because I have now left the comforts of my parents’ home with its stand mixer and gone back to Boston, where I whipped all of that air into my tiramisu with a whisk. Seriously, it’s out of control: ladyfingers have egg whites whipped to stiff peaks and whipped yolks, and the cream has whipped cream and more whipped yolks. My right arm got quite a workout today.
Thanks to all that air, the ultra-light ladyfingers act like sponges for the rum and espresso we dip them in. The boozy cookies serve as the perfect foil to the rich cream with mascarpone and a hint of espresso, which I have eaten by the spoonful all day. I topped with some chocolate for good measure, and it only made it harder to resist. I’ve recruited helpers who will finish it off to save me from myself.
I had an ongoing argument with my roommate from college about tiramisu, where I challenged her claim that there was no one single dessert defined as tiramisu because everyone makes it so differently. I stand behind my argument (ladyfingers + coffee + an egg yolk and mascarpone cream seem like the essential ingredients) despite the huge variety of recipes and techniques I found when researching this recipe. I stayed pretty traditional with the cookies, but I found out that the original tiramisu had neither rum nor whipped cream and that just seemed like a shame. You’ll find plenty of both in my version.
Science tidbit: these ladyfingers don’t have a chemical leavener (baking powder or soda), like you find in most cookies. Instead, the lift comes from all of that air you whip in to both the whites and the yolks. Like meringues, they puff as the air heats and expands in the oven to give them all of that empty space that we fill with coffee and alcohol.
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 T. + ½ c. sugar
- ¾ c. flour
- ½ t. salt
- 1 t. vanilla
- 6 egg yolks
- ¼ c. sugar
- 1¼ c. mascarpone cheese
- 1¼ c. heavy cream
- 2 T. + ½ c. espresso or strong coffee
- ¼ c. rum
- Cocoa powder, for topping
- Chocolate shavings, for topping
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease two baking sheets.
- Make the ladyfingers: whip the egg whites in a large bowl until foamy using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment or a whisk. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.
- Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale. Add the salt and vanilla.
- Fold half of the egg whites into the yolk mixture. When just a few streaks remain, fold in the flour, then fold in the rest of the egg whites.
- Transfer the batter to a piping bag with a ½" tip or a ziploc with a corner cut off. Pipe the cookies onto the prepared pans, making each about 4 inches long and leaving an inch between the cookies.
- Bake for 8 minutes, until brown around the edges and firm to the touch. If you are baking more than one tray at a time, rotate halfway through baking and watch the bottom tray closely so that they don't get too dark. Remove from the pan immediately and let cool to room temperature.
- Make the tiramisu: whip the cream to soft peaks and set aside.
- Whip the egg yolks with the sugar until they form a ribbon: lift up the whisk and let the yolk mixture fall back into the pan. The ribbon that falls should stay distinct on top of the rest for a few seconds before softening (see picture above).
- Gently fold in the mascarpone cheese, the whipped cream, and 2 tablespoons espresso, one at a time.
- Pour ½ cup espresso and the rum into a shallow dish. Drop a ladyfinger into the dish, quickly turn it over, then quickly remove. Place into the serving dish. Continue with more ladyfingers, lining the bottom and sides of the serving dish.
- Pour in about half of the cream and sift cocoa powder on top. Create another layer of soaked ladyfingers, pour in the rest of the cream, and top with cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.
- Chill for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Recipes adapted from The Food Network (twice).