Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tiramisu as Big as You!

Last night was Big Goddamn Steak Night. It’s a time to celebrate, to gather with friends, to reflect, and to eat a really high-fat meal. Well, all except for the part about reflecting. Big Goddamn Steak Night would sum up everything that’s wrong with America if it weren’t all done ironically.

Except for dessert. The “Tiramisu as Big as You” course is in deadly earnest. And this year, when eggs are filled with salmonella and the world’s chocolate supplies dwindle, nothing could be a better reminder of how precious and fleeting our lives really are.

And because life is short, BGDSN tiramisu is special. For one thing, there’s a ton of it. For another thing, it does not have ladyfingers. Who wants to eat some stale-ass, nothing-flavored cookie the size, color, and texture of a tongue depressor? Not me. That’s why I make my tiramisu with chocolate cake.

If, before you leave this world, you want to eat a holiday dessert as spectacular—and as big—as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, then I have here just the thing for you.

Tiramisu as Big as You
There are four steps to tiramisu: cake, zabaglione, cream, and assembly. This dessert takes four or five hours to make and dirties up every bowl you own. When you’re done, though, you can serve twelve people.

Why take a perfectly good, made-from-scratch chocolate cake and tear it down? Trust me. Everything the cake lost shall be restored a hundredfold. It’s like the cake is Job.

I cut this recipe in half and changed the pan from a 9" × 13" because I always have too much cake left over.

½ c milk
2 t lemon juice or vinegar
1 c sugar *
¼ c butter
1 egg
¼ c cocoa powder
1 ¼ c flour
¼ t salt
1 ½ t soda
½ t vanilla
½ c boiling water

Stir the lemon juice into the milk and set aside. Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar; beat in the egg.

Beat in half the dry ingredients, then half the milk, then the rest of the dry stuff, then the last of the milk. Stir in the vanilla.

While the batter isn’t paying attention, dump in the boiling water all at once and blend it in! AIIEEEEE!

Pour into a greased, floured 8" × 8" pan and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool the cake for 10 minutes, then turn it out of the pan and cool some more until you can handle the cake. Cut it in half and cut each half into 12 to 16 slices. Lay each slice on its side on a cookie sheet and pop those back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and toast them for another 10 minutes. Lay the cake-toast-slices on the cooling rack until perfectly cool. They will be crunchy. This is a good thing.

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Next up: you are making a super-eggy-licious traditional Italian dessert (or breakfast, depending on whom you ask). Zabaglione is quite fine in its own right, rich with eggs and the raisiny-caramel flavor of Marsala. But stay strong and keep going. This is going to be fantastic!

10 eggs
⅔ c sugar
⅔ c Marsala wine
2 T water

Get yourself a heat-proof bowl, a candy thermometer, a whisk or hand mixer, a rubber scraper, and a pan of not-quite-simmering water.

Separate 10 eggs and put the yolks and the sugar together in a heat-proof bowl. Beat until lemony-yellow and thick, maybe three to five minutes. Beat in the Marsala and water.

Now the tricky part. Plunk your bowl in the pan of simmering water and start beating those eggs. As you beat them, they will cook and thicken and turn amazing. You are in a race against the hot water: you want the eggs to reach 160°, which is safe eating temperature. But you don’t want to work so slowly that the eggs stick to your bowl. So beat like crazy, scrape down quickly if you need to, and periodically check the temperature.

If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you might want to resign yourself to the fact that life is dangerous. You might want to use trustworthy eggs from a known-to-be-safe source, either way.

When you have achieved the proper temperature and your egg mixture is the consistency of softly whipped cream, you can stop. You did it, rock star! Take the bowl out of the water and set it aside to cool for at least 15 minutes.

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This part of the recipe seems pedestrian, but everything’s about to come together. You’ve done the hard parts! Now it’s time to torture an appalling amount of dairy fat into behaving like a solid instead of a liquid.

1 c heavy whipping cream
1-2 t vanilla
16-24 oz mascarpone cheese

Combine the vanilla and heavy whipping cream and beat at least to the soft peak stage. Maybe you could stop just short of stiff peaks.

In another, much larger bowl, beat the mascarpone until smooth. Blend in the whipped cream and the cooled zabaglione. You may need to pop this in the refrigerator while you get ready for…

1 c strong coffee, cooled
2 T sugar
3 T brandy
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, grated
2-3 T cocoa powder
In a shallow dish, mix the coffee, sugar, and brandy until sugar is dissolved.

Assemble your friends: cake-toast, booze-spresso, vat of creamy cream cream, and the two kinds of pulverized chocolate. Find yourself a glass bowl, too. There are at least two schools of thought on bowls. Some people like to use a wide, shallow bowl. They divide the cake and cream in halves and just do two layers. I have a tall V-shaped bowl that allows me to make many layers. Think about what kind of drama you want to create and how you will manage to serve the dessert, then make your choice.

Dip pieces of cake in the coffee mixture and arrange them in the bottom of the bowl. It’s OK to leave some space between and around the cake. Cover the cake with a layer of cream, burying it maybe a half inch thick. Sprinkle the cream with grated chocolate, covering up the surface.

Repeat layers of cake-cream-chocolate until you reach the top of the bowl or you are going to run out of something. The topmost layer should be grated chocolate.

Put the cocoa powder in a sieve and dust the top of the dessert artfully. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight, or at least 6 hours, to give the cream a chance to set up.

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On 12.23.2010 the quantity of sugar was corrected to 1 cup from 2 cups. I am so very sorry, Amy Rea.


  1. "It's like the cake is Job."

    That made my day.

  2. I've been tasked with bringing dessert to Christmas dinner and was just beginning to wonder what to make, and voila! You provided the answer.

  3. Kerry and Amy,

    Glad I could be there for you both. Cheers, and thanks for your comments!

  4. Help! I made the cake exactly as directed, but the batter was very thin, and after 40 minutes baking was still watery. Are those liquid proportions right? I measured very carefully.

    This is why I hate baking. :-(

  5. Oh crap oh crap oh crap, Amy, I am so sorry. I made a mistake when dividing the recipe in half. It is my fault. I have ruined Christmas and I owe you booze now.

    The recipe is corrected. Like you'll ever trust me again.

  6. Oh, heavenly days (as my grandmother would say), Christmas is *not* ruined! I have plenty of time to try again! I'm just relieved--I usually assume I screwed something up when baking. Thanks for the quick correction!


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