Monday, 26 January 2009

An Oldie but a Goodie (not my husband, but the dessert)

Tiramisu, two-thirds gone

I’m not sure why, but the January birthday season definitely had a retro flavor this year. After years of loyalty to carrot cake, we revisited the desserts from our yesteryears: I had Italian Cream Cake, little daughter had Red Velvet cupcakes and Sigmund had Tiramisu.

When Sigmund and I first started dating, in the early 90s, tiramisu was all the rage. It was the hot new thing which quickly became the ubiquitous and predictable thing; however, we truly loved it. On our first date, at the legendary Carrabba’s on Kirby, we shared one. For years afterward, if it was on the menu, Sigmund invariably ordered it.

When our youngest daughter was born, we couldn’t decide on a name. My parents were staying with us – we lived in Trinidad at the time – and each day we would come up with some names to present to Sigmund. (Eventually, we both had to come up with short-lists and proceed by process of elimination.) I remember someone, probably my mother, suggesting that we name the baby “Tiramisu.” Just say that with a drawling Texas accent: TARA-ME-SUE. It was even better with our Italian surname! (Of course, we didn’t name our child after a dessert; but funnily enough, she loves tiramisu and is sure to order it if it appears on the menu.)

I don’t know when it stopped being Sigmund’s default dessert . . . but at some point, there was that thought: I haven’t had tiramisu in ages! Don’t you agree that some of the best things in life are the rediscovered old loves?

There are many, many recipes for tiramisu, but I like the one from The New Basics Cookbook. It employs all of the crucial ingredients: ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, espresso, an orange liqueur, Marsala wine and chocolate. Also, the texture is just right – creamy, but not too “wet,” like some restaurant versions. The crucial thing, as far as I’m concerned, is to make homemade ladyfingers for the sponge base. Now some people think that store-bought, commercial ladyfingers are fine, but I think that you need that “from scratch” touch. Ladyfingers aren’t difficult to make, especially if you have a good mixer, but they require a tiny bit of patience. I realize that my idea of a tiny bit of patience (when it comes to baking matters) is subjective. However, I promise that this recipe is its own reward.

Ladyfingers (my mother’s recipe)


6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
¾ cup caster sugar
1 cup sifted flour
Powdered (confectioner’s) sugar


Beat the 6 egg yolks until they are light, and then add ¼ cup of sugar. (You can use your paddle attachment or your whisk attachment, but you will definitely need the whisk for the next step. I use separate bowls and separate attachments so I don’t have to wash up between steps.)

In a separate bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until they are foamy. Gradually add ½ cup of sugar until the mixture is glossy and stiff – but not dry. It should look like this:

Carefully fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Then, sift the cup of flour – gradually – into the mixture and fold in with a large spatula. Use as delicate of a touch as possible.

Working quickly, the mixture can either be piped onto a wax paper-covered cookie sheet – or just spooned on. I do the latter, as you are going to break up the ladyfingers for this recipe anyway. I just spoon the batter into rough, fat fingers. Peasant fingers, I guess!

Cook for approximately 10-12 minutes; they should turn a slightly rosy color, not quite tan. Loosen at once with a spatula and dry between wax/parchment paper in an airtight tin. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

I believe that most people perform acts of devotion in their lives – we only disagree as to what we think is worth the extra bother. I’m sure that I’m sloppy and slapdash when it comes to lots of things, but I have a shortlist of things that matter to me:

A hand-written thank you note
A beautifully wrapped present
Pressed sheets
Homemade birthday cake

Happy Birthday, Sigmund! Actually, you are a bit of an oldie . . . but SUCH a goodie


Brave Sir Robin said...


Tiramisu is among my very favorite desserts. I had one in the North end of Boston many years ago and I have spent the rest of my life trying to find one that measured up to that heavenly bliss.

Most of the one's I've had recently are mush.

Your's looks wonderful.

Do you really press your sheets?

Move over Nigella and Martha, we have a new winner.

Remember me on your book tour.


Fantastic Forrest said...

Sadly, this is not a handwritten thank you note. But it IS heartfelt! Thanks for sharing your scrumptious sounding ladyfingers recipe with us, Bee.

I'm glad you didn't name your daughter Tiramisu. That would have been a very wrong thing to do. But I've no doubt there are some kids who answer to it. Some people should not have children. Or at least not be allowed to name them.

Lisa said...

Oh my. That looks so luscious. Happy belated birthday to Sigmund.

And pressed sheets? Me, too. I love them. And I love ironing them. It's such a meditative act.

JaneyV said...

I do love Tiramisu but I rarely eat it because I'm generally too full after eating dinner at an Italian restaurant.
I like your list of things you love. It shows a love of thoughtful detail. I don't worry about sheets being pressed but I do love that brand new clean feeling. I often think that it would be a marvelous luxury to change them every day. Alas that would require employing some help, which is just a smidge OTT for the love of clean linen.
I also love a present to be beautifully wrapped. And nothing says that something was appreciated quite as much as a hand-written note. I guiltily admit to letting that slide in recent years. I tend to call or do the electronic thing. It doesn't have quite the same class about it though.
As for cake - I'm always happy to eat what someone takes the time to bake for me. My mother-in-law is very kind in that respect.

willow said...

Oh, yummies! I can easily see why this is two thirds gone. It would have been totally gone at the Manor, I'm afraid. Love the cool green spatula, too.

Happy Birthday to your Sigmund!

Anne said...

Count me among the lovers of tiramisu. I haven't had it in ages, either--as with creme brulee, I've become rather fed up with being disappointed in restaurants' mangling of it. Maybe I'm just not going to the right restaurants!

Count me also among those who love pressed sheets. What with time being a precious commodity these days I haven't pressed ours in ages, but I often think about doing it. Clean sheets are a wonderful thing, but clean and pressed? Luxurious, especially when done with some subtly nice-smelling linen water.

Thank you for the ladyfinger recipe. I will have to find an excuse to make them... and soon!

Beth said...

I consider fresh, clean, folded laundry (either done by me or by someone else) an act of devotion.
And, yes, always, a homemade birthday cake – although I wouldn’t say no to chocolate mousse with a candle for my birthday!

Anonymous said...

I think we are both on a birthday nostalgia journey this week. I have not made one cake this month and like you I think that making someone a cake is an act of kindness, friendship or devotion.
Your Tara-me Sue reminded me of how we laughingly considered Sonoma or Chardonay for chica 2.
Tirimisu is a recipe I have passed on to many friends, your photographs make it seem so mouth watering.

larkspur said...

Yum, to the tiramisu...and Amen! to the shortlist.

Kate said...

Ohdeargod I'm an idget.
After receiving biscuits (joy) and lemon curd (rapture!)I neglected to send a handwritten thank-you.
Please forgive the inelegant ineptitude.

Braja said...

Tiramisu is my all-time favorite.... without a doubt. And I found a wonderful place in London when I was there that makes it egg-free, as I'm an egg-free person...ahhhh...sigh...

Bee said...

BSR - Tell me that there is the BEST tiramisu (especially in Boston) and I am immediately desperate to go there and try it out!

Mush: blech. Definitely to be avoided.

Yes, I press my sheets. Many have called me crazy.

Fantastic Forrest - No doubt there is a little Tara-me-Sue wandering around the world, but my daughter has a far more traditional name!

Lisa - Meditative? Exactly! I also like ironing because it is a good excuse to watch movies in the daytime.

JaneyV - I'm the first to admit that these niceties are easier to accomplish if you don't have a full-time job outside of the home. They do make life sweeter, though.

Willow - As you will know, Tiramisu doesn't keep. It is better to eat it straight away and not waste any. (he he)

Anne - I so agree! Why don't restaurants get tiramisu and creme brulee right? I love ladyfingers -- even eaten on their own. I also love a frozen torte that uses coffee ice cream, crushed Heath bars, and ladyfingers.

If you ever visit me in England you will get pressed sheets.

Beth - I am "devoting" myself to my family even as we speak! Laundry, laundry everywhere!

Chocolate mousse is also very, very nice.

Bon Bon - Maybe you should make a January "just because" cake. Wasn't there an English TV character with the name "Chardonnay?"

Larkspur: A likeminded new friend.

Kate - Oh please! Do not worry a bit! Full-time teachers are forgiven everything . . . and they NEED all the lemon curd they can get.

Braja - I'm curious to know how to make an egg-free tiramisu. I have to admit that it is an egg-heavy recipe. (When were your London years?)

Reya Mellicker said...

Sigmund is a lucky guy. Pressed sheets? My oh my! I salute you.

As for tiramisu, I remember when that was the dessert of choice. I bet it's still delicious.

Many happy returns to all of you January people. And many more!

Dave King said...

Mouthwatering! You'll never be able to go back to carrot cake!

Taffiny said...

Happy Birthday to your Sigmund. :)

So often my husband and I find when we go back to something (food wise) our tastes have changed, and it is quite disappointing to discover, "I don't like it anymore." But admittedly most of the stuff we don't like anymore it is best that we don't. Like Twinkies. They just don't taste like food to me anymore. And we tend to grow out of restaurants (some family chain ones. Did they change, did we?)
Rediscovering an old love, and finding the love still true is wonderful. Like last week, we've both started dabbling with paint again. But I can't really think of anything else at the moment.
An inspiring thought. I'm going to think about it today, what did I use to love to do, or eat, that I haven't done/tasted in a long time? What did I let go that I can bring back? If only for a moment, or perhaps regularly.

Peggy said...

Oh, dear! I haven't felt this kind of motivation (ahem, devotion) to my family since Willow's chocolate chip cookie recipe! It's a good day to stay in and whip up a luscious dessert. :-) By the way, Bee, ditto on your short list. Wonderful post!

Pete said...

Did anyone say Domestic Goddess?! Wow. Looks and sounds wonderful. Will definitely try it out. Very happy birthday to Sigmund too.

Anne said...

I suspect that the creme brulee, at least, has to do in part with burning the sugar at the wrong time (i.e. not right before it goes out to the table). If you do it too early and then stick the custard in the fridge, the crust will soften, which destroys half the fun. Of course sometimes the custard just isn't very good in the first place, in which case no amount of good timing with a kitchen torch will save it.

That frozen dessert sounds amazing. I might have to make ladyfingers this weekend...

I had a dream just the other night that you came to visit! Sheets weren't involved, though, just dinner.

Audrey said...

I'm DIETING! You are so mean to put something that bloody good/fattening on your blog! Can you put something on the top like a "spoiler alert" so people who are trying to put all thoughts of yummy food out of their head can look away?!

Shauna said...


One of my favorites to be sure.

herhimnbryn said...

Happy Birthday S!

I agree aout the hand written thankyou notes and wrapped gifts.

Now I have a desperate need to eat Tiramisu.....and it's onl 6.14am!

Gifted Typist said...

Hand written thank you notes after a dinner party. I loved that about Britain. Still do it in Canada - half the recipients like it, the other half think it's weird.

Maggie May said...

oh i love your blog! your office and chair fabric and you love poetry! and!
so cool. adding you

Barrie said...

Happy Birthday, Sigmund!

This dessert looks delicious. But I'm just not up to baking. Better I should pop over to your house for coffee or tea and tiramisu. :)

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Happy birthday to your honey! I got off easy with Roxi's BD cake. She wanted coffee cake, can you imagine?! Well, she gets to eat her cake for breakfast (yes, with ice cream), so maybe that has something to do with it ;-)

Are you done with birthdays for a while?

And I was just thinking as I made that coffee cake last night... I've gone through A LOT of butter in the last two weeks. Perhaps I need to stop baking for a while.

Elizabeth said...

You certainly know how to make a birthday delicious.
Yes, handwritten thank you notes are always wonderful, always appreciated and welcome.

Wildeve said...

ah, it's savoring the little things that make life worth living... and one huge thing, Love.

Bee said...

Reya - Do you have a preferred birthday cake? I know that your b'day is approaching . . .

Dave King - Well, we actually had a carrot cake, too. We can't give it up: it's too delicious!

Taffiny - You're right; some wonderful things from the past just don't hold up. Tiramisu is not one of them, though.

I often think this about songs that I once loved. I burn myself out, but then if I revisit it after a long time I love it again.

Peggy - I've made those chocolate chip cookies twice! While most people have been detoxing in January, we have been overdosing on sweets! (P.S. I'm getting to the award. :)

Pete - Making ladyfingers would be procrastination, for sure; but maybe eating them would be a study-aid.

Anne - We will definitely eat dinner together someday! Looking forward to it . . .

(In agreement, of course, on your words of wisdom regarding creme brulee.)

Audrey - Just tell me when you want to go OFF the diet, and we'll indulge.

Shauna - It seems be a favorite with many people. I guess that's why it got so popular.

herhimnbryn - I Love SWEETS first thing in the morning.

Gifted Typist - I secretly think that everyone likes to feel extra-appreciated, even if they demur.

Maggie May - Well, thank you!

Barrie - If you will fly 12 hours to see me, I will make you the cake of your choice!

JAPRA - I've gone through a crazy amount of butter myself in the past couple of weeks. We are SORT of through with birthdays -- at least the ones that I have to throw parties for. However, I put four cards and two gifts in the mail yesterday. The first week of Feb is also pretty crowded!

Elizabeth -- Well, I try!

Wildeve - Baked with love, definitely.

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing?

Sarah Laurence said...

Happy Birthday to Sigmund! It sounds like January is a baking marathon for you.

flowrgirl1 said...

yummy! Thanks for visiting my blog too. I am enjoying yours!

Anna said...

Oh Bee this looks so goooooood! Its pass midnight, and now I will have bad dreams, lol. Anna :)

Susanna said...

It is one of our favourites too, though I have only made it once. Not sure I have the patience to make the lady fingers (really, you make them from scratch??!!)

I think I am going to rename this blog Betty Drunken.

julochka said...

there is something retro about tiramisu, but since i only left the 90s kicking and screaming, i think i'll give your recipe a whirl this weekend.

i totally agree with you on having a shortlist of things that matter (however, beautifully-wrapped presents isn't on mine because i wrap like a small, dull child), but homemade birthday cake definitely is!


Alyson (New England Living) said...

I'm going to admit something here - I've never had tiramisu! Weird, right? Now I'm really feeling the urge to try it. I'm going to go look up menus online right now.

By the way, been meaning to respond to your email, but, as you know, I've been out of the loop. Will try to respond today. Have a great weekend!

Bee said...

Sarah - January IS a baking marathon . . . and I didn't even mention the carrot cake. :)

flowrgirl1 - Fully reciprocated.

Anna - Surely you will have sweet dreams? :)

Susanna - Well, I don't think it's difficult to make lady fingers from scratch. But I will admit that using storebought ones would make this recipe a dawdle!

Julochka - Your comment made me laugh. All of the big things in my life happened in the 90s . . . I find it hard to believe that we are about to lap that decade again!

Alyson - I am the last person in the world to worry about a late email . . . I am very inconsistent in this area as well.

Definitely try tiramisu, but I hope you will get a good version because some of them are kind of nasty.