Variation on Emeril’s Hot Milk Sponge Tiramisu

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The idea of going out and buying lady fingers to make tiramisu always kind of irks me. Maybe it’s the notion of buying the pre-packaged food, not feeling like I’m really making it from scratch, that gets to me. Maybe it’s that I’m just too lazy to go to the store for one more ingredient that I don’t keep in the house (I don’t keep mascarpone in the house either, but for some reason I have no trouble remembering to buy it when I want to make dessert). Partly for that reason, I was excited to find this tiramisu recipe that does not use lady fingers, but instead uses a hot-milk sponge cake as the absorber of coffee.

For those who’ve never had it, or never thought about what they were eating when they did, tiramisu is a dessert made of alternating layers of lady fingers (or in this case sponge cake) soaked in coffee, and a mascarpone custard, often using zabaglione (custard of egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine). Though the dessert has been standard italian restaurant fare as long as I can remember, it’s fairly new, apparently originating in Treviso in the early 1970’s, mostly becoming popular in the states in the 1990’s.

I made a double sized batch of Emeril’s recipe, and it went over quite well. The main problem I had, was that I couldn’t stop eating it, and I ended up making myself sick from so much. In comparison, to other tiramisu recipes I’ve made, this is a little sweeter and fluffier. In some traditional recipes, the mascarpone custard is very very dense, and the esspresso/lady fingers layer is quite bitter. These are very good too, and I may make one again to better contrast the two. This one is excellent, if not bitter, and because it doesn’t use lady fingers it’s a bit easier to assemble, in my opinion (I hate dipping and layering the lady fingers).

My Rating: 8

For the Hot Milk Sponge:
1/4 cup of milk
2 teaspoons butter
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
3 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. This is something I always forget to do. I’m usually so eager to start with the ingredients that I totally overlook the oven. Be smarter than me and get it done. Butter and lightly flour an 8 by 11-inch sheet cake tray. “Lightly flour,” in case you were wondering, means put a little bit of flour in the pan and then tap it around until all of the butter has a very fine flour coat, and then turn the pan upside down over the sink and tap out the excess.

Let’s make the cake. Heat the milk and the butter until the butter melts. This can be done in the microwave on on the stove.

Put a metal bowl over a hot water bath and whisk the the eggs, sugar, and yolks until the egg mixture triples in size. It’s pretty hard to tell when it actually triples, but it will certainly thicken up a bit and get a bit fluffier.

In a large bowl, stir the flour and baking powder together, and then fold in the egg mixture and the milk/butter mixture. “Fold” means use a bakers spatula and scrape the sides on the bowl over the top into the middle of the bowl. Do not whisk it together, and do not stir it vigorously with a spoon. You’re trying to make a sponge, so you want to keep all of the air that you whipped into the egg mxture (remember it tripled in size). When it bakes, the little bubbles trapped in that egg mixture will expand and make a nice sponge.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 10 minutes. When I did this, I took the cake out a little too early, just before it had set, and it was a little soggy. This isn’t tragic, since you’re going to be pouring coffee over the cake later anyway, and it’s going to get wet, but you should bake the cake until the center is just set, and in my poor oven, that would have been a little longer than 10 minutes. Ah well, next time. Let the cake cool on a rack while you prepare the rest.

For the mascarpone mixture:
3/4 cup espresso coffee
1/2 cup of hot water
1/4 cup of Frangelico Hazelnut liquor
1 cup mascarpone
2 tablespoons Marsala
3 egg whites
3 egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
a pinch of salt
cocoa powder and powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Make the espresso. I like a stovetop espresso maker for this. It makes very strong, but not bitter espresso. If you need to use a drip coffee maker, leave out the water and just use one and quater cup of coffee. Combine the espresso, water (or just the coffee) and the Frangelico, set aside to cool. You don’t want it to be too warm when you assemble the dessert.

Combine the mascarpone and the Marsala in a large bowl (everything is eventually going to get added to this bowl, so make it big) and beat until smooth. An immersion blender (or stick blender) works well for this or a hand beater, or good old fashioned elbow grease.

In a metal bowl, beat the eggs yolks, and 3 tablespoons of the sugar together until smooth, then set over a pot of hot water and beat until foamy, about three or four minutes. Once this is foamy, toss it in with the mascarpone mixture and beat them together until they’re smooth.

Whip the cream to firm peaks. This means that when you pull the beater out of the whipped cream, the impression of the beater shouldn’t melt away like a footprint in mud or sand, but should show a clear impression. But, of course, be caseful not to make butter. Fold in the vanilla, and then fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture in two additions.

Now beat the egg whites and the pinch of salt (it helps the whites get foamy), until they are foamy and opaque. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar and beat until it gets nice and glossy. It won’t necessarily be as stiff as the whipped cream was, but it should be very fluffy and have structure. Don’t overbeat the egg whites to the point that the foam begins to look dry. In one addition, fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture.

Let’s put it all together.

First, cut the sponge cake in half. Ta da, two layers. Put the first half down in pan just big enough for it to fit snugly. (I actually cheated on this. Since I was making a double recipe, I just used two sheet cake pans to make the double batch of sponge cake and then assembled in one of the pans). Now pour half of the espresso mixture over the cake. I find it easiest to put the espresso mixture in a big measuring cup, that way I know how much to pour, and it has a spout. Drizzle it over the cake evenly.

Top the first layer of cake with half of the mascarpone mixture. You can just dump half of the mixture in the middle of the cake and then spread it out to the sides using a baking spatula. Try and get it nice and even.

Put the second layer of cake on top of this, drizzle it with the remaining espresso mixture, and top that with the remaining mascarpone mixture. Smooth it nice flat across the top, and sift cocoa powder and powdered sugar over the top.

Now comes the hard part. Put it in the fridge, uncovered, and let it cool for 2-4 hours. It needs to set. The longer it sets, the firmer and easier to cut it will be. If you can make it a bit ahead of time and the leftovers will keep in the fridge up to about a week.