After making mistakes in my last two cakes, I decided to change my attitude from a teeth-clenched "must be more careful" to a blithe zen-ness: "If you try to aim for it, you are turning away from it."
So I read the directions twice, assembled the ingredients, and tried not to aim for perfection. The result? A perfect tiramisu.
I made a delicious tiramisu once before, many years ago, but I lost the recipe and have never found one that sounded as good as the lost one--until I read the recipe in Heavenly Cakes. Its flavors are pure and uncomplicated, and each bite is a marvel.
You start by making a batter with egg yolks, sugar, and sweet marsala.
You whisk this mixture over simmering water, whisking away for five or ten minutes. The old obsessive Marie would have fretted about scrambling the eggs. The new carefree Marie just stayed in the moment and enjoyed the whisking.
Into the custard go two cups of mascarpone and a cup of whipped cream.
I got the mascarpone at Broder's Cucina Italiana. Two cups cost about $20, so it's not a purchase you'd want to make every day, or every week, but I've tasted the mascarpone you can buy at a supermarket, and if you're making tiramisu, the quality of which largely rests on the creaminess and subtle sweetness of the mascarpone, it's worth the extravagance. (Well, that's how I justified it anyway).
Meanwhile, Jim was making two cups of espresso. I could have used instant espresso powder, but I was glad when he volunteered to make real espresso for me. I could also have gone to the local coffee shop and ordered a whole bunch of espresso, but that would probably have cost more than the mascarpone.
Rose has a recipe for ladyfingers in this cookbook, and I suppose I'll make them eventually, but for this recipe, since they were going to be soaked in espresso syrup, I bought them. "Soaked" isn't really the right word--they have to pick up the espresso flavor but keep their shape. No more than one second per side!
You can see that the first one was soaked a little too long and started to disintegrate, but the second one is just right.
After the first layer of espresso-imbued ladyfingers, half the custard mixture goes on top; then another row of ladyfingers and the rest of the custard. The custard is a little runny, but it firms up nicely overnight. In fact, you can make this recipe up to three days ahead, so it's a perfect idea for entertaining. All it takes is a sprinkle of cocoa when you're ready to serve it.
I brought this fabulous dessert to a July 4 cookout potluck. The other desserts were more midwestern in nature--to be precise, they were "bars," the quintessential prairie end-of-the-meal. We had Almond Joy bars (chocolate and coconut) and key lime bars. They were both good, but very sweet. The tiramisu was not sweet, but very rich. Two women asked me for the recipe. I hesitated, trying to think if I could remember the specifics, and then one of them asked me if it was hard. "I only do easy," she said. "No, not really. First you beat eight egg yolks over a pan of simmering water...." "You mean, like a double boiler?" she asked. "Pretty much," I said. "Oh, no, I said I do easy. That means I don't do double boilers." Please don't let a fear of double boilers keep you away from this recipe. It's every bit as good--probably better--than the tiramisu of yore that I could never re-create. In fact, if someone from Venice person dropped by, I wouldn't hesitate to make this tiramisu for them. They'd probably say, "I wish I could get this at home."