Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tiramisu Class

"From Cheese to Tiramisu"
The Seattle Free School

Almost fifteen years ago I spent a week in Florence with my mother and my surrogate grandmother, Carleen, in honor of Carleen's 75th birthday. Carleen is a native South Carolinian who had heard about Florence when she was 13 and dreamed of visiting for the next 60 years. Teaching her a few requisite words of Italian was like a Laurel and Hardy routine:

Me: Buon giorno. Ok, now you try!

Carleen: Bone journey ooooh...

Several years before our trip, Carleen's husband, Bruce, had had a heart attack and a series of bypass sugeries; as a show of support, Carleen had joined him on his special low-fat diet. But in Florence, all bets were off: Carleen took a gleeful break from skim milk and fiber crackers and "heart healthy" spreads. We gobbled ravioli and pizza and panini and slurped full-fat cappucinos, and from the moment that Carleen discovered it, we ended every meal but breakfast with a helping of tiramisu. Carleen got pretty good at "per favore" and "grazie"!

Since that trip I haven't eaten much tiramisu. The name of course, means "pick me up", and a good tiramisu should put a smile on your face and a wag in your tail. The ones I tried stateside tended to be too heavy and sodden, too insubstantial (angel food cake and whipped cream), or too fusion-y (kiwi and goat cheese?). So my attention was snagged by an ad for a tiramisu-making class offered by the Seattle Free School ("The Seattle Free School is for the community by the community. All are welcome. No money ever exchanges hands. All we exchange are skills, knowledge and experiences.").

"From Cheese to Tiramisu" was held at the Cascade People's Center and led by Jessica, Free School founder and veteran cheese maker. Her premise is that homemade mascarpone elevates an everyday tiramisu to something extraordinary.

Jessica's Free School Tiramisu

For the mascarpone:
1qt cream
1qt half-and-half
1/2tsp tartaric acid

For the tiramisu:
2c mascarpone
3-4 eggs, separated
1 Tbs vanilla sugar (put a vanilla bean in a jar of sugar and give it some time)
3/4 c cold strong coffee (leftovers from the morning are perfect)
1/2-3/4 c Kahlua
18 (or so) ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder

Pour the cream and half-and-half into a large pot and stir while heating it to at least 185 (it boils at 205); too cool, and it won't curdle. Since you have no way of knowing the acidity of your dairy products, start by adding a small amount of tartaric acid. Stir well for 3-5 minutes to see if anything will happen.

Still no curds? Add a little more acid and do the stirring act again. Unlike, say, ricotta, mascarpone will not separate dramatically; the curds are small and will always look creamy rather than watery, and the whey you pour off will look more like 1% milk.

When you think you have enough curds, it's time to strain. Dampen a good cheesecloth (not the supermarket kind; get one from a kitchen supplier and keep it lint-free by handwashing) and lay it over a collander. Put the colander over another pot to catch the whey (so if you don't have as many curds as you expected you can start again). Cool the mascarpone to room temperature (so it doesn't cook the eggs).

Whip the egg whites into peaks. If you choose to use sugar (some people find this tiramisu plenty sweet without it), stir it into the cheese, then add the yolks and gently fold in the whites. Mix the Kahlua and coffee together in a small bowl.

Smear a little cheese on the bottom of dish ("Just like lasagna, " says Jessica, "-lasagna with cheese and cookies." "And booze!" adds a wag in the audience.) Quickly dip the cookies for the first layer in the coffee; don't get them too damp because they'll be getting the brunt of the soaking as the tiramisu sits. Place them in the dish, breaking as needed to create a tiled layer. Spoon on some cheese. Let the cookies for the next layer soak up a little more coffee, rolling them around a few times until they darken. Gently spread on the last of the cheese and top with a generous sifting of cocoa powder.

Then comes the hard part: let it sit overnight. My heart sank a little as Jessica told us how much her co-workers would enjoy the demo tiramisu the next day, but I soon got over it. To be honest I did show up to the class hoping for a little taste, but you know what they say: teach a woman to make tiramisu...

Grazie, Jessica! From me and grandmother Carleen.

1 comment:

PollyBee said...

Very intreresting. I will let you know how mine turns out with the Mascarpone making.