October 17, 2010

Tiramisù…two ways to heaven!

Tiramisù…This is one of the few desserts I don’t ever get tired of! If I had to choose one dessert over the others, this classic would probably be it. I think not one person that tries it doesn’t like it, unless they really dislike coffee (in that case, the biscuit layer could be soaked in chocolate or other drink and still get the mouth feel of the indecent mascarpone cream, but it would no longer be tiramisù!) or they are told raw eggs are in it and choke on the idea.
There are hundreds of recipes, not just with varying quantities of ingredients, but with different ingredients and methods. Some use whipped heavy cream instead of or with the beaten whites, others make a zabaglione with the yolks and liquid (like marsala or even some coffee) or even a crème anglaise in which to blend in the mascarpone. To me, the degree of variation is not on the ingredients but rather on the method to achieve the texture and consistency desired. For the cream, I don’t like to use other than: mascarpone, a little sugar (and the usual pinch of salt) and eggs. THAT’S IT! I’m not implying that adding heavy cream is wrong, I just prefer not to mask the flavour of the mascarpone itself.
But…I will say that please NO cream cheese, no philadelphia for tiramisú. Cream cheese is fantastic for cheesecakes, but not comparable to mascarpone for this dessert. Some time ago I worked in a well-known restaurant and was horrified that we had to make tiramisú foam (with an Isi siphon) with cream cheese! (to cut down costs, I guess?!). I find it ridiculous, specially if you are charging for it, but that’s another story…so back to tiramisú, I think only mascarpone should be used. Sadly not all mascarpones are the same neither, I’ve tried many that not only differ in taste but they have too high a fat content that splits as soon as it is mixed with other ingredients!…leaving you with a curdled looking cream! If that happens, I’ll tell you further down how to fix it, but it’s best to find a brand you like and works well! Easy to say, yet not so easy to get!
Anyway, below are two alternative methods to obtaining a rich, creamy and tasty tiramisù with the same ingredients (this is like one haircut for various styles! ehem..don’t mind me!), I suggest you try both to see which you like best. I first learnt that the classic proportions are: one egg, separated, and one tablespoon of sugar for each 100g of mascarpone. I find that to be too much white, too airy for me rather than creamy, so I’ve cut down on the amount of egg altogether and use 2 eggs for 250g of mascarpone.
As I said,in one method yolks are beaten with the sugar until a pale cream is obtained and that is mixed in with the mascarpone, and then the almost stiff whites are folded in. This yields a richer texture, very creamy but holds slightly worse the shape if to be unmolded or cut to be served. The other method just incorporates the yolks to the worked mascarpone (to avoid any lumps), up to half of the sugar can be dissolved in the yolks first if desired, and then the whites are beaten to stiff peaks with all or half of the sugar to stabilise them and create a finer texture and are then folded in. This latter gives a creamy tiramisú also, but slightly firmer to maintain it’s shape.
Like I said, try both and decide which you prefer, maybe it will depend on how you want to serve it! For individual glasses the beaten yolks one might be better (I’ve even seen some recipes, like the fantastic blog Delicious Days, that do not add any whites to yield a richer, creamier mix)and for a large or individual moulds you may prefer to use the other! Ah, also there’s a recipe for savoiardi (ladyfingers), it’s one of the best I’ve tried, but I still prefer to get the savoiardi vicenzovo by Vicenzi. They are by far the best I have tried.

Heavenly tiramisù and savoiardi
enough for 6 small glasses or one 24cm round mold or one 20cm square pan
For the savoiardi:

3 eggs, separated
100g of sugar (20g+80g)*
90g of cake flour (or about 70g of all purpose+20g corn or potato starch)
pinch of salt
drop of lemon juice or pinch of cream of tartar (to stabilise the meringue)
some caster sugar to dust the tops (about 40g)
*you can substitute a tbsp for vanilla sugar or add some essence
For the tiramisù cream:
250g of italian mascarpone cheese
2 L eggs, separated for method 1) and 3L ones for method 2) where just one white is needed
50g sugar, caster if using method 1)
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar of a few drops of lemon (for the whites)
For the coffee, to soak the biscuits:
about 250g-300g of strong coffee (expresso, ideally)
sugar to taste (not too sweet as the savoiardi are sweet themselves)
a drizzle of amaretto or kalhua or marsala
Either cocoa powder or dark chocolate (grated) for the layers and top
*For method 1) you will use both yolks and whites of 2 eggs, whereas for method 2) which beats the yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy, a total of 3 yolks are needed plus only 1 white (it could even do without, if you prefer a denser texture)

Start preparing the savoiardi if you haven’t bought them. The tricky part here is just to be extra careful when mixing the whipped ingredients to keep all that air in! Otherwise, if you are not beating by hand, it’s fairly simple.
First beat the yolks with at least half of the sugar or the 20g noted (and the pinch of salt) until all the sugar is completely dissolved and you get a pale, creamy consistency leaving a trace as it is lifted up. It will take a while, so be patient.
Then, beat the whites until they start getting soft peaks and then add the lemon juice or cream of tartar and start incorporating the rest of the sugar slowly until it is dissolved completely and you get firm peaks
Fold in the yolk mixture into the meringue and then fold in the sifted flour (and starch if using). This is the crucial step, as if you are not super careful, you’ll loose the structure and the ladyfingers won’t hold their shape.
Here’s how it should look like..
Place in a piping bag, I don’t use a tip as I use a disposable one and cut them as big as I like… Pipe the savoiardi on a tray with a parchment paper, they should be about 10cm long and 2 or 3 wide.
Sift some of the caster sugar over each savoiardi and let it soak in.
Sprinkle some more, a thin layer though, otherwise it may caramelise rather than form the shiny crackling layer we want, and place in a 165ºC preheated oven (if fan assisted, a bit higher, about 180ºC if not) for about 15 minutes. If you see they are getting colour unevenly, turn around after about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and check that they come off the parchment well, as if they are still stuck, they need more time. you want them a soft golden colour and not dry.
You see the little bits of sugar, that’s from the extra sugar, if you don’t want them, just let it be absorbed after the second dusting before loading the tray into the oven.
Savoiardi may smell eggy just after being done, while still warm, but I think it soaks up coffee for this dessert like no other biscuit and stays super soft! The Vicenzovo I mentioned (I wonder how they are done! Still haven’t got there) are super soft, soak up liquids extremely well AND hold their shape, whereas the homemade version seem to almost melt (which is great for tiramisù, though as you want nothing to interfere with that fantastic creaminess!).
Time to make your super charged coffee. I find that the stronger the coffee the better the result! When I make it I use less water per amount of coffee so it is concentrated (so no american coffee for this ;) ). Then I add the liquour of choice, the most traditional is amaretto, but if I want plain coffee flavour I just add kalhua and…this is important: the coffee should taste like coffee and lightly flavoured with the alcohol you choose (it’s like a seasoning) you don’t want to inhale the alcohol!!!! I have tried some tiramisùs that cannot even be tasted from the excess of liquor! Unless that is precisely what you like, I suggest you are careful with how much you use, a tablespoon of these sugared ones is probably enough and a bit more won’t do much harm (though the amaretto has a stronger taste) but be careful with other stronger liqueurs like brandy or rhum! Just thought I had to warn you as I think it may spoil the fine balance!Here are my favourites…
At last well make the cream. The first for any method is to soften the mascarpone, just work it lightly, but enough to make it malleable, so no lumps will form when we mix the rest of ingredients.
I’d forgotten to mention how to fix it if it splits. Like I said before, some mascarpones are so high in fat content that may split as they are worked or when the yolks or cream of yolks is added. If this happens as it is stirred (before incorporating anything) add a drop of heavy cream and blend it with a hand blender ( not with the whip attachment) and should probably come back together, as a split mayonnaise would. If it happens as the yolks are added, try blending them as well, no need to add any cream unless you see it’s not working, in which case add a bit.
Basically it’s an emulsion of fat in liquid, but when there’s too much fat it splits, and the way to fix it is by adding a bit more liquid (like mayonnaise, holandaise or spanish pil pil…recipe still to come). Hope this makes sense, if there’s any doubt, let me know.
If you can get hold of this brand: Ambrosi, it is by far the best mascarpone I have tried! Never splits, always perfectly smooth and creamy!
Then, the two methods side by side, the first column shows method 1 and the 2nd column, method two. So, for 1, you either mix some sugar, CASTER for this method is best (less than half, about 20g) in the yolks until dissolved and then mix that with the mascarpone or as shown in the 2nd photo, just add in the yolks into the mascarpone and work until smooth, that’s what I often do, to use all the sugar to stabilise the meringue.
Whereas for the 2nd method , beat the yolks with 30g or 40g of the sugar (most people use all of the sugar here, but I again, prefer to leave some to stabilise the foam from the whites). When creamy and pale, fold into the mascarpone and if the mascarpone is good if you continue whisking a bit, you’ll see it thicken, gain a denser texture.
Then, beat the whites with all the sugar for method 1 or with the remaining 10g for method 2 (with a pinch of cream of tartar, if possible, or a few drops of lemon juice to prevent it from getting grainy).
And then for either way, just fold in the whites carefully to keep it airy to either mixture and you’ll get a heavenly cream like this:
Do you see that texture? Airy, light, but sooo creamy!
Ready to assemble it? Choose what you prefer: an individual small glass, or a bowl, or to make individual little cakes or a large one from which to cut the portions (spring-form pans are great for this)…
Then, on whichever lay a layer of coffee-soaked savoiardi. I like mine fairly juicy, though not bleeding the coffee out, so I dip in each and lift up to remove excess coffee, then lay it.  For instance for a cake or individual ones…
Or if you want the individual ones higher than your rings width, cut a strip of parchment and wet the inner side of the rings so the parchment sticks and then build your tiramisù (with PVC strip there’d be no need for so many rings, so if you can afford it, get a small roll).
Anyway, whatever you choose, after the first layer of biscuits lay one of cream, if you are making one large tiramisú, use less than half your mascarpone mix (I like to use smaller moulds for any given recipe, so the cream layer is thicker…even if I have to spare some savoiardi!).
Now,  either after this first mascarpone layer or before it, so it mixes in with the biscuits, if you like, and I totally encourage it, grate a fine layer of chocolate or sift some cocoa powder, it just intensifies the overall mocha flavour!
Then, some more soaked biscuits and then the last cream layer, I like this one to be higher, that’s why I always use more for this second layer. And now time to rest after wrapping it in cling film or placing the glasses in a tupper-ware so it doesn’t absorb any fridge flavours!! It is crucial that it gets time to set, at least 2, but ideally overnight, it really tastes better!
At long last, time to enjoy!! Only when ready to serve grate chocolate or sprinkle  sifted cocoa powder over the top layer, otherwise and specially bad for the cocoa, it will get wet and lose its velvety appearance!
Here with the touch of cocoa in between!
For the individual molds, it’s best to do it before unmolding…
It’s sooo soft!This one is made with the yolks added in without beating…
This one with them whipped until pale and creamy…
Which do you think you’ll like best? Whichever one, I hope you enjoy it!! Buon appetito!!!
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October 3, 2010

Gravlax…translucent cured salmon with dill & mustard sauce


When I was a kid, before my “teen” years there were quite a few things I disliked (before that I ate almost anything!)… “you’ll see when you learn to like it…how you will regret it!” my parents used to tell me after frustrated attempts to get me to eat them. But one of the things I remember I loved, strangely, was raw cured salmon: “marinated salmon” my mom referred to it. She used to make a lovely simple mustard and dill sauce to accompany and I would devour it whenever she made it! I think it was mostly on festive times, she’d buy a whole salmon and make it, and in a few days, it was all gone!


At some point when I began to cook, she taught me how to make it…and though I’ve tried various other ways, I still prefer the way she taught me: the sugar:salt ratio to cure it, the procedure and…the contrasting sweet mustard & dill sauce! Most scandivian recipes for gravlax (that’s how it’s called in sweeden. We used to call it “gravadlax”, I guess misspell of the danish name  of the dish “Graved laks” ) use a 1:1 sugar:salt ratio, or even a 2:1, but after trying both, I prefer the slightly salted 1:2 ratio, so you can play around to find which you like best! I wanted to make some blinis to accompany it, but I haven’t really had much time lately, so I leave you with the mains: gravlax and the side-sauce! Enjoy!


Gravlax and sweet mustard & dill sauce

For the salmon, I used:

1,5 kg of clean fresh salmon

300g granulated sugar

600g coarse sea salt

~1tbsp of whole black peppercorns

a few sprigs of fresh dill

a good drizzle of vodka (optional)

For the mustard sauce:

50g of american-type mustard (not dijon or bavarian)

10-15g of agave syrup (you can substitute to taste with sugar or honey)

pinch of salt

freshly ground pepper

some chopped fresh (or dried) dill

~1-2 tbsp of mild extra virgin olive oil

optional: a drizzle of lemon or white wine vinegar

This time I picked a fairly generous transversal cut of a whole large salmon, which I then separated into it’s two fillets. You can choose the amount of salmon you like, even just a fillet works out well. The skin I always leave intact, with the scales…I actually don’t think removing them would make much of a difference, as even if they make the skin less permeable, the salmon still cures from the flesh side. Independently of whether you fillet it yourself or get it done, make sure that with pliers or tweezers you remove any pin bones down the centre of the flesh. You’ll feel them if you press slightly down with your fingers.


Anyway, I never really measure the amount of salt & sugar relative to the weight of the fish, I just make sure I have enough of the mix to cover the skin. I know that before this curing technique was more of a conservation method, thus more salt mixture was needed to cure it, whereas now it’s more about the texture and flavour and I could get by with less mix per kg. But I still prefer to make sure it covers the fish well, and then depending on the thickness I just make sure I remove it before it gets overly dry and even salted.

So, I choose a tupper or pyrex with sides that will fit the fillets (if both sides are used, they’ll be placed over each other) and sprinkle a bit of the sugar:salt mix, which like I’ve said I like it being 2 parts salt to 1 of sugar, but you may prefer the more subtle flavour of 1:1 ratio. If you have two fillets, you can try one with each to see which you prefer.


Then I place one of the fillets skin side down over the salt mix and lightly crush the black pepper with a pestle and season both fillets.


Then, I place some dill sprigs to flavour the salmon. More flavourings can be used, you can improvise with orange rind or juniper berries or even some coriander. But I love the plain traditional flavour of dill here.


Now, generously cover this bottom fillet with the salt mix and then drizzle lightly with some vodka (some people use gin, but I prefer the more neutral flavour of vodka). I was once adviced to try the orange or mandarin vodka, but I still haven’t tried it. Ah, no need to use the best vodka on the house, a cheap brand will do!


Then, place the other fill over that one, skin side up but turned around, that is, the thicker part of the fillet over the thinner one of the bottom one, so both together make a flat surface. Does it make sense? Ah, and if you just have one fillet, you stop there, obviously!;)


Does it show here?


Then, cover with some more salt mix. As I said at the beginning, I begin mixing some salt with half it’s weigh of sugar, if I’m short of it, I just mix some more…


Finally, I wrap it up well and place a flat surface that is at least the size of the fillets and place some weight over them. like another tupper with some cans in or a tray with milk tetra bricks…anything that will fit it your fridge! The weighing down is not a must, you can actually cure without it, but I find it goes quicker and more even this way.


If it’s not too hot outside, it’s best to leave it for at least an hour before placing in the fridge so the sugar&salt mix begin extracting the salmon juices out. In fact at a restaurant we used the same procedure to cure duck breasts before smoking them, and they were left 12 hours at room temperature (well-covered with the curing mix, though).

I check after about 12 hours…If the fillets are thin, it may even be ready. You will tell from the even translucent colour of the flesh, if not, I turn both fillets over, that is, I grab both together and place the top one on the bottom and bottom one on top…

12 more hours…check again…If not ready, turn over again. These very thick ones took 36 hours to be to my taste…some people leave them up to 48 hours. But with this much curing mix and weighing them down usually less time is required or they can end up getting salty, not just cured and too dry! This actually happened to me once, the solution: as when you hydrate salted cod, I placed it in cool water to cover until it improved textured and removed excess salt. It’s best to avoid over-curing, but this fixes the mistake!

When you remove the cured salmon, you’ll find it it floats in a funny looking greasy liquid and much of the salt mix has been dissolved. This is all the extracted juices from the salmon. It will look a bit like this:


And each fillet like this…


Now, all you need to do is wash off the salt mix under running cold water  and remove the pepper if you don’t want it there (I like to leave some crakled bits) and dry each fillet very well.


That’s quite a bit for two, so to space it out in time I always make two fillets and freeze one. I would strongly advice you to rub the flesh of both, but specially the fillet you will freeze, with a thin layer of a mild flavoured olive oil (or any other neutral oil), as it keeps much, much better and protects the one in the fridge from absorbing any funny flavours and the frozen one from burning from the slow freezing (sadly we don’t have a nitrogen quick deep-freezing machine at home!). Then, obviously wrap very well in cling film and if possible place in a bag or tupper.

For the mustard sauce, simply place the mustard in a bowl, season it to taste with freshly ground pepper, the agave syrup, sugar or honey. Add chopped dill to taste (I’m fairly generous, though Linguini is not a fan of dill) and emulsify it adding slowly as you swirl in olive oil. If you feel it needs some more sour taste, add a drop of lemon juice or vinegar and that’s it!

To serve, slice the salmon as finely as possible…(to my taste, Linguini likes it thicker)


And serve with the sauce and some good bread!


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