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The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

In my ongoing and valiant efforts to catch up on all The Daring Kitchen challenges I’ve missed over the past year, I now bring you the February 2010 challenge presented by Aparna and Deeba, two most enthusiastic Daring Bakers. They chose the Italian dessert Tiramisu as the challenge.

Tiramisu, literally translated, means pick-me-up and in theory, it isn’t the most complex of desserts. However, when your hostesses challenge you to make all the components from scratch, including the mascarpone, well, let’s just say it changes things.

Yes. You read that correctly. The Daring Bakers are now also cheesemakers, among other things.

Even though my background is Italian, tiramisu is not my favourite. It’s not that I don’t like it – how could one not possibly like such a creamy, boozy dessert that packs a coffee-kick to boot?

It’s just that growing up, tiramisu became the ubiquitous dessert. Every birthday, every family dinner, every baptism, every confirmation, every wedding party dinner and just about everything else inevitably showcased a tiramisu.

To make matters worse, in the 80s and early 90s, mascarpone was not the easiest ingredient to find in Toronto. And even when you did find it, it was ridiculously expensive, moreso than it is even today. As a result, people (and I’m ashamed to admit some of my own family members) resorted to some very strange mascarpone substitutions the worst of which was fake “whipped cream”.

Ugh.

I prefer not to think of those horrible days! Happily, we have all seemed to move on and on the few occasions when we do make Tiramisu, it’s mascarpone all the way.

Over the years, I have shared my family’s Tiramisu recipe with numerous people and it remains my standard for the dessert.

However, Aparna and Deeba laid down the gauntlet and in the spirit of the Daring Bakers, I accepted the challenge.

There were two elements to this challenge that really intrigued me and that I enjoyed tremendously, even though I wasn’t all that successful with them.

The first element was the recipe for homemade mascarpone. I would have never attempted this on my own but Aparna and Deeba pointed everyone to a post on the blog Baking Obsession that belongs to Vera, a most talented baker. Even if you don’t make the mascarpone, you have to visit her site to see how beautiful her creations are!

The making of homemade mascarpone involves heavy cream, heated to a certain temperature, and the addition of lemon juice. The mixture is then allowed to drain in the refrigerator for a period of time after which you should end up with a thickened cream that is, in essence, a form of mascarpone.

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My lack of patience reared its ugly head again and I did not allow my cream to heat to the right temperature before I added the lemon juice. I’m not sure what the issue was but after more than 40 minutes in the double boiler, my cream seemed to stop heating up. Finally I got so tired I mixed in the lemon juice and proceeded with the recipe.

My end product was delicious, but not nearly as thick as it should have been. Still, though, I wasn’t complaining. It was so good that we could all just imagine eating it in the summer over fresh berries. I cannot wait to try it again!

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The second element of the challenge that I found most intriguing was the making of the savoiardi biscuits. Savoiardi (often referred to as Ladyfinger cookies) are an Italian biscuit that form the base of Tiramisu. However, savoiardi are quite popular beyond this dessert and are used for many other sweets and are also enjoyed on their own.

I have never actually made savoiardi so I was more than pleased to try them.

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Like the mascarpone, things didn’t go perfectly for me. I’m not sure if I didn’t whip my egg whites enough but the biscuits didn’t quite rise as much as they should have. Still, though, the cookies were delicious and I can’t wait to try them again.

The rest of the challenge was quite involved. We had to make a zabaglione and a pastry cream, as well as prepare the espresso and whip up some cream to finish off the filling.

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The end result was a very detailed dessert with lots of components. It was delicious, but also a lot of work. In Tiramisu’ world, this to me was the equivalent of a “supermodel” Tiramisu. For a very special event, I would consider trying it again, but for a Tiramisu’ fix, I’d probably stick with my family’s recipe.

For me, what distinguished this challenge was the unabashed enthusiasm displayed by Aparna and Deeba. They were the very embodiment of the spirit of The Daring Bakers. They cut no corners and pushed everyone. I have to admit sometimes I get a little lazy with these challenges, but not this time. Faced with the efforts that Aparna and Deeba displayed I could not, in good conscience, do anything but my very best.

Ladies, I thank you for being an example to us all and picking me up for an awesome challenge!

Ciao!

For a copy of the challenge recipe, click here.