Monday, 28 February 2011

Maida Heatter’s ladyfingers


Far superior to commercial ladyfingers; fragile, elegant, as light as air. 
(Maida Heatter’s Best Dessert Book Ever, pp257–8)

How I love the calming, repetitive act of piping. It’s just as well. This recipe for savoiardi was fun, but not the wildest success otherwise.

First up for your viewing pleasure, check out those babies – tray two yielded four golden, crisp, happy fingers.  


Tray one, however, holding four-fifths of the batch, suffered grievously from undercooking. I erroneously judged that they’d achieved the ‘light colour’ called for, especially since they’d long exceeded the 18 minutes suggested. It was a heartbreaking case of scraping them from the baking sheet as they clung and buckled and scrunched and broke.


These in truth were not elegant or light as air, but they made bought savoiardi taste like sawdust.

Since the book’s out of print, here’s the recipe, adapted only to Australianise and cut my usual corners (using baking paper for the tray rather than greasing foil, etc.) and leave the detailed explanation of how to prepare a piping bag with 2-inch cuff to those wise readers who avail themselves of the many copies going for a few bucks on abebooks.com.

1 cup plain flour, sifted
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ tablespoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup caster sugar
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 175 C and have a couple of trays ready lined with baking paper.

Beat the yolks in a small bowl with the vanilla.

Separately beat the whites with the salt on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and give it what-for until the whites hold a peak when the whisk is raised. Lower the speed to moderate and add the sugar a bit at a time, then give it high speed until the whites are stiff and beautifully glossy. (Here’s where I could have given you the usual lovely pic of a raised KitchenAid whisk coated in stark whiteness, but maybe next time.)

Add the yolks all in one go to the whites and fold ‘without being thorough about it’. In three stages, resift the flour (again) to add, folding gently with a spatula only to the point where you can’t see dry ingredients. The mixture will look a bit lumpy, but that’s okay.

Fill piping bag with a 5/8" opening (I just used the opening of my piping bag) and pipe fingers to about 1 inch wide and as long as suits your intended tiramisu dish. Allow about half an inch between them.

Sift over some icing sugar and bake for 15–18 minutes (huh – try more like 30 in my oven) until lightly coloured and feel dry and springy when pressed gently.

Can be frozen. If using for tiramisu or the like, do that the same day, or store in an airtight container for eating.

Maida suggests a Variation:
‘Chocolate ladyfingers? Yes. They are unusual and delicious.’
Substitute ¼ cup of the flour with Dutch process cocoa, and an optional 3 teaspoons instant coffee powder.

I’d be up for giving that a red-hot go next time I make normal coffee tiramisu. For now, gentle reader, these sorry results are to be cloaked and in part redeemed in the blessed disguise of a matcha version

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