Monday, 28 February 2011

Green tea tiramisu

Spinach-green and weirdly excellent. It’d be tricky and anxious-making to have to decide which I like better out of this variation or the espresso-choc classic. It’s not pretty, and the flavour is unusual and somehow dusty, yet good. And matcha isn’t lying about just anywhere. I went to a tea seller on eBay for that, and had to wait for it to come from China. But worth it overall. I took this into work and am not sure how it went down, but the end of day the dish was cleaned and sitting in the kitchen waiting to be taken home.

Despite my trials with Maida Heatter's ladyfingers, I think these gave the tiramisu the vanilla-ey, tasty biscuit edge. It’ll be hard to go back to the substanceless Unibic.

Recipes for green tea tiramisu abound online. I’ve seen them include everything from sambuca to cream instead of mascarpone. I cobbled together my own rough guide based on quantities of liquid for the traditional sort, which usually works when using commercial savoiardi, but was too much for these homemade ones. Recipe tweaked to work properly follows.

1 batch of Maida Heatter’s ladyfingers, or 250g packet savoiardi
1 tablespoon green tea (matcha) powder, plus more for sprinkling over later
½ cup caster sugar
3–5 separated eggs, depending on size of dish. To err on the side of excess and find some cream left over is no bad thing.
250g mascarpone

Heat ¾ cup water either on the stove in a small saucepan, or in the microwave in a cup or jug. Dissolve ¼ cup of the sugar, then whisk in 1 tablespoon green tea powder. Put aside to cool.

Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until pale yellow. Here’s where it’s ideal to haul someone away from their lesser pursuits and into the kitchen to add globs of mascarpone to the yolk mixture while you keep beating it, or vice versa. Very difficult to wrangle thick mascarpone with one hand.

Meanwhile, that other pair of hands, the KitchenAid, can be employed beating the egg whites to firm peaks. (I shall rhapsodise on the KitchenAid another fine day, because I have been converted and brainwashed and am in thrall to a shiny kitchen object I once derided as unnecessary and ostentatious.) If you’re bereft of both faithful servant and handy machine, just do it in sequence with the egg whites last.

Take a spatula-clump of stiff egg white and stir it into the egg yolk mixture to loosen. Then gently fold in the remainder, trying not to knock out too much of the aeratedness of the egg white. Resist getting rid of all traces of white fluff, though as a completist I find this hard.

Back briefly to the waiting green tea syrup. Some people are dippers, some are pourers. I’m habitually the former, my preferred technique being to transfer the liquid into a shallow pasta bowl and briefly turn two savoiardi at once in it before laying side-by-side in the dish. Well, that all changed with these structurally unsound homemade efforts – pouring over a layer of the dry biscuits was the way to go. 

Once half the biscuits, sodden with half the syrup, line the dish (which in my case was a 7"x9" lasagna dish), blob on and spread over half the mascarpone mixture. Repeat the process with the biscuits, then spread over the final layer of mascarpone.

Stretch cling wrap firmly over the dish, trying to make as little contact with the mascarpone as possible. It’s good to refrigerate overnight, or at least for a good few hours before serving – give the biscuits a chance to soften and the flavours to amalgamate. Unlike the cocoa dusting of traditional tiramisu, don’t sift over the remaining matcha powder until serving – that way, it’s offered up as a slightly more attractive bright green rather than darkening with the moisture.

One last thing – if you find you’re left with a small amount of concentrated green-tea syrup, don’t knock it back in one gulp like I did if you're shortly to go to bed. You may as well drink espresso for all the sleep you’ll get afterwards. Wired. 

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

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

Introducing Maida

Here is what has lately been occupying much of my rare spare time, stolen time from other duties, and hours normally allocated to sleeping. 

I first met Ms Heatter a couple of months ago when I came across a reference to her Weinerstübe cookies on some blog or other. My sparrow-like interest was piqued by her use of black pepper, and thanks to and the strong Australian dollar, one thing led to another, and another, and, yes, duplicates. 

And have not yet delivered her Great Book of American Desserts or Brand-New Book of Great Cookies, so God knows where I’m supposed to fit all these.

There are no glossy photos in these books from the nineteen-seventies and eighties, only the occasional line-drawing. Nor are there allusions to sexy luscious quivering or lugs of olive oil, not that there’s anything wrong with Nigella or Jamie. Maida’s tone is more in the style of Dorie Greenspan’s: helpful and solicitous, and often likened by her devotees to that of a kindly great-aunt. Exactly the sort of company to keep in the wee small hours.

As a recurring insomniac, sometimes the only thing for it is to haul one’s weary bones and heat-oppress’d brain out of bed and bake something, then go back to bed and try again. Call me crazy, but it usually works. Some people swear by glasses of warm milk (bleurgh), others by resetting their circadian rhythms by exposing their wan faces to the first light of day. My way is baking, and who’s to say it’s any less scientific than the rest? It seems science doesn’t have a clue about sleep. Also, when I stagger into work on the late side due to sleeping through the alarm, I like to think that leaving a peace-offering in the kitchen goes some way towards forgiveness. At any rate, my colleagues put in the hard yards polishing off the efforts by mid-afternoon, for which I thank them.

Anyway, so I’m rapt to have discovered Maida. I would like to work systematically through one of her books as this dedicated and inspiring Monday blogger has done, but insomnia and my life generally is a bit all-over-the-place for such regularity. I’ve been taking a scattergun approach to her recipes and found them consistently reliable – any stuff-ups can be readily attributed to me and my oven.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dulce de leche in a can

Deary me, I seem to be creating a second post today instead of doing that passé composé revision. Zut. But I know my myriad readers will be clamouring for my promised pearls of wisdom on the controversial subject of how to make dulce de leche, so I find myself thus obligated. Here we go, mes enfants.

My usual googling before embarking on any enterprise reveals a lot of fearfulness out there on the matter of exploding cans of condensed milk. Verily I say unto thee, if ever a can were to explode, it would happen to moi. I attract disaster like my black clothes do cat hair. Yet I have never had an issue in this area. Not saying it can’t happen, and that the mess and possible injury wouldn’t be a true bummer, but it seems unlikely given due care. Apparently there’s a method involving baking a shallow dish in the oven for many hours, but that sounds like a sticky mess to me. Live on the edge!

Take the desired number of cans of condensed milk, full fat or nothing. If you need to go to the supermarket for it, why not grab a few at once ­– it’s as easy and resource-efficient to do several cans as one, and the unopened cans keep until you next need dulce de leche. Just another advantage of the can approach.

Also worth noting is that I have found no difference between Nestlé and Home Brand apart from a sixty-cent saving better in one’s own pocket than that of a multinational who likes to rip off dairy farmers and suchlike. Bah.

Rip off the labels and place cans in a suitably sized deep saucepan or, better yet, a pressure cooker.

For a saucepan, cover with water and a lid, then boil for four hours, topping up the water level with more hot water from the kettle if necessary. Legend has it that insufficient coverage is the culprit when it comes to explosions. Don't know the effect of pouring cold tap water onto hot cans, but it just sounds unwise somehow.

For a pressure cooker, bring the water level most of the way up the sides of the cans, allow to hiss away at low pressure for fifty minutes, and you’re done. I did four cans at once, a washcloth beneath them to avoid some of the rattling. Four fitted nicely and neatly in the pressure cooker, with little room left around them, yet surprisingly a couple managed to be on their sides at the end of it all. I took no photos of the process, as I didn’t have a blog this time yesterday. How things have changed...

For the curious, open up a can once cooled enough to handle, and you will find a deep golden delightfulness. If you’re not employing the dulce de leche straight away, scrape into a glass jar (do try not to cut your scraping finger on the edge of the can, for of course that’s what you’ll be using, non?) and stick in the fridge for safekeeping.

Spread all over your morning croissant, or, for that matter, your soft white TipTop.

Dulce de leche brownies

I love these brownies of David Lebovitz’s. Compared to macarons, they’re a walk in the park, and sometimes that’s what’s needed when one really sucks at French and needs to set aside precious Sunday time to study so as not to appear such a loser in class the next evening, and when one has suddenly taken it into one’s head to start a blog, the set-up of which has somehow eaten up most of the day. But I digress. I do that a lot. The whole thing making brownies, that is; back on track now   takes about ten minutes from start to oven, assuming one’s prepared several tins of dulce de leche earlier, as one ought to have done. I hold forth about such preparation in another post.

Contrary to how most posts to come will roll, this was not my first dulce de leche brownie encounter. That was last week, when I made a couple of batches one to take to my work, where they were assured of a warm reception, and the other dispatched with The Guitar Teacher to be left in his staffroom. TGT resisted, claiming it ‘wasn’t part of the culture’, but I pooh-poohed such silliness and he admitted they were all gone by day’s end, so I win.

First hitch came when I found that there was almost nothing left of the Droste I bought mere days ago. I figured half of a quarter-cup was close enough, and bumped up the flour and real chocolate quotient slightly. No harm seemed done.

(It’s only right to disclose I have started blogging this rainy Sunday due to the opportunity for inclusion of boldly cropped close-ups. Just want to try out the macro setting on my Pentax Kx, to be honest. Nothing else to see here. If I really get into the swing of this, French linen may be artfully crumpled in the near background. And yes, I’m aware that this pic may not be key to the procedure, thank you very much, but I bashed my right temple very hard on the corner of the cupboard while angling to take it, so here it is.)

Anyway. The ingredients are flung into a saucepan and melted and stirred together. No need to have the foresight to let cubes of butter come to room temperature of their own accord while trying to keep the cats from eating them.

The ingredients form a gloopy, glossy mess of impeccable rightness. Half is spread in a tin, globs of dulce du leche distributed on top, and the process repeated. I found it best not to mix too much beyond drawing a knife lightly up and down the pan a few times to streakify the caramel a bit – the integrity of the globs is worth a thousand tiny strands of golden almost indistinguishable from the surrounding brownie. I didn’t bother with the optional walnuts, feeling this to be a less-is-more thing. Walnuts’d only get in the way; they’d try to claim some of the stage rightfully occupied by the sticky chunks of caramelised condensed milk goo.

As usual with my quirky oven, the maximum recommended baking time still produced a central wobbliness more uncooked than sexy. Even though I’d bumped up the oven by ten degrees, and a thermometer supported the temperature. I may never discover why this is. 

Yeah, I cut the end off well before it cooled. What of it? The caramel did crack, and the brownie crumb may have been crushed, or squashed, or whatever is supposed to happen to it in such an event, but goddammit, it was high coffee time.