Robi’s Tiramisu’ Cake

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***Unlike traditional tiramisu, this is effectively a cake that can be sliced and served on a plate showing neat layers; also, I use Pan di Spagna instead of sponge fingers and the cream is firmed up with the addition of a small quantity of gelatine***

Basic Techniques needed:
Italian Meringue
Creme Anglaise (Light Pouring Custard)
Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge base)

Tiramisu’ is a very popular Italian pudding, made out of layers of Savoiardi (Italian sponge fingers) dipped in Espresso coffee and a cream of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese.It is delicious although very indulgent, and probably the first dessert I learnt to make, partly due to its simplicity and partly to the fact that is one of the few desserts that I have always really enjoyed. However, I have not made a normal Tiramisu’ for years, for a very simple reason: the original recipe requires raw eggs, which happen to be a highly hazardous food.

I did not know it until I started making some research on food hygiene, and discovering that came  as a bit of shock, because it made my beloved pudding something potentially dangerous.
This is the reason why I started to think about ways to make Tiramisu’ safe but keeping its character and flavour intact, and the result is the recipe that you are about to read.

I won’t give you a detailed description of traditional Tiramisu’ as it is something you can find everywhere and writing it will not give any added value in my opinion. It is enough to know that the cream is made by separating the whites and the yolks, the yolks are beaten with the mascarpone whilst the whites are beaten with the sugar to make a basic meringue; the two are then mixed together. Raw like I said, so a potential vehicle for dangerous bacteria.
Fortunately I did not have to reinvent the wheel because there are some existing techniques the allow us to cook the yolks and the whites still keeping the original character of the cream. So, after a bit of thinking, trial and error, I found my way round: I replaced the normal meringue with an Italian Meringue , and instead of beating the raw yolks with the mascarpone, I made a Creme Anglaise (Light Pouring Custard), to which I add some gelatine so that the cake can hold its shape.
Furthermore, I gave my personal twist by using a chocolate & coffee Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge base) instead of sponge fingers.

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INGREDIENTS (serves 8 people)
For the sponge:
4 eggs
10 g instant coffee
120 g white sugar
40 g plain flour
40 g cornstarch
20 g cocoa powder
400 ml freshly brewed Espresso coffee

For the cream:
500 g mascarpone
4 eggs
250 g white sugar
200 ml whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
2 gelatine leaves

100 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa mass), finely grated
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SPONGE BASE (see Pan di Spagna (Italian sponge base) for details)

Preheat the oven to 180 C
Sift the flour, cornstarch and cocoa powder and mix them well together
Whisk the eggs, instant coffee and sugar to ribbon stage
Gently fold the flour into the egg mixture
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes

ITALIAN MERINGUE (see Italian Meringue for details)

Put the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan
Attach the sugar thermometer to the pan and bring it to the boil, brushing the sides
When the caramel reaches 110 C, start whisking the egg whites, and whisk until stiff
When the caramel reaches 121 C, slowly pour it on the eggs whites, whisking on high speed until it is incorporated
Whisk on low speed to bring the meringue to room temperature

CREME ANGLAISE (see Creme Anglaise (Light Pouring Custard) for details)

Before starting, soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water until soft (warm water will make it dissolve).
Heat the milk and add the vanilla extract if using it
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until white and fluffy
Slowly pour the hot milk on the yolks, whisking
Put the mixture back in the pan and gently heat until thick (the cream should coat a wooden spoon)
Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add them to the pan and take off the heat. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved
Let it cool down before using it

Now that all the components are ready, you can assemble the cake:

For the cream:

  • Beat the mascarpone until soft, then add the custard and keep beating until incorporated. You can use a wooden spoon or the paddle attachment if using a planetary mixer
  • Add 1/3 of the meringue and beat vigorously to incorporate
  • Gently fold the cream obtained into the remaining 2/3 of meringue

For the sponge layers:

  • Slice the Pan di Spagna quite thin (between 5mm and 1 cm)
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  • Arrange the layers on the bottom of the tray:
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  • Pour the coffee over the sponge. I use a squeeze bottle for speed and consistency:
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  • Pour the cream over the sponge base and spread to make a uniform layer:
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  • Repeat the operation to make another layer

To finish it off, sprinkle the top with the grated dark chocolate

Italian Meringue

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A meringue is a preparation made out of egg white whipped with sugar, and can be used as a base or an ingredient in several recipes.
There are different types of meringue: the simplest method is the so-call French meringue, where the eggs whites are simply whipped with caster sugar until stiff. This meringue can then be baked to make, for instance, nests.
A good rule when making a meringue is that the weight of the sugar should be twice the weight of the egg whites, or, if you don’t want to weigh the whites, 60 grams of sugar per white is a good approximation

The method I will talk about now is the most complex, but also the one that will give you the most stable, glossy and thick result: the Italian meringue.
This is a cooked meringue and will need a sugar thermometer because it is made with a light caramel that needs to be at 121 C to be added to the egg whites.
It requires a lot of whisking and is a bit of hard work, unless you have a planetary mixer.

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INGREDIENTS
Egg whites
White sugar (60 g per egg white, or twice the weight of the whites)
Glucose (optional)

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:
Sugar thermometer
Silicon Brush
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This is the whole process:

  1. Put the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan, add just enough water to cover and add the glucose if using
  2. Attach the thermometer to the side of the pan and bring the syrup to the boil
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  3. Brush the sides of the pan with a silicon brush dipped in water, to prevent the sugar crystals from sticking and then burn
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  4. When the syrup has reached 110 C, start whisking the eggs with an electric mixer or in the planetary, and whisk until stiff peaks form
  5. When the syrup reaches 121 C, slowly pour it on the whites, whisking on high speed until all the syrup has been incorporated. Be careful that the stream of caramel does not hit the whisk or it might splatter, and caramel gives nasty burns!. You will see that the egg whites grow in volume and become glossy and shiny
  6. Keep whisking on low speed until the meringue is at room temperature (about 10 minutes)

This meringue is much more stable than an ordinary one and can be stored in the fridge, in an airtight container, for up to two days; furthermore, as the hot sugar will cook the egg whites, it can be safely eaten without further cooking.

Creme Anglaise (Light Pouring Custard)

Custard, in common language, indicates a series of egg-based creams, that can have different degrees of thickness and can be prepared using different aromas.

Thicker custards are prepared with the addition of starch (flour or corn flour usually) and, in that case, they should be called pastry cream (creme patissiere in French).

Strictly speaking, custard refers to what the French call Creme Anglaise (English cream), which is what I am going to explain: now we will see the process to create the most basic light pouring custard, using only egg yolks, sugar, milk and vanilla. The ingredients can then be changed to suit our specific needs (replacing the milk, or part of it, with cream to make it richer, or using another aroma instead of vanilla for example), but mastering this process you will get consistent results whatever ingredients you have chosen

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Ingredients:

Egg yolks
Caster sugar
Milk
Vanilla Pod
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  1. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrap the seeds that are inside using a teaspoon
  2. Add the vanilla seeds to the milk and heat it up
  3. As you are heating the milk, whisk the yolks and sugar together using a hand or and electric whisk until the mixture looks pale and fluffy
  4. Add the hot milk to the yolk and sugar mixture, little by little, stirring constantly to incorporate the milk
  5. When all the milk has been added, put it back in the pan and heat gently, stirring continuously
  6. The custard is ready when it covers the back of a wooden spoon (if you check the temperature using a probe, it should be 63C, which is also the temperature that will  kill all the harmful bacteria that might be in the egg)
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That was a very synthetic way to put it, that might be useful for somebody who already knows how to do it and needs a quick reminder, but that information would not be sufficient for a novice, therefore I’m adding some more info and tips to ensure that the process is understood in depth.

Regarding the vanilla pod, it is quite expensive, so, alternatively, you can use vanilla extract, even though the result will not be exactly the same.

TIP: do not discard the pod after scraping the seeds: if you put it in a jar with plain sugar, you will obtain a vanilla-scented sugar.

Be very careful when you pour the milk into the mixture: if you pour it all at once, the heat will cook the yolks and they will scramble. Pour it very slowly, at least at the beginning, whisking continuously to make sure that the hot milk is dispersed quickly into the mixture; keep whisking until all the milk has been incorporated.

Instead of returning it to the pan, the (still) uncooked cream can be cooked in a bain-marie (a bowl placed over a pan of hot water). This is what I actually suggest if you are inexperienced, as it is a bit more time consuming but reduces the risk of scrambling the eggs. This is how you should do it:

  • Heat the water in the pan, making sure it doesn’t boil
  • Make sure that there is no direct contact between the hot water and the bowl
  • I suggest that you use a metal bowl rather than a glass or ceramic one, since metal is a much better conductor of heat and your custard will be ready more quickly
  • I know I’m repeating myself, but stir it continuously until it’s ready and you can take it off the heat