[Producer Jeffrey Chuang here. Today I’m pleased to introduce a guest post by our viewer and friend Bret M. Territo. In the channel comments, he had some wonderful input on tiramisu, so we’ve invited him to let us in on some of his ideas. Outside of culinary interests, Bret has earned a Master’s Degree in Veterinary Medicine at LSU and has worked as a sheriff’s deputy, firefighter, bomb disposal technician, an EMT, and most recently as a bodyguard for a judge.]
“Where I’m from you have drive north to get to what most people call ‘South Louisiana'” says Bret. Born in a small town on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Bret learned to cook at an early age. “South Louisiana is all about food” he says. “It’s a means of survival, a pastime, a hobby, a religion…it’s a language and if you want to communicate you have to be able to cook.”
My name is Bret M. Territo and I’ve been invited by Chef Tony and his staff to address a common difficulty that many face when attempting to make tiramisu at home. I prepare tiramisu at least once per week, and my hobby is experimenting with different variations of this wonderful creation. Chef Tony once commented to me that tiramisu is “high art” and “incomparable” when done correctly. This is so very true in that one needs the proper ingredients if one wishes to achieve culinary perfection. But on occasion one or more ingredients will be unavailable or of poor quality and substitutions will have to be made-hence the “almost perfect” in the title. Please understand that while substitutions will result in a slightly different end product, it will still be wonderful! Great, but different.
Let’s begin by looking at some tiramisu ingredients that on occasion may be difficult to find. Your first option for any ingredient is to ask your grocery store to order the product for you. If they can’t or won’t, try another one. I suspect that you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Of course this may not be an option in some less developed parts of the world and for those locations I will suggest other options.
One ingredient which may be difficult to find is savoiardi. In the US (and elsewhere) savoiardi is known as “Lady Fingers.” These delicious cookies (biscuits) are similar to a baguette in that they have a firm crunchy outside and a softer chewy interior-perfect for tiramisu! As with everything else, including a spouse, savoiardi can be ordered over the Internet. But you don’t know what you’ll receive and you could end up with a mess of flaky debris. So I recommend against ordering Lady Fingers (or a spouse) through the World Wide Web. Your best option is to make your own. Recipes abound and all ingredients are readily available. Someone even manufactures (or used to) a specific Lady Fingers baking pan. A last option is to simply use an alternate cookie/biscuit. I have found that products made with puff pastry work well. I’ve used Sfogliatine on several occasions with very good results. I’ve seen genoise and various types of sponge cakes used with varying degrees of success. Using cake is really getting away from the whole tiramisu “idea” but if it’s all you have…
People do ask if they can substitute standard coffee for espresso and I tend to discourage the practice. Espresso is really easy to make at home with an inexpensive stovetop espresso maker or you can do what I do: use instant espresso. I personally can not tell the difference between brewed espresso tiramisu or instant espresso tiramisu. The one problem that I personally have experienced is that instant espresso is surprisingly difficult to find in my area!
Selection of alcohol is another common subject area for questions. The following is a list of alcohol types I have personally used: dry Marsala, sweet Marsala, Moscato, ruby port (bad idea), tawney port, white port (the good stuff, not the swill sold at the corner stop-and-rob), brut Champagne, sec Champagne, brut sparkling wine, Proseco, cognac, brandy, dark rum, kirschwasser, Maraschino liqueur, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Zabaglione liqueur, Godiva chocolate liqueur, Godiva white chocolate liqueur, calvados, coffee liqueur, amaretto, Disaronno, Nocello, Navan (very good but they quit importing it into my home state!), Pernod, and Sambuca. I’ve heard of someone using bourbon but don’t know if it works. I want to try Pastis.
[Producer’s note: Or if for whatever reason, you want to leave any alcohol out, then by all means.]
Now, I saved the biggest problem for last-Mascarpone cheese. This used to be rare but is now in virtually every supermarket I frequent. Nonetheless many aspiring pastry chefs have to make due with something else. I used to recommend not substituting and prepare something else but realized that the end result will be good even though it’s “imperfect tiramisu.” In much of the world your grocer can order this for you. You can also order this on the Internet but with exorbitant shipping costs.
Another little explored option: make it yourself. I fully intend to begin making my own ricotta and Mascarpone before the end of this year. It’s simple to make as cheese goes-no special equipment is needed and there is no strict temperature control or long aging times in the process. It can be “set” with a simple acid byproduct of winemaking or you can go for a higher quality product and purchase starter cultures. Mascarpone is an incredibly versatile cheese and can be served with fruit, spread on bakery products, and used to make sauces. So it is worthwhile to make it even in relatively rural, undeveloped areas.
When all other options are exhausted, you’re going to have to mix a substitute. Before I continue with the recipe I want to suggest that you do everything possible short of a felony to get some real Mascarpone cheese. You really should know what it’s supposed to taste like before you start trying to “fine-tune” a replacement.
Once you know what Mascarpone looks, feels, smells, and tastes like you’re ready to counterfeit a batch. To replace 500 grams Mascarpone (this is for one “standard” tiramisu recipe using 5-6 egg yolks) you’ll need 450 grams (1 lb.) cream cheese. In the US it will probably be one brand regardless of where you live. I’ve even seen it in a store in the Canadian sub-arctic.
[Producer’s note: Bret suggests using ‘whipped’ cream cheese to get the smoothest texture possible. Regular cream cheese will work too, but it’s much harder to get the lumps out. In the demo photos you see here, I used half whipped, half regular. I like the density of the regular, so I split the difference.]
As with Mascarpone you want it at room temperature to work with…it’s impossible to work with brick-hard cheese regardless of type. You don’t want dairy products at room temperature any longer than necessary nor do you want to repeatedly warm-chill-warm-chill cycle. Leave everything in its original packaging while you’re warming it to room temp. Also, have everything else ready before you start this step: Have your yolks/sugar/alcohol mixture cooked to ribbon stage and cooled to room temperature. Prepare your espresso/sugar/vanilla/alcohol solution and have the first layer of Savoiardi wetted and in the bottom of the pan. Have the cream or egg whites and sugar whipped and in the refrigerator.
You will also need 125 ml. (1/2 cup) heavy cream or heavy whipping cream of about 36% milk fat. You will need about 80 grams (a tiny bit more than 1/3 cup…closer to 5 tablespoons) of sour cream TO START. Make sure you stir the sour cream thoroughly before you remove it from its original container for weighing/measuring. Sour cream that’s been sitting in a cold case will often separate over time and you might notice a thin layer of liquid on the surface of the sour cream when you open it after it’s been warmed. Again, stir to recombine before using it. Last you might require some very fine sea salt.
Using a stainless bowl and spatula thoroughly combine the cream and sour cream.
Start incorporating the cream cheese a little at a time…NOT all at once. Thoroughly incorporate one piece before adding more or you’ll end up with a lumpy mess. Once you’ve finished force the mixture through a medium mesh strainer. Regardless of how careful you were there will probably be a few lumps of unincorporated cheese especially if it’s too cold.
When you are done taste your handiwork. Even though all the cream cheese will be pretty much the same the sour cream will probably be a product of a local dairy. The “tartness” will vary and you might find it necessary to add a little more sour cream to the mix. You may also need to add a little salt but it’s unlikely.
Now that you have a suitable “faux” mascarpone, you can go ahead with the rest of the tiramisu recipe. The video instructions as per Chef Tony can be found right here. and the blog recap of the recipe is right here. Happy Eating!
Bret M. Territo
Sent from my iPhone