I think Tiramisu is one of those desserts that is either the best thing you’ve ever eaten, or one of the worst. I don’t know how so many restaurants manage to ruin it, but I do know that you will love today’s chocolate version! It is from one of Spago’s famous pastry chefs, Mary Bergin, and a sure winner in anyone’s book. Chocolate cake is layered with chocolate mascarpone and Kahlua and rum are thrown in for a little extra flavoring. Served in individual portions, this is a stunning dessert that will have everyone drooling!
Mary Bergen is a renowned pastry chef, having been with Wolfgang Puck’s Spago since the early eighties. She started her pastry career at Napa’s La Toque restaurant before heading to Los Angeles. In 1987 she became the head pastry chef at Spago where she designed desserts for their annual Oscar-night parties. In 1992 she helped launch Spago Las Vegas and runs the pastry department. She is part of the amazing team that has combined classical training with innovation to create the James Beard Award-winning Spago spirit. They continue to be among the world’s most popular restaurants.
Mary was one of the featured chefs to star with Julia Child on the series “Cooking with Master Chefs.” Her recipes have been featured on the Food Network, Good Morning America, and Baking with Julia. Today’s recipe is from her wonderful cookbook, “Spago Chocolate.” If you want to recreate some of Spago’s wonderful desserts, you can find recipes here. Varying in difficulty from simple to complex, Spago Chocolate features options for novice and accomplished cooks. Each recipe includes step-by-step instructions, taking nothing for granted. Mary says, “It is really important to me to know that when I give someone a recipe that they will be able to make it. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a recipe that doesn’t work and doesn’t look anything like the picture accompanying it. With a well-written recipe, three different people should end up with the same excellent results.”
To guarantee successful chocolate desserts, Mary advises cooks to use the best-quality chocolate available. For home cooks, she recommends Trader Joe’s pound plus (both bittersweet and milk chocolate) as a good bet for the price. And when it comes to melting chocolate, she says to be sure to use simmering, not boiling water in the double boiler. If the water is too hot you can scorch the chocolate.
Slightly more involved than normal tiramisu, today’s recipe is certainly worth the extra effort. While you have 3 separate components to prepare, once each is made, this dessert comes together very quickly and can be made ahead. It starts with a delicious chocolate chiffon cake. Very light and fluffy, chiffon cakes are made with whipped egg whites that you fold into the other ingredients, keeping as much of the air in them as possible. This yields a very delicate cake that is still intensely chocolaty.
The second component is a chocolate mascarpone cheese. If you have never tried mascarpone, now is the time! It is an Italian version of cream cheese, but incredibly smooth and silky, completely unlike our traditional cream cheese. In this case it combined with melted chocolate, Kahlua, rum, and sugar to make a sweet, smooth chocolate cream.
If you make chocolate desserts often (and you probably are tempted to if you follow my blog, LOL) you know that you see coffee added to many recipes. Coffee enhances the flavors of chocolate, especially espresso. The liquid you use to moisten the cake is made from espresso and sugar, with some more Kahlua and rum added for fun. If you want to leave out the alcohol, you certainly can, but I like the nuances they add. This liquid adds another layer of flavor to the tiramisu and guarantees a moist, tender dessert.
This dessert is a chocoholic’s dream, especially if they also love coffee. For the ultimate combination, serve a shot of espresso alongside this tiramisu and your guests will think they have died and gone to heaven. Ethereally light cake combined with cloud-like chocolate cream will take anyone to another level and have them reevaluating their opinion of tiramisu. You may just get a standing ovation when you serve this – try it and let me know!
Happy Chocolate Monday!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you grate chocolate for garnishing, place it in the freezer for about 15 minutes to make sure it is firm. Use the coarse holes on a cheese grater set over a cold baking sheet and hold the block of chocolate with a clean kitchen towel so it doesn’t melt from the heat of your hand. Use a cold metal spatula to transfer the chocolate flakes to a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator until ready to garnish your desserts and use a spoon to sprinkle them over the top so they don’t melt!
Kitchen Skill: Turning out a Sheet Cake
Trying to handle a large, flat cake can be intimidating and it easily breaks if not supported. When the cake is cooled, set a clean sheet pan on top of it, with the bottom of second pan setting directly on top of the baked cake. Holding both pans together, quickly invert them, causing the cake to release from its pan. You can leave it on this surface to work with or if it still needs to cool, top with cooling rack(s) and re-invert.
- Chocolate Chiffon Cake
- 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 separated eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Chocolate Mascarpone Cream
- 21 oz mascarpone cheese
- 11-1/2 oz semisweet or milk chocolate, cut into small pieces
- 8 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp Kahlua
- 2 tbsp rum
- Soaking Liquid
- 4 cups espresso coffee, decaffeinated or regular
- 1-1/4 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tbsp Kahlua
- 3 tbsp rum
- Unsweetened cocoa, sifted, for decoration
- About 1/4 cup coarsely grated milk or semisweet chocolate or broken candy bars, such as Heath Bars, for garnish
- Make the Chiffon Cake: Grease and flour a half-sheet baking pan (a cookie sheet with sides). Line with parchment, allowing a couple of sides to extend beyond the edges if possible and grease or spray the paper with vegetable oil spray. Make a slit in each corner to help the paper ease into rounded corners. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sift together l cup sugar, the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In the large bowl of an electric mixer, with paddle or beaters, beat the egg yolks at high speed. Turn speed to low and pour in the oil, water and vanilla. Gradually add the sifted ingredients, and when almost incorporated, turn speed to medium, and beat until well combined. Remove bowl from machine.
- In another clean large bowl, with whisk attachment or beaters, whip the 6 egg whites until soft peaks form. Start on medium speed and raise speed as peaks begin to form. Gradually pour in the remaining l/2 cup sugar and whip until whites are shiny and firm but not stiff.
- With a rubber spatula, fold l/4 of the whites into the chocolate mixture, and then scrape the chocolate mixture back into the whites, quickly folding until completely incorporated.
- Scrape the mixture into prepared half-sheet pan and bake until edges of the cake pull away from the pan and a tester, gently inserted into the cake, comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes. Ovens and pans can vary so much, that it is better to judge the doneness more on the cake itself than the suggested time. For example, my oven runs cool, so every recipe takes about 5 to 8 minutes longer to cook than suggested. Set pan on a wire rack to cool.
- Make the Chocolate Mascarpone: In the large bowl of an electric mixer, using paddle or beaters, beat the mascarpone until fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl and under the beaters as necessary.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, set over simmering water, melt the chocolate. Set aside.
- In a large heatproof bowl, set over simmering water, whisk the egg yolks with l/4 cup sugar until sugar dissolved and mixture is hot to the touch.
- Remove yolks from heat and scrape into the mascarpone. On medium speed, beat just until combined. Lower speed, add the melted chocolate, and mix well.
- In a large bowl of the electric mixer, using the whip attachment, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Add the remaining l/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until shiny and firm but not stiff. Fold into the mascarpone mixture. Stir in the Kahlua and rum. Refrigerate until needed.
- Make the Soaking Liquid: In a small pot, combine all of the soaking liquid ingredients, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- Assemble the Tiramisu: Assemble your serving dishes on a flat work surface. Glass containers will show the beautiful layers; Pilsner glasses, parfait dishes and large martini glasses all work well.
- Using a round cookie or biscuit cutter the same size as the serving dishes you are using, cut out cake circles (remember to remove the parchment paper!). If you are using graduated dishes, you may need a few different sizes of circles.
- Using a ladle, place a small amount of chocolate mascarpone cream in the serving dish, dip a cake circle in the soaking liquid (squeeze out any excess) and place on top of the cream. Ladle more cream on top of the circle, place another soaked circle of cake and finish with a layer of cream.
- Repeat this with all of the dishes. Refrigerate for about an hour or until set. Before serving (this can be done ahead) garnish the tops with sifted cocoa and grated milk chocolate or use pieces of a broken candy bar. Serve at cool room temperature for best flavor.