Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tiramisu Pretty!

It's not easy to please everybody.

I mean, that's a given in life, right? No two people are exactly alike, different strokes for different folks, chacun a son gout, all of that. And while I can generally make a lot of people happy with my baking, sometimes I've really got to juggle things to make it work.

For instance, this week, both the Boss Man and my close co-worker She Who Brings Donuts (my Wonder Twin, if you will) have both celebrated birthdays. So I thought, why not bake a birthday cake for them to share so our whole department can enjoy?

Here's the trouble: She Who Brings Donuts has high cholesterol and isn't a huge fan of chocolate, whereas the Boss Man doesn't give a hoot about fat and cholesterol, likes chocolate, but doesn't mess with coffee or liqueurs.

Hmmmmm.

So, I started thinking about what local foods and flavors to feature in a special birthday dessert. The obvious choice, of course, was strawberries (which explains my purchase of yet another quart of the little treasures at the market over the weekend). And it struck me that a layer cake with some sort of cream filling would be the perfect canvas on which to paint a strawberry-strewn confection.

Enter my new favorite cookbook, the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. I found a recipe for a berry tiramisu that sounded too good to pass up, even if I might tweak it a little here and there.

Thanks to a cold front and thunderstorms passing through yesterday afternoon, I didn't mind firing up the oven to bake two layers of a whole wheat sponge cake while I drained a quart of lowfat organic vanilla yogurt for a filling (replacing the usual mascarpone and whipped cream fluff). I also changed the orange-infused sugar syrup for soaking the cake layers with a simple sugar syrup infused with lime juice and candied ginger, just for a hint of something more exotic.

Though I assembled most of the dessert before heading to bed last night, I finished it off with the final "frosting" of vanilla yogurt and strawberries just before our morning department meeting so as not to get anything smudged or messed up. The resulting dessert earned admiring sighs from our student assistants:


After everyone had their fill visually, I cut into the layers and served up small squares of creamy, syrupy decadence.


How can anyone resist such a sweet, charming little morsel? (Unless, of course, you're allergic to strawberries, which would be very sad, indeed.) She Who Brings Donuts was thrilled with the emphasis on low-fat and whole grains, the students loved the preponderance of local and organic ingredients, and the Boss Man... well, the Boss Man just likes dessert.

As for me, I got the leftovers. Darn.

Guess I managed to make everyone happy yet again!

Strawberry Tiramisu

The original recipe, Fresh Berry Tiramisu, comes from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book, and I'm sure it's wonderful, but I just didn't really feel like tracking down mascarpone cheese or having extra whipping cream on hand. (Normally, sure, but not in this heat!) Being a lazy sort at heart, I simplified things somewhat, and though I took a couple of shortcuts, the results were still pretty amazingly good. I think I may come back to this recipe periodically and try other variations...

Sponge Cake
1 1/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 T unsalted butter, softened
1 c sugar (I used organic cane juice crystals)
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease two 9" square baking pans or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and almond extract and beat until well blended. Add dry ingredients in three additions, folding flour mixture into batter just until incorporated.

Spread batter in baking pans, smoothing out with a small spatula. (These won't be thick.) Bake for 20-25 minutes, until middle is set and springs back when you press it lightly. Set pans on cooling rack and run a knife around the edges to loosen. Allow to cool completely in the pan.

Lime Syrup

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
juice and peel of one lime
2 slices of candied ginger

Combine all syrup ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar dissolves. Once sugar is incorporated and syrup has simmered briefly, remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Filling and Topping

1 qt lowfat vanilla yogurt, strained through muslin to remove whey
1 qt fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

To assemble the cake, decide which cake layer is larger and leave it in the pan (or remove it, peel off parchment, and return to pan). Brush or smear gently with half of the lime syrup so that the syrup soaks into the cake. Top with a layer of berry halves, then coat with at least half of the yogurt. Remove the other cake layer from its pan with care and set it atop the cake. (Peel off the parchment if using.) Brush with remaining syrup. Frost with remaining yogurt and decorate with as many berries as you like.

Serves 9 to 16, depending on how large you cut the squares

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