Archive for category Dessert

Maple Brown Butter Crispy Treats

Rice Krispie treats are for summer. I mean, sure, you can make them any time, but some desserts are just designed for summer. They’re light (so you don’t feel quite as wrong putting on a bathing suit after having one). They’re quick and simple (the sun sets late in summer, leaving less time to make dessert). They leave the oven off and only use the stove for a moment (so you don’t boil alive just from making dessert if you’re living in the South in mid-August).

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So you may be wondering why I’m writing about them on a rather chilly evening in February. Maple syrup, folks. Any dessert can be made to suit cooler months with  maple syrup and a little nutmeg.

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I’ve seen people try to tweak Rice Krispie treats before. I’ve seen red velvet ones and Nutella ones and a lovely Dulce de Leche version brought to parties. Inevitably, people try them. The comments tend to include phrases like “how unique!” or “I never would have thought of that!” but no one goes back for seconds, and eventually someone will just admit what they’re all thinking: “It’s not quite the same as I remember. ”

So knowing that, why would I try yet another version? First of all, it’s winter. Regular Rice Krispie treats aren’t right for winter. Secondly, it’s Deb’s fault. (Can I just start saying that about everything from now on? Okay, thanks.)

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This recipe is adapted from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Go buy it already. Yes, it’s that good. Her version isn’t maple flavored and contains no nutmeg, but there’s browned butter in hers and the combination of all three is what really makes these treats perfect.

Ingredients (makes an 8×8 pan, about 16 servings)

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1 stick (8 T) butter

1/4 cup maple syrup (grade B if you can find it)

1/2 t nutmeg

pinch salt

1 10-oz bag marshmallows

6 cups Rice Krispies

Directions

Place the butter in a large pot over medium heat.

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Melt it.

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Keep it on the burner. It will froth and begin to brown. Once it starts to smell a bit nutty and reaches a rich amber color, remove the pot from heat.

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Add the maple syrup. It will bubble like mad.

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Add marshmallows. Stir them in until they melt. This is faster with the mini mallows, but use any kind you like.

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Add salt and nutmeg and fold them into the marshmallow mixture as well.

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Pour on the cereal and fold it into the marshmallow mixture until it’s all thoroughly coated.

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Press the treats into a buttered 8×8 pan.

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Let them cool and set for at least an hour or so. Cut into squares and serve.

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I don’t mean to brag*, but these treats? People went back for seconds. And thirds. And demanded the recipe. there may have been gushing. Not a bad result for a 5-ingredient dessert made in 10 minutes.

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*Okay, that’s a lie. Totally bragging.  Seriously though, look at this nutmeggy close-up. You can’t stay mad.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s New Year’s Eve. I’m in New Orleans. There’s a huge shindig down in Jackson Square, at least two masquerade balls, and I have no doubt that Bourbon Street is in full swing. Closer to home, I hear fireworks, and at least one of the bars in walking distance is having some kind of event.

Also a drive-through daiquiri place, because apparently we're classy like that around here.

Of course there’s more than one bar within walking distance of my apartment. There’s also a drive-through daiquiri place up the street, just in case you need a daiquiri while driving, I guess.

This city takes its holidays seriously, enough that even I feel like I might be missing out on something by staying in tonight. I mean, a masquerade? How do you pass that up? Especially given that I own a lovely venetian mask which I never have occasion to wear. But honestly, it’s a relief. There’s no need to caffeinate to keep energy up until midnight, no crowd of party-goers to shout over. And if I’d gone to a masked ball, I’d have missed out on and evening lounging on the couch in purple argyle socks, watching Blade Runner and eating seared duck and couscous.

Ma

I concede that a formal masked ball may well serve duck, but is likely to frown on the purple socks.

On an unrelated note, I made chocolate chip cookies during the insane holiday baking spree a couple of weeks ago. I never make chocolate chip cookies. Really. This is the second time since high school that it’s happened. But after all this time, I still remember exactly how it’s done.

Apparently making these cookies is like riding a bike. Even after almost ten years, muscle memory just kicks in.

Apparently making these cookies is like riding a bike. Even after almost ten years, muscle memory just kicks in.

Ingredients (makes 2 dozen)

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16 T (2 sticks) butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 T vanilla extract

2  eggs

2 1/4 cups flour

1 1/2 t baking soda

1 1/2 t salt

1/2 t nutmeg

3 chocolate bars, preferably all different

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cream butter in a mixer. Add sugars and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.

Forgot to take a picture with the sugar. oops.

Forgot to take a picture with the sugar. oops.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix just to combine.

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Add flour, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg, and mix again to combine.

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Chop the chocolate bars. The size of the chunks is really up to you. I prefer them about 1 cm².

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Add the chopped chocolate to the batter. . .

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. . .and fold it in.

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Then just drop the batter in about 1 1/2 tablespoon blobs onto parchment lined cookie sheets. I don’t measure. I just estimate blobs to approximately the size of a golf ball.

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Bake at 375°F for 10-12 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven, add a small pinch of kosher salt to the whole batch. It sounds crazy, I know, but just go with it. Salt is delicious.

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These ones spread a bit too much. That’s okay. Ugly cookies are my specialty.

If you’re baking cookies to ship halfway across the country, do not attempt to get them bagged and shipped five minutes after they come out of the oven, even if the post office is closing in twenty minutes. You will get chocolate everywhere.

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Don’t tell the recipient of your cookies if you used a nonstandard flavor of chocolate bar, either. It’s amusing to hear about an office arguing over whether the hint of flavor in the cookies is orange or coffee. It was coffee, incidentally. Coffee goes with nutmeg. If I were using orange peel or orange oil, I’d swap the nutmeg with anise and then never ever share the cookies because that combination is amazing.

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Happy new year!

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Lemon Cookies

Last week I made cookies.

I don’t mean I made a batch of cookies last week, or two, or even three. I mean that last week, aside from the hours spent at the local food bank, all I did was bake cookies. Cookies to give to friends here, cookies for Mr. Blackbird’s lab, cookies to ship across the country. And still I’m not done. I have about three batches to send to Texas after Christmas, a few to bake today to bring to Florida, and I really should bake a batch for the lovely friend who’s feeding the cats while we’re gone.

If I’ve ever said that there’s no such thing as too many cookies, I take it back. I’m not going to want to see another cookie until after Passover. Or at least tomorrow when I get bored and hungry during the twelve-hour drive home.

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These cookies are adapted from Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri, which is bizarre for several reasons. First of all, I don’t own this cookbook. I don’t own any specifically healthy cookbooks. Secondly, long ago I had a copy of Cookies Unlimited by the same author, and I swear not a single recipe that I tried from that book came out well. But a year or so ago, a friend on a low-cholesterol diet asked if I could make healthy lemon cookies. I said no (cookies aren’t healthy, guys) but that I would try to find a recipe that wasn’t quite as guilt-inducing as most. This one has half the butter of your average cookie recipe, and uses only the white of the egg.

Don’t let that scare you off, though. These cookies are amazing. They’re moderately lemony, about two steps above lemon pound cake but still well below lemon bars. If you want to kick up the lemon flavor, a simple glaze of lemon juice, cream cheese, and powdered sugar would go nicely, or you could just brush the tops with a little lemon juice when they come out of the oven. Their texture is spongy enough to absorb it.

Best of all, they put an assertive citrus flavor (the most virtuous of all dessert flavors) into a cookie form. This means that I could ship them to my lemon-addicted friend in Dallas without the hassle of shipping lemon bars or lime pie or any other nonsense that requires chilling.

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Ingredients (makes about 24 cookies)

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4 T unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg white

1/4 cup lemon juice

zest of one lemon (optional)

1 1/3 cups  flour

1/2 t baking powder

1/4 t salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together.

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Add the egg white, lemon juice, and zest if using and mix well.

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Sift in the flour, baking powder, and salt.

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Fold the batter just until it comes together.

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Drop batter in scant tablespoons onto parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies will be very pale, especially if you ran out of fresh lemons before baking and therefore didn’t use any lemon zest.

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Apple Moonshine Blondies

The hardest thing for me to get used to in New Orleans is one of the things I like most about it. But I also hate it. It’s ridiculous.

See, I’m not a people person. I’m shy, and awkward, and really really don’t know how to handle it when strangers strike up conversations out of the blue.

Everyone is just so darn nice here. They all want to talk. They’re friendly. They actually wait, looking interested in your answer, after saying “hi, how are you?” I just want to run away and hide in the produce department until they’ve all gone. Maybe I could live there, among the collard greens.

Feeding people is a way to show that I care without actually having to interact with anyone.

My first visit to the local grocery store involved no fewer than four conversations with strangers. While I was just shopping quietly. First a lovely older gentleman asked me whether “that green stuff” I’d just put in my cart was kale. It was not. It was collard greens. Two pounds of them. Don’t judge me. At any rate, I took a few minutes to show the man to the kale, tell him how to cook it, and nod while he complained about his wife making him buy this crap she saw on “that food channel on the TV.” Okay, fine. I’ve got all day to shop, and food is a more than comfortable topic for me. I was even cheerful at the end of it.

Baked goods: a sound method for reducing anxiety

So I moved on from produce. And as I picked up some  soy sauce a teenaged girl in a hoodie came up and said “Hey, what are you having for dinner tonight?”

Huh?

Surely she’s just mistaken me for someone she knows, I thought. But she looked so expectant. “Sorry, me?” I asked.

“Yeah. I don’t know what to make. Give me some ideas. My name’s Sam, by the way.”

“Um. I’m making tacos.” She looked pointedly at the soy sauce. “This is for tomorrow. Teriyaki chicken.”

This was followed by ten minutes of explaining and writing down how to make teriyaki. Again, this is in the middle of an aisle of the grocery store. By this point I was seriously befuddled. I don’t know what I would have done without my grocery list.

Moonshine: an even more reliable way to become more gregarious

The third conversation was expected, at least. It’s normal for customers and clerks to chat in order to avoid awkward silences during check out.

Still. She took one look at my driver’s license and said “You ain’t from Dallas.”

“Excuse me?”

“Dallas. That’s not where you’re from originally. You’re a small town girl. I can tell.”

It’s true, actually, though my small town in South Florida has gotten pretty big since I’ve moved away. At this point, I’d surpassed my ability to converse with strangers for the day. I had a ton of groceries, which seemed like a good excuse to go home.

Unfortunately, I had a ton of groceries. Unfortunately, everyone around here is unreasonably nice. So a random guy in the parking lot offered to help me load my car. While talking nonstop about football. (Thanks for the help, random guy, but to be honest I wasn’t even sure what sport the Saints played until halfway through that conversation*. Sorry.)

Yup, sounds good right about now.

So basically, everyone here is very friendly and it’s very nice and I just want to hide in my apartment alone and talk to people on the Internet like God intended from now on. And bake blondies. With liquor in them. Everything’s better with moonshine, right?

Ingredients (makes an 8×8″ pan of bars, about 12-16 servings)

1 stick/8 T/ 1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 T apple flavored moonshine. Or Goldschlager. Or just a nice bourbon.

1 C flour

1/2 t baking soda

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

1 T cinnamon

2 apples (I used a gala and a Braeburn, because that’s what was in the apartment)

1 C butterscotch chips (substitute nuts if you like. My way is less healthy, but way tastier.)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the butter and sugars in a mixing bowl.

Cream them well and add an egg.

Add moonshine, too. Mix just to combine.

Add the flour, leavenings, salt, and cinnamon. Mix just to combine.

Peel and chop your apples. (If Arctic Apples get put on the market, you’ll be able to do this ahead of time without them browning. I want to play with this feature.)

Add the apple bits and butterscotch chips (or nuts, if using)

Fold them into the batter.

Butter an 8×8″ pan and spread the batter evenly into it.

Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes. These are easier to cut once they’ve cooled, but it’s hard to wait that long.

They are ooey-gooey, tasty, apple-filled delights. Serve alone, or with a shot of moonshine (no, grandma, I’m not an alcoholic. The flavors are complementary.), or the very best way, with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Devour.

*The Saints do play football, right? I hope so, because otherwise I made an ass of myself in that convesation.

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Passover Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve made these cookies before. So even though I made an unprecedented change this year (less brown sugar) I wasn’t planning on posting them again. Then I got home from work today and found out just how much my husband loved them. Just how willing he was to try to find a way around the rule I made after he ate five whole cookies last night. Two cookies a day, I told him. A day starts at midnight, I added, in case he was prepared to eat infinite cookies in the night. (He was.)

If you have no interest in table top roleplaying,  or just can’t read his handwriting, that is a character sheet. Listing his cookie-eating abilities and their effects. There is a power which permits a great cookie devouring at the last instant of 11:59 PM.

He’s being rather ominous about what happens when he levels up. Which, given his level as written, is always and to infinity.

I ran out of brown sugar, which turned out to be a blessing. Replacing some of it with granulated sugar gave the cookies a little more cohesion. They spread less, and taste more like regular cookies, and less like molasses crossed with peanut butter fudge (also delicious. Just sayin’.).

Ingredients 

2 C peanut butter (I used Jif creamy, as usual. If you’re eschewing corn syrup for Passover or just generally, use a peanut butter without corn syrup.)

1 C packed dark brown sugar

1 C granulated sugar

1 1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1 T vanilla

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well. Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown. Do not overbake.

As they contain no animal products of any kind, these cookies are kosher with any meal. Or if, you’re my peanut-butter obsessed husband, for breakfast. They are chewy. They are rich. They taste like regular, made-with-leaven, floury, delightful cookies only with more peanut flavor than you can get in a cookie diluted with flour. Which, five days into Passover, is really all we want. Well, that, and for people at work to stop eating whole pizzas in front of us.

Happy Passover!

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More GMO Notes, and a Chocolate Caramel Coffee Tart

Do you see the little “Science!” label down there on the right? After you scroll down a bit, underneath all the tasty stuff?

Exhibit A: Tasty Stuff

Those scientists and science bloggers are working hard to make foods better, safer, and more understandable for everyone else. Recently, the good folks at Biofortified have explained, in very clear terms, why GM foods don’t have any more scary genes in them than any other foods you’ve ever eaten, since of course bacteria and viruses are already everywhere, and every time you eat anything you eat the little guys and all of their genes as well. And if you still think after my earlier discussion of the subject that GM foods lead to horizontal gene transfer and presumably plant-people? The GMO Pundit explains an article that shows that a happy little beetle managed to get a useful little bacteria gene all his own, without a GMO in sight.

I know this is a food blog, and I promised chocolate, so I’ll keep this short. Basically, if you cook, you use science. You don’t have to think in terms of chemistry when caramelizing sugar, because following the protocol recipe will get you results just the same. You don’t need to know the biological mechanisms of capsiacinoids to add the heat of chile to a dish. But I think at least knowing the information is out there– and that it’s available and understandable if you’re interested whether you did well in science in school or not– is important. And hey, it’s cool! Scientists are doing things with plants and nutrition that look straight out of science fiction, and it’s brilliant. Give it a quick peek, is all I’m saying.

So now we can get back to caramelizing sugar and melting chocolate and keeping that smell in your kitchen as long as possible.  Because caramel and chocolate go together like nothing else. Because coffee makes both caramel and chocolate taste better. And because everyone should have a chocolate tart recipe. So I adapted one from David Lebovitz. I removed the flour from his filling, as mine seemed thick enough without it and I want to be able to pour it into a gluten-free crust* if we have company with Celiac. The chocolate is a tad darker in mine as well, but offset by the slightly sweeter chocolate ovals used to decorate it. And the smell in the kitchen? I turned off all air circulation in the apartment just so we could breathe it a little longer. It’s sweet and complex and full of coffee. If we could bottle that smell, I could quit my day job and just sell chocolate-caramel-coffee scented candles because who doesn’t want a dozen of those?

Ingredients (Makes 1 9-inch tart; serves 10-12. Crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s sweet tart dough, filling adapted from David Lebovitz’ chocolate tart)

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 t salt

1 t vanilla

9 T butter

1 egg

For the filling:

1 cup sugar

6 oz. espresso

8 T (1/4 lb, 1 stick, 4 oz) butter

3 oz unsweetened chocolate

3 oz bittersweet (72% +) chocolate

2 eggs at room temperature

1 T vanilla extract

optional: for a bit of heat, add 1-3 t chile powder when you add the chocolate (how much you use depends on the heat of the powder you’re using; a pinch of Habañero powder goes a lot further than a whole teaspoon of Poblano).

Directions The crust comes first, of course. To prevent it being grainy, you’ll want to use superfine sugar. To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in the bowl of your food processor  and run it for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the flour and salt and pulse briefly to combine.

Add the butter and egg (and the vanilla, not shown).

Apparently I forgot to keep taking pictures of dough making, but if you’d find them helpful it’s just about the same dough as used way back here for a lemon-blueberry tart. Sorry about that. Pulse the dough in 2-3 second bursts until it comes together in a smooth ball. Chill the dough for two hours or more, then roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Line a buttered 9-inch tart pan with the dough, and line the prepared crust with buttered tin foil. Add pie weights and bake with foil and weights at 375°F for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake another 10 minutes to brown. Set aside the crust and turn the oven down to 350°F. Start the filling by caramelizing some sugar. Just pour a cup of sugar into a saucepan. . .

. . .and heat it up over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until you have thick, bubbly caramel.

Pour in the espresso and whisk vigorously to combine.

Try not to spill espresso all over the chocolate. Add the butter to the coffee-caramel mixture.

Whisk in the butter and add the chocolate.

Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Test the temperature of the mixture by dipping a spoon in it and tasting. If it’s scalding to the tongue, keep whisking until it’s merely pleasantly warm before adding your eggs. Unless of course you want scrambled eggs in you chocolate tart. When the mixture is not too hot, add the eggs.

Whisk the eggs in, giving the filling a lovely pudding-like texture, and pour it into the waiting tart shell.

Bake at 350°F for 20-22 minutes until the filling is just set but not dry or cracking. If you have any pretty chocolate pieces like these Valrhona fèves lying around, grab a handful for decorating the top. What can I say? I can’t resist the bulk chocolates at Central Market.

The texture is completely smooth, almost a warm pudding. The tart shell adds sweetness and a lovely crunch to the mixture, and the sweeter chocolates on top (only 53% cocoa) finished it out perfectly.

I didn’t cut into the tart warm, as it was a birthday tart for a co-worker and tradition dictates that the birthday boy or girl gets to cut the first slice, but I did re-heat a slice in the oven the next night and it was divine. Not that anyone complained at room temperature; there really is no comparison to a good chocolate tart.

Sadly, I can’t make or eat anything like this right now; I had my third molars removed this morning and am having a certain amount of difficulty with yogurt and mashed potatoes, let alone a delightful flaky-crisp tart shell. So eat one of these for me, okay?

* to make this a gluten-free pie or tart, simply use this filling and the gluten-free graham cracker crust found here, or any other GF crust that you like.

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Meyer Lemon Tiramisu

Meyer lemons only seem to appear here for a scant few weeks every year. When they do, I buy more than I can use and cook up a storm in hopes that the lemony goodness will last me until next winter. It never does, but that’s all right because there are sweet, delicious Meyer lemons right now.

As much as I love a traditional tiramisu, coffee and chocolate seem to make the dish a bit too rich for my taste. Replacing them with lemon removes any heaviness from the dish, replacing it with a tart freshness that acts as a perfect foil to the slight sweetness of the ladyfingers. A sprinkling of  lemon zest and shaved white chocolate provide a perfect finish.

Probably the best thing about tiramisu is how easy it is to make, and how mind-bogglingly impressed people are when you make one. I buy ladyfingers pre-made, because although they’re not difficult to make, getting the sides perfectly straight isn’t a trick I’ve mastered yet, and I have no complaints about the flavor of store bought cookies. I do use raw egg, which bothers some people, but if your eggs are fresh and clean the risk of Salmonella infection is minimal. If you prefer, you can use pasteurized eggs to remove the possibility entirely.

Other than an egg and some ladyfingers, all you need is marscapone,  a touch of sugar, the juice and zest of a Meyer (or regular, if you prefer) lemon, and a splash of vodka or limoncello.

Ingredients (makes a square three-layer tiramisu, serves two)

9 ladyfingers

8 oz Marscapone cheese

1 egg

2 T sugar

juice of one Meyer lemon, divided use

2 T vodka or limoncello

zest of one Meyer lemon

white chocolate shavings, to garnish

Directions

Measure out 2 T of lemon juice.

Combine the marscapone, egg yolk, sugar, and 2 T lemon juice, and 1 T of vodka in a mixing bowl.

Mix until uniform in color and texture.

Whip the egg white to stiff peaks. Scoop the egg white over the marscapone mixture.

Fold it in gently to incorporate.

Set the bowl aside and combine the rest of the lemon juice and the remaining 1 T of vodka in a shallow dish. Dip three ladyfingers in the mixture for about 2 seconds each side, being careful not to oversaturate. You’ll know it’s oversaturated if it crumbles in your hands. Arrange the three cookies on a serving plate.

Spread about 1/3 of the marscapone mixture over the three ladyfingers. Dip the next three, add them perpendicular to the first stack (this add structural stability, like in Jenga), then another 1/3 of the marscapone mixture, and finish with the rest of the ladyfingers and marscapone.

Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. Before serving, grate the zest of a Meyer lemon over the top of the tiramisu, and grate a bit of white chocolate over that.

The flavor is bright but not overwhelming. The lemon is present, but takes a backseat the the creaminess of marscapone and the delightful contrast of texture provided by the ladyfingers. If you want something simple and elegant for Valentines day, add a couple of raspberries for the obligatory pink color and you’re set for dessert. In any case, make this soon. It’s amazing.

 

 

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