Where is that Beach Ball?

I don’t remember if I mentioned before when I went on my mini road trip to Miami, but my Cuban brethren love Italian  food. It was, to say the least, frustrating. Especially when all I wanted to do was stuff my gullet with pastelitos and Cuban sandwiches. Although I understand that variation in the diet is desirable, when you grew up with a certain kind of cuisine, and Italian food provided them with something that was perilously lacking: cheese. Ooey-gooey, salty, creamy, stringy, marvelous cheese.

Who wouldn’t be seduced by the American-Italian concoctions that capitalize on the stuff? Even native Italians can’t get enough. So, it went that for father’s day, I would cook an Italian feast: Lobster Fra Diavolo, homemade oregano bread, roasted broccoli and tiramisu.

The Fra Diavolo scarred me in ways I shan’t recall here. *shudder*

But the tiramisu was a journey back to the times when chefs couldn’t rely on store-bought anything. Or electricity.

I decided to make everything from scratch (well…everything that I reasonably could, given time constraints), beginning with the lady finger. Yes. It was a single finger. Albeit the size of a jellyroll pan. Rather than dig through old culinary school recipes to find the cloud-like sponge we made in class, I used this recipe. Not bad; but way too much flour. And since I’ve been on a stricter-follow-the-recipe-no-matter-what kind of mood, I decided to trust it. The flavor was a little eggy, but I suppose that should be expected when making sponges. The texture was a bit chewy; but it ended up working fine after it was soaked in caffeine and booze (connote: everything is better when soaked in coffee and booze.) The sponge was made with the creature comforts of the modern-day kitchen, because I did it the night before I left home for the beach house.

But when I stepped into the “other” kitchen, shit got real.

I don’t know about you, friend, but I tend to gloss over things that may present kinks in otherwise good plans. “I’ll work through it”, “I’ll get around it”, “I’ll survive”. “I can make tiramisu without an electric mixer”…

Good thing I’ve been training.

The recipe I used called for four separate beatings: (Sounds kind of like a torture regimen. Which it was.) the yolks and sugar, the yolks and sugar with the mascarpone, the cream, and the whites. And I trucked through all of them. By arm. (Notice: not by hand. My hands did nothing to assist my poor abused arms except hold the whisk in place)

On the upside (because there’s always an upside on this blog): Guns. I has them. Oh, and the beach ball was *this* big and it’s over *that* way.

I felt like a wo-man afterward. Like the chefs of yor (what is “yor”?). Like a champ. I beat those eggs, cream and cheese into submission. And I felt a satisfaction deeper than the usual feeling I get after I’ve successfully baked something. Because I did this with me-power. Nothing else could share in my glory.

You should try it sometime. You know I’m always talking about balance? Here you go: 12-minute arm sculpt workout and tiramisu. Boom.


1 lb Mascarpone cheese, room temperature

6 yolks

5 whites (use the remaining white for post-tiramisu-making muscle-replenishing meal. You’ll need it)

3/4 cup Sugar

1 1/2 cups Heavy cream

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1/2 cup Coffee

1/2 cup Rum (you’ll not use all of this mixture for the tiramisu. Your welcome.)

Lady fingers (recipe follows)

1. In a bowl over simmering water, beat the yolks and sugar for 4-5 minutes, or until most of the sugar has dissolved, and the mixture is thick, satiny and pale yellow. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

2. In another bowl, beat the whites until stiff peaks. Set aside.

3. In a third bowl, beat the cream until stiff peaks. Tired yet? Oh. You’re using a mixer? Pansy.

4. Add the mascarpone to the yolk mixture in 1/3-1/2-cup additions, beating until smooth after each addition. Add the vanilla and salt.

5. Fold a cup of the whipped cream into the yolk mixture until  no streaks remain, then fold in the rest.

6. Before the last whipped cream streak is gone, add a cup of the whipped whites and fold in until few streaks remain.

7. Add the remaining whites and fold until fully incorporated. Be careful not to go too fold-happy. Although if you’ve beaten by hand up to this point, your arms muscles may not allow for such unnecessary movement.

8. Combine the coffee and rum in a vessel with a spout.

9. In a suitable container, layer half of the lady finger, coffee mixture (to soak thoroughly) and half of the cream mixture (or enough to measure an inch thickness)

10. Repeat, cover and chill for a couple of hours.

Lady Fingers

4 eggs, separated

2/3 cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar, divided

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon Salt

1/2 teaspoon Baking soda

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees, and butter, then line a standard jellyroll pan with parchment.

2. Beat the yolks and 2/3 cup of the sugar until satiny and pale (in a mixer with a whisk attachment–about 3-4 minutes). Add the vanilla.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the whites until foamy, then add the 2 tablespoons of sugar slowly and beat until satiny and stiff-peaked.

4. Combine the flour, soda and salt, then add to the yolk mixture and fold.

5. Before the flour is completely incorporated, add the whites and fold to combine.

6. Bake for about 8 minutes, or until browned and springy.


4 thoughts on “Where is that Beach Ball?

  1. I’ve always wanted to try making my own tiramisu. but I’ve only come across recipes that take more than 24 hours. I was thrilled to see “a couple of hours” here… def gotta try this!

    • Huh. Really? Over 24 hours? I can’t imagine why. I can see that for a cheesecake, but here you could eat it right after you finished making it if you wished. The consistency does change after it’s been sitting for a bit, and the coffee/rum permeates a little more…but otherwise; not a big change. The sponge may take a bit to cool after you bake it, but that problem goes away if you use store-bought lady fingers. I suppose those “24-hour” people are really just sweet-tooth masochists with hidden adgendas.


  2. I must say, I’m quite impressed. I love to do things from scratch but I am a very simplistic ‘old southern style’ from scratch kind of person. Pound cake, cobblers, pies…very basics. I can’t always get a meringue to work with an electric mixer, I can only imagine the horrors of trying it by hand. Yikes! I’ve learned that a lot of my problem is that I’m impatient…reading directions requires way too much focus…..so anything more than a few steps at a time gets shoved to the ‘one day’ recipe file. I’m determined to begin making my own bread though….and from what I can gather this is something that requires quite a bit of patience…..dammit. But it will be done….I will get it…..one day.

    • Hey, man. Southern baking is not something to be chuckled at. I was fixated on it after I graduated-probably BECAUSE of its simplicity. The fact that such awesome goodness could come from so few steps and ingredients was alien to me. Patience I think comes from my love of delayed gratification. The greater the wait (most times…does not apply to doctor visits) the bigger the get. Like jell-o. God, I love jell-o. Anyway, when I first made my own bread in school, I can’t describe with any kind of accuracy the feeling you get when it comes out of the oven. It’s visceral. It’s like, “I just made this thing…that I thought you could only get pre-sliced at the grocery store. I made this.” And bread is the….bread and butter…(ugh. puneriffic) of human civilization. It’s part of what transitioned us from hunter-gatherers to farmers. So, I do hope you try your hand at it. I wish everybody made their own bread. The world would be a better place. Except the commercial bread companies.

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