I don’t like entertaining – not if it involves 3.2 trips to the grocery store, teetering piles of dishes, frantic, last-minute house cleaning and opening the door with food on my clothes.
If, however, I can do a little bit each day to get the house in shape, the food purchased and prepared as much ahead of schedule as possible, then I’m totally into the occasional dinner party. It’s the basic “Flylady” philosophy of taking baby steps so that you can fully enjoy yourself once your guests arrive.
Marla Cilley began the Flylady program (www.flylady.net) more than a decade ago and has more than a half-million users, including me. The basic principle is to tackle housework and cooking with small steps so you don’t get overwhelmed and give up. If you keep up with the baby steps, you work your way from chaos to peace and tranquility. Since starting her program I’m much more organized. Whenever I host a dinner party I feel her wise eyes peering over my shoulder, guiding me to select recipes which are not only delicious but can be made ahead – fuss-free.
Now that we’re entering the heart of the entertaining season, I am putting simple, yet impressive, desserts in my bag of tricks. One of the most “fly” desserts I can think of is Tiramisu. Cilley would love this popular Italian dessert because: 1. It is simple to throw together; and 2. Making it means you’ll never answer the door with food on your clothes because you have to make it at least 12 hours before you need it. Definitely fuss-free. Definitely fly.
After a hard day, tiramisu is easy. It’s the perfect dessert for fancy parties and casual get-togethers. Also, Tiramisu is glory on a spoon. Glory that you can scoop up at midnight, when no one is looking (as long as you don’t mind espresso at midnight).
Note: Please begin this recipe the night before you need it. If serving to children, you can swap out the espresso for hot cocoa. Finally, you can make caster sugar (a.k.a. superfine sugar) by putting regular granulated sugar in a coffee grinder or blender and pulsing until powdery but not caked.
4 eggs, separated – the freshest you can find
1/3 c. caster sugar
3 8-oz. containers marscapone cheese
40-60 lady fingers (Italian Savoiardi)
2 tsp. dark cocoa powder
For the dipping liquid:
(Note: Considering I like my tiramisu dry – not squishy and soggy – this makes a ton extra; feel free to cut it by half or more.)
2 c. water
3 tbsp. instant espresso
3 tbsp. rum
First, mix up the instant espresso with warm water and rum in a small bowl. Next, divide the egg whites and yolks into two separate bowls (the larger being for the yolks).
Whip up the egg whites with half the sugar, until the mixture looks like a soft cloud. Then – without washing the beaters – mix the rest of the sugar with softened marscapone and egg yolks. Softening the marscapone on the counter makes it whip up smoothly, so you don’t get lumps.
Next, fold the whipped egg whites into the marscapone mixture. Once it’s light and fluffy, get your trifle bowl out and begin layering the tiramisu.
To assemble, first put a layer of the whipped marscapone mixture into the bottom of your trifle bowl. Then add a layer of lady fingers – each lady finger gets dipped into the coffee mixture before going onto the tiramisu. You don’t want soggy tiramisu; I recommend kissing each side of the cookie to the surface of the espresso – that way the lady fingers soak up just enough espresso flavor, without making the tiramisu soggy. So, go ahead, let your cookies kiss the espresso.
Now, here’s another important lesson for you. If you aren’t careful when you layer the cookies they’ll taste good but they won’t show up on the outside of the glass. To make the outside look good, you’ll need to break the lady fingers in half, dip the cut end into the coffee mixture and press it against the glass, making a seal, so the custard doesn’t leak over it, hiding the cookie.
Keep alternating between a cookie layer and a marscapone layer, until the trifle bowl is filled. Finish with the marscapone mixture and a heavy dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder. Refrigerate overnight to let the flavors develop.
You’ll end up with the prettiest tiramisu trifle. And you’ll be able to go to bed with a smile, knowing you have nothing to do the next day but to enjoy yourself and your guests.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.