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Fast Food My Way: Mock Tiramisù

Just when Jacques Pépin and I were getting along so well, Mock Tiramisù had to come along and shake my faith.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I'm not a huge fan of tiramisù to begin with. It always strikes me as a bit gloppy and boozy, and I can usually pass it up. This recipe in Fast Food My Way does nothing to change that opinion.

There are a few things wrong with this recipe, but the most important one has to do with the ladyfingers. If you're familiar with tiramisù, you know that it's a trifle-style dessert composed of layers of creamy mascarpone cheese (and eggs, and heavy cream, usually) and ladyfinger cookies or spongecake dipped in an espresso syrup that's flavored with some sort of liquor (brandy, rum, and Marsala all being common).

Most tiramisù recipes instruct the cook to dip the ladyfingers in the coffee syrup before layering them with the cream filling. In Pépin's recipe, before you begin any layering, the ladyfingers are laid in a single layer in a dish and then the coffee syrup is poured over the top. Now, ladyfingers are used interchangeably with spongecake in tiramisù because of their sponge-like nature. Can you see where I'm headed with this? Yeah...because the cookies were allowed to lie soaking in the syrup, rather than being briefly dipped in the syrup, they became sodden masses of crumbs, rather than cohesive cookies. I had to use a spatula to transfer them to the trifle dish, and the weight of the mascarpone filling on top of them squeezed out the excess syrup, so that when I came back to try the tiramisù after it had rested for an hour in the refrigerator, I found the dessert swimming in about 3/4 of a cup of coffee syrup. That's not what tiramisù is supposed to look like. I've revised Pépin's recipe so that instead of soaking in an excess of liquid, the cookies are instead briefly dipped in the syrup. They just need to be flavored, not dissolved.

What's "mock" about this tiramisù? There are many recipes for this Italian custard trifle, and they nearly all call for some sort of egg element to be mixed with the mascarpone. Sometimes the eggs are cooked like a custard or zabaglione, and sometimes the whites are whipped up like a meringue. But there are no eggs in Pépin's recipe, hence the "mock" designation. He uses sour cream to lighten up the mascarpone, instead of eggs and/or heavy cream. The filling is tasty, and I think that it's a successful shortcut.

I found the tiramisù to be too strongly flavored with the rum, but that's a matter of personal preference. If the boozy zing is part of what you love about tiramisù, then use the full 2 Tbsp of rum. If you'd rather the liquor were more subtle, try using only 1 Tbsp.

Tiramisù will never be one of my favorites, but with the revisions I've made, it's a pretty tasty dessert. Dipping the ladyfingers, rather than soaking, ensures that they hold their shape while still adding a nice coffee-and-rum flavor to the dish. And the "mock" cream filling is yummy. If you're a tiramisù fan, definitely give this one a try. It's satisfying, and not nearly as time-consuming to prepare as a standard recipe.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooling Time: at least 1 hour
Yield: about 4 servings

Cream Filling
1 cup (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup strong brewed coffee
1 to 2 Tbsp dark rum
1 Tbsp sugar

3 or 3.5 oz. package of ladyfingers
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

For the filling: Put the mascarpone, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl and mix gently with a whisk until smooth.

For the syrup: In another bowl, combine the coffee, rum, and sugar.

Spread about one quarter of the cream filling over the bottom of a 3- to 4-cup-capacity tall, narrow glass bowl or baking dish (a trifle dish is perfect for this). Dip the ladyfingers, one third at a time, into the coffee syrup and then arrange them on top of the cream. Spoon over another one quarter of the cream and add another one third of the ladyfingers, dipping just before placing them atop the cream. Repeat with another one quarter of the cream, and the remaining ladyfingers. Spread the remaining cream on top. Smooth the surface and sprinkle with the cocoa powder. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.



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