Translated from the Italian, tiramisu means "pick-me-up" - which, now that I'm writing it, I realize might be the best name ever for a date-night dessert. It has layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers and a mix of mascarpone and egg-yolk custard; it's covered with cocoa powder; and it's served cold. Sometimes alcohol is involved. No matter the version, it's always soft and creamy and rich, rich, very rich.
Tiramisu is not on regular rotation casa me, but I saw a couple sharing the dessert recently in one of my favorite wine bars and I couldn't get it out of my mind. Oddly - well, it was odd for me - I had mascarpone in the house, but not enough eggs to make the classic, which is how the accompanying recipe came to be an eggless dessert.
It also became a chocolate dessert because it could, which is one of those joys of being the cook: You're the boss. As soon as I started making the espresso for the ladyfinger-soak, I started thinking about mocha; then mochaccino; and then mochamisu.
In my rendition, you've got a layer of ladyfingers doused with or dipped in espresso, a layer of what's kind of like a mousse - a mix of mascarpone and whipped cream that's been flavored with espresso and milk chocolate and studded with bits of chocolate; more ladyfingers; more mousse; and the traditional dusting of cocoa. Built in a pie plate and chilled for hours, it's a no-bake, make-ahead dessert that teeters between the familiar and the fab.
• Ladyfingers come in two styles: soft, like sponge cake, and firm, like crunchy cookies. Either kind will work for this dessert, but when it comes to moistening them with espresso, you might want to drizzle the espresso over the caky fingers and dip the cookie fingers into the liquid.
• You can make the espresso for the ladyfingers from powdered instant espresso; that's what you'll use to flavor the cream. But it's tastier when you make fresh espresso.
• Use the best milk chocolate you can, preferably one with at least 30 percent cacao. The dessert will have more chocolate flavor and be less sweet. Whatever you do, don't use chips or confectionery chocolate; it's tricky business to melt them and get them to blend smoothly with the cream.
• Make sure the mocha cream is thoroughly chilled - cold, really - before whipping it. And when you whip it, whip it just long enough to have it form soft-to-medium peaks.
• Don't whip the mascarpone! Treat it tenderly. Get rough with it you'll end up with cheesy butter.
Make it, chill it, share it and, as Rob Reiner told Tom Hanks, "You'll love it."
DORIE GREENSPAN'S MILK CHOCOLATE-MOCHAMISU PIE
SERVINGS: 8 to 10
You'll need a 9-inch pie plate or a 9-inch-square baking dish, preferably not metal.
For the ladyfingers, you can use either soft sponge-cake fingers (5 ounces) or crisp cookie-type ones (6 ounces). But the crunchier ladyfingers will hold their texture better after being moistened with espresso. Look for cookies called Savoiardi. If you can find mascarpone already flavored with espresso, use it and omit the instant espresso powder.
MAKE AHEAD: The chocolate cream mixture needs to be refrigerated for about 2 hours. The dessert needs to be refrigerated for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
• 6 ounces best-quality milk chocolate
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or 2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals (see headnote)
• 8 ounces chilled mascarpone (see headnote)
• About 20 ladyfingers (5 to 6 ounces, depending on size and kind; see headnote)
• 2/3 cup chilled espresso or strong coffee
• Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
• Dark chocolate shavings, for decoration (optional)
Very finely chop 4 ounces of the chocolate and place it in a medium heatproof bowl. Chop the remaining chocolate into pieces the size of mini chocolate chips.
Combine the heavy cream and instant espresso powder or instant coffee crystals in a microwave-safe bowl or in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the espresso or coffee. Pour half of the hot cream over the chocolate, wait a few seconds and then whisk gently until the chocolate starts to melt. Add the rest of the cream; continue to whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. (It will be thin, like chocolate milk, and won't thicken until you whip it later.) Refrigerate until very cold - about 2 hours - or, to speed up the process, put the bowl of chocolate cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water; stir occasionally until the cream is thoroughly chilled.
When you're ready to assemble the pie, scrape the mascarpone into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the chilled chocolate cream. Use a flexible spatula to mash and stir the mascarpone until it softens. Don't work too long or too hard, because the mascarpone can go from cream to butter quickly.
Beat the chocolate cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or a handheld electric mixer, on high speed until it holds soft-to-medium peaks, about 1 minute and 20 seconds. Keep an eye on the cream; you really don't want to take it too far. Stir about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone, just to get the mascarpone moving, and then fold in the rest. Fold in the remaining chopped chocolate.
If you're using the soft, cakey ladyfingers, line the bottom of the pie plate or baking dish with them, placing them flat side up and squeezing and cutting them, as needed, to cover. You don't need to cover the surface completely, but you don't want any open spaces to be too large. Spoon a little of the cold espresso over each ladyfinger, moistening but not soaking the little cakes. (You may have espresso left over.) If you're using the cookie-type ladyfingers, dip them in a shallow dish of the cold espresso just until moistened, then proceed with layering. (You'll use just about all the espresso.)
Use an offset icing spatula or a table knife to spread half of the cream mixture over the ladyfingers; smooth the surface. Make another layer of ladyfingers - no need to get it compact this time - and moisten with espresso. Finish by spreading over the remaining cream, again smoothing the top.
Chill (uncovered) for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. Cover with plastic wrap once the top is set.
At serving time, dust the top of the pie generously with cocoa powder and, if you'd like, finish with chocolate shavings.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10, using crisp ladyfingers): 370 calories, 4 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 29 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar