Tiramisu Part One: Ladyfingers

Yes, yes, you are right. That is Julia Child. As I, like many American women I am certain, immediately went out and ordered her two volume cookbooks after viewing the highly successful “Julia and Julia”. And there they sat, basically, collecting dust. Until now. For I am on the quest to make the perfect tiramisu for Christmas dinner, and that, for me, at least, begins with ladyfingers made from scratch. Julia to the rescue. Sort of.

My first task was to spend two hours searching three stores for a pastry bag, and finally surrendered to just a simple bag from Michael’s with a tip that might or might not work. (It did not.) Fortunately the accompanying literature (written on a clear plastic bag in 9 pts.) reassured me that I could use the bag simply with “the coupler”, which is used to hold the tips that do work to the bag.

Sigh. You get the picture, right? And I forged on!

Apparently, and I’m certain this is not just true for me, when you open a Julia Child recipe book you immediately invoke her spirit into the kitchen. No, really. I felt like she was there the whole time. And not in a good way. No. Sort of in a I’m-watching-every-step-you-take-to-be-sure-you-do-this-right kinda way. Yeah. So I vacillated between talking out loud to her, reassuring her I was doing my very very best, to laughing out loud belly laughs at some of her directions. Like, she measures the butter you use to oil the cookie sheet. No, really. One tablespoon. I kept wondering where it was going and then realized I’d done it when I greased the pan. Oy.

OK, so you grease two sheets with butter [so, 1/2 T each] and then flour them very lightly. Easy enough.

Oh, yes, and you also set aside 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, in a sieve. But I will dispute this, as I found that incredibly excessive. I probably used a third of that at most.

And now the batter. I’m going to forewarn you that if you are not really handy with baking, you will most likely find some of these steps slightly intimidating, but, in retrospect, they are not that hard, so just bless yourself and plow through. You can do it.

The first part is really easy. You slowly add and beat 1/2 cup of sugar to three egg yolks. Add 1 tsp. vanilla. Beat until the mixture is thick pale yellow and “forms the ribbon.” That’s what she says. Use your imagination. Here’s mine at that stage.

Part two is beating 3 egg whites and a pinch of salt until you have soft peaks. Then you sprinkle 1 T. sugar into the froth and beat until you have stiff peaks. One thing she does suggest, which I didn’t do but might in future, is to have the bowl immersed in a second bowl of ice water as you are beating. Now I’m curious and I suspect she has her reasons. Though my peaks were quite stiff, thank you.

OK, now it gets a bit trickier, but not if you have done this sort of thing before. It’s basically folding. But the language is so precise I must share. Oh, bring along 1/2 cup of unbleached flour.

Scoop one fourth of the egg whites over the top of the egg yolks and sugar mixture. Sift on one fourth of the flour, and delicately fold in until partially blended. Then add one third of the remaining egg whites, sift on one third of the remaining flour, fold until partially blended, and repeat with half of each, then the last of each.

Are you exhausted?

And, of course, you must not fold too much or the batter will deflate, so it’s true you must take care. It should look rather like this about half way through.

If you have worked with icing and tubes you will probably not be riled by the next step, but I have not, so I was on new territory with the pastry bag. I ran to my twitter followers after the first five minutes and tweeted, “OMG, is there a pastry bag SCHOOL???” I finally surrendered and decided it was fine if my hands were covered with batter and that the ladyfingers were clearly not “even lines” of “finger shapes 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, 1 inch apart.”
No, they were not. HOWEVER, after a few minutes in the 300F. degree oven, they seemed to rectify themselves and I was able to tweet, “It’s WORKING!!!”

Oh, whoops. Sorry. You have to sprinkle powdered sugar on them before you put them in the oven. Julia says 1/16 an inch…

After 20 minutes or so I pulled them from the oven and put them on a wire rack to cool. I’m rather proud of myself for first effort.

They are not “perfect” but I’m thinking that once they have soaked up some nice espresso and some Tia Maria, and are layered within their destined whipped cream, no one will be thinking of their edges. ๐Ÿ™‚ For now they are safely ensconced in freezer bags in the freezer until I’m ready for Part Two, which I will of course post here!

Love and holiday kitchen blessings,
Kathryn xoxo
Postscript: Julia calls Ladyfingers “Biscuits a la Cuiller”.

Book Notes: Western North Carolina Woman is running an excerpt from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy in their December issue. And I’ve just learned that The English Bookshop in Amsterdam will be carrying copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy. Lovely! ~ And if you have not yet seen the trailer we created for Plant Whatever Brings You Joy, or you’d like to view again, click here!

8 Responses to “Tiramisu Part One: Ladyfingers”

  1. YUMMY!

  2. Hi, Michelle! Welcome! And the house has a lovely scent! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Oh, my! They do look yummy, and I’m incredibly impressed you’ve taken on the tiramisu from scratch methodology. Cannot wait to share in the ultimate dessert for Christmas! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Love you,

  4. Good morning, Antonia! Can’t wait to share the final result! Merry Christmas! Love, Mom xoxo

  5. Thank you so much for the handy how to! Years and years ago, I tried Julia’s recipe for lady fingers, and it was a total and complete failure. I’ve baked so much since then, but have really been to intimidated to ttry to make them again but you made it seem so easy!

  6. Hi, Jessica and welcome! Well, I would never call them easy. (Notice there are no pics of me struggling w/ the pastry bag!) And I’m even having second thoughts today wondering if they are tall enough…I guess the proof will be in the pudding when I assemble the tiramisu for Christmas! May do a trial run! Good luck!! Kathryn xoxo

  7. Love it. I have had a Julia Child cookbook since I was a young bride. She always takes 3 times as long to make something but you really learn to cook from her. That book & my old falling apart Joy of Cooking and my Farm Journal cookbooks are my standards. In a pinch, if you cannot find a pastry bag, you can use a heavy ziplock bag, freezer strength is stiffer, and simply cut off the corner of the bag to the right diameter. Most good cookie presses also have a lady-finger setting, at least mine has a bar setting that works just fine. Can’t wait to see the final product. I’ve never tired it from scratch before. Good for you. Hugs, Julie

  8. Hi, Julie! That’s funny. Some woman on Twitter warned me yesterday about Julia making things so hard. (And I am rather known for making recipes really EASY, so…) Anyway, I appreciate Julia’s thorough approach. Note I did turn to her for ladyfingers, knowing She Would Know. (She does NOT have a recipe for tiramisu, interestingly–I’m assuming since she’s teaching us how to cook French cuisine.) Anyway, I’m sure she takes some getting used to.
    Yes, I rely heavily on Joy of Cooking, but not for something like tiramisu. Their recipe had me running when they suggested “rum or brandy” for the filling. So not right. ๐Ÿ™‚ Kathryn xoxo

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