Monday, June 4, 2007

Baking Experiments (Tiramisu Bars)

Emeril Lagasse often says that when you cook you use recipes, but when you bake you use formulas. While a chef with Emeril's background might balk at the "recipes" I create when I cook and my tendency to "wing it" at dinner time, I'm usually smart enough to know not to bake without a cookbook in front of me.

Baking requires more than just a blending of flavors and cooking something "till done." Baking is often a complex chemical process. The unique properties of eggs, sugar, flour, and butter all have to properly combine to come up with the proper flavors and textures for a good cake or cookie. It's tough to make up a recipe if you don't have the background knowledge of the proper ways to combine ingredients, the proper proportions, and the proper baking times.

Despite all of this, I do occasionally try to invent my own cake and cookie recipes. I usually just add things to basic recipes I already know. For example I once made an "experimental" banana cake using what I knew of a basic butter cake base. It wasn't the best cake ever, but my coworkers ate it up.

This weekend I tried another experiment. I made something I called Tirasmisu` Bars. I love tiramisu`, but I often feel that it's not a good take-with-you dessert. You can't take it to a picnic or barbecue because it needs to be chilled and sliced up. I wanted to create a dessert with the flavors and textures of tiramisu` that you can pick up and take with you.

I used the kind of formula one might use for a cheesecake square with a shortbread base and a cheese-and-egg-and-sugar topping. I found the shortbread base recipe on Epicurious. I added a couple of tablespoons full of instant espresso granules in order to mimic the base of espresso-soaked ladyfingers. Rather than use a cream-cheese topping, I mixed three containers of mascarpone (expensive experiment I know) with two eggs, a cup of sugar, a good-size sprinkling of shaved chocolate, and a generous splash of brandy. I baked the whole thing at 350 until it was set and hoped for the best.

The result was not what I had hoped for. The flavors of the coffee and the brandy did not come through. The topping tasted more like a caramel custard than it did like a boozy tiramisu`. I couldn't taste the coffee in the base. Still, they weren't bad overall. I took them to work (Kevin wouldn't touch them claiming he won't eat cheese-based desserts, although I barely consider mascarpone to be cheese and he has eaten tiramisu` many times in the past) and they pretty much gobbled them up.

While I am not discouraged from making more experimental desserts in the future, I don't think I'll be adding this one to my repetoire.

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