Classic Italian Tiramisu

Today’s Musings:
I have a feline heart.  Treat me as you do a cat.  Do not approach me straightaway or immediately attempt to wrap your arms around me, for I am sure to ignore you and wiggle free.   Do not call my name and pat your lap expectantly.  I will find other things to occupy my interest.  Ignore me.  Become absorbed with something else, then I will quickly and adamantly demand your attention, sprawling myself across whatever it was that you were working on.  Leave that spot on your lap available.  I will find my way to it – eventually, on my own terms.  Once I have decided to stay, then you may love me and I will purr with contentment.  Do not fuss too much over me. Hold me too tight or keep me too close and I will flee.  Lock me out of a part of your life and that’s where I’ll want to be.  Come to me on my terms, be patient with me, do not frighten me, and I will show you how I love — enduringly and deeply, but always like a cat.

Today’s Recipe:


Classic Italian Tiramisu

This is my version of the classic tiramisu I learned during culinary school. It’s exceptionally rich and heavier on the alcohol than most restaurant versions. Tiramisu means “pick me up,” but if bedtime is right around the corner, you can always substitute decaf espresso for regular.


Ingredients

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • pinch salt
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 16 oz. mascarpone
  • Italian savioardi (crisp lady’s fingers)
  • ¾ cup espresso or strong coffee
  • ¾ cup marsala (traditional), dark rum, brandy, or Kahlua
  • Cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Over a bain marie of simmering water, make the zabaione by constantly whisking the yolks and ½ sugar until mixture is light, thick, and sugar has melted (I use beaters to make quick work of it but if you don’t want to dirty beaters, a whisk works fine). Remove from heat and whisk in mascarpone.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar slowly, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form. Lighten mascarpone mixture by adding ⅓ of meringue. Fold in remaining meringue into mascarpone.
  3. Combine espresso and alcohol in a flat container. Very briefly soak each savioardi in espresso mixture and place on bottom of an 8”x 8” pan. Cut to fit, as needed. Cover with ½ of mascarpone mixture. Add another layer of soaked savioradi and finish with remaining mascarpone. Cover and let rest in refrigerator for at least 24 hours for the flavors to meld. Dust with cocoa powder before serving.

Today’s Tips: 
By adding a bit of meringue to the mascarpone mixture first and then adding the remaining,  it helps the two textures blend together without overly deflating the meringue.

This meringue is uncooked.  If salmonella is an issue in your area,  you can use pasteurized egg whites. 

Simple Butter Cookies

Today’s Musings:
He leads me to his favorite dive, 2J’s Lounge in Fullerton – packed with barflies, blue collars, and tattooed chicks in tank tops. Two stools, lit by the glare of blue Budweiser neon, are open at the bar. He orders us Cuba Libres.  As we sit, our jeaned thighs lightly graze against each other and then rest, knees touching. Lust stirs between my legs at the sensation of our bodies testing this chemistry.  He brushes his arm against the back of my hand, gently places his hand for just a moment on my thigh as he speaks, as if not deliberately. I stroke the soft inside of his tattooed arm and rest my hand in his, fingers entwined. Alcohol has made me bold – enough of this game.

He kisses me. He doesn’t ask permission; he doesn’t hesitate. He leans towards me, his lips on mine, his tongue inside my mouth. Mmm…Yes. I like the way he tastes.

He’s not afraid to kiss me in this public place. His hand caresses my lower back, my waist. He kisses me with passion; his day’s worth of stubble leaving my chin raw. A wrinkled regular at the end of the bar shouts, “give her back her tongue!” We laugh, but I’m unsettled by his intensity, this lack of modesty among these strangers.

We kiss and drink and share secrets, finishing another round.  It’s late and we decide to leave the bar’s seediness, weaving our way across the parking lot towards my red convertible. I lean back against the rough cinder-block wall;  pulling him with me, kissing him, being kissed. We move to the side of my car. I feel him, hard and hot, pressed against my own desire. His chest is firm beneath my hands. I’m drunk off rum and yearning. Too fast, this is going too fast. My logic and this ache for him doing battle in my head,  I plead, “Let’s make this last; let me know your brain before I learn your body.” He doesn’t want to comply.

He asks to see me tomorrow. I’m making him wait until next weekend. A daytime date – an attempt to slow us down. He wants my body. I want something more.

Oh, but I do like the way he tastes.

Today’s Recipe:
In general,  I’m known for complicated, multi-step desserts that take most of the day to complete.  There is another side to my baking, however – the late night, small batch, craving something sweet, down and dirty, immediate gratification bake. This is a handful of recipes that ensure a confectionary pacifier can be in my mouth in less than 30 minutes, like these simple sugar cookies.  I can add whatever’s on hand to change the flavor – lemon zest, spices, shaved chocolate, nuts, jam or Nutella filling.  For the photograph above,  I made an ersatz “Biscochito” version, adding crushed anise, rolling them in cinnamon sugar and flattening them with the bottom of a glass.  From concept to cooling rack in 25 minutes.  


Simple Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 24 cookies
  • Print

When I’m craving something sweet late at night, these cookies fit the bill. I can add various flavorings or ingredients to doll them up – using whatever I have on hand.


Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla (or other flavoring)
  • 1 ⅓ cups sifted all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy with a hand mixer or whisk. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour. Form cookies into desired shape (drop, pressed, rolled, etc.) and bake 12 to 14 minutes, until just beginning to brown around the edges. Cool slightly and enjoy. Instant freshly-baked cookies, perfect for dunking.

Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Today’s Musings: 
Behind my home,  in the backyard,  sits a small 14×10 foot back house. It’s been under my care for years and, during that time, has retained various names and uses: lean-to, shed, taco stand, guest house, photography studio, and, very recently, writer’s retreat. During the pandemic, I’ve fallen smitten with this tiny space, my private, sunlit sanctuary that offers a break from the suffocating four walls of this past year, providing an entirely different perspective without disobeying CDC orders.

Each weekend (and sometimes weekday evenings), I bound out the back door, skip along the winding flagstone path and turn the handle to this tranquil refuge overlooking the garden and well-frequented birdbath, providing me both the physical and mental space to write. I’ve become so enamored by my little hut of heaven that I’ve taken to sharing photos on social media. One of my friends, Oscie, recently commented that I “have and amazing life” to which I responded, “We ALL have an amazing life,  it’s just a matter of being grateful for the good bits and leaving the rest behind.”  Pollyanna I am not, yet I stand behind this statement. I’ve built a good life for myself and I’m grateful for many parts of it – a house I own, an amazing tribe of friends,  a secure job with leaders I respect, a knack for baking, a passion for writing, a blog that combines the two, a healthy body, a family so far unscathed by the pandemic – all  things I’m aware could change in an instant.

Yet, my life is far from perfect.  I could just as easily focus on the bad bits.  My extra time I’ve carved out for writing resulted from reduced work hours due to COVID, meaning a less stable career and less income. My snug little cottage of calm – and my house – are inhabited by pesky destructive termites,  something I’ll need to address sooner rather than later.  The verdant, wildlife-filled garden outside my window grows unruly with weeds from the recent rains, a day long project in itself.

I have a choice – we all have a choice – to focus on this life-altering pandemic, the people and things not in our lives, and our never-ending to-do lists…or we can delight in the good bits. For me, I’m choosing the latter.

The Retreat

Today’s Recipe:
Speaking of good bits,  I wanted to share this additional cannoli recipe that came out of my recent Holy Cannoli Dessert Duo.  This is the more traditional of the two.  The tart springtime lemon raspberry version can be found here


Chocolate Chip Almond Cannoli

Shaved chocolate, candied almonds, and just a hint of cinnamon recall traditional cannoli recipes, but this version is a step up – cannoli for those who don’t like cannoli.


Ingredients

    Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. candied almonds, finely chopped (I used sliced honey roasted almonds from Trader Joe’s)
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • ⅓ cup superfine sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Prepare the shells: Melt the 6 oz. chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the candied almonds. Cool to set.
  2. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar. Add the milk chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and combine. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Today’s Tip:
I used a food processor to make quick work of finely chopping the chocolate.

Lemon Raspberry Cannoli

Today’s Musings:
If there is such a thing as a project saturation point, I’ve attained it.  I’ve always had a handful of projects that I attempt to juggle – one of the most time-consuming being this blog.  Creating a blog post begins with writing a recipe idea, followed by kitchen testing.  No small task, the ‘standard’ for food bloggers is to test a recipe seven times before posting.  I don’t have that luxury of time – nor the budget for all those ingredients.  With a full work schedule, and a life outside of posting, the most I’ve ever tested was four or five times, on recipes that often never make it to prime time.  For every posted recipe, there are one to two that never make the cut.  A friend joked the other day, “What does it matter if the recipe is any good? No one cares anyway.”  Fuck that – I care.  If someone tries one of my recipes, I want it to work – and that’s what matters.   After kitchen testing, there’s the photography and editing, the writing, the posting, and finally the promoting on aggregators and food sharing sites.  If I’m posting twice a week, I’m blissfully happy…and most likely on vacation. 

If you’ve noticed I haven’t posted lately, that’s because I’ve managed to make this particular project an even more elusive goal. Amidst blogging and my other projects, I’ve decided the world needs yet another cookbook memoir – and it’s more work than I ever imagined.  At roughly 200 pages, I haven’t even begun developing the recipes.  The old adage, “writing is rewriting,” is true.  I edit a little, hate what I’ve written, move on to another section in the book, hit upon new paragraphs or new chapters while in the shower or driving, write some more, edit, set it down, pick it up.  And this process has just begun. 

I cannot take credit for this – I have two good friends to thank.  Feeling like my COVID time has been squandered in relative isolation, I’ve been desperately searching for a project – any project – to convince myself I’m being productive.  And, no, binge-watching an entire season of Peaky Blinders is not productivity.  Dozens of people have suggested I write a cookbook over the years, but I could never settle on the correct focus, or hook.  These two friends hit upon my unfortunate expertise – comfort food for soothing heartache.  The title is still in the works, so I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. 

Accordingly, my free time, on the nights I convince myself I have something to say worth reading, has been spent in my ‘writer’s studio,’ picking through my own past loves and losses.  It’s been cathartic, eye opening (patterns! patterns! patterns!), frustrating, and gut wrenching.  After four hours with the manuscript, tacking on another hour writing this blog is daunting.  I usually have nothing left.  Have I bitten off more than I can chew?  Maybe, but it’s given my COVID time purpose, something I sorely needed for my sanity. 

 Today’s Recipe:
I developed two different flavors of cannoli for a friend’s birthday this weekend.  Receiving good reviews on both, this mouth puckering lemon-raspberry version was crowned the crowd favorite, although the birthday boy liked the other better. 


LEMON RASPBERRY CANNOLI

Springtime Cannoli - tart lemon and raspberry filling come together to make your mouth celebrate the season in this Italian ode to spring.


Ingredients

    Raspberry Jam
  • 6 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 6 oz. superfine sugar
  • Cannoli Shells
  • 12 cannoli shells
  • 6 oz. milk chocolate
  • 3 oz. freeze-dried raspberries, finely ground
  • Filling
  • 10 oz. whole-milk ricotta, drained in a mesh sieve overnight
  • 8 oz. mascarpone
  • 4 oz. lemon curd
  • 2 oz. superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • pinch salt
  • powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

  1. Make the jam: Combine the frozen raspberries and sugar in a small deep-sided saucepan and bring to boil over a medium heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil for another 4-6 minutes until thick. Remove from the heat and leave to cool and set.
  2. Prepare the shells: Melt the chocolate in the microwave by heating it at 30 second intervals and stirring until melted (about 90 seconds total). Dip both ends of cannoli shells in chocolate then in the freeze-dried raspberries. Cool to set.
  3. Fill the shells: Stir together ricotta, mascarpone, lemon curd, sugar, zest, and salt. Let rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator to allow sugar time to melt. Fill a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle with filling. With a small spoon or knife, spread a little raspberry jam inside each shell. Pipe the filling into both ends of the cannoli, filling completely. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

Baked Cassetelle

Cassatelle cooling on a wire rack

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” – Dawson Trotman

Today’s Musings:
Without a particular game plan in mind, Two-Bit Tart has molded itself into a mash-up of half personal essay (aka Musings) and half food blog.  It has taken me an exceptionally long time to arrive here, but this blog is now unmistakably my own with its singular, quirky, yet clear direction.  This began as a personal essay blog, morphed into a food blog, and has finally, after almost 13 years, unapologetically matured into a blending of both.  My challenge with the personal essay section is that it’s an intense delving into the recesses of my most intimate thoughts and feelings. Nothing is off limits from examination, holding these bits of my life up to the light for anyone to see.   While I feel reasonably comfortable splaying myself in front of you, many of my stories involve others, as most personal stories do. Today, I’m experiencing a smattering of remorse and hesitation in exposing others’ secrets without permission, desiring to keep their story, tightly intertwined with mine, a compact between us.  I am passionately steadfast and loyal to those who reciprocate, even those long dead. I’ve been working on a piece the last five days that I would describe as raw, honest, authentic. 1817 words with all the beastly details. How, I wonder, can I speak my truth while protecting others’ privacy?  I have no wish to cause pain or embarrassment to those around me; just a desire to share my story. I’ve been reading Joan Dideon lately – The White Album.  She deftly manages that delicate dance between stark, personal exposure and others’ privacy.  I’m no Joan Dideon, but I’m taking mental notes.  What is off-limits?  Who is off-limits? Living family members?  Current friends? Current lovers?  How terrible that someone would eschew me for fear their secrets are exposed.  Who becomes fair game?  Strangers and mere acquaintances? One-date wonders?  Dead boyfriends?  Those who have injured me by accident?  On purpose?  I strive to behave better than my enemies and have a clear moral compass – but in my quest for self-discovery, have I forgotten that, if only for a post or two?  I’ve decided not to share the piece I’ve been fervently writing.  I’m pleased with it – my own missteps and failings exposed and acknowledged.  Hours of work that will never come to fruition, but it’s the correct decision, this time.  It’s my truth, but tugs too many others too far into the light, regardless of their own culpability.  Today, I am setting down rules – otherwise, I will too easily cross the line. 

Today’s Recipe:


Baked Cassetelle

These cassetelle are baked rather than fried and are best eaten warm, when the chocolate is melty, the ricotta velvety and the pastry crisp and tender. I pop them in a oven for a few minutes to heat them through before enjoying with a steaming cup of coffee.


Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, very cold
  • 1 large egg plus 1 yolk
  • 1 cup full-fat ricotta, drained overnight
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ cup mini chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup candied orange peel, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon grated orange zest)

Directions

  1. In the bowl of food processor, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add very cold butter and pulse until butter is well dispersed. Add egg and yolk and pulse until dough begins to clump together. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and press together to form a disk. Wrap plastic wrap around dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine drained ricotta, powdered sugar, chocolate chips and candied peel. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Cut dough in half, keeping one half refrigerated and roll out the other half to about ⅛” – ⅙” thick between two pieces of parchment or waxed paper. Cut out twelve 3” rounds. Dollop a generous teaspoon of ricotta mixture on one side of each round, fold other side of dough over, making a half-moon shape, being careful to enclose the filling completely. Seal edges with the tines of a fork. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
  4. Repeat the process with the remaining ½ dough. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350⁰ F.
  5. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cassetelle are golden along the edges and underneath. Cool slightly and dust with powdered sugar. Enjoy the same day and refrigerate any remaining cassetelle (due to the ricotta filling). If refrigerated, reheat in the oven a few minutes before enjoying.