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. 

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.

Pizza Margherita

A pizza margherita with a slice taken out

Today’s Musings:
When you press the “start” button, you expect electronics to…start.  So, when something doesn’t, like your computer, it can be unsettling.  At first, you don’t panic. You check the cords and the outlet. You remove the battery, wait ten seconds, replace it, press the “start” button again and nothing happens – at all.  Frustrated at this point, you try pressing the “on” button multiple times (although this tactic never works) then try holding the button down, yet you are still met with a black screen – not a blue screen of death, not a beep, not a whir. Nothing.  Now, you are frightened.

You know you should backup your files on a regular basis.  You know your laptop has been unreliable in recent months, and yet you just assume it’ll turn on nightly, as needed.  You’ve been contemplating buying a new one (an expense you don’t really need right now), and rue the realization that you should have spent the dough (cost be damned!).  You envision the hundreds of food photos saved only there and the photos of you with family and friends, long dead.  You recall your resume and the retirement documents you worked on diligently and saved nowhere else.  You are acutely aware of the hours your fingers have massaged the keyboard this past month –  first finishing a 60-page memoir on love that hadn’t been touched in 11 years and, more recently, the beginnings of a book and the 16,000 words you have typed already – and you thank providence that you at least backed up both on a jump drive last week – only some of the work will be lost.  You think about the list of book club selections for 2021 only saved on the desktop and multiple half-finished blog posts and recipes that are irretrievable.  You feel sick.

You hope it’s merely the AC adaptor, order a new one, and deflate when you see it’s not scheduled to arrive for 12 days.  Can you wait 12 days?  If not the adaptor, the next step is the computer hospital, but they weren’t much help on the last visit, just a few weeks ago.  You had plans to write this weekend.  It’s rainy, it’s cold, and your plans for the day included a log in the fireplace, candles scattered on your desk, a sleeping kitty on your lap and words, words, word.  You try to remain calm; you adjust your weekend plans for more time in the kitchen.  If not writing memoirs, then perfecting recipes it is.

You promise yourself that if you can, just one last time, retrieve your files, you’ll buy that new laptop immediately.  You write all these thoughts out longhand – your hopes, your frustrations, your disappointments, your fears, and realize you just need to put your panic aside and move forward.  12 days cannot come soon enough.

(Update:  The AC adaptor did the trick – sort of – it still took me five tries to boot up.  I need a new laptop – and a backup drive – today. )

Today’s Recipe:
With unexpected kitchen time on my hands, and a 25-lbs. bag of “OO” flour reaching its expiration date, I decided to try my hand at a simple Pizza Margherita.  Many of you probably have a pizza stone – I don’t buy a lot of kitchen gadgets, including a pizza stone, so I don’t mention one here, but if you have one, please feel free to use it – it’s only going to help.


PIZZA MARGHERITA

  • Servings: One 14” Pizza
  • Print

The perfect pizza margherita is crisp along the outside and, when you cut a slice, the tip just slightly dips down.


Ingredients

  • ¾ cup water, 105⁰ – 110⁰
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1 ¾ cups “OO” flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 14-oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, chopped*
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into ¼” slices
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. In a liquid measuring cup, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and set aside for about 5 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine yeast mixture, 1¼ cups flour, salt, and olive oil. Mix ingredients on low until fully combined. Add additional flour until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. On medium-low, knead the dough until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Form into a ball, place into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cook garlic in a little oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice and tomato paste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  4. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500⁰ F. Scrape dough onto a large piece of lightly-floured parchment. Pat, stretch, or roll dough into a 14” circle on parchment.
  5. Spread sauce over dough, leaving a 1” border. Arrange cheese on top, leaving a 2” border (cheese bubbles and spreads). Slide pizza on parchment onto preheated baking sheet. Bake until pizza is crisp and golden and cheese is bubbling and browning in spots, about 15 minutes. With a spatula, look underneath the pizza to ensure it is well browned. Transfer pizza to cutting board, cool 5 minutes, sprinkle with basil leaves, slice and serve.

* You may be tempted to pick up a can of diced tomatoes to save yourself the work.  I don’t recommend it. Diced tomatoes contain calcium chloride, which means they won’t break down like regular tomatoes.  They’ll retain their bite and shape even when cooked and we are not looking for a chunky tomato sauce.

Tarte Flambée (Flammekueche)

Today’s Musings:
During my semi-regular pilgrimage to the Mecca known as Trader Joe’s, I follow a specific ritual.  After anointing my red shopping cart handle with sanitizer, I weave my way through each aisle, starting at the first station, flowers and fresh vegetables, and completing my procession at wine and cheese, before ultimately paying my tithe to the cashier.  In the frozen food aisle, alongside the frozen pizzas, without fail, I slightly genuflect, reaching into the freezer to pull out one, if not two, Tarte Flambée. 

I discovered Tarte Flambée in 2006 while visiting my grandfather’s hometown of Strasbourg, FR.  Strasbourg and the surrounding Alsace Lorraine region is unlike any other in France.  Situated along Germany’s border, Strasbourg has, at certain points in history, been annexed to both France and Germany, a result of various wars.  In fact, my grandfather considered himself German, while his sister, Lucette, was decidedly French. Oui?  The official language is French, but the indigenous language spoken is Alsatian, which is its own beast – a southern German dialect influenced over time by French. So, although part of France, they don’t really speak French, the city doesn’t look French, and their food in undeniably heartier than most French fare. 

On arriving in Strasbourg, our hotel proprietor recommended we dine at a local neighborhood winstub.  Winstubs, as you can probably guess by now, are distinctly Alsatian – and unlike any French bistro I’ve frequented.  These charming little wine bars are snuggled within old, half-timbered buildings, and chocked full of Alsatian charm – rustic tables, low ceilings, wood-burning stoves, and comfortable, cozy nooks where you can relax, sip a local wine and order something to nosh. 

This particular winstub was brimming with locals; we being the only foreigners.  The limited menu catered to our adventuresome palates.  I recall braised rabbit, choucroute, foie gras, and something called Tarte Flambée.  Neither my tablemates nor I were familiar with Tarte Flambée and asked our server to explain – of course, we don’t speak Alsatian (or German or French), and she didn’t speak English, but from what we could gather through hand gestures and vigorous head-nodding (and after a trip to the kitchen to show us the ambiguous “herb” she managed to translate),  we discovered Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza (although any Alsatian would slap me for even mentioning pizza) with a creamy sauce of crème fraîche and fromage blanc (a fresh cow’s milk cheese), sparingly sprinkled with lardons (thin slices of slab bacon), and onion,  grilled hot and fast for a crispy, cracker-like crust, and sometimes garnished with “herbs” (typically parsley or chives).  Oh heaven!  We devoured our first Flambée in minutes and then proceeded in the next week to make our way through Alsace Lorraine ordering Tarte Flambée whenever we had a chance, usually for lunch with a salad or pâté.  During our travels, we happened upon a few variations which included adding a sprinkle of local Munster cheese (la gratinée), or thinly sliced mushrooms (la forestière), although I prefer the simpler version. 

Trader’s offers a pretty damn good frozen facsimile in a pinch and I enjoy one almost weekly.  Eschewing the directions on the box, I bake the frozen (and therefore stiff) version directly on the oven rack (no sheet pan) and tend to cook it in a bit longer than recommended (I’m aiming for a crisp crust from edges to middle).  The serving suggestion of 2-4 people makes me giggle – serving for one is more like it. 

Today’s Recipe:
When I have more time – or I don’t want to trek to Trader’s, I use the following recipe.  The trick to an authentic Tarte Flambée is “restraint” which, for anyone who follows this blog, knows isn’t a strength of mine.  However, if you pile on the bacon and onions and add tons of cheese, you’ll never get the crisp crust holy grail you are looking for.  Also, I’ve simplified the recipe a bit – substituting the fromage blanc for 100% crème fraîche.  Finally, unlike pizza, this crust doesn’t require yeast, making it quicker to throw together.


Tarte Flambée

  • Servings: One 12” tarte
  • Print

Tarte Flambée is similar to a crispy thin-crust pizza with a creamy sauce, sprinkled with bacon and onion, and then grilled hot and fast for a crispy cracker-like crust.


Ingredients

  • 2 strips thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • ⅓ cup onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • ¼ cup water, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup crème fraîche
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • parsley or chives (optional)

Directions

  1. In a small pan, partially cook bacon until fat renders, but not until bacon is crispy. Remove bacon and drain on a paper towel. Partially cook onion in bacon fat until soft, but not brown. Add to bacon.
  2. In a medium size bowl, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the center and add oil and ¼ cup water. Slowly combine using your fingers until it becomes a shaggy dough. If the dough is too dry, add additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. Knead dough 2-3 times and shape into a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat a baking pan on the lowest rack of a 550⁰ F. oven.
  4. While the dough is resting and the oven is preheating, combine crème fraîche, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
  5. Dust dough with flour and roll into a 12” circle between 2 pieces of parchment. Remove top layer of parchment and spread crème fraîche mixture over dough leaving a ½” border. Dot with bacon and onions and decoratively pinch border of dough.
  6. Using lower parchment sheet, transfer Tarte Flambée to preheated baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Do not be alarmed if edges of parchment darken in the very hot oven. Remove from oven, let cool for 1-2 minutes, sprinkle with parsley or chives (if using) and cut into wedges. Enjoy immediately.

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream on pink cake plate with a slice on a white plate

Today’s Musings:
I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this witness of profound affections to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I spent time within her bosom just shy of a year ago, wan and unsteady, remnants of a lover’s row the night before, a state I would come to know too well.  In the Botanical Gardens, I strolled among her exotic foliage, hand-in-hand with a man who would soon enough misuse my love, although I didn’t know it then.  The day felt brittle, as if the sky was made of the thinnest glass.  Although I paid visits to her often in the past, I didn’t divulge to him that this Park and I were well acquainted – and she did not betray my secret.  With all our shared encounters, she was indifferent towards me that day.  She knew this was not Love and, thus, unworthy of her attention.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask this sanctuary of romance to teach me what she knows about Love. 

I first met her in 1989, as young hearts blossomed among her rose garden; He, Mr. Oxblood, and I, Miss Prussian Blue.  Two shy paramours meandering along her starlit paths. Without words, we spoke of our implicit love through scented floral filigree, as he cascaded pink-petaled missives down upon my head and together we tossed waves of scented bliss into the fountain.  He tucked a few of these sweet remembrances within his pocket.  I was happy then.  It was perfect – and she smiled and anointed us.

Did she realize then that this love would endure almost a decade?  Did she see that each would forever keep the other’s heart within them – even now?

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask if she was aware, four years later, that he, brimming with love, recalled for me, reluctant and unsure, our countless nights spent drifting through her splendor:

“Why can’t you allow today to be like holding hands in Balboa Park? Park of Spanish Porticos and you, content.  We were like the courting frogs in the lily pond by the balustrade next to the Botanical Gardens.”

Content.  That’s all I’ve ever asked from Love.

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and plead with her to share her views on Love.  I want her to explain why, on that Friday in July, 2010, she released his hand and let him slip from her embrace onto the asphalt below.

The newspaper headline read, “Man dies after jump from Balboa Park Bridge.”  Stark words to me who required a novel’s worth of explanations. I always knew, contrary to his friends’ assurances, as only lovers know, this would be his fate, and yet I still have things I yearn to say, of love and encouragement – and atonement for my missteps, if only time were mutable.

No silent grave to visit, I want to wander this “Park of Spanish Porticos,” alone, and listen for her answer to my question – Is True Love eternal?  I wrote to him, after I heard the news, just days after my own mother’s death.

“My Darling Mr. Oxblood,

The email arrived today, like a heavy book-kick to an already wounded dog.  Nikolaje said you died Friday night – underneath the Balboa Park Bridge.  He said you either fell or jumped.  My heart, or rather your heart that still resides within me, knows it’s the latter.  Two deaths in two days.

Did you visit the rose garden first?  It’s probably beautiful right now.  Did you stick your nose deep within the huge, heady, heirlooms?  Did you pull handfuls of petals from the bushes, scattering them about yourself, on the pathway, in the fountain?  Did you tuck one in your breast pocket as you did that first night?  Did they find it when they found you?  Did you think about it first or did you decide in the moment? Could I have stopped you?

I was never strong enough for you.  I could never nudge you – show you how beautiful you and your world truly were.  I was too much in reality – and you were forever in your romantic dreamland.  Did you know how much I loved you?  I wished a woman existed who could take care of you the way I never could (I wished I could have been that woman!).

It wasn’t easy for you here.  I wish there was some other way.  I do, however, understand. As you move on, you take a piece of my heart with you.

With My Love,
Miss Prussian Blue”

I long to wander Balboa Park, alone, and ask her to remind me that I already know all that she could ever teach me about Love. 

Today’s Recipe:
These flavors are similar to those found in Persian Love Cakes, but this recipe was my own creation.  I wanted to highlight rose to accompany the musings above and raspberry-rose as well as cardamom-rose are two of my favorite combinations.  For the cake, I used this walnut cake recipe, substituting pistachios for the walnuts. I covered the cake in marshmallow fondant before decorating with oxblood and Prussian blue flowers.

Pistachio Cake with Raspberry Rose Buttercream


Ingredients

    Pistachio Cardamom Cake
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon cardamom
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs beaten, room temp
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted well-chopped Pistachios
  • Fresh raspberries
  • Fondant (optional)
  • Rose Buttercream
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 – 2 teaspoon rose water (to taste)
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • food coloring (optional)

Directions

  1. MAKE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350 ⁰ F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix together the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs. Stir wet ingredients into dry until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in pistachios.
  2. Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake (do not overbake). Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
  3. MAKE BUTTERCREAM: In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until fluffy and smooth. On medium speed, slowly add in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time. Add salt. Once powdered sugar and salt are fully incorporated, add rose water, milk, and food coloring, if using.
  4. Fill cake with rose buttercream and a layer of raspberries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired, and decorate.