Tiramisu CharlottePhoto Credit : Brian Samuels | Styling by Catrine Kelty
Senior food editor Amy Traverso’s Uncle Lindo always loved the creamy Charlotte Russe cake that her Mom made every Christmas Eve. This sculptural icebox cake came wrapped in ladyfinger cookies and filled with a fluffy vanilla Bavarian cream. Looking for a little more drama, she cross-pollinated her mom’s Charlotte Russe with a classic Italian tiramisu to come up with a layered dessert thickened with mascarpone and scented with espresso and rum. It’s a showstopper but very easy to execute, and it requires no baking. It does, however, require a 9-inch springform pan.
2 (7-ounce) packages ladyfinger cookies (24–36 ladyfingers, depending on size)
½ cup milk
1 package (2 teaspoons) gelatin
4 large egg yolks
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups mascarpone cheese
2 cups espresso or very strong coffee
¼ cup rum
Cocoa powder, for dusting
Trim half the ladyfingers so that they stand 3¾ inches high (save trimmings). Set aside.
Put the milk in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top to let it soften. Meanwhile, in a double boiler over simmering water, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, almost constantly, until the mixture is very pale and thickens visibly, 5 to 7 minutes. When you lift the whisk out of the mixture, the drops should linger for a second on the surface.
Remove the egg mixture from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk and gelatin mixture, the vanilla paste (or extract), and the salt. Set this mixture in the refrigerator to cool for 15 minutes.
Using an electric or stand mixer, slowly beat the cream and mascarpone in a large bowl. Start at low speed and gradually increase to high until the mixture holds firm peaks. Very gently fold half the cooled egg mixture into the whipped cream, so you don’t deflate the whip. Repeat with remaining egg mixture. Cover the bowl, and return to the refrigerator to chill for 1 to 2 hours.
Now, assemble the cake: Pour the coffee and rum into a shallow bowl or baking dish. Working one at a time, take a smaller ladyfinger piece and dip briefly in the coffee mixture to moisten halfway (this takes only a second). Lay the piece on the bottom of the springform pan to begin forming your first layer. Repeat until the bottom is filled. Now take enough of the 3¾-inch unsoaked ladyfingers to line the sides of the pan, standing them up on their cut ends so the rounder sides face out.
Spoon a third of the chilled filling into the pan and use a spoon or offset spatula to gently smooth it out. Top with another layer of soaked ladyfinger pieces (any size). Repeat this process once more, then top with the last of the filling. Lightly cover the cake with plastic wrap (try to prevent it from touching the filling) and return to the refrigerator to chill for 5 to 8 hours. Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder. Run a knife between the cake and the sides of the pan to loosen, if needed, then unlatch the sides and gently lift the cake (still on the bottom plate) from the pan. If you have a piece of red and white bakery string (or a pretty ribbon), tie that around the cake to hold it. Serve cold or at room temperature.