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The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I’m probably going to get shot for saying this, but I’m not a fan of tiramisu. So, needless to say, I wasn’t totally thrilled about this challenge. But I was determined to make it and enjoy eating it…and I succeeded at both! I was thrilled that everything (well, almost everything — more on that later) worked out and that I actually enjoyed eating the fruits of my labor. That’s right, that’s two challenges in a row that I’ve felt good about!

The challenge was comprised of three parts: the mascarpone cheese, the lady fingers and the tiramisu itself — including the pastry cream and zabaglione. It sounds like a real challenge (that’s the point, right?), and it was. But this time around, I didn’t feel like it was difficult, it was just a lot of components that all had to be done separately. I think I was working on this stupid thing for about four or five days straight before we could even eat it!

The first part of the challenge I decided to tackle was the lady fingers. When it comes to classic New York bakery cookies, these are my absolute favorite. Anytime I’m back east visiting my family or they come out our way, one huge box of lady fingers is all mine. So I was definitely going into this with mixed emotions. I didn’t know if my lady fingers would be anything like the ones I’m used to or if they would be a total failure. I stress out when it comes to “gently folding” things together because I always think I’m over mixing and will loose all the air that I so carefully beat into the thing. Anyway…the lady fingers turned out awesome. They were so easy, I couldn’t believe it! They came out pretty darn good, but not as good as anything I’ll ever get in NY.

Lady Fingers

A few days after the lady fingers were done (it was a task for me to leave them on the counter without eating any of them) I decided to tackle the mascarpone cheese. What a disaster. If it weren’t for all the other Daring Bakers’ posting their horror stories about this stupid cheese on the forums, I probably would have gotten even more discouraged than I was at the point that my “cheese” completely separated and looked like a pile of disgustingness that no one should have to look at or eat. So, as you can probably guess, I ended up using store bought mascarpone cheese like some of the other bakers because I just didn’t have the time or energy to try to make it again. (By the way, I really don’t know what I did wrong. I heated the cream over a double boiler — using a stainless steel bowl — and it never got above 165 degrees. I stood there for at least an hour, stirring, letting it sit, checking the temperature. If anyone knows what could have gone wrong, please let me know!)

The day after the mascarpone disaster, I made the pastry cream and the zabaglione. Both of these were really easy and turned out perfect (at least I think). They chilled in the fridge overnight, and the next day I was finally ready to assemble the whole thing. I combined the mascarpone cheese, pastry cream and zabaglione then folded it all into freshly made whipped cream. Next, I dipped the cookies in espresso for like two seconds (so they didn’t get too soggy) and began layering — cookies, cream, cookies, cream, cookies, cream. The (almost) finished product chilled overnight and we were finally ready to eat!

Tiramisu

I didn’t do much in the way of decorating the finished product, but I did sprinkle a little coco powder on top (which was the perfect final touch, by the way). I wanted to do something a little different for the presentation, so that’s how I ended up with wine glasses. I was pretty satisfied with the way they turned out. Nothing professional, that’s for sure, but not too bad for a novice!

Coco Dusted Tiramisu

Like I said before, I’m really not a fan of tiramisu. But seriously…this was awesome. It’s not something I would eat every day, but the taste was totally spot on. The custard layers were so flavorful and the lady fingers were the perfect texture. Aparna and Deeba did their research for this challenge, and it really showed! Thanks for a great challenge, ladies!

Recipe link: Tiramisu

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I can’t explain how awesome it feels to actually feel good about a challenge! This month was so hectic for us, but I couldn’t wait to bake and assemble this house! It took two tries to get the dough right, but in the end it was worth the extra effort.

We used Anna’s recipe, which came from Good Housekeeping. The first time we made it, it came out very dry — so dry that we couldn’t even roll it out — and cracked apart. We ended up tossing it and starting from scratch (18 cups of flour later), making a few changes based on the comments from other Daring Bakers’ (thanks guys!).

Dry Gingerbread Dough

The new batch of dough came out much better. We chilled it, rolled it out, cut out the pieces using a haunted Halloween template and baked it off. They came out perfect. They were a good texture — not too hard, not too soft. Some of the pieces expanded during baking, but nothing we couldn’t work with during assembly.

Gingerbread Pieces, Pre-Baking

After a day of baking, we left the pieces overnight and assembled and decorated the next day. Even though it was stressful putting the house together (I was terrified it was going to fall apart!), it was such a blast! We’re totally doing this every year from now on!

The House Coming Together

The House, Pre-Decorated

Without Billy’s help, I probably would have failed miserably at this. Maybe in a prior lifetime he was a contractor or something, but he rocked at putting this thing together and piping the royal icing! It was a total blast building and decorating the house from start to finish, and I think it will be a family tradition from now on. Plus, I think for our first ever shot at a gingerbread house we did a pretty good job!

Our House!

Decoration Detail

Decoration Detail (Again)

Recipe Link: Spicy Gingerbread

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! With all the Thanksgiving shenanigans, I completely spaced what day it was and didn’t have time to post about every Italian’s nightmare — horrible cannoli.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100 percent verbatim from either book.

Despite the fact that I’m Italian, I have never made cannoli. I’ve eaten plenty of them, though, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to be like. Mine definitely did not turn out like “true” cannoli.

The dough, though easy enough to make, was so difficult to work with. In order to get perfect cannoli shells, the dough was to be rolled paper thin. No matter how hard I tried or how long I worked at it, I could not get that stuff to roll out! I’m not sure if it was something I did wrong (added too much liquid, maybe not enough?) or if it’s just a difficult dough. Either way, I decided to try frying them anyway and they just didn’t turn out right. They were too fat and didn’t blister at all. From what I could tell, the taste was right on, but the texture definitely wasn’t (too fat, not crunchy enough, etc.).

Cannoli Dough Pre-Frying

Cannoli Shell Post-Frying

I made a traditional ricotta filling (with a little mascarpone to help the texture) and mini chocolate chips. The filling was awesome. So good, in fact, that I was eating it with a spoon in between filling the shells. I guess that made up for the shells being not-so-perfect, but it still wasn’t goon enough for me.

The Finished Product

I fully intend to give the cannoli another try, but I think I’ll use a pasta roller to try and get the dough extra thin. Any tips from other Daring Bakers or cannoli makers would be greatly appreciated!

Recipe Link: Cannoli

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. of Baking Without Fear. She chose macaroons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Let me just start by saying that never in my life have I had a macaroon. I don’t know what they’re supposed to look like (though I learned after looking through the many photos in the Daring Kitchen forums) or what they’re supposed to taste like. I’m pretty sure I failed on both fronts.

They looked pretty, but I’m almost positive the texture was wrong and the taste just wasn’t what I was anticipating. I think part of the problem was that the cook time was wrong.

Chocolate Macaroons with Orange-Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Macaroons with Orange-Chocolate Ganache

I made chocolate flavored macaroons — I don’t think I used enough cocoa powder, though — with a orange-chocolate filling (that was Billy’s idea). The filling was fantastic. The cookies…not so much. After following the recipe exactly, I took the macaroons out and the bottoms just separated from the top. I wasn’t sure how to fix this, so I just baked them longer. That seemed to take care of the problem, but then they seemed overcooked. So I ended up cooking one batch longer than the recipe called for and one for the correct time. Both turned out not-so-great, so I’m not sure what exactly the problem was. I did, however, end up with “feet” on both batches. Success on some level, I suppose.

Macaroons -- Complete with Feet

Macaroons -- Complete with Feet

I have to admit, it was fun trying something I’ve never done before. After all, that’s the reason I joined the Daring Kitchen anyway. Making the macaroons was definitely time consuming, but it wasn’t difficult. It was just disappointing, as always, when the results don’t match up with the effort. It was nice to know, though, that I wasn’t the only one who had a problem with the DB recipe. On a positive note though, I’ve got my first challenge under my belt and I look forward to the next!

Recipe link: French Macaroons