Sunday, August 28, 2005

A Mere Trifle?

In situations when the effort:deliciousness ratio of a dessert is required to be 1:5, the humble, ever-loyal trifle is, in my eyes, the way forward.

As long as you have its basic elements, there’s barely any mixing required and definitely no arduous baking, finicky melting or cooking necessary. And no, I’m not talking about those multi-layered affairs that stand (too) proudly in their transparent Pyrex bowl, tarting around their gaudily-coloured wares (delicious as they are). I’m talking about a concoction closer to the Tiramisu. And don’t you dare laugh. I still champion this dish, despite the way it is lampooned all over the foodie press.

On a highly necessary tangent, one of the things which terrifically disappoints me about many food critics is their incessant need to deem food unfashionable when it still tastes as wonderful as when it were ‘in’. Food is about more than trends – it’s about the intricacies of flavour and texture and then the enjoyment of these properties. I understand that innovative, exciting dishes and ingredients come around, and they get heralded The New Thing, but there’s no shame in still liking so-called "yesterday’s" food. Including Tiramisu. Rant over.

So if I’m not a snob, why am I picking Tiramisu over the British dessert staple? Well, if you paid close attention to the theme of this article, then you will have noted that it is all about ease (in a kind of non-fiddly way). A proper trifle is easier than other desserts, agreed, but somewhat involved, and can require a few too many ingredients that you might not have already, especially if you go for the jelly option. Something along the lines of a Tiramisu, however, has very few layers and can be assembled all in one go, earning it its status. There is an abundance of recipes for good, traditional Tiramisu out there so I’m not going to bore you with mine (at least not now). What I really want to impress upon you is the versatility of this dish. It gives you two bland elements – sponge and mascarpone cream – which form a basic canvas to paint flavours onto. You just need to think about symbiotic partnerships of flavours to work with, or more so, look at what you already have stocked in your kitchen and work with it. I made a summery version for a barbecue with an amaretto soaked sponge and raspberries folded into the cream (just enough so they bled their acrid pinkness into the cream but not so much that it turned the mixture a homogenised pale salmon). My favourite bastardisation though, is one which I came up with when I needed to make a dessert but hadn’t had a chance to plan. As luck would have had it, I had everything I needed in the kitchen for it. I also made it up in individual bowls, thus dispensing the need to wash up a bigger serving dish, which is always a plus. I know the classic method for making the dish incorporates eggs into the mascarpone, but I usually skip this and just combine it with some lightly whipped cream, or just beat it in a bowl to soften it, this making it even easier. As always, the measurements I give are approximations and because I made this to serve three originally, it serves two very hungry people or four people who want to have pudding but don’t want to feel like they had pudding. If you are making it for more or less than three people, it makes more sense to do this in one big dish.

Banoffee Tiramisu
(serves 3 or thereabouts)

  • 9 Savoiardi biscuits/sponge fingers
  • 6 tbsp caramel syrup or toffee vodka/butterscotch schnapps
  • 3 very heaped tbsp Dulce de Leche
  • 2 small/medium bananas
  • 1 x 250g tub of mascarpone
  • 142ml tub of double cream

Very simply: divide the biscuits between three flattish bottomed bowls, drizzle over two tablespoons of the caramel syrup/vodka (you may need a bit more than this to get the biscuits softened) over each set of biscuits. Whilst you let the fingers soak up the syrup, whip the cream until it billows softly but remain cautious as you do so, ensuring it does not become stiff and unworkable. Beat the mascarpone in another bowl to loosen it and then gently fold in the cream. The aim here is to instil its aeration into the cheese, making it lighter – any vigorous stirring here will rapidly knock out all your prior hard graft with the cream. Spread a tablespoon of the Dulce de Leche over each set of the biscuits and then slice the bananas, divide the amount into three and arrange them in an even layer over the toffee. Spoon a third of the cream mixture into each bowl, spreading it lightly to cover the bananas. Serve with shots of the vodka/schnapps, if you’re using it. If you’re not, don't fret - it holds up perfectly well on its own.