Monthly Archives: April 2011


I hope everyone had a wonderful and chocolatey Easter!  Apologies for taking so long to get this post up but better late than never, right?

Tiramisù means “pick me up” and is a classic dessert, the origins of which are a hotly debated issue.   I won’t join the fray here except to suggest the claims that it originates in the Veneto region, and specifically around Treviso, are well founded.  OK … disclaimer:  my family is from Treviso, so sue me for being a little biased, but I think there’s evidence to support it.  It’s a modern dessert, inspired no doubt, by the famous Zuppa Inglese from Toscana.  Its flavour roots though bear more than a passing resemblance to a traditional pick-me-up treat that was given to children and adults alike when they needed to regain strength after an illness or were just feeling run down.  I remember my grandmother used to beat a fresh egg with Marsala and sometimes a shot of espresso coffee and the reason was always per tiratesù! (Venetian dialect for to pick you up!).  It was certainly the only way I could contemplate having egg as a child, with the sweetness of the Marsala and the sharp kick of the coffee.  It was funny watching her force my father to have it just because she claimed he was “too skinny” by her standards and couldn’t possibly be strong enough to work as hard as he did.  Ahhh … I loved my Nonna 🙂

I learned to make tiramisù on my first trip to Italy, as a teenager, and I was lucky enough to learn from a wonderful lady, Zia Lucia.  OK, she isn’t my real aunt, rather a close friend of the family, but I called her Zia anyway.  We were invited for lunch and it was the first time I’d ever eaten tiramisù.  I thought it was the most fabulous dessert EVER.  It wasn’t too sweet, wonderfully creamy but with a lovely sponge biscuit layer that was SOAKED, I mean SOAKED, in coffee, brandy and a little Marsala.  I modified Zia Lucia’s recipe over time.  Not because her recipe wasn’t wonderful enough as it was!  I like to think my changes have merely gilded the lily a little.

Over the years, I made this dessert so many times, I’ve lost count.  It featured at practically every occasion for family and friends.  So much so, I ended up making large decorated free-standing tiramisù cakes for special occasions.  I stopped making it some years ago as a form of protest.  Can you blame me?  Oh come on, I was bored.  But now I’m rediscovering it all over again in a fit of nostalgia.  I made it as a surprise for our family gathering at Easter this year and I think it has become special all over again.  I may just put it back on the Easter lunch menu as a given from now on.   It’s always been a favourite of family and friends.

You can, of course, make your own sponge fingers for this – using your favourite sponge recipe and piping the mixture into 12 cm x 3cm finger lengths.  I tend to make a sponge for this recipe only when I want to make it look elegant as a showpiece Tiramisù Cake or entremets, for which I make sponge layers as it’s more stable to cut into slices.

For a classic tiramisù, however, I’m a traditionalist … only good quality bought savoiardi will do.  It’s one of those rare occasions in which I don’t bake them from scratch, but I think it’s important for the coffee soaked biscuit layers.  The reason this tiramisù is so wonderful?  In part, it is because the cream is rich but also very light in texture thanks to the Italian meringue (one of my changes, sorry Zia!).  It’s also great because the biscuits are thoroughly soaked in the coffee.  It cuts through the richness of the cream.  I’ve tried so many that have the coffee sprinkled over what remains, in the end, a fairly dry sponge finger layer.  FORGET THAT, FOLKS.  We really need to get the flavours happening here!  Good quality bought savoiardi will allow you to soak them in the coffee without them disintegrating completely.  Home made sponge fingers tend to have a softer texture and I find they don’t hold their shape as well.  This isn’t a problem if you are making the tiramisù in a dish.  I tend to prefer to make mine free-standing.  Plus, it’s authentic, right? 😛

Choose a coffee that is sweet and has low acidity for this dessert because you need to brew it strong to get the intensity of flavour.  I used Gridlock Coffee House Blend this time around and it was lovely.  A little chocolatey, light and sweet.  Brewed strong, there was no hint of bitterness at all … just perfect.   Don’t think you can get away with using instant coffee or an over-roasted bitter espresso.  You’ll taste it.

You can use all brandy or substitute another liqueur.  I often just use only brandy or sometimes Frangelico instead of the Marsala.  Don’t be tempted to use Sambuca or Grappa for this dessert.  While they do go well with coffee, they really don’t work with the mascarpone cream.

This is a great make-ahead dessert because it really is best if made the day or night before you plan to serve it.  The flavours develop beautifully if left overnight.

It’s an easy dessert to make but there’s a big difference between a good tiramisù and a sublime tiramisù experience.

This one is sublime, I promise 😉

Serves 6

200 grams mascarpone*
100 grams double cream (min. 50% milk fat)
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste or scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean
3 tablespoons sugar
30 millilitres water
2 egg whites
12 savoiardi biscuits
400 millilitres strong espresso coffee, freshly brewed
50 millilitres brandy
50 millilitres Marsala or Frangelico
unsweetened cocoa or grated chocolate (70% cacao solids or greater)

*Mascarpone varies a lot depending on the brand and sometimes the time of year.  Some varieties can give the dessert a strong cheesy flavour that not everyone appreciates.  So, I use a combination of mascarpone and double cream to tone it down.  I do this more often than not with spectacular results.  Don’t use ordinary whipping cream as it needs to have the same consistency as the mascarpone for the mascarpone cream to have enough body.   Use 300 grams of mascarpone and omit the cream if your mascarpone has a milder flavour.

While the coffee is still hot, pour it into a dish and add the brandy and Marsala.  Set aside to cool completely while you make the cream.

Whip the mascarpone, egg yolks, and vanilla on medium speed until it is really light.
Place the water and sugar into a saucepan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Raise the heat and let the syrup come to 115°C.  While the syrup is on the heat, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  When the syrup is ready, pour it in a slow steady stream into the egg whites, as you continue to whip them on a medium to high-speed.  Keep whisking the meringue until glossy, stiff and the sides of the bowl have cooled to just warm.
Gently fold the meringue into the mascarpone mixture.  The texture should be mousse-like.

One at a time, carefully dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and turn over until well soaked. Gently lift them out and place side by side in a dish or on a serving plate.  You will need six savoiardi for each layer.   Take care when lifting the biscuits so that they don’t break.  I use two large forks or a flat bladed spatula for this.  Follow with a layer of the mascarpone cream.  Repeat with another layer of savoiardi and top with the remaining mascarpone cream.

This is what I’m talking about, yeah?  The coffee has permeated the savoiardi through and through:

Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight to allow the flavours to develop.
Before serving, liberally sift some unsweetened cocoa over the top or cover the top with grated dark chocolate.

And there you have it … a true classic … plus I scattered a few coffee beans over the top.  Just because.

It’s always nice to have a few leftovers the next day 😛  Note the puddle of coffee?  That’s because the sponge fingers are dripping with coffee and booze.  This is success!



Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Desserts

Chocolate Nut Spread (Healthy)

Chocolate Nut Spread with Almonds

Right, well I’ve had a fairly lacklustre week, having come down with a virus after getting my flu vaccination.  First time ever.  The only real downside is that I’ve been so sick I’ve now fallen way behind in pretty much everything I needed to get done this week … hello work deadlines, now delayed, still looming ahead.  OK, feeling sick isn’t much fun either.

So I haven’t really been baking up a storm this week, although there was the Monday night macaron incident.   I had leftover egg whites from the cupcakes I made last week and I was feeling rather bleugh by Monday already.  So I thought I’d spend a little time in the kitchen quietly making a batch of macarons.  You know.  To cheer myself up.

So there I was, calmly getting everything ready.  I stood smiling smugly at my macaronage technique.  What’s that about pride coming before a fall?  Flipping the macaronage over on to itself, it suddenly dawned on me that I had used my last large piping bag on the weekend and I’d thrown out my old baking sheets that needed to be replaced … but I hadn’t yet gone out to get new ones.  I think I stopped breathing right then and there.

That was followed by a brief panic of “the sky is falling!” variety and witnesses claim that strong language was employed by yours truly.  But their testimony is somewhat dodgy as they are members of my own family, only happy to accuse me of such nonsense ;-P

Once I’d calmed down, realising that time was probably of the essence … I proceeded to whip out what trays I could find and my tiny piping bags – the kind you use for small icing jobs.

Viviane’s Macaron Tip: macarons are nowhere near as hard to make as the myths surrounding them would suggest.  BUT one thing is for sure – piping macarons with a tiny piping bag is a lesson about diminishing returns.

Happily, while it was a struggle and they didn’t look as perfect as they ought to have done, they were pretty close to perfect and most even had little feet.  A few were a tad misshapen as I had to upturn the cookie sheets and piped a little too close to the sloped edges 😦

All in all, they still had a light, crispy shell and soft yummy interior so all’s well that ends well.  This cloud still had a silver lining … or a macaron one.  I’ll post it all another time, sans mega-disaster and once I get me more piping bags and baking sheets.


Well, at least we’ve laughed hysterically about it at home all week.   Then I turned my sights on making something quick, easy, and healthy to make up for feeling awful for days … and I’d have to sneak in some chocolate because nothing cheers me up like chocolate does (I sandwiched the macarons with a plain chocolate ganache for precisely this reason and I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else by that stage).

A healthy Chocolate Nut Spread.  Great idea.  Lots of recipes around.  As usual, I go “meh” and do my own thing.  I’ve been playing around with recipes for this for ages.  Sometimes they set too solid (tip: avoid adding coconut oil).  Sometimes they don’t keep very well and I’ve found that this is often when I add dairy, usually skim milk, or try to leave out sweeteners.  Ultimately, you need something to help it keep, albeit naturally.  I’ve added soy milk but get the same problem.  Plus I’m not keen on the flavour.  Persistence does pay though.  The recipe below ticks all the boxes for being healthy, but importantly, it’s also full of pure wonderful flavours.  I chose almonds this time because that’s what I grabbed out of the pantry first.

It is intensely chocolatey … well, it has to be or I wouldn’t eat, would I?   I think not.   Note that it really is gluten, wheat, and dairy free.  If you choose your sweetener right, it is also suitable for people on a low FODMAP diet (specifically those with fructose issues).

If you want it to be dairy free, use 100% pea protein in this recipe.  The one I use for cooking and in smoothies is just pure pea protein and pure vanilla, nothing else added.  There are chocolate varieties with cacao added or plain, with nothing but pea protein.   It’s also got a high bio-availability so I’m happy with it replacing whey proteins in cooking.  The reason?  Most whey proteins do have additives, even if they don’t contain gums and other fillers.  It doesn’t taste like peas, just in case you’re wondering.

Whatever nuts you choose, it’ll be packed full of protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, no trans fats or other bad guy diet fiends, lots of antioxidants, and dare I say, in all that nutritional goodness … it tastes utterly utterly delicious.  Or I wouldn’t eat it, would I?  😉

Best of all, it is dead easy and takes only seconds to make.  Practically perfect as Mary Poppins might say.  No excuses.

Makes 1 standard jar

Ingredients (almond version)
100 grams almonds, lightly roasted
2 tablespoons organic coconut sugar
3 – 4 tablespoons raw cacao
2 tablespoons unflavoured protein powder* (I use Professional Whey NZ WPI)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste

*If you use a flavoured protein powder, you will need to reduce the amount of sugar.  Try for a chocolate or vanilla protein in this case.  You can also use pea protein isolate or a micellar casein with great results.  I imagine hemp protein powder would also work well, if it is available to you (not in Australia at this time).

A note on sweeteners: OK, I’ve used organic coconut sugar so 1 used around 2 tablespoons.  It’s not an overly sweet sugar and is ok for anyone with problems absorbing fructose.  Sweeteners I use are usually a little sugar or maple syrup for this reason.  But it’s also great with honey, fruit juice concentrates, and other syrups such as rice or barley.   If you use puréed dates as a sweetener, make sure you puree them until quite smooth.  I imagine it’s also good with stevia or agave syrup (off-limits to me).  High fructose sweeteners give me painful cramps but if you can use them, you undoubtedly need less of them, as they are generally more sweet.  Rule of thumb, add a little and do a taste test towards the end and add a little more if you need to.  Avoid artificial sweeteners at all costs in this spread.  Or in anything for that matter 🙂

A note on nuts: Firstly, I made the spread using almonds here.  Almonds are really good for you.  If you could only have one type of nut, this is possibly the best you could have.  But all nuts are good and most of them are delicious with this spread.  I use whatever I have to hand, or takes my fancy.  Love them all.  To get great health benefits as well as wonderful flavour, the following are great choices: walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts (yeah, Nutella), macadamias, pistachios, or a combination.  Great combinations include almond + brazil nut + cashew (the classic ABC), almond + pistachio, and walnut + cashew.  I imagine it would also be wonderful with chestnuts although I have not yet tried that myself.

Secondly, if you don’t have a food processor or nut grinder, all is not lost!  Use your favourite nut butter but look for one that doesn’t have added salt or sugar, just 100% nutty goodness.

A note on flavouring: The recipe above is the base recipe.  You can flavour this with whatever you like: citrus zest and juice, rosewater or rose oil is lovely with pistachio, orange flower water, cinnamon or other spices, a little chilli, fleur de sel, even coffee (with walnuts, wow).   Add the flavouring before you add the water.

Whizz together the almonds and sugar in a food processor or sturdy blender until almost a paste.  Add the raw cacao and whizz again. Add the protein powder and vanilla bean paste and whizz one more time for good measure until combined.

Continue whizzing at a low to medium speed and add the water in a steady stream, a little at a time. Add only until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but not too solid or runny either.

Pour or scoop into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.  This was enough for one standard jar.

I’m rather pleased with that!  Hopefully you will be too 🙂


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Breakfast, Chocolate, Nuts, Protein, Protein Chocolates, Special Diet

Yuzu Sunshine Cupcakes … layering flavour like fragrance

I love how you can layer a flavour in a cake in much the same way as you can layer fragrance.  You know, you use the scented bodywash, the matching body lotion and then top it all off with a spritz of the concentrated perfume?  That kind of thing.  Works beautifully with food too, especially cakes and pastries.

We’ve had some gloriously sunny and warm days this week in Melbourne.  Beautiful balmy autumn days to make up for what has been a lacklustre summer this year.  The kind of weather that makes you yearn for something bright and sunny, as you hang on to the last remnants of the season.  This week I’ve also been looking at a lot of cupcake pics and a little voice inside my head started:  It’s been a while since you made cupcakes, Vivi-spice … imagine layering a flavour through a cupcake, like a fragrance … something sunny and bright.   Hey, hang on … yuzu.

Oh come on, you know, the voice of inspiration … not a sudden need for a lithium patch!

I bought a bottle of yuzu juice a while ago, not quite sure what I was going to make with it at the time.  I just wanted to play around and experiment.  It’s rather expensive though so I didn’t want to waste it on any wacky, crazy ideas to which I might suddenly succumb!   An all too likely scenario.  Usually ends in strong language and occasionally tears.   If you are not familiar with it, yuzu is a citrus fruit native to Japan.  It has a lot in common with lemons but I’d say the taste is less sour, much more tangy, and really bright and fresh.  Lemony at first, a little hint of orange lingers?

So these cupcakes are also a little tribute to Japan, at a time when sunshine and cupcakes are probably the furthest things from the minds of most Japanese.

The idea was to layer the flavour, so I incorporated it into the cupcake batter, the yuzu curd, and into the frosting.  Using the fragrance analogy, the yuzu curd is like the concentrated perfume in this cake.  The cake is like the bodywash, lightly scented.  The frosting is like the body lotion, rich with a slightly stronger scent.

I have to say yuzu curd is now my all time FAVOURITE curd EVER.  I love citrus curd that’s not too sweet and really tangy and yuzu delivers in spades, in yuzus even!  If you make nothing else, make the curd.  It’s sunshine and rainbows and butterflies all rolled into one … and tangy!  Happiness.

I made a cream cheese frosting and used the curd in that too.  It’s light, easy to pipe, not too sweet or buttery, and totally delicious.  Because I don’t like to pile frosting on to cupcakes, I had a little left over.  It’s good on its own, eaten with a spoon but would also be great on freshly baked scones or French toast.  Ditto the curd.  Actually the curd would be great with anything.  Really and truly.  I’m putting the leftovers on my toast tomorrow.  I’ll just work a bit harder at the gym later 😀

The cupcakes themselves are super moist.  There’s nothing worse than a dry cupcake relying on its frosting to stop you totally gagging, is there?  The cakes would be great even on their own.   This recipe couldn’t be easier and it’s easily adapted to other citrus flavours, if you can’t find yuzu juice.  I hope you like the way the yuzu flavour runs through all the elements that make up the cake without being overpowering.  It really does taste as though it’s been subtly layered.

Makes 18 cupcakes

Small sugar flowers for decoration – I used white and yellow just because they looked sunny 🙂

Yuzu Cupcakes
220 grams sugar
200 grams unsalted butter, softened
4 eggs
3 tablespoons yuzu juice
220 grams plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder

Yuzu Curd
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup yuzu juice (strained)
140 grams sugar
150 grams unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Yuzu Frosting
125 grams icing sugar
250 grams cream cheese
80 grams unsalted butter, melted & cooled
3/4 cup Yuzu Curd (recipe above)

To make the cupcakes
Preheat oven to 180C (175C in a fan-forced oven).   Place the sugar and butter into the bowl of a mixer and beat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light.  Add the eggs and yuzu juice and beat until smooth.  Sift the flour and baking powder together, add to the batter mixture and beat until the batter is smooth and light.  Divide the mixture between 18 cupcake liners.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until risen and golden.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack before frosting.

To make the curd
Place the egg yolks, sugar, and yuzu juice into a saucepan and mix well.  Stir the mixture over a low to medium heat, until it starts to thicken.  Don’t let the mixture boil.  Reduce the heat if necessary.  When thickened so it coats the back of a spoon, remove from the heat.  It should take about 6 – 8 minutes. Gradually whisk in the butter in three or four batches until the mixture is smooth and shiny.  Pour into a bowl.  Cover with a layer of cling film on the surface of the curd and refrigerate until required.

Reserve 3/4 cup of the curd for the frosting.

When the cupcakes have cooled, fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and half-fill the bag with curd.  Insert the tip about 2 centimetres into each cupcake and pipe a small amount of curd into each cake (removing the tip from each cupcake as you pipe in the curd).  Set aside, ready for frosting.

To make the frosting
Whisk the cream cheese until smooth.  Sift the icing sugar and add to the cream cheese.  Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is light and creamy.  Add the chilled yuzu curd and whisk until light.

Whisk the cooled butter until slightly thickened and add it to the cream cheese mixture.  Whisk the frosting until light.  If making ahead, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  I find it pipes more easily if chilled.

Fit a piping bag with a plain or decorative tip, depending on your preference.  I used a plain one because I prefer it with the flowers on top.  Fill the bag with the frosting and pipe a little frosting on each cupcake.  If you don’t feel confident piping the frosting, just swirl it on to the top of each cupcake with an offset palette knife.

Place a sugared flower on top of each cupcake.  There you have it … sunshine and heaven in fresh and yummy yuzu cupcakes!

The sun disappeared this morning and now it’s cold and raining, with no promise of warm, balmy days in the coming week.   I’m not sure I’m ready to say goodbye to the sun just yet.   At least I have my cupcakes … nom nom!


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cupcakes, Fruit