If someone asks "so, what can you cook?" (a frequent question during a variety of conversations, ranging from small talk to my frequent attempts to offer to cook for people in exchange for favors such as cat-sitting and rides to and from the airport), I usually blithely respond "anything and everything!" I would do well to re-examine the veracity of this statement, however, because, truth be told, while my fondness for experimentation has led me to cook a ton of stuff, including lebna cheese, pad thai, and vegan chocolate pudding, I have, until recently, steered clear of, well, fluffy desserts. They are time consuming, for one. This hasn't daunted me in the past, though - my college roommate and I once spent the better part of the day and into the night (until 2AM, to be exact), producing handmade fig and goat cheese wontons. For the most part, I had simply dismissed creamy confections as irredeemably unhealthy. After all, it's hard to justify a steady diet of recipes that begin with "beat 5 egg yolks together with 2 cups heavy cream..." However, with my newfound conviction that everything delicious can also be good for our bodies as well as our taste-buds, I recently set out to test the waters of - and redeem - tiramisu. Why tiramisu, in particular? Paging through a magazine over coffee one morning, I discovered that "tiramisu" means, in Italian, "pick me up." I was thereby instantly convinced that tiramisu simply had to have some nutritious benefits, since it evidently was so good for the soul (really, who could act gloomy after a spoonful of a soft, mocha-flavored cloud?).
Tiramisu is one of those incredibly complex looking dishes that turns out to be deceptively simple. I had designated an entire afternoon to tiramisu assembly, and, half an hour after I began, found myself with a completed dessert in the fridge and more than enough time to clean the fish tank, rake leaves, and still add roasted cauliflower and mashed potatoes to the menu.
The ultimate result - this dessert that breezed its way into my fridge on the first try - is a bit different from classic tiramisu, but it is the accomplishment of the seemingly impossible - healthy tiramisu. It's still a bit more caloric than most of the recipes I dream up, but it's relatively low in fat, doesn't have any of the calories alcohol usually adds to the dish (without sacrificing a bit of flavor, I promise), and is a good source of calcium (which is quite lacking in most diets). All in all, it's not too far away from a bagel and cream cheese (and, as wonderful as bagels are, I think it's a much more effective "pick me up...")
White Chocolate Mocha Tiramisu
1 cup top quality white chocolate chips
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
8 oz. whipped cream cheese
8 oz. light cream cheese
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/3 cup brewed coffee
20 ladyfingers, each separated in half length-wise
cinnamon, for dusting
~ In a small saucepan over medium heat, stir the chocolate chips and the water until the chips are melted.
~ Remove from the heat, and whisk in the vanilla.
~ With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheeses together until fluffy.
~ Add the white chocolate mixture, and blend until combined.
~ Pour in the sugar and the coffee, and blend again until smooth.
~ In a round bowl or baking dish with a flat bottom, arrange a layer of ladyfinger halves, rounded side down. Spread 1/3 of the creamed mixture on top. Repeat with two more layers of ladyfingers and the remaining 2/3 of the creamed mixture. Finish with a final layer of ladyfingers, rounded side up this time. Dust the top with cinnamon. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving...