Tea-ramisu—Tiramisu, But With Tea!
This was staring us right in the face, you guys. Ti-ramisu. TEA-ramisu.
You still get that same supple sponge layer, that mouth-coating, eye-rollingly luxurious mascarpone cream, that bittersweet kick of alcohol, and the same caffeine buzz, only instead of coffee—there’s tea. The steps are virtually identical. You take some ladyfinger biscuits—or if you’re a keen bean, make your own sponge—dip them in some caffeinated liquid, and layer on the luxury that is mascarpone cream, and give it a smattering of cocoa powder.
As for the tea itself, you can use Earl Grey, matcha, perhaps even a Chinese-y Pu-Er. But when I opened my tea cabinet at home, that massive pack of red Thai tea I bought months ago was looking a little sad and neglected at the back of the tea pecking order. (Ain’t nobody gonna drink artificially-coloured tea on the daily after all. And yes, sorry to burst your bubble, but that orange glow from Thai tea isn’t natural; it’s pure colouring.) Despite my aversion to artificially-coloured foods, I thought a Thai tea, colouring and all, would work great in a dessert, so what the heck. It was also too good a pun to let slide.
Still, despite the ubiquity of tiramisu nowadays, there are a couple of tricky steps to get a truly great tiramisu (as opposed to the tacky, bistro types that looks and tastes too much like cake, made with half the required amount of cream and alcohol). So, for true tiramisu (or tearamisu) glory, here are four key tips:
Brew a strong cuppa. The conventional, coffee-based tiramisu calls for espresso—dark, thick and head-buzzingly bitter. So we gotta create the same level of intensity with tea. But tea can’t just be boiled willy-nilly, lest you draw out too much of the tannins in the tea leaves, making for a puckery, mouth-dryingly bitter brew, which is the wrong sort of bitter we want here. So instead of that, just use three times (or more) the regular amount of tea leaves you’d use for a typical cup of tea, and let it steep in for 10-15 minutes.
Start your sabayon well. Ah, the holy grail of Italian desserts, the sabayon. It’s essentially just egg yolks and sugar, but cooked so gently and with so much care over a steam bath (or double boiler) whilst being continuously whisked, it turns into this fluffy, orgasmically rich sauce-base. The key to a good sabayon is patience—you’re gonna spend a good 5-10 minutes whisking—and to cook it long enough until it resembles a thick custard and almost has a marshmallow level of gumminess to it. Then, all you need to do is fold in the mascarpone and whipped cream, and you’ll have a cream that would turn even the most fervent vegan.
Line them ladyfingers tight. There might be an innuendo to be made here, but let’s not go there. Basically, after dipping your ladyfingers in the tea (or coffee), you want them nice and snug at the bottom of the tray to create an even, stable layer. This’ll help it hold it structure too when serving the tiramisu. So break up your biscuits to size, and fit them snugly into the gaps.
Smatter on cocoa powder only when serving, and not a second before. The longer your cocoa powder sits on the tiramisu, the more moisture it’ll absorb, turning it clumpy and unpleasantly gritty. So in no instance should you pre-dust your tiramisu. As an aside though, I did consider using some finely pulverised tea leaves as a dusting instead of cocoa powder for this tea-ramisu, but even a Vitamix won’t do a good enough job to get rid of the grittiness of raw tea leaves. Having said that though—and I only thought of this after I made this Thai tea-ramisu—a green tea-ramisu would work so so well, because you can dust matcha powder on top too, making it a one-two punch of tea. Gah why did I not think of this before!?
So with these tips, go make yourself this tease of a dessert.
Fills a 9-inch x 9-inch deep square tray (~6 portions)
30g Thai tea leaves (I used the mix from ChaTraMue Brand, but any other should be fine)
250ml hot water
50ml rum or kahlua
20-25 ladyfinger biscuits
250g whipping cream
4 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
40ml rum or kahlua
~1 tablespoon cocoa powder, for dusting
Make tea: Place your Thai tea leaves in a bowl, and pour boiling water into the bowl and let the leaves steep for 10 minutes. Then, strain out the tea leaves, and add rum to the tea. Set this aside for later.
Whip cream: As your tea leaves are steeping, place your whipping cream in a mixer bowl with the whisk attachment, and whisk on high for 2-3 minutes, until it forms medium peaks. (Alternatively, you can whip it by hand and build them biceps.) Keep the whipped cream in the refrigerator for later.
Make a sabayon: Ready a double boiler or steam bath (essentially a pot with an inch of water on a gentle simmer, with a separate bowl on top heated by the steam, not touching the water), and place the egg yolks and sugar in it. Whisk continuously and let the yolks cook gently in the bowl for 6-8 minutes. The yolk will feel thicker and almost gummy as you keep whisking it and it cooks. You’ll know it’s done when you can lift the whisk and trace a figure 8 using the egg yolk drippage, and the outline stays visible for 2-3 seconds before melding back with the bulk of the mixture.
Finish the cream: To the egg yolk sabayon, add in the mascarpone, vanilla extract, salt, and rum. Give it a quick whisk until the ingredients are all well-combined. Then, take the whipped cream out of the fridge, and gently fold it into the mascarpone mixture, in 2-3 incorporations. Your cream is done!
Build the layers: Ready a deep tray to build your tiramisu. (I used a 9-inch x 9-inch square tray.) Then, individually dunk the ladyfingers into the tea and rum (from step 1), and place it into the tray. (The biscuits can soak up a lot of liquid, so to prevent them from getting too soggy, I find that just a quick, 1-second dunk into the tea works perfectly.) Place your biscuits into the tea until the bottom of the tray is completely covered. Then, place about half of the mascarpone cream on top of the ladyfingers, spreading it out evenly using a spoon or spatula. Then, repeat the process to form another biscuit layer, and top it off with the rest of the mascarpone, again making sure to spread the top out evenly.
Store & serve: Store the tiramisu in the fridge overnight, or for 3 hours at the very least. (The ladyfingers will absorb more liquid and soften over this time and you’ll get a much suppler layer.) Then, to serve, slice out a portion of the tiramisu, tease it out of the tray with a spatula—the first piece is always the trickiest to remove intact—and give it a thin dusting of cocoa powder on top. Eat your worries away.