From the “Meet the Lady” files…
This recipe was created by me to fit the bill for the recent “Meet the Lady” performance (which, if you’ve not heard or read, is a monthly variety show that really rather defies description), titled “Death and the Maiden”.
I toiled with possible ideas that had to do with death and maidens, figuring most easily that a “death by chocolate” offering would at least use one of the title words. Then lady fingers came into the thought process because, well, if you dismembered a maiden you’d have two byproducts: death, most notably, and lady parts — including, but not limited to, her fingers.
Lady fingers naturally led to Tiramisu fantasies, but I didn’t want to go the traditional route. And after discussing it and brainstorming, I got smacked in the back of the head with the realization that the mythical Persephone — a maiden — kidnapped as she was by Hades — who, by way of his being the god of the underworld, was death its very self in semi-human form — ate nothing but pomegranate seeds during her detainment in hell.
If this doesn’t spell fucking dessert, I don’t know what does.
Herewith, my scaled-down recipe (in scope, not in structure or composition; I doubt you’ll need to serve 75 people with yours, though even at half-size this will serve a small army). You can pare it down even further if you feel such need, or instead of making it into one big sheet cake, assemble several smaller ones (I found this worked BEAUTIFULLY in loaf pans) and send them straight to the freezer for future enjoyment.
A few other flexible considerations: I made mine in a full-size deep steam table pan for presentation and food service purposes. These things measure roughly 20 x 10 x 3.5”, but you can use the smaller (12 x 9 x 2.5”) disposable aluminum half-pans for this recipe, or as stated above, any other configuration of sizes that suit your needs. If you want to unmold it and slice it after freezing, line your pans first with cellophane wrap. After just a minute or two out of the ice box, you’ll be able to lift it out of the pan (perhaps with the help of a hungry friend) by the ends of the cellophane, place it on a cutting board, and have at it. Tres artistique, even weighing in as mine did at about eight pounds. This last conclusion required me getting on the scale both with and without the final dessert in my arms and subtracting the first weight from the laden number, which could have been quite a site, as I generally refuse to step on a scale until I’ve removed every last stitch of clothing including my socks, and spit out any spare saliva and shaved every last facial hair so NOTHING will add even a bazillionth of an ounce to my readout, lest I suffer a deep fit of depression. And being depressed when you’re holding what turns out to be 8 pounds of really good cake is a recipe for emotion-eating disaster. But I staved off the need to feel slimmer than normal in light of the facts that (a) I was mid-movie shoot that week, and thus had to maintain a larger-than-usual mane of face-hair for my role; (b) spitting near food meant for others would be gross; (c) being naked around the same food would be even grosser; and (d) the tile floor in my bathroom could be a bit chilly, so why risk taking off my socks?
Socks, spitting, scanty clothing — nothing could have made this less enjoyable. The audience that night devoured what was served to them, and all but attacked the leftovers on the way out of the theater. I had sent samples of this creation to my usual team of taste-testers for input as part of the development process, and perhaps the most poignant and fitting critique came from my dear Mom who, just having started a new diet regimen, had the following to say during our brief check-in on the phone:
“Hello. This is your mother. Fuck Weight Watchers, and Fuck You.”
I love you, Mom. And not just because you loved this surprising new take on an old favorite.
60 Lady Finger cookies
4 Cups Pomegranate juice
1-½ Cups plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Packet unflavored gelatin
4 Egg whites
1 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1 Cup Mascarpone cheese (or our substitute)
3 Cups Crème Fraiche (try ours)
1 Tbsp. Corn starch
¼ Cup water (or as needed)
½ Cup sliced almonds
¼ Cup Pomegranate seeds (or dried sweetened cranberries)
Reserve 6 Lady Fingers for garnish.
In a saucepan, mix pomegranate juice with 1-½ cups sugar, and sprinkle gelatin on top. Stir or whisk until gelatin is dissolved with no lumps remaining. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar and gelatin are fully dissolved. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to boil, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set saucepan into a larger bowl filled with cold water. Stir frequently and change cold water bath often, allowing juice reduction to cool as close to room temperature as possible.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or with electric beaters, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff. Remove to a separate, clean mixing bowl (preferably chilled in the freezer) and set aside.
In stand mixer or large mixing bowl with electric beaters, mix mascarpone with 1-½ cups of cooled juice reduction until well blended. Beat on medium-high for one minute. Add 1 cup of the crème fraiche and blend until smooth. Finally, fold in beaten egg whites, half at a time, just until fully incorporated.
Assembling the tiramisu: Here’s where Food Daddy starts getting anal (but this works easiest, so just shut up and do as I say. Love you!). On your prep surface, set your plate or bowl of unpackaged lady fingers (you don’t want to be messing with cellophane and plastic bags and such mid-project here); next to that, set your remaining juice reduction; and next to that, set your cake pan.
Working from left to right (or for my Hebrew or dyslexic foodies, right to left), dip a lady finger lightly in the juice by placing it on the liquid’s surface, flipping it over with your fingers, then removing it by hand and placing it in the cake pan. Working quickly, repeat this process, building a tightly packed layer of side-by-side, row-by-row, lightly soaked lady fingers on the bottom of the pan. Nobody will see the inside of the tiramisu in its entirety, so if to make a uniform layer with few gaps you need to rip a finger here or stuff a finger there, I won’t tell a soul if you have to be a bit forceful or creative.
Spoon half of the pomegranate mousse mixture over the bottom layer of lady fingers. Using the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, spread the mixture evenly. Lift the pan and drop it gently a few times on your work surface, just to make sure all the gaps are filled and big air bubbles are removed.
Repeat with a second layer of dipped lady fingers, and then a second layer of pomegranate mousse, again tamping pan to release air bubbles and distribute the filling evenly. Top with one final layer of dipped lady fingers.
Spread the top with the remaining 2 cups of crème fraiche, tamp pan to settle the layers, and set aside.
Pour remaining juice mixture into a measuring cup, and add enough of the water, if needed, to make 1 cup of liquid. Return to saucepan, and stir in the corn starch and the remaining 2 Tbsp. of sugar until starch is dissolved. Place pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil to thicken. Remove from heat.
In a food processor or with a cutting board and knife, coarsely chop the almonds and the fruit, then add the reserved lady fingers and pulse (or chop and crumble) until the whole thing looks like somebody pawed at a poor helpless berry-nut muffin until there were no big chunks left.
Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top of the tiramisu. Drizzle with the pomegranate syrup mixture.
Chill tiramisu at least 2 hours in refrigerator before serving. For overnight storage or longer, cover with cellophane wrap gently pressed against the top surface.
This will “cure” and the flavors will blend and the whole combination really pull together if left refrigerated for two days. For storage beyond that or to deal with leftovers, this freezes BEAUTIFULLY. Just allow to come to room temperature before serving, or enjoy it “semi freddo” by removing from freezer and slicing wide, inch-thick slices, laying each on its side on individual serving plates and eating it cold and firm. A dollop of additional crème fraiche and a sprinkling of chopped almonds (did I hear someone say “mint sprig”?) sure would make this anything but a “leftover” dessert.