I’ve been making my own tiramisu for years, but I only got around to making my own ladyfingers this past Thanksgiving. Why? I really don’t know. I’ve made eclairs and puff pastry before, so I’m no stranger to finicky French pastry techniques. I guess I was just lazy and assumed that going to so much effort wouldn’t make much of a difference compared with supermarket ladyfingers.
I was wrong, wrong, wrong! Typical supermarket ladyfingers aren’t crispy on the outside but rather soft all the way through. They get soggy and squishy easily, and have a boring, kind of chemical-ish flavour. Homemade ladyfingers are crisp on the outside and light as air on the inside; they taste fresh, like the pastry version of zabaglione: kind of eggy and buttery, even though there isn’t any butter included.
Their remarkable texture enables them to hold coffee worlds better than their supermarket counterparts, and – also unlike their supermarket counterparts – they are delicious when dipped in melted chocolate. They make for a terrific dessert in and of themselves. I wish I’d started making my own ladyfingers sooner. They have made my tiramisu into something truly special, lightyears better than anything I’ve ever had at even high-end restaurants. (I’m still tweaking it, so no post for tiramisu yet. It’ll get here eventually, no worries! 🙂 )
I promise this next point is related to this recipe: I think vanilla extract is overused. I can’t taste it in a rich, fudgy chocolate cake, for example; vanilla is a delicate flavour and is easily overpowered by other flavours. I’ve started flavouring my chocolate cakes just with coffee, not a trace of vanilla, and no one is the wiser. In this recipe, vanilla is the star. You really can taste it in the finished ladyfingers, and in my opinion, adding vanilla to these is what makes them a formidable dessert either by themselves, or with chocolate (ooh, or dipped into zabaglione!). I haven’t tried these cookies with lemon zest, but I imagine that would make these even better; lemon and vanilla go marvelously well together.
Don’t worry if your ladyfingers aren’t piped perfectly. As you can see from the above photographs, I still have a way to go in piping prettily, and my ladyfingers are delicious anyway. Yours will be, too. 🙂
The Serious Eats recipe kindly includes measurements in both volume and weight, which I have included below. Happy baking! 🙂
Yield: About 30 ladyfingers, depending on how large they are piped
3 large eggs (155 g)
2/3 c. sugar (135 g)
1/4 teaspoon (1 g) Kosher salt
1 TBS vanilla extract, optional
zest from 1 lemon (7 g), optional
1 c. all-purpose flour (125 g)
2 TBS cornstarch (15 g)
about 1 c. powdered sugar, for dusting ladyfingers prior to baking (may need additional powdered sugar to generously dust all ladyfingers)
Preheat oven to 350°F. (I have a gas convection oven, so I preheat mine to 325°F.) Prepare a bain marie by filling a small pot (a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan works well for this) about 2/3 full of hot water; set it to boil. Make sure the bowl you whisk the ladyfingers in (preferably the bowl of a stand mixer, as whisking takes a full 10 minutes at high speed on such a mixer) is larger than the pot and thus sits atop the water bath without directly touching the boiling water. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, reduce heat so that it maintains a gentle simmer.
Meanwhile, line 2 baking sheets with parchment or with Silpat liners. (Silpat liners really do produce a superior result with this recipe, but parchment will do fine.) Do not spray or coat parchment paper or Silpat liners with butter; the cookies won’t crisp properly if you do.
Place 2 piping bags, pointy ends down, in two tall, large drinking glasses. Roll the edges of the piping bags over the edges of the glasses. This is to make filling the piping bags easier. Have scissors ready to snip the ends of the bags when it’s time to pipe the batter.
Place a medium-sized sifter into a large, shallow bowl and fill sifter with about 1 c. powdered sugar. (You may need more than this to generously dust all ladyfingers.)
Measure out flour and cornstarch into a small bowl. There is no need to stir them together. Place small to medium-sized sifter (preferably not the same one you use for sifting the powdered sugar) next to bowl; you’ll need to sift this mixture into the eggs.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, place eggs and sugar. Immediately whisk these ingredients together so your eggs don’t “burn” (develop small hard bits due to contact with sugar). Add salt and vanilla, if using; whisk to combine. Attach a candy thermometer or else have an instant-read thermometer handy. It’s crucial you reach the right temperature during cooking, or the ladyfingers won’t puff properly.
Set bowl with egg mixture over prepared bain marie and whisk constantly (you can also use a heatproof spatula for this) until mixture reaches 160°F. A sufficient supply of steam ensures that this should only take a few minutes. Immediately remove bowl from heat and remove candy thermometer. Transfer bowl to standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment and whisk at high speed until eggs have more than quadrupled in size and are thick enough to briefly hold a soft peak when lifted with a whisk. This will take up to 10 minutes, depending on a couple of factors: whether your egg mixture reached 160°F exactly during the cooking stage, and the horsepower of your mixer. (I’ve had this process take 15 minutes before, but I had slightly undercooked my eggs.) If eggs are unable to hold soft peaks, the ladyfingers will not puff properly and will be flat and dense.
Once eggs have reached desired stage, place lemon zest (if using) atop eggs and sift flour/cornstarch mixture atop eggs. Gently fold into egg mixture with a rubber spatula and transfer mixture to piping bags, half of mixture in each bag.
Twist the open end of the first bag to close and snip the pointy end off, leaving an opening approximately 1/4″ in diameter. (Holding the pointy end up while you cut the end off will help contents from starting to spill out of the hole you just cut.) Holding bag at a 45° angle, pipe contents of first bag onto one tray. You’ll be making approximately fifteen 3″x1″ finger shapes, leaving about 1/2″ between each cookie. Repeat with second bag and second baking sheet. The fingers don’t have to be perfect; they’ll still taste fine. The more you practise piping, the more you’ll get the hang of it.
Dust first tray (but not the second tray yet) generously with powdered sugar, ensuring the top of each cookie is completely coated in powdered sugar. Bake one tray at a time for 12 minutes, or until cookies are puffed and firm to the touch. They will not turn golden brown but will remain pale, so start checking cookies about 1 minute before the given time. Allow to cool completely on baking sheet before removing.
Dust second tray just before baking and bake as before.
Immediately upon the cookies’ cooling to room temperature, transfer them to an airtight container; they start getting soft instantly after cooling, and you want them to remain crispy on the outside with a soft center. These cookies will taste fresh for up to two weeks if stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Beyond two weeks, they start to taste stale.
Source: Slightly adapted from Serious Eats