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Wolfgang PuckIt’s easy to understand why tiramisu is Italy’s most popular dessert — not just on Columbus Day, which will be celebrated on Monday, Oct. 9, but year-round. When you’ve got one dish that combines the flavors of chocolate and espresso coffee with sugar, light spongy ladyfinger cookies, and tangy-creamy mascarpone cheese, how can you possibly go wrong? No wonder it gets its name, which is Italian slang for “pick-me-up.” My recipe is fairly long, as you can see. But each stage of it remains simple — even the cake making. Better still — you can make the cake up to two weeks ahead of time and the mascarpone filling as far in advance as four hours. That leaves just the final, simple assembly to be done no later than two hours before serving time, making this a surprisingly easy dessert for the grand impression it makes. My only other advice: Enjoy this with a cup of strong coffee, preferably espresso. Click here for Wolfgang Puck's full introduction.

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  • Ladyfinger Cake:
  • Melted butter, for brushing pan
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1 C. cake flour, sifted
  • Mascarpone Cream:
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 C. sugar
  • 1/4 C. Marsala
  • 1/4 C. brandy
  • 2 lb. mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • Espresso Syrup:
  • 1 C. hot freshly brewed espresso
  • 3 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C. grated bittersweet chocolate

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First, make the Ladyfinger Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12-by-16-inch rimmed baking sheet, line with parchment paper, and brush the paper with butter. In a mixing bowl, use a handheld electric mixer on medium speed to beat the yolks with half of the sugar until the mixture is light in color and forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted. Set aside.

In another bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Beating continuously, slowly pour in the remaining sugar and continue beating until the whites form slightly drooping peaks when the beaters are lifted. Sift the flour again. With a rubber spatula, fold half of the flour into the yolk mixture. Fold in half of the whites. Then, fold in the remaining flour. Finally, fold in the remaining whites. Pour into the prepared baking sheet and, with a spatula, carefully spread to fill the tray. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. (This can be done up to 2 weeks ahead; if so, remove the cake from the baking sheet, wrap airtight in plastic wrap and foil, and store in the freezer.)

Next, make the Mascarpone Cream: In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar. Add the Marsala and brandy. Place over a pan of boiling water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water, and cook, stirring, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a cooking thermometer. Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture resembles a thick paste, about 5 minutes. Remove and place the bowl inside a larger bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until the mixture cools to room temperature. Put the mascarpone in another bowl and, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until it forms soft peaks. With a rubber spatula, fold thoroughly into the yolk mixture. (This can be made up to four hours ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

Next, make the Espresso Syrup: In a heatproof bowl, stir together the espresso, brown and granulated sugars, lemon juice and vanilla, until the sugars dissolve completely. Set aside.

To assemble: Cut the sheet of cake into two 8-by-10-inch portions. Divide the Mascarpone Cream into 3 equal portions and the Espresso Syrup into 2. Spread a portion of the Mascarpone Cream over the bottom of a deep 8-by-10-inch dessert dish. Top with 1 sheet of cake. Drizzle 1 portion of syrup evenly over the cake. When it has soaked in, repeat with another layer of Mascarpone Cream, another cake sheet, and more syrup. Top with the remaining Mascarpone Cream and sprinkle with grated chocolate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To serve, cut into square or rectangular portions.

Yield: 8-12 servings

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays on the Food Network. Also, his latest cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Easy,” is now available in bookstores. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y. 14207.)


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