Chocolate-Cherry Tiramisu

“No tiramisu for me, because I don’t like coffee.” This was the reply I’d come to expect from my husband, Les, who definitely does not share my love for a freshly brewed morning cup of java. The classic Italian dessert has long been one of my favorites—its not-so-sweet flavor is perfect for my not-so-sweet tooth. But this issue of coffee has been a real problem for my tiramisu goals. I could make it for myself, of course, but then I would have to eat the whole thing (yikes), and I really wanted to find a way to make it enjoyable for both of us.

Tiramisu is traditionally made of delicate biscotti cookies that have been soaked in rum- or liqueur-spiked espresso, layered with a rich and creamy mascarpone custard and dusted with real cocoa powder. It is, essentially, an Italian version of an icebox cake, and with no baking required, everything about it works—except, for my husband, the darn coffee.

A few months ago, I couldn’t help noticing the ads that kept popping up in my Pinterest feed: “brews like coffee, benefits of cacao.”

OK, I thought, a coffee substitute that might give me an occasional break from the caffeine crashes that disrupt my sleep. So, without any specific intended purpose, I ordered some. I wasn’t blown away by the flavor of it on its own, and though it was interesting, I couldn’t see myself actually trading in my beloved dark roast coffee. Until the day it suddenly hit me: this brewed cacao might work in tiramisu!

As with several other recipes I’ve delayed trying, tiramisu has turned out to be remarkably simple. I leaned on the expertise of Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa” whom I admire not only for her seemingly effortless cooking style, but also for her absolute devotion to her husband. She is always preparing special cocktails and favorite foods for Jeffrey, and I can relate. Ina’s recipe for tiramisu seemed simple enough, and it was very easy to cut the ingredients in half for a smaller portion for the two of us. I made several swaps—cacao for espresso, amaretto for rum, and cherry juice and preserves to flavor some of the mascarpone filling. But the technique and ratios of ingredients are the same, and it turned out perfect for our at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

Chocolate and cherry together, my valentine’s favorite! The unsweetened flavor of the brewed cacao was a perfect stand-in for the espresso, and I will definitely make this again!

If you’re considering trying this little “pick me up” (it’s what tiramisu means in Italian), here are a few helpful things I learned along the way.

Tips for Tiramisu Success

Eggs are more easily separated while they are cold, but the yolks should be room temperature when you begin whisking for the recipe. The eggs are not cooked in this mostly-traditional recipe, and if you’re concerned about health risks from this, you can find pasteurized eggs in a well-stocked supermarket. They will allow you to stick to the recipe but with complete safety.

The mascarpone, like the eggs, should be room temperature for this recipe. If it is cold, it will clump rather than blend into the yolk mixture.

Brew extra cacao beverage (or espresso) than recommended in case you need it for dipping ladyfingers. The delicate cookies absorb the liquid very quickly, even when dipped for no more than five seconds, and it’s good to have a little extra on hand. This should be cooled to room temperature.

As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients, tools and dishes ready to go when you begin. Ina’s recipe recommended a 9 x 13” glass dish; I halved the recipe and used a 2.75 quart Pyrex dish that measured 8 1/2 x 7″. The recipe yielded six generous portions of tiramisu. With some fiddling, I think you could split the cookies and make it work in an 8 x 8″.

You probably need an electric mixer, either handheld or stand mixer, for this recipe. It would be difficult to properly whip the eggs and mascarpone by hand.

Finally, this dessert needs several hours in the fridge to set up properly, so plan accordingly.

Adapted from:
Barefoot Contessa | Tiramisu | Recipes

Ingredients

3 egg yolks, room temperature (save the whites for your next omelet)

2 Tbsp. caster sugar* (see notes)

1/4 cup amaretto, divided

1 cup brewed dark roast cacao*, cooled

8 oz. mascarpone, room temperature

2 Tbsp. cherry juice

4 Tbsp. premium cherry preserves*

7 oz. (200g) package ladyfingers (biscotti savoiardi)

Double Dutch dark cocoa* for dusting between layers and top of tiramisu

Luxardo premium cocktail cherries, for garnish (optional, but fun if you have them)


*Ingredient Notes

Caster sugar is sometimes called “superfine” sugar, and I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it dissolves more readily than regular cane sugar.

The roasted cacao is made very similarly to coffee, and I prepared it in my French press. You can find the product I used online (just search it once on Pinterest and you’ll get ads for the rest of your life), or check with a local chocolatier to see if they have a similar product. Of course, you could also make tiramisu with espresso, as is traditional.

I made a midstream decision to fold cherry preserves into part of the mascarpone mixture, given that Valentine’s Day was already a chocolate-and-cherry kind of day. This brand is delicious, but a similar thick fruit spread would also work.

The Double Dutch dark cocoa powder is a King Arthur Baking product; it’s a 50-50 mix of regular Dutch-processed cocoa and black cocoa, which is very dark and somewhat bitter. It’s a richer color and flavor than most grocery store cocoa powders, but you could certainly substitute Hershey’s dark or any other cocoa.


Instructions

I have pictures of my adventure, of course! See how it went, and keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable recipe for your files. 🙂


  1. Prepare brewed cacao according to package instructions (or use espresso as instructed in a conventional tiramisu recipe. Combine brewed cacao with 2 Tbsp. amaretto in a shallow dish and set aside.
  2. Using the whisk attachment for stand mixer, whip egg yolks at high speed until smooth and slightly thickened. Gradually add caster sugar while eggs are being whisked and continue until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light, fluffy and lemon-colored.
  3. Add cherry juice, 2 tablespoons of amaretto and mascarpone. Whip into egg mixture at low speed until the mixture resembles that of soft whipped cream.
  4. Divide mixture into approximately half. Fold in cherry preserves to one half of mixture.
  5. Sift cocoa over the bottom of glass baking dish.
  6. Moving quickly, dip the ladyfingers (one or two at a time) into cacao-amaretto mixture, for no longer than five seconds. Arrange them in a single layer over the cocoa powder.
  7. Spread the cherry-infused mascarpone mixture evenly over the ladyfingers, to the edges of the dish, and then sift cocoa over the layer.
  8. Repeat with the remaining ladyfingers, topping the second layer with the remaining mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably a full 24 hours ahead of serving.
  9. At serving time, cut tiramisu into squares. Sift additional cocoa over the top of each serving and finish with a Luxardo cherry garnish.


Want to give it a go?


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my brand recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Midwinter Minestrone

Cold weather and shorter days gettin’ you down? Me, too. We’ve had a few close calls this season for snow or wintry mix, but not much has materialized here in the South, though we’ve had our share of cold, dreary days and nights. My friends and family around New York and Boston have seen far more than their share of winter this week, thanks to the Nor’easter that dropped a foot or more of snow. And Punxsutawney Phil, the jumbo rodent in charge of this whole thing, saw his shadow (or perhaps felt the snowflakes falling against his fat cheeks) this morning, and declared “six more weeks of winter.” The bottom line is that winter is getting old; we are all tired of it. What we need is some warm and nourishing comfort food.

I finally pulled out our 7-quart cast-iron Dutch oven and made a huge batch of this soup that never fails to chase away my midwinter blues—a steaming hot bowl of Italian flavor that is chock-full of fresh, nutritious vegetables, spicy Italian sausage, creamy beans and petite pasta. This is the kind of food that warms you from the inside, whether you’re dining at the table or curled up with a soft blanket on the sofa while eating your minestrone from a pottery mug and binging on Netflix. Whatever comfort looks like for you, this soup has it covered.

Minestrone is Italian, obviously, so I’ve seasoned it with my own “Mamma Mia” blend of herbs and spices. This seasoning blend was born more than a decade ago when I participated in a “reverse offering” experiment at church. We were given $20 and challenged to double (or more) that money for charitable donation. The effort was intended to show how we could use our own talents to make a difference in the world. I bought a bunch of bulk spices, turned them into blends and packaged them into baby food jars (which I found for free on Craigslist) with little fabric-wrapped tops for individual sale. The end of the story is that my $20 turned into almost $60 (a fine return), and I still have several of my blends in regular rotation today. Mamma Mia seasoning contains dried oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram and ground fennel seed, plus garlic and crushed red pepper. It’s zesty, herbal and a little bit spicy, and just the right punch of flavor in this minestrone.

Nothing says “comfort” better than a bowl of nourishing soup, and I hope you’ll find it just right for stuck-at-home days, snow days, waiting for snow days, sick of the snow days and—well, pretty much all the days.

Who says comfort food can’t be good for you? This soup has so much going on nutritionally.

This recipe makes about 4 quarts. You will need a large soup pot, slow cooker or Dutch oven to hold all the ingredients, but the recipe can easily be halved for a more manageable batch. This soup also freezes well, so you can pack some away for another gloomy day.


Ingredients from the pantry

Choose low-sodium, organic ingredients as much as possible. The spice blend in the jar is my own Mamma Mia seasoning.

Extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped garlic

1 carton low-sodium vegetable broth

1 carton low-sodium chicken broth* (see notes)

28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)

15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini)

15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

2 tsp. Mamma Mia Seasoning blend (see the end of the post for ingredients, or substitute another salt-free Italian seasoning + a few hearty shakes crushed red pepper flakes)

2 cups dry ditalini (or other petite shaped pasta, such as small elbows or mini farfalle)


Ingredients from the fridge

It looks like we are eating the rainbow with this soup!

3 stalks celery, chopped

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup each green and red bell peppers, chopped

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced and chopped*

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 fat handful kale leaves, chopped small*

1 handful fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, cleaned and finely chopped for garnish at serving

1 or 2 lbs. bulk hot Italian sausage* (optional, see notes)


*Notes

Minestrone is perfectly adaptable for a vegetarian, or even vegan, option. Simply swap more vegetable broth for the chicken broth and skip the sausage in favor of additional beans. For texture and interest, I’d recommend a can of garbanzo beans in place of the meat.

Fennel provides a real Italian flavor to minestrone, and the flavor is echoed in my Mamma Mia seasoning, which includes ground fennel seed. It has a crunchy texture that is similar to celery, and a slight licorice flavor that blends well with the other ingredients. Use only the white bulb part of the vegetable (see the slides for more description).

Any type of kale can be used in minestrone. Lacinato kale is commonly used in Italian cooking, but I used curly kale. If you prefer, you could also substitute about 1 1/2 cups finely shredded and chopped green cabbage. These hearty greens add texture and fiber to the soup.

You decide how much sausage, if any, you use in this recipe. My batch included only 1 pound this time, and I used a chicken sausage that was labeled “hot Italian.” Turkey or pork sausage would also work or as mentioned above, you could omit the meat altogether for a vegan version.

Want to make this in a slow cooker? Go for it! The soup doesn’t need much attention other than occasional stirring or adding ingredients. After the initial cooking of sausage and veggies, simply dump everything into the slow cooker and let it go on high heat for several hours, or low heat overnight. It may help to give the kale a quick sauté before adding to the crock, given that it is much larger volume before cooking and most slow cookers recommend filling only 2/3 full.


Instructions

First, the pictures, or you can scroll down for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking up larger pieces with a spoon or wooden utensil.
  2. Add chopped onions, carrots, celery, peppers, fennel and garlic. Stir and cook until vegetables soften, and the moisture released from them has mostly evaporated.
  3. Scatter Italian seasoning blend over the ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Move the sausage and vegetables to the outer edges of the pot and drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil in the center. Toss in the mushrooms, half at a time, and gently toss them around to lightly brown them. If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the mixture at the end of this step.
  5. Add the whole plum tomatoes, squeezing each thoroughly by hand directly into the pot. This will assist in breaking down the tomatoes for quicker cooking. Empty all puree into the pot as well.
  6. Add the vegetable and chicken broths and stir to combine. Heat soup to a low boiling point, then reduce heat to a simmer. This will take about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in finely chopped kale and stir. Add piece of Parmesan rind and allow it to simmer with the soup for a few hours.
  8. Near the end of your expected cooking time, drain and rinse the canned beans. Season them with salt and pepper before adding them to the soup.
  9. Fill a large pot with water and cook the ditalini (or other petite pasta) to al dente texture. Drain pasta and add to the soup just before serving. Alternatively, drain the pasta, toss with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking, and transfer it to a separate bowl to be added to soup as it’s served. This will help you enjoy the soup several days later, without mushy noodles.
This soup is destroying my midwinter blahs!

Want to make this nourishing soup?


Mamma Mia Seasoning Blend


1 Tbsp. granulated garlic

1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic

1 Tbsp. dried Mediterranean oregano

1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves

1 Tbsp. fennel seed, crushed

2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp. dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves


Chicken Cacciatore

Genealogically speaking, I don’t believe I have a single Italian bone in my body. Nope—my people came from other parts of Europe and beyond. But I am so in love with Italian food, especially the southern regional dishes, such as layered baked pasta dishes and big red sauces (or “Sunday gravy,” as it would be called). My grandmother taught me some authentic Scandinavian dishes, but I had to do my own research to learn the real deal on Italian flavors, so I could ditch the bland and overly sweet jarred sauces. I’ve learned how to make my own pasta (that’ll be another post), and hopefully I’ll prove today that I can rock a red sauce that is molto buono!

Chicken cacciatore is my “comfort du jour,” moist and oh-so-tender chicken, stewed slowly and thoughtfully with tomatoes and Italian herbs and spices. This is some serious, old-school Italian comfort food right here! I can’t say that I’ve added a twist to this recipe (maybe the bomba?), but if you’ve never made cacciatore before, I hope you’ll find my recipe approachable. You’ve got this—and here’s a quick rundown of what I learned before I made my own.

What’s the big deal about San Marzano tomatoes?

For Italian sauce recipes, there is really no substitute for San Marzano tomatoes. They are super meaty with a perfect acidic-to-sweet balance, and exceptional for the richest Italian sauces. In appearance, they are essentially plum tomatoes and they are the genetic ancestors of the common supermarket Roma, but to be legally called San Marzano, they must be cultivated in the southern region of Italy of the same name, where the climate and rich, volcanic soil work their magic. Are real San Marzano tomatoes worth the extra buck per can? You bet!

What is bomba sauce?

This bomba is the bomba!

Delicious, that’s what! Bomba sauce is typically a paste-like seasoning, centered around dried chile peppers from the southern regions of Italy, mixed with olive oil, spices and vinegar. It’s a pungent condiment that is meant to be used sparingly. Trader Joe’s has its version of the sauce that I absolutely love—it’s unique because the Calabrian chiles are fermented, which lends extraordinary depth and flavor. I’ve added a very small amount to my cacciatore, but it wouldn’t be the same without the bomba.

Can I substitute skinless chicken breast for the chicken thighs in this recipe?

Of course, you can always substitute white meat, skinless or boneless, but the dish will not have as much depth and richness, and you’d need to use extra oil to prevent the meat from sticking in the pan. I choose large, bone-in chicken thighs for this recipe because they’re a perfect portion size and the dark meat is so flavorful. Keeping the skin on allows you to draw every bit of chicken-y goodness into the meal. Also, I only select organic, free-range chicken because birds that have freedom to roam in the fresh air and sunshine are healthier, and you know what they say—we are what we eat.

What flavors are in Italian seasoning?

Italian cooks have always relied on the abundant flavors of fresh herbs. If you pick up any bottle of “Italian seasoning” at the supermarket, you can predictably find it contains the big three—oregano, basil and thyme, but there are many other flavors that play well with Italy’s flavorful sauces and roasted meats. In the north, you’d expect to see rosemary and sage. In the south, spicier flavors like red pepper are prominent. Two of my favorites are marjoram (cousin of mint and very similar to oregano) and fennel seed, which has a floral, slightly licorice flavor. It’s what makes Italian sausage taste special. I make my own “Mama Mia” seasoning blend without salt, and I use the big three, plus garlic, fennel seed and crushed red pepper. It’s good for a little punch of flavor in any Italian red sauce, sprinkled on pizza or mixed with olive oil as a bread dipping condiment. If you want to make mine, the recipe is at the end. Otherwise, substitute as noted in the ingredients.


Serves 4 – Prep in 20 minutes, cook for 90 minutes

Ingredients

Extra virgin olive oil

4 large chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)

2 large bell peppers, seeded and sliced lengthwise, about 1/4” thin

1 medium-size sweet onion, sliced lengthwise 1/4” thin

4 or 5 cloves fresh garlic, rough chopped or sliced

2 tsp. Mama Mia Italian seasoning blend—or
1/4 tsp. each:  oregano, basil, ground fennel seed, thyme leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper flakes (this is not exactly the same as my Mama Mia blend, but close)

1 or 2 tsp. Trader Joe’s Italian Bomba hot pepper sauce

Handful Kalamata olives (pitted), rough-chopped into pieces

1/4 cup dry red wine (It doesn’t have to be Italian; I used a CA red blend that was already open)

1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes in puree (San Marzano, if possible)

1/2 package linguine (preferably “bronze-cut” for best texture)

Freshly grated parmesan or parm-romano blend, for serving

Small handful Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned and chopped

A loaf of fresh Italian bread for sopping up every single drop of the sauce


Instructions

  1. Pat the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and season both sides generously with kosher salt and black pepper.
  2. Heat a large (12”) cast-iron skillet (or electric skillet) to medium-hot, and swirl in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When oil is just shimmering, place chicken thighs in pan, skin side down, leaving plenty of room between them. Cover the pan (I use a spatter screen) and leave them undisturbed about 7 minutes to allow a deep golden crust to form on the skin. Loosen and turn the thighs and cook until just lightly browned on the other side, about 2 minutes. The chicken will finish cooking later in the sauce. Remove the pieces to a plate and keep warm while you prep the sauce.
  3. If the remaining oil is sputtering or popping in the pan, allow a few seconds for the moisture droplets to cook off. Reduce heat to medium. All at once, add your onions and bell peppers to the pan, and stir them around until they begin to soften. Add the Mama Mia seasoning, plus salt and pepper, over the entire mixture. Add the garlic and cook another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onions are slightly translucent. Stir in the Kalamata olives, the Bomba sauce and the red wine.
  4. Add the peeled tomatoes, using your hand to squeeze each one into the pan. This releases more of the juices quickly and gives the tomatoes a head start on breaking up. Pour all remaining juice from the tomatoes into the pan, but discard any large basil leaves that may have been included in the can (they’ve already done their job). Add a splash of water (or wine!) to the tomato can to swish out every last bit of flavor in there. Scrape up any browned bits that may be stuck to the pan and stir the mixture until it has a uniform appearance. Cover and allow the mixture to come up to a slight boil.
  5. Add the chicken thighs back to the pan, skin side up, and spoon the tomato mixture lightly over the tops. They don’t need to be buried in it, but you want to moisten them with the flavorful sauce. Cover the pan and reduce heat to medium-low, turning the chicken only twice over the next 90 minutes.
  6. When the sauce is a deep red color and the chicken shreds with a light twist of your fork, reduce heat to warm and prepare your pasta water. Remember to use plenty of water and plenty of salt.
  7. When the salted water reaches a steady boil, add your pasta and stir at once to prevent sticking. Cook to just barely al dente, or a couple of minutes under what seems perfect. You’re going to finish it in the sauce. Before draining the pasta, ladle out 2 to 3 tablespoons of the water into the sauce. This adds the pasta starch to the sauce, which helps “marry” them to coat the pasta better.
  8. Move the chicken pieces to the outer edges of the pan (or remove to a plate if the pan is crowded), making a well of sauce in the center. Drain the pasta and immediately add it to the center of the pot, stirring quickly to evenly coat it in the sauce. I use silicone tongs to do this because I can grab hold of the pasta while moving it. Cover the pan and turn off the heat while you pour another glass of wine and call everyone to the table.
Mangia!

Portion the pasta onto the serving plates, top with a spoonful of sauce, then a chicken thigh, and divvy out the rest of the flavorful sauce. Sprinkle some grated cheese and a bit of fresh chopped parsley on top and enjoy!


Want to print this recipe?


Mama Mia seasoning
(makes about 1/3 cup seasoning blend)

I created my own blend of Italian spices, to customize the flavors we like best at our house. Most of my blends do not contain salt, and this allows more flexibility with different application and better control of the sodium in my dishes. Most of the time, I double the recipe so I always have a jar of the blend at the ready. The beauty of a blend like this one is that you can increase or decrease or even eliminate ingredients based on your taste preference. And every time, it’ll be perfect!

This blend is great for your own Italian red sauce, or add a teaspoon to a puddle of extra virgin olive oil and top with freshly grated parmesan for a flavorful bread dipping oil.

1 Tbsp. whole fennel seed
1 Tbsp. dried minced garlic
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. dried basil leaves
2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. dried Mediterranean oregano
1 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder

To make it:

Heat a dry skillet (no oil!) over medium high heat and add fennel seeds, swirling the pan constantly for about one minute, until the seeds become fragrant. Remove immediately to a bowl to cool completely, then crush seeds with a mortar and pestle or pulse a few quick times in a spice grinder.

Add all other seasoning to the bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to a jar or empty spice bottle.

Want to print this spice recipe?