Summer has finally came to Munich and its already middle of July. We had bursts of hot days in June but they did not seem to linger long, quickly replaced by cold rainy weather. I never thought I’ll miss Texas summer but I have to admit that sometimes I Ionged [secretly] for days where you can just go outside in light dress and sandals without fuss of jeans and sneakers. But the heat finally arrived in full force this week, putting breaks on any kind of kitchen activity involving turning on an oven. Summer meals generally tend to be the least labor intensive becasue I usually just mix an array of fresh vegetables in a bowl for an easy salad. However there is one exception which makes summer cooking difficult – birthdays. My birthday is in June so are birthdays of many of my friends, and everyone knows that you can’t have a proper celebration without a cake (or two). It’s not cool though to have your oven going for hours when temperatures spill over +30c and all you want to do is take a nap on a beach.
So instead of heating the apartment even further by baking layers of pastry, I go for a simple version of a famous Italian dessert, tiramisu. Traditionally, tiramisu is made by layering coffee-and-rum soaked Italian cookies (‘ladyfingers’) with cream made from raw egg yolks, mascarpone, and sugar. The result is, in my opinion, too sweet and rich to be consumed in hot summer weather, and the idea of using raw eggs makes it even less appealing. My version is still centered around layering cookies with cream but I use a mixture of freshly whipped cream and strained low-fat yogurt (e.g. Greek 2% fat yogurt), skipping the sugar. I soak cookies in espresso mixed with few spoons of Kahlua (or similar coffee liquor) to add sweetness and enhance coffee flavor. Finally, I think that the traditional cream-colored dessert looks somewhat boring and lacks crunch so I top mine off with fresh fruits, nuts and cocoa nibs.
In addition to rescuing you from having to use an oven, this dessert is extremely versatile because you don’t have to be super precise when measuring out the ingredients and you can easily adjust proportions based on you what makes your taste buds happy. Don’t want alcohol? Skip the liquor and add couple of teaspoons of maple syrup, or perhaps juice of one freshly squeezed orange. Can’t find greek yogurt? Just strain normal yogurt through a colander lined with clean kitchen towel for few hours in the fridge. Don’t have fresh berries on hand? Try decorating it with thinly sliced bananas and toasted walnuts. The possibilities are endless. Keep in mind that the dessert needs to sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours (ideally overnight) for flavors to develop so plan ahead accordingly. Also, only add fruits and nuts immediately prior to serving to maintain freshness and crunch factor.
Serves 6-8 people
400ml heavy cream (for whipping)
300g thick yogurt (full fat or strained low-fat)
250ml freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee
3 tbs Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liquor
3 tbs cocoa powder
handful of each: fresh rasberries, raw hazelnuts, cocoa nibs
Start by brewing coffee or espresso so that it has enough time cool down (put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes prior to using). Once cooled, mix with Kahlua and set aside in a shallow bowl (enough for the entire cookie to fit). Using electric mixer, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form. In a large bowl, add yogurt and carefully fold in whipped cream in portions. Add 3-4 tsp of coffee/Kahlua mixture and gently mix until fully incorporated.
Find a pretty serving dish (or a bread baking dish) that can comfortably fit a row of 10 to 12 cookies in two layers. Dip each cookie briefly in coffee/Kahlua mixture turning it on the other side with your finger, quickly remove, and place in the serving dish. Repeat this step until the bottom of the dish is completely covered. Spread half of the cream mixture over the cookies, sprinkle with cocoa powder (I use colander for more even distribution), and repeat with second layer of cookies and cream. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge for at least four hours or preferably overnight.
Right before serving, toast hazelnuts, rub to remove the skins once cooled off, and lightly chop. Sprinkle nuts along with rasberries and cocoa nibs over the cake and serve with a large spoon.