Ligurian Ladyfingers Dessert with Cocoa and Espresso Cream, Rum, and Marsala

Dolce Pievano

Many summers ago, my husband and I had taken an apartment in Sori, a small town on the Italian Riviera. During our explorations of the area we stopped in a nearby hamlet named Pieve Ligure, where, at the local pastry shop, we bought a dessert to take home. We were told it was adapted from a sweet that was made in the town as far back as the Renaissance. I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy, nor do I care, but what is certain is that it was luscious. Recently, as I was cleaning out some old Italian food magazines, I came across the recipe for a dessert called dolce pievano, and as I read it I recognized it as the one I had picked up more than 20 years ago in Pieve Ligure.

This is just the kind of dessert-making I like, calling for a minimum investment of labor and skill, and paying off with a large return in taste. Whatever baking was involved was done by the makers of the ladyfingers you buy in the store. The other steps consist of assembling the components and then waiting for their flavors to come together overnight in the refrigerator.

The dome-shaped look of dolce pievano comes from the mold in which you put the ingredients. Any round-bottomed metal, plastic, or ceramic bowl of the approximate dimensions indicated will do the job. The original implement, called polsonetto in Italian, would have been of unlined copper, with a stubby handle, and used mainly for cooking custards.

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Ingredients

  • 8 eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 ounces ( sticks) butter, softened at room temperature
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons full-strength espresso coffee, cooled to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 10 ounces ladyfinger biscuits, about 36
  • 1⅓ cups dry Marsala wine poured into a deep oval dish
  • cup unsweetened cocoa powder

A mortar-shaped round-bottomed bowl, 4 to 6 inches high and about 8 inches in diameter at top

Cheesecloth

Method

  1. Put the eggs in a saucepan, add enough water to cover by at least 1 inch, and turn the heat on to medium. Cook the eggs for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Retrieve from the pan and set aside to cool completely.
  2. Cut off a piece of cheesecloth large enough to line the bowl and have enough left over to cover. Moisten it with cold water, line the bowl with it, centering it and letting the surplus cloth hang down over the bowl’s rim.
  3. Put the softened butter and sugar in another bowl and mix to a smooth consistency.
  4. Remove the yolks from the eggs, discarding the white, and, with a fork, mash the yolks in a small bowl or dish.
  5. To the butter and sugar mixture add the mashed egg yolks, the espresso coffee, and the rum, and mix to a smooth, creamy consistency.
  6. Soak the ladyfingers, one at a time, in the Marsala wine, and place them, arranging them vertically, along the sides of the cheesecloth-lined bowl. Use portions of wine-soaked ladyfingers to fill in any gaps and completely line the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Pour one third of the creamy egg yolk and coffee mixture over the ladyfingers, leveling it off with a spatula. Top the cream with a layer of wine-soaked ladyfingers, using portions of them to fill in, patchwork-fashion, any gaps.
  8. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining egg and coffee cream, and mix thoroughly. Pour it all over the layer of ladyfingers in the bowl and level it with a spatula.
  9. Top the contents of the bowl with one last layer of wine-soaked ladyfingers, patching as before where necessary to fill in gaps.
  10. Pull the cheesecloth over the top, making sure it covers the top completely. If it does not, moisten another piece of cheesecloth to complete the job.
  11. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  12. To serve, remove the plastic wrap, unfold the cheesecloth, letting it hang over the sides of the bowl, turn the bowl over onto a round platter, lift it away from the dessert, and carefully pull off the cheesecloth.

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