It’s my last week in Australia and I wanted to attempt something that I won’t have time for when I get back to work: savoiardi cookies or Italian ladyfingers, I think that’s their English name. I am notoriously bad at sponges. Give me a foolproof recipe for a sponge cake and I will prove to you just how easy it is to stuff up. I have ruined enough birthdays with sponges that are deflated and sunken in the middle. No amount of cream and jam can save them. Perhaps not the best introduction to my Italian ladyfingers recipe, I know. These Italian cookies are the base of tiramisu, Italy’s quintessential dessert, and while they’re a variation of a sponge cake, they’re so much easier to make and impossible to stuff up.
You’re probably thinking, why should I make my own savoiardi lady fingers? You can buy them in packets from any supermarket. Well, when I first moved to Italy, savoiardi weren’t available in my local supermarket. That sounds impossible, but it’s true. My grandmother has a mean tiramisu recipe she picked up and perfected from friends here in Australia and I remember feeling terribly homesick and terribly in the mood for it one Saturday afternoon. I looked everywhere for savoiardi, biscotti biscuits, anything to use as a base and came up empty!
I lobbed a few espletive laden insults at my two-horse town in a conversation with my mother-in-law and she admonished me for not asking her first. My husband’s family owned a bakery here in Tuscany and savoiardi lady fingers were one of their biggest hits.
This is her recipe, altered for the home cook. The first time I made them, I fell in love. They were a cinch and so much more delicious than the dry sticks you buy in stores. Just don’t imagine you’ll get all perfect shapes. Unless you have savoiardi moulds, yours, like mine, will be a bit irregular, but they’ll also be far more flavourful and beautifully citrusy thanks to the addition of lemon zest.
You can use these in tiramisu or trifles or do what I always do and use them as makeshift straws in a big glass of milk (or iced coffee!). They’ll keep too in the pantry with a few cubes of sugar to absorb moisture for 5 weeks.
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 lemons, finely grated rind only
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups self-raising flour
caster (superfine) sugar, extra
Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the eggs and sugar in an electric mixer and whisk on high speed for 12-15 minutes or until pale, thick and tripled in volume. Add the oil and mix until just combined. Using a fork, gradually stir in the remaining ingredients, except the extra sugar.
Turn the mixture out onto a well- floured surface and gently bring the dough together with your hands. Knead for 5 minutes until smooth. Shape into a 9cm-wide log, then divide into 20 savoiardi. Sprinkle over the extra sugar and place on a lightly greased baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden and crisp. Cool, then store in an airtight container. Makes 20.
Once you try these savoiardi lady fingers, you won’t be buying them from the store ever again, trust me!