A Building Year with Tiramisu

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Have you heard the phrase, "it's a building year"? This is sometimes applied to sports teams when they are rearranging their players because of trades, training up the rookies, and generally ironing out the kinks.

Recently this phrase was used to describe my current triathlon season. Injuries and health issues have forced me to have a different season that I wanted. Initially, I was not pleased with this description.

But time out for sports (and desserts), people. Isn't every year a building year? Is there a year when you stop and think, AH-HA! This is the one, the icing on the cake, the final layer...and after this...well, after this—what? There will be no improvements? I can just wait for the cool embrace of death?

Sorry to be blunt, but if that's the case, then I certainly hope every year is a building year.

Take for example, this tiramisu recipe. I created it for Triathlete Magazine as a healthy alternative to traditional tiramisu, which aside from being delicious, has very little nutritional value. This one does, however. It's packed with healthy proteins from almond flour, chia seeds and Greek yogurt.

But the best part of this tiramisu is the assembly. Don't be intimidated, it's a process. Layers of solid cake are stacked on top of squishy yogurt filling, unstable strawberries (anti-oxidants and vitamin C!), and rickety, toasted almonds.

Building it requires patience and a very steady hand. As soon as you place that strawberry on top, the whole thing veers to one side all Leaning Tower of Pisa-esque until—EGADS!—it's fallen over and the filling issmooshed all over the place.

This is especially awesome when you are trying to photograph it for a professional magazine. You can imagine the cursing. But don't, there might be children present.

As many times as I built it up, it fell over. I did finally get it to stand, clicked a few photos and then ate the whole thing. 

I can report that this tiramisu is just as good on it's side as standing straight up.

Which brings me back...to me. This year it's felt like every time I stack up another layer, the whole apparatus comes tumbling down. But I think I can say this: Like the tiramisu, I'm just as good lying on my side (my bike several feet away) and cursing (again, don't imagine it) as I am standing up and on a podium (only the podiums in my mind this year...).

And so are you.

So raise a fork to building years, I hope we both continue to have them. And make this recipe for HealthyTiramisu. You can follow the recipe below, but it would tickle me if you'd go check out the latest edition ofTriathlete Magazine, page 88.

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INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

4 eggs, separated into 4 egg yolks and 4 egg whites

Tbsp lemon zest, packed

1/2 cup sugar, divided 1/4 cup and 1/4 cup

1 1/2 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon white or cider vinegar

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

½ cup almond milk

½ cup plain, non-fat greek yogurt

⅓ cup chia seeds

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar

For the crunchy almond layer:

¾ cup slivered almonds

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

pinch of salt

Extras:

3 tablespoons instant coffee or espresso powder dissolved in 1/3 cup hot water

¼ cup cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder if you can’t find cacao)

1 pint strawberries, sliced

cacao nibs (optional)

METHOD

First, bake the cake. I wanted a flat cake so that I could layer my tiramisu. To achieve this, I baked my cake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, so I could spread the batter thinly.

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line the bottom of a cookie sheet (preferably the kind that has sides) with parchment paper, and spray the paper with non-stick cooking spray, or grease with butter.

2 In a large bowl, stir together with a wooden spoon or whisk the egg yolks, lemon zest, and 1/4 cup sugar until smooth.

3 In a separate bowl, or a food processor, blend the almond flour and baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture and beat until just smooth.

4 In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer. When bubbles start to form, add a pinch of salt and the teaspoon of vinegar (these ingredients help the egg whites stay firm as you add sugar). As the egg whites begin to increase in volume, sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, a little at a time, as you continue to beat the eggs whites.  Beat until soft peaks form. It’s important to add the sugar a little at a time, as the sugar may cause the egg whites to fall.

5 With a rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the almond mixture a little at a time.  I started with a small amount of egg whites to loosen up the almond flour mixture, which can become firm. After this, you can add the egg whites in large scoops, folding to incorporate it all.

6 Pour the batter onto the prepared cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. The edges will turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. With a sharp knife, slice the cake into serving-size rectangles, and set aside. You can make the cake ahead and freeze it for up to a week. To do this, assemble the sliced cake into layers, placing a piece of parchment paper between each layer (the paper will help the layers not stick to each other). Wrap the sets of cake with foil and store in the freezer until ready to use.

Make the filling:

1. In a small bowl add the ⅓ cup chia seeds to ½ cup almond milk. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. You want the chia seeds to expand, creating a pudding-like consistency. (Note: you can keep this in the fridge for up to a week, stirring it into all kinds of things like oatmeal and smoothies, so feel free to make more!).

2. Once the chia seeds have expanded, add the 1 teaspoon almond extract and the tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar to the mixture and stir thoroughly.

3. Add in the ½ cup of greek yogurt, and stir to combine. Set aside (you can store this in the fridge as well).

Prepare the almonds:

1. In a skillet over medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar in the water. Add in the spices and the almonds and allow to simmer gently, stirring constantly.

2. When most of the water has absorbed, spread the almonds onto a piece of parchment paper and allow to cool and dry completely. The almonds will be sticky and they will stick together – this is ok! And tasty, too.

Assembly:

1. Dissolve 3 tablespoons of instant coffee or espresso powder in ⅓ cup hot water.

2. Place one piece of cake on plate. With a pastry brush, brush the top of the cake with the coffee.

3. Place a few clusters of candied almonds on top of the cake.

4. Arrange some sliced strawberries on top of the almonds.

5. Spoon the chia seed/alomond milk/greek yogurt mixture on top of the strawberries and dust the cacao powder (I use a tea strainer loaded with cacao powder for a nice, even dusting).

6. Repeat! Challenge yourself to see how high you can stack them! Top with a few cacao nibs (optional) and a whole strawberry.

For more healthy recipes, check out John and Elana Talk About Food