I have had a bear of a time with ladyfingers. I'm sure it's been my fault each time, but they have just never worked out for me before now. The first recipe I tried, from a trusted, trusted source, was a complete disaster. But before we get all doomsday, let me reiterate that the recipe below works, and that I'm pretty sure the failures before were failures on my part.
So ladyfingers. I'm not sure that people actually eat these by themselves. They're delicious, don't get me wrong. Light, and sweet and springy. But they play better with others. Get a little bored all on their own. Aren't interested in sitting in a corner and just reading a good book. So they're usually an element in something more grand, more show-stopping. And that is exactly the case here. And I'll reveal that show-stopper in exactly three days, because that's my posting schedule. Like how that works?
Ladyfingers are made by separating eggs and beating the yolks until thick and then whipping the whites to peaks. Things get sweetened, things get combined, and then the batter must be piped from a pastry bag into the familiar ladyfinger shape. The first two times I tried this, I'm pretty sure I didn't beat my yolks sufficiently, so I ended up with a liquid that rather than being piped, was dribbled into a big puddle on my baking sheet. But that didn't happen at all with this recipe. The flour gives it structure, of course, by the corn starch helps as well (although Field originally called for potato starch, the two are basically interchangeable in quantities like this).
(Manhattan Bridge, by the way)
But I promised that I'd give R his due, and he'd like me to say that in order to save my first attempt at ladyfingers, he suggested using my little financier mold and spoon the batter into that rather than piping. It worked great, and they puffed right up like they should. So there you go. R's really great idea, however, is not necessary here. These will pipe, these will pipe (I'm willing it to be so for you too). I'm not sure what makes these Italian-style, by the way, since the recipe isn't too different from French versions I've seen. And anyway, the word 'Savoiardi' merely means 'From Savoy', so a shared cookie from a shared land. And up next? A decidedly French dessert with which to show off your ladyfingers.
Savoiardi or Italian-Style Ladyfingers
Adapted from Carol Field's The Italian Baker
5 eggs separated and brought to room temperature
160 grams granulated sugar
3 drops vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125 grams all-purpose flour
40 grams corn starch
Pinch of salt
Bit of confectioners' sugar for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Beat the egg yolks together with 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar in the bowl of a large mixer. Continue to beat until it's light and foamy and has reached the ribbon stage. This will take about 10 minutes. Be sure not to underbeat or the mixture will be too runny.
If you're using a stand mixer and only have one bowl (like I do. I really, really need a second mixer bowl) you're going to need to transfer the yolk mixture to another bowl and wash out your mixer bowl. It's annoying, but be sure your bowl is completely free of any oil or fat or the egg whites won't beat up properly. Field suggests using a warm bowl, so if you wash your mixer bowl in warm water it will be clean and warm all in one step! So anyway, into that warm bowl, pour your egg whites and beat them on high with the whisk attachment. Once you reach stiff peaks stage, beat in the vinegar and vanilla for a moment, then turn the machine off.
As your whites are beating, you can sift together the flour, corn starch and salt. Once the whites are done, fold a quarter of the yolk mixture into the whites. Then add half the flour mixture and fold that into the whites. Add the rest of the yolks and fold in, followed by the rest of the flour. Be gentle so your whites don't deflate too much.
Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe the batter in 5" long strips onto the parchment-lined baking sheets. The cookies should be about 1" apart, but they're not going to spread a whole lot (at least, they shouldn't). If you're eating the cookies by themselves you can sift confectioners sugar over the top before baking. But if they're going into another already-sweet recipe you may want to skip that step.
Bake for 5-6 minutes until slightly browned on the bottom. Cool on racks and store in an airtight container. When storing, use sheets of parchment paper between the layers, as ladyfingers can be quite sticky and might mush together.