Variations on the Ladyfinger

As with most classic pastry preparations, ladyfinger recipes tend to be fairly consistent. This one might have an extra egg yolk, that one a little more vanilla, but overall they tend to be quite similar. The only major area of disagreement you’ll find between them is the type of flour they call for. Some demand cake flour, others all-purpose, still others bread flour. What gives?

All three formulations will yield different results. Cake flour ladyfingers, due to the fine grind, soft wheat and correspondingly low gluten content, will be the lightest, most tender and shortest of the bunch. They’re great for eating by themselves (though few people eat ladyfingers on their own these days) and have lots of decorative uses. Where they’re not so good is in preparations that call for soaking them in coffee or liqueurs, as they tend to fall apart.

That’s where the higher gluten versions come in handy. Ladyfingers made with bread flour can take just about anything. Soak them for hours and they’ll retain their integrity instead of turning to watery mush. Being rather tough they’re also great as structural components in elaborate pastries. Since all the gluten helps trap more gas and steam in the oven, they’ll also rise higher. Where they fall down — and I think you can see where I’m going with this — is in their ability to be enjoyed in their simple alone-ness, since as I said, they’re tough.

So you see, your choice of flour depends on what you intend to do with your ladyfingers. I’ve split the difference with the recipe below and used all-purpose flour, which has yielded a very nice all-purpose ladyfinger. Now what to do with them? What to do…

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