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What are Ladyfingers?

Orange peel is sometimes used to make ladyfingers.
Tiramisu is a layered treat with ladyfingers, liquor and cocoa.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Ladyfingers, also seen as lady fingers, are small delicate sponge cakes which are shaped like fat fingers. Although ladyfingers can be eaten on their own, they are usually used as a recipe component; they can be soaked in syrup, layered with cream, or decorated with piped frostings and fresh fruit. Many grocers carry packages of ladyfingers, and they can also be found at some bakeries; cooks can also make them at home, if desired. In the United States, ladyfingers are particularly associated with the American South, and several bakeries there specialize in the mass production of these cakes.

These small cakes are almost like cookies, with a classically dry, crumbly texture. Depending on the region of the world in which one discusses them, they may also be called boudoir, sponge, savoy, or Naples biscuits, and Italians call them savoiardi. Ladyfingers typically have a very mild flavor, although they can be made fancier with the addition of ingredients like lemon, cinnamon, cardamom, or orange peel. Their dryness makes them extremely absorbent, which is useful in the construction of desserts.

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The first ladyfingers appear to have emerged in the 11th century House of Savoy, and by the 15th century they were a common royal treat in France and other parts of Europe. In Savoy, ladyfingers were given as gifts to visitors, symbolizing the culinary history of the region. Descendants of this royal house also brought ladyfingers with them as they married and traveled in other parts of the world, and in the 18th century ladyfingers started appearing in lyric poems.

The dough for ladyfingers is relatively simple, but it needs to be handled with care to keep the cakes fluffy. Mishandling can cause the dough to sag or collapse, which can make the cakes dense and chewy rather than light and airy. When cooks use a ladyfinger pan, a special pan specially designed for cooking these cakes, the dough is more like a batter, and it can be more forgiving. Cooks who pipe individual cakes out onto a pan use a thicker dough so that the cakes will not spread out as they cook.

Rather than fussing with dough, some cooks prefer to purchase pre-made ladyfingers for desserts like tiramisu which call for the cakes. These can be a bit drier and less delicate than home-made versions, although after being soaked in syrup and covered in other ingredients, it can be hard for many consumers to tell the difference.

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Discuss this Article

subway11
Post 3

@Burcidi - That is so funny. I know that sometimes phrases don’t translate exactly or words may have a different meaning in another culture. I just wanted to add that I love ladyfinger cookies with coffee.

It is the perfect treat to have with coffee because it is light and not overpowering. I notice when I have overly sweet desserts with my coffee, my coffee doesn’t taste quite right and I have to add more sugar. I buy ladyfinger cookies all of the time and sometimes I eat them with scoop of ice cream.

burcidi
Post 2

When I was in India, I saw "lady's finger" on a restaurant's menu and thought that it was something made with lady fingers. I ordered it, wondering how it was cooked because it said it had curry in it and I had never tasted ladyfingers that were not dessert.

Fifteen minutes later, I was brought a plate of lady's finger or in American English, okra! I had never heard of okra being referred to as lady's finger before, so it was normal for me to be confused. But that's something you might want to keep in mind if you go abroad. Remember one lady's finger is okra and many lady fingers are the Italian cakes!

discographer
Post 1

I love desserts with ladyfingers in them because it has zero saturated fat. When I combine it with a low fat whipped cream, pudding or yogurt and some fruit, I've got a fast, tasty dessert that I don't feel guilty about having.

I have seen many different kinds of recipes using ladyfingers- tiramisu, cake, cheesecake. But I don't want to take something that is low fat and relatively healthy and then make it unhealthy by putting heavy creams, frosting or cream cheese on it. And it tastes so good when its made into something simple, I don't think I would want to change that.

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