Ladyfingers are long, thin sponge cakes that have a shape that looks somewhat like a large finger – hence their name. They can be served as an accompaniment to desserts like ice creams, custards and coffees, but they are often used as a component in other desserts. Ladyfingers can be either soft and cakey or dry and crispy, but they always have a sponge-like texture. Their texture makes them a perfect choice for soaking up flavors, which is why they are frequently used in other desserts. For instance, ladyfingers provide many of the layers in a tiramisu, and they soak up the espresso or coffee mixture that gives the dessert both it’s flavor and its name (which means “pick me up,” in a nod to the caffeine in the coffee). Ladyfingers are also widely used in charlottes, molded desserts where a shell of ladyfingers or other sponge cake is wrapped around a custard filling.
Homemade ladyfingers tend to be on the softer side of the scale, while commercially available ladyfingers tend to be much drier. They’re made by piping a sponge cake batter into finger-like logs on a baking sheet. They are often baked so that all of the ladyfingers are separate, but it is also possible to pipe them next to each other to form a sheet of ladyfingers, which can be very easy to use in assembling some types of desserts. Most ladyfingers are quite plain, and that makes them versatile enough to go into any recipe. If you opt to make them yourself, you can easily flavor them with any extract, a bit of citrus zest or spice to give them a flavor that stands out more in desserts.