While the origins to Tiramisu are rather contentious with about five regions in Italy claiming it as theirs, one thing that nobody will disagree with is just how delicious this perfect ‘pick-me-up’ is! Researching the history of Tiramsu though does offer an interesting read. From the romantic theories originating in Tuscany in the 16th Century with Cosimo III de Medici in Florence, or that it was eaten in Venice during the Renaissance where Venetians would eat Tiramisu with their lovers at night for more energy, to the rather boring (yet practical) story that it was created from left over cake and coffee to avoid waste.
I have always loved Tiramisu, and am intrigued by the variation in the recipe throughout Italy. Every chef or Nonna will have their recipe, and they will screw up their noses at any suggestion of a different recipe other than their own. I am no exception and I think that mine is a perfect balance of ingredients and flavours. I learnt to make the ‘crema mascarpone’ from a pastry chef friend of mine here, although I use a little less sugar than he does.
Tiramisu is great because it can be made a day or two ahead of time, which is great news for anyone who likes to plan large or complicated dinner parties. Tiramisu can be made as individual serves, or in one large bowl or even a baking tray. It is one dessert that you can stop half way (if you run out of a particular ingredient), put in the fridge, and continue several hours later. It is also a fun dessert to ‘construct’ with the various elements together with guests, ‘espresso style’ and eaten immediately.
However or whenever you like to eat Tiramisu (I wouldn’t say no at breakfast time), I hope you enjoy this recipe and it becomes your favourite go-to Tiramisu recipe.
- 1 packet Savoiardi (known as Lady Fingers in USA)
- 6 espresso cups of strong black coffee (preferably made with Italian ‘Moka’ pot)
- 3 eggs, separated
- pinch of salt
- 100g sugar
- 300g mascarpone
- 1 tablespoon marsala or rum*. (I used Armagnac and it worked perfectly).
- chocolate covered coffee beans to serve
- Make coffee and set aside, allowing to cool completely.
- Separate the egg whites from the yolks.
- Add egg whites with a pinch of salt to a clean and dry bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until soft peaks begin to form. Add half of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time until sugar is incorporated and egg whites are white, aerated and glossy. Put aside.
- In another bowl, add remaining sugar to egg yolks, and beat until yolks are pale and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved. Add Armagnac or alcohol of your choice. Slowly incorporate mascarpone with electric beaters on low.
- Fold half of egg whites into the yolk mixture, and then continue gently folding in by hand the remaining egg whites. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
- Dip Savoiardi quickly into black coffee and line bowl, baking tray or small dish.
- Spoon over mascarpone cream.
- Repeat two or three times with Savoiardi and mascarpone cream until you are satisfied with quantity, or until you have reached the top of the container.
- Cover with a generous sprinkling of bitter cocoa and decorate with chocolate covered coffee beans.
*Alcohol is optional and by no means obligatory in Tiramisu. Some Italians will look at you in horror at the mere mention of adding alcohol, yet others (including pastry chefs) will always incorporate alcohol into the recipe. Be careful not to overdo it though as a tiramisu drowning in alcohol is not at all pleasant. The 1 tablespoon I add adds a suggestion of flavour and aroma, complimenting the overall dessert without overpowering it.
**Some chefs prefer to create a sugar syrup with sugar and water, bringing it to a boil (before caramelisation occurs). They then add this in a steady stream to egg yolks and whites separately with electric beaters on high. This is to ‘pasteurise’ eggs and make a more food safe dessert.
*** The first time I made Tiramisu was when I nannied triplet girls in London. I followed my mother’s recipe which provides quantities for 20 people. She would add Marsala to the black coffee. I dipped the Savoiardi in the coffee mixture for too long, and couldn’t understand why I needed to keep making coffee. I went through 1.5 bottles of Marsala!!! Needless to say, my dessert was TiramiSoup!!! (The flavour was divine, but straws would have been required not spoons!)