Seriously, this is the best and most authentic recipe for that divine Italian dessert called Tiramisú. Trust an Italian-born-and-raised chef for that! And I could be talking about myself, but I am not, as this is my brother’s recipe. *wink*
I was fourteen years old, or thereabouts, the first time I had tiramisú. On that day, my aunt Luciana and I had driven to the big city (Milano) for one of her once-in-a-while errand trips. Once errands were done, it would be time for lunch in some cool place to replenish our energies.
This time, the chosen lunch destination was a hip little restaurant & pizzeria called Paper Moon, located in Via Bagutta. The first time at Paper Moon was followed by several others, with both my aunts and my mom a couple of times, and later on also with friends and colleagues (I worked in Milano for a few years in one of my previous lives). As it is, I have just now discovered that the restaurant is not only still there and has been renovated, but there are now two others: one in Istanbul and two in Doha, Qatar.
On that day I ordered pizza, and when it was time for dessert our server mentioned and highly recommended this mysterious new dessert with the weird name: Tiramisú – which (I am sure the world knows by now) literally means pick me up. He was a little mysterious about it, asking us to trust him. Which we did, and ordered one to share. One mouthful and we were hooked. We ordered a second so we would have one each.
I do not remember now if it came in a glass, cup, or in a slobbery slice on a plate, but that does not matter. All I remember is the whole experience of that one particular day is forever embedded in my memory because of a divine dessert with a weird name in a restaurant with a cool one.
The original creation of tiramisú is rather unclear, with a couple of chefs claiming its invention – one of which as far back as 1969 – possibly as a variant to the classic English trifle and Italian zabaglione. Whoever came up with this combination was a dessert genius. Its rise in popularity was like a flash flood: fast and over-reaching, and it is now one of the best known and best loved desserts all over the world, with many different variations on a theme. I have been making it myself for many years in some of those versions – which I will share with you by and by – though, incredibly, I only started making the classic one in this recipe a few years ago.
For as good as all the other versions are, this one is still the best, at least for me.
AND, though this is an uncomplicated recipe that can vary this way and that a little, I think this one is the best I have ever tasted, and the one that brings me back to that first mouthful at Paper Moon.
I must say that, for all of its simplicity, I have occasionally tasted some really bad tiramisús, the latest of such experiences being in Honolulu, purchased from one of the best (Asian inspired) bakeries in town, where everything else is really excellent except for their slices of tiramisú. It was so bad I gagged on the first bite and threw the rest into the trash. Besides the layers of mascarpone cream being too thin (which, unfortunately, happens a lot), whatever they had used to soak the (also too thin) layers of cake – whatever kind that might have been – was certainly not coffee and tasted (and smelled) like nail polish remover. Honest! It was disgusting.
I am not mentioning the bakery because everything else they make is really good, so I would not want to damage their otherwise excellent record. I will, however, do a review on them at some point, and somewhere I will say: just remember not to get their tiramisú. *wink*
TIRAMISÚ – CLASSIC ITALIAN VERSION
yields ca. 19-20 single portions, or 1 large glass or ceramic baking dish/container approx. 13″L x 9.5″ W and ca. 3.5″ deep – I used this one by Martha Stewart Collection, as it is nice and deep; perfect for lasagne, too
– 500 gr. (17.6 oz.) real Italian mascarpone, as in imported
– 6 eggs
– 130 gr. (4.6 oz.) sugar
– 24-30 pcs. Italian Savoiardi cookies (ladyfingers) – which can be purchased at your nearest specialty food store (in Honolulu that would be R. Fields inside Foodland or Foodland Farms, or on line at Amazon
– a whole large mug of Italian coffee, preferably made with that double decker coffee pot, or caffé Americano (espresso shots diluted with a little hot water) – you can use decaf if you prefer
– a few Tablespoons of Kahlúa (or rum if you prefer)
– a pinch of salt
– unsweetened cacao for dusting
All ingredients need to be at room temperature.
You will also need 19-20 single portion cups, glasses, jars etc., or that large baking dish I specified above.
The key ingredient is the mascarpone, which in Italy you can even purchase fresh from the dairy, as well as industrially packaged, of course, but in the U.S. and other countries is not easy to find, at least not the kind that says “Product of Italy”. I have tried some by a well known Italian brand made under license in the U.S. and it tasted like reconstituted powdered milk – yuck!
If you travel to Italy, do taste some fresh mascarpone from a high quality deli counter or cheese vendor. Your food life will never be the same again.
Above is the image of the best one I have found in Hawai’i so far at R. Fields inside the Beratania Foodland in Honolulu, or at the Foodland Farms in Aina Haina, though they do not always have it.
I have found some acceptable substitutions at Whole Foods, both made by a small dairy farm in New England, though these are also not always available.
DO NOT substitute mascarpone for any other type of cream cheese. If you cannot find mascarpone, change your menu and make another dessert, or another version of it.
Ok, then, let’s whip!
1. Brew the coffee and let it cool to room temperature.
2. In a large glass or stainless steel prep bowl whip the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow, light and fluffy.
3. Loosen up the mascarpone with a whisk then add it to the yolk and sugar mixture, blending until smooth.
4. In another bowl, whip up the egg whites with the pinch of salt until firm peaks form. Add them to the mascarpone & egg cream all in one lump and gently blend with up to down to up circular movements using first a whisk and finishing with a spatula. Set aside.
5. Pour the coffee into a deep dish, add a few Tablespoons of Kahlúa to your taste. Dip the ladyfingers into the coffee, making sure they are soaked just right, and place them in the bottom layer of your serving dish, covering it completely. If you are using small cups or glasses, you will need to first cut the ladyfingers to a matching size. Patch pieces are fine, too. Once you have covered the bottom, ladle some of the mascarpone cream on top of the soaked ladyfingers (about 1.5″ thick). Repeat the soaked ladyfingers process and create another layer. Top with the remaining mascarpone cream, distributing evenly.
6. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for up to five hours or overnight to set. Dust with the cocoa powder through a sieve just before serving.
If you are serving it out of a large dish, know that the slices will be sloppy and irregular, as they should be in this dessert. Mascarpone firms up, but not that much. I usually use a large spoon or a wide, flat spatula, and that’s that. When you see those perfectly shaped slices some places call tiramisú, they either have too much cake and not enough cream, or some gelatin has been added to the cream for presentation’s sake. To me that is a pity, because the soft creaminess is part of the divine experience of tiramisú.
Tiramisú will last up to 3-4 days properly covered in the refrigerator. Definitely something you can make a couple of days ahead.
We have a saying in Italian to describe something that you can never get enough of: “… é come le ciliegie, una tira l’altra… “. Literally translated: “it’s like cherries, one calls the other.” If you like cherries, you know what I am talking about: you can never have just one. The same is with this dessert: it is the kind that calls you really loudly from the refrigerator, and one portion is never enough. So be warned!
This is the third dessert I decided to make for the 4th of July party. I almost did not make it because I had already made it for last years’ party. I am glad I did because the one little girl that came to the bbq had been really hoping I would make it again, and her eyes opened wide when she saw it. I don’t think she ate much else, and she kept going back for more until her mom said “enough!”, and was happy to take some home. I am glad I used decaf coffee and kept a light touch with the Kahlúa.
Are you ready to make some tiramisú? If you do, let me know how it goes and how you love it. Because I know you will.
If you have enjoyed this recipe, you might also enjoy these desserts: