Tiramisu, one of Italy’s favourite desserts!

Most of Italy’s traditional recipes date back for centuries, but this iconic dessert is fairly young. In the 1960’s a chef in the Veneto region prepared it and it was an instant hit! In fact, so much so that the name tiramisu translates as ‘pick me up’ or ‘cheer me up’! Historical records claim that Tiramisu had aphrodisiac effects when served in the brothels of Treviso, the town where it was invented! It is delicious, but it does not quite reach those claims in my books!

On our recent trip to Italy I was determined to try as many as I could just confirm that my taste buds were on the right track! Generally try not to eat dessert but I must admit that I would rather forgo the pasta in an Italian restaurant in favour of the tiramisu!

I enjoyed a few in restaurants and was fascinated by an entire ‘take out’ shop dedicated to Tiramisu in the centre of Rome. It claims to serve the best Tiramisu in Rome.

There were queues day and night. Everyone was walking down the street eating Tiramisu, so of course, I had to join in! It smacked of ‘commercialism’ despite the signage with words like ‘artisanal’.  Somehow a plastic tub with a sealed lid does not whet my appetite! The glass fronted fridge had shelves of Tiramisu variations: traditional with or without alcohol, pistachio and almond. One of our group bought the pistachio…. Yummy! I tried the Traditional and it was surprisingly delicious! It really ticked all the boxes regards texture and flavour despite the plastic container!

I have enjoyed Tiramisu prepared by famous Italian food writers Marcella Hazan and Valentino Harris. Both were delicious and I have prepared their recipes often.

Back in South Africa, a few weeks later, I tried a dessert similar to tiramisu, described as Dolce della Nonna (Granny’s Sweet/Dessert!)

It was a delicious walnut, tiramisu-style dessert. I simply had to attempt to replicate it. Mine was not quite as delicious as Nonna’s. Next time I think I will chop up the Amaretti biscuits with the walnuts, and use less biscuits as they are very sweet. I have made these alterations in this recipe: Walnut and Amaretti Tiramisu.

Serve it chilled or frozen. This is one of those desserts that you can make ahead and pop into the freezer. Either slice it frozen or allow it to partially defrost. If it fully defrosts it sometimes draws water.

Some people are ‘intimidated’ by the method of tiramisu. Once you have mastered the few watch points that I have outlined below it is really easy and foolproof!

A Tiramisu recipe can be divided into 4 distinct components:

  1. The egg and sugar ‘mousse’ or zabaglione. This is where the egg is whished over warm water with the castor sugar. The sugar dissolves and the eggs ‘cook’ or set to hold the fine air bubbles that are whisked in. Caution is not to overheat the mixture resulting in a ‘scrambled egg disaster!’ Don’t let this put you off. In the recipe I give you clear directions to avoid this! It is also important to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature before incorporating the mascarpone cheese and the cream to avoid a ‘curdled oily mess’!
  2. The marscapone: this is an Italian cream cheese with a high fat content. Buy a reliable make. It is vitally important that the cheese is used at room temperature. If it is too cold it will not soften enough to blend with the egg mixture, again, resulting in a curdled texture.
  3. The cream: this is the one element that you must keep refrigerated. Whisk the cream to soft, fluffy peak. Do not over whisk. Fold the cream gently into the egg and cheese mixture to retain the light, mousse-like texture.
  4. The biscuits, coffee & booze: use good quality lady finger biscuits. In South Africa the Boudoir biscuits work well. If you can buy Italian Savoiadi, do use them. In my recipe I am using Amoretti biscuits to impart the almond flavours to illustrate a variation to the traditional recipe.

The biscuits are just dipped, not soaked in the coffee and alcohol mixture. Use a good quality espresso style or strength coffee. In Italy I saw alcohol free tiramisu on a few menus. I think that this caters for kids. My late Mother fed us Sherry Trifle, Cape Brandy Pudd and oh how can I forget that Christmas Cake and Pudd laced with Brandy! I think we survived that pretty well! In my opinion tiramisu needs a splash of booze. Traditionally Marsala wine was used, but recipes often use Italian Amaretto liqueur or Brandy.

From an Italian menu…. don’t you love the translation of alcohol! And the prices 1E = R16,70 at the time!

Recipe: Amaretti and Walnut Tiramisu

What do you do with the whites when the recipe only asks for egg yolks?

  1. Take a clean sandwich size plastic bag.
  2. Using a waterproof pen, write the number of egg whites on the bag. It’s easier to do this on an empty bag!
  3. Place the bag in a coffee mug with edges overlapping
  4. Separate the eggs, placing the whites in the bag. Use a separate bowl, just in case a yolk breaks…. sod’s law it happens with the last egg!
  5. Tie or knot the top of the bag
  6. Toss it in the deep freeze
  7. When you need egg whites e.g. for meringues, allow them to defrost in the fridge. This usually takes half a day, or at room temperature if you are in a hurry! Use the egg whites as normal, remembering to keep the whisk & bowl free of moisture or grease if you want to white whisk them.
  8. The number helps…. then it’s easy to select for the recipe size that you are preparing. Otherwise 1 large egg equals 30ml.