I hope everyone had a wonderful and chocolatey Easter! Apologies for taking so long to get this post up but better late than never, right?
Tiramisù means “pick me up” and is a classic dessert, the origins of which are a hotly debated issue. I won’t join the fray here except to suggest the claims that it originates in the Veneto region, and specifically around Treviso, are well founded. OK … disclaimer: my family is from Treviso, so sue me for being a little biased, but I think there’s evidence to support it. It’s a modern dessert, inspired no doubt, by the famous Zuppa Inglese from Toscana. Its flavour roots though bear more than a passing resemblance to a traditional pick-me-up treat that was given to children and adults alike when they needed to regain strength after an illness or were just feeling run down. I remember my grandmother used to beat a fresh egg with Marsala and sometimes a shot of espresso coffee and the reason was always per tiratesù! (Venetian dialect for to pick you up!). It was certainly the only way I could contemplate having egg as a child, with the sweetness of the Marsala and the sharp kick of the coffee. It was funny watching her force my father to have it just because she claimed he was “too skinny” by her standards and couldn’t possibly be strong enough to work as hard as he did. Ahhh … I loved my Nonna 🙂
I learned to make tiramisù on my first trip to Italy, as a teenager, and I was lucky enough to learn from a wonderful lady, Zia Lucia. OK, she isn’t my real aunt, rather a close friend of the family, but I called her Zia anyway. We were invited for lunch and it was the first time I’d ever eaten tiramisù. I thought it was the most fabulous dessert EVER. It wasn’t too sweet, wonderfully creamy but with a lovely sponge biscuit layer that was SOAKED, I mean SOAKED, in coffee, brandy and a little Marsala. I modified Zia Lucia’s recipe over time. Not because her recipe wasn’t wonderful enough as it was! I like to think my changes have merely gilded the lily a little.
Over the years, I made this dessert so many times, I’ve lost count. It featured at practically every occasion for family and friends. So much so, I ended up making large decorated free-standing tiramisù cakes for special occasions. I stopped making it some years ago as a form of protest. Can you blame me? Oh come on, I was bored. But now I’m rediscovering it all over again in a fit of nostalgia. I made it as a surprise for our family gathering at Easter this year and I think it has become special all over again. I may just put it back on the Easter lunch menu as a given from now on. It’s always been a favourite of family and friends.
You can, of course, make your own sponge fingers for this – using your favourite sponge recipe and piping the mixture into 12 cm x 3cm finger lengths. I tend to make a sponge for this recipe only when I want to make it look elegant as a showpiece Tiramisù Cake or entremets, for which I make sponge layers as it’s more stable to cut into slices.
For a classic tiramisù, however, I’m a traditionalist … only good quality bought savoiardi will do. It’s one of those rare occasions in which I don’t bake them from scratch, but I think it’s important for the coffee soaked biscuit layers. The reason this tiramisù is so wonderful? In part, it is because the cream is rich but also very light in texture thanks to the Italian meringue (one of my changes, sorry Zia!). It’s also great because the biscuits are thoroughly soaked in the coffee. It cuts through the richness of the cream. I’ve tried so many that have the coffee sprinkled over what remains, in the end, a fairly dry sponge finger layer. FORGET THAT, FOLKS. We really need to get the flavours happening here! Good quality bought savoiardi will allow you to soak them in the coffee without them disintegrating completely. Home made sponge fingers tend to have a softer texture and I find they don’t hold their shape as well. This isn’t a problem if you are making the tiramisù in a dish. I tend to prefer to make mine free-standing. Plus, it’s authentic, right? 😛
Choose a coffee that is sweet and has low acidity for this dessert because you need to brew it strong to get the intensity of flavour. I used Gridlock Coffee House Blend this time around and it was lovely. A little chocolatey, light and sweet. Brewed strong, there was no hint of bitterness at all … just perfect. Don’t think you can get away with using instant coffee or an over-roasted bitter espresso. You’ll taste it.
You can use all brandy or substitute another liqueur. I often just use only brandy or sometimes Frangelico instead of the Marsala. Don’t be tempted to use Sambuca or Grappa for this dessert. While they do go well with coffee, they really don’t work with the mascarpone cream.
This is a great make-ahead dessert because it really is best if made the day or night before you plan to serve it. The flavours develop beautifully if left overnight.
It’s an easy dessert to make but there’s a big difference between a good tiramisù and a sublime tiramisù experience.
This one is sublime, I promise 😉
200 grams mascarpone*
100 grams double cream (min. 50% milk fat)
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla bean paste or scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean
3 tablespoons sugar
30 millilitres water
2 egg whites
12 savoiardi biscuits
400 millilitres strong espresso coffee, freshly brewed
50 millilitres brandy
50 millilitres Marsala or Frangelico
unsweetened cocoa or grated chocolate (70% cacao solids or greater)
*Mascarpone varies a lot depending on the brand and sometimes the time of year. Some varieties can give the dessert a strong cheesy flavour that not everyone appreciates. So, I use a combination of mascarpone and double cream to tone it down. I do this more often than not with spectacular results. Don’t use ordinary whipping cream as it needs to have the same consistency as the mascarpone for the mascarpone cream to have enough body. Use 300 grams of mascarpone and omit the cream if your mascarpone has a milder flavour.
While the coffee is still hot, pour it into a dish and add the brandy and Marsala. Set aside to cool completely while you make the cream.
Whip the mascarpone, egg yolks, and vanilla on medium speed until it is really light.
Place the water and sugar into a saucepan over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat and let the syrup come to 115°C. While the syrup is on the heat, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. When the syrup is ready, pour it in a slow steady stream into the egg whites, as you continue to whip them on a medium to high-speed. Keep whisking the meringue until glossy, stiff and the sides of the bowl have cooled to just warm.
Gently fold the meringue into the mascarpone mixture. The texture should be mousse-like.
One at a time, carefully dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and turn over until well soaked. Gently lift them out and place side by side in a dish or on a serving plate. You will need six savoiardi for each layer. Take care when lifting the biscuits so that they don’t break. I use two large forks or a flat bladed spatula for this. Follow with a layer of the mascarpone cream. Repeat with another layer of savoiardi and top with the remaining mascarpone cream.
This is what I’m talking about, yeah? The coffee has permeated the savoiardi through and through:
And there you have it … a true classic … plus I scattered a few coffee beans over the top. Just because.
It’s always nice to have a few leftovers the next day 😛 Note the puddle of coffee? That’s because the sponge fingers are dripping with coffee and booze. This is success!