Tiramisu. Just saying that word aloud makes me feel better, and it’s no wonder: when literally translated from Italian to English, tiramisu means “pick me up.”
My first experience with this heavenly dessert was back in 1992, shortly after I joined the crew of the cruise ship, M/V World Discoverer. We had a wonderful pastry chef, a Filipino gentleman named Nick, who made the most delectable desserts. Nick was a true artist when it came to his pastries, and he had a flair for dramatic presentations. Regardless of how much the ship was moving, his creations were flawless, and included sky-high Chocolate Soufflés, perfectly layered Napoleons, and individual, flaming Baked Alaska.
Visually, Nick’s tiramisu paled in comparison. But in terms of flavor, this sweet creation had no rival. In fairness, my high regard may have been influenced by another factor. I’d just met a handsome young Italian named Tony who was quickly sweeping me off my feet, and he loved tiramisu. But, honestly, I’d never tasted anything like it.
Fortunately, I married that cute Italian. And, even better, he knows how to make tiramisu.
Tiramisu is a popular Italian dessert with somewhat ambiguous origins, which vary depending on the part of Italy you visit. The Savoy region of Piedmont claims to have invented it, and points to the use of ladyfingers, or savoiardi, as proof. However, the people of Lombardia will argue that the honor should be theirs, based on the mascarpone cheese, as it is a Lombardian creation. Tuscans and Venetians will happily jump into the debate, but their reasons for doing so aren’t as clear. And the Romans will put forth that any dessert so typically Italian could only be Roman.
Similar to a trifle, Tiramisu is a creamy, layered dessert consisting of ladyfinger cookies and a mixture of whipped mascarpone cheese, sugar, egg yolks and egg whites. Many recipes use heavy cream, but Tony prefers to use egg whites instead, which make the filling lighter and extend its shelf life in the refrigerator. This step also ensures that the entire egg is used, which is great since the recipe calls for ten eggs.
Traditionally, the ladyfingers are soaked in a mixture of espresso and liquor – we use brandy, but you can also use Marsala wine, Amaretto, rum, or just go without. Be careful not to oversoak the ladyfingers, or they will become soggy once layered. A quick dip for about five seconds should suffice, just before layering.
Tiramisu can be shaped to whatever dish you choose. In our recipe, we use an 8×12 inch glass baking dish, but at Sarello’s we prepare our Tiramisu in small bowls, for individual servings. You may begin layering with either the cheese mixture, or the ladyfingers, but the top layer should always be the cheese.
To finish, dust the top with a layer of cocoa powder, and refrigerate for at least twenty-four hours before serving. If planning to freeze, hold off on the cocoa powder and wrap the dish in two layers of plastic wrap, then top it with one layer of aluminum foil. Freeze for up to three months. Thaw for twenty-four hours, and dust with cocoa powder before serving.
The end result is delicate, fluffy, light, and delicious. Some people claim that Tiramisu was given the name “pick me up” due to its high egg and sugar content, or its blend of espresso and liquor. While those ingredients are important, their effects are only temporary. It is the perfect combination of all the ingredients, coming together to create an unforgettable taste experience, which makes this dessert truly worthy of its name.
Raw Egg Warning: While we have never found this to be an issue, there can be concern in consuming raw and lightly-cooked eggs due to the slight risk of Salmonella or other food-borne illness.
To reduce this risk, we recommend you use only fresh, properly-refrigerated, clean, grade A or AA eggs with intact shells, and avoid contact between the yolks or whites and the shell. You may also choose to use pasteurized eggs, in whole or liquid form.
Watch Tony MAKE TIRAMISU