When I start talking about food, my mother somehow always ends up in the conversation, because her cooking made me love food in the first place. She wishes it would have made me love making food as well, but I guess you can’t have everything in life.
The reason why I am once again talking about my mom is that her desserts were (and still are!) out of this world. For a long time, as a child, I didn’t even like chocolate or cakes and all that. Shocking, right? But Mom eventually won me over with her recipes, and one of my personal favorites will always be her tiramisu. It’s just ridiculous.
I’ve tried tiramisu at many restaurants, but not even the best one can compare to my mom’s. I think that is in part because she always follows a traditional tiramisu recipe, and most of the time, “traditional” stands for “the way it’s supposed to be.” But before I reluctantly share my mother’s way of making tiramisu, let’s go a little bit through its history and what exactly tiramisu is.
WHAT IS TIRAMISU?
One of Italy’s most popular desserts, tiramisu is an elegant, rich layering of bold espresso and cocoa, creamy mascarpone cheese, sweet Marsala wine, and delicate ladyfinger cookies.
The ladyfingers, which are themselves classic Italian treats, are briefly soaked in an espresso and sugar mixture to soften them.
Finally, cocoa powder dusts the top of these layers for additional flavor and to top off tiramisu’s classic appearance.
WHAT DOES TIRAMISU MEAN AND WHAT’S THE HISTORY BEHIND IT?
You might be surprised, but tiramisu’s history has a lot to do with … love. Okay, maybe that’s not that surprising when you take into account the many smooth and creamy layers and the bitter but pleasant taste of coffee mixed with chocolate. I mean, what’s not to love about it?
Tiramisu, in Italian, stands for “pick me up,” but its meaning takes various shapes, as it can also be interpreted as “cheer me up.”
Rumor has it that this cake was made with all the love in the world by a girl who wanted to express her love for a boy, because sometimes a cake tells more than words.
Another story just as lovely has another woman at its center—a wife, this time, who thought of a way for her husband who was preparing to go to war to think about her.
So she used everything she could find in her kitchen (eggs, biscuits, cocoa, cheese) to bake something unforgettable and to also keep him awake and strong in battle, thanks to the addition of coffee.
It was a dessert made with love, so that he could take it with him and think of better times. In a way, the sweet and bitter taste of tiramisu can be seen as a metaphor for wars.
Wars are bitter, but the thought of having people who love you waiting at home makes the pain more bearable.
WHERE DID TIRAMISU ORIGINATE?
Tiramisu is another one of those confusing recipes that we don’t know whom to attribute to. A consensus seems to be that it was born in Treviso in 1970, first starting out as a “sbatudin,” which is like tiramisu in its first undeveloped and unlayered form.
Eventually, sbatudin turned into the authentic Italian tiramisu recipe we all love, through influences from other Italian regions.
In the late ’60s, a gastronome and actor named Giuseppe Maffioli published a book about Treviso cuisine. In the book, he talks about eating zabaione cream and biscuits with the whole family and mentions it being a Venetian tradition. Okay, now that starts to sound more like tiramisu, right?
“Tiramesù,” as it was called in the beginning, was served for the very first time at a restaurant called Alle Beccherie by a pastry chef named Loly Linguanotto, who was just returning to Italy after perfecting his baking skills in Germany. The tiramesù was an instant hit, and not only was it served in the province of Treviso, but also throughout Veneto and even all of Italy.
And as many good things do, it became famous worldwide and developed into several variations, like this pistachio tiramisu recipe.
HOW IS TIRAMISU SERVED?
Tiramisu is a dessert served semifreddo—which means it’s not ice cream, but it’s not lava cake either. It’s perfect to eat just as you take it out of the fridge, and it actually tastes better if you leave it to sit overnight and even after a few days.
Although, honestly, when it comes to such a dessert, it’s quite a challenge to let it sit for too long. I guess that’s the Italian charm of food, where anything as basic as a salad dressing or pasta will be eaten on the spot, with no leftovers.
Authentic Italian Tiramisu Recipe
For the Coffee Dip
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 12 ounces coffee
For the Zabaione Filling
- 3.5 ounces sugar
- 4 ounces sweet wine (such as Madeira)
- 4 egg yolks
- 16 ounces Mascarpone cheese
- 13 ounces whipped cream
For the Layers
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 10 ounces ladyfingers (about 40)
For the Coffee Dip
- Prepare 12 ounces of strong espresso coffee and pour sugar into it while still hot.
- Let it cool at room temperature.
For the Zabaione filling
- Beat the egg yolks in a heat-proof bowl or in the bowl of a double boiler until they become fluffy.
- Add the wine and sugar and beat well.
- Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water on the stove and heat. Remove from heat before it boils, as the mixture will develop a heavy consistency before reaching the boiling point.
- In a different bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese. Add the whipped cream.
- In a different bowl, pour the mascarpone cheese and mix it well. Add the whipped cream.
- Add the mascarpone mixture to the rest of the filling and mix until it has a smooth consistency.
Layering the cake
- Dip half of the ladyfingers in the coffee and place them in a single layer in a 9-inch square baking dish (or similarly sized container).
- Distribute half of the zabaione cream on top of them.
- Repeat the ladyfingers dipping and layering process, then add the remaining zabaione cream.
- Sprinkle cocoa on top and place the dish in the fridge. Depending on when you started, you can leave it there for 4-5 hours or overnight.
Other Italian Traditional Desserts: