There is no doubt that Tiramisú is the most popular Italian dessert. Today, it is considered a classic, has innumerable variations, and appears on every restaurant menu.
Why is Tiramisú so popular? The answer is simple. It is DELICIOUS!
. . . when it is properly made.
It is one of those rare instances when a combination of flavors is created, blending all the components perfectly together, and taking the taste of the whole preparation to a higher level. We could say that Tiramisú’ is like Black Powder: the parts are innocuous taken separately, but become an explosion of taste when blended together.
Tirami su’ is a dialectal expression from the Veneto region meaning “pick me up,” in the sense of re-energize, regain strength, or wake-up. The meaning becomes apparent when you analyze what goes into this dessert. The main ingredients of Tiramisú are Mascarpone cheese, Zabaglione cream, Espresso coffee, Savoiardi cookies (also known as Ladyfingers), and a topping of chocolate.
Mascarpone has very old origins. It appears to have already been produced in the 13th century in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, where it took its name from mascherpa, the local term for a sort of ricotta cheese. Mascarpone is more than a cheese: it’s a concentrate of milk cream with a fat content up to 75%, with a smooth, creamy, and sweet texture.
Mascarpone was considered a winter product for its caloric content and also because it is very delicate and didn’t keep for long in the hot temperatures before the advent of the refrigerator. There are many American makers of this cheese, but none of the American versions have the same delicate taste, smoothness, and refinement of a freshly made Italian one. Still, even if American Mascarpone is not the best, do not even think about substituting it with cream cheese: the result would be disastrous.
Zabaglione cream is a classic Italian dessert originally from Venice. The famous Italian gastronome Giuseppe Maffioli wrote that the name of this cream originates from zabaja, a sweet dessert popular in the Illiria region, a coastal area across the Adriatic Sea that was Venetian territory for a long time during the golden age of the “Repubblica Serenissima” (The Most Serene Republic) of Venice. Zabaglione was prepared in those times with yolks, honey, and sweet Cyprus wine. Today, sugar and Marsala wine, giving it a distinctive flavor, are used instead. It is a simple and easy recipe, even though many food writers have described it as a complicated and laborious thing. The original Tiramisú recipe from the Restaurant Le Beccherie doesn’t include the use of wine.
Espresso coffee is obtained by forcing pressurized water through coffee powder. It is made from a blend of roasted grains of different origin, often ground on the spot to maximize the flavor. Espresso is naturally much stronger that regular American coffee. It is a true shot of caffeine.
Savoiardi: These delicate cookies, also known as Ladyfingers, were originated at the court of the Savoia Dukes around the 1500s in the northern Italian region of Piemonte, near the French border. They were supposedly created for a lavish reception organized in honor of a visit by the French king. Later, thanks to their extraordinary success at this memorable banquet, these cookies were offically “adopted” by the Royal House of Piemonte. They were renamed “Savoiardi” after the Savoia dynasty, and they became the most appreciated dessert of the house. Savoiardi are very light because they are prepared with a dough rich with whipped egg white. Very popular for the preparation of layer cakes, they are also served as a complement to custards, ice cream, or fruit salad.
A summary of the dessert: a very rich cheese, the eggs yolks, sugar, and sweet wine in the zabaglione, the caffeine of the espresso coffee, and the chocolate make this cake an ultra-nutritious combination, guaranteed to “pick you up.”
There are many variations of the classic Tiramisú recipe, and I want to introduce you to two exclusive recipes, developed by Anna Maria especially and EXCLUSIVELY for this website: The Duomo Tiramisú and the Crespelle Tiramisú.
Pietro Mascioni 08/20/2004
© Anna Maria Volpi, 2004