Tiramisu (pronounced "tih-ruh-mee-SOO") is an Italian dessert invented in the 1960's at the El Touga restaurant in Treviso, Italy. Literally translated 'Tiramisu means "pick me up" or "carry me up", which probably refers to the jolt you get after eating espresso and alcohol laced ladyfingers. It is often called an 'Italian Trifle" because, like any trifle, it is made by layering cake (or ladyfingers), that have been soaked in spirits, with a rich custard. In a Tiramisu, the ladyfingers or sponge cake are dipped in a mixture of coffee (espresso) and alcohol (rum or Marsala), followed by a layer of Zabaglione (Zabaione) (pronounced zah-bahl-YOH-nay) that has been mixed with mascarpone cheese. Zabaglione is a rich Italian custard that is made by whipping egg yolks, sugar, and sweet Marsala wine over a water bath. The Marsala wine that is used in a Zabaglione actually comes from the Italian City of Marsala (Sicily) and is a fortified wine (like sherry and port) with a rich, smoky flavor that can be sweet or dry. The Zabaglione is made even more delicious by whisking in some lovely mascarpone cheese, which also comes from Italy. Mascarpone, pronounced mas-kahr-POH-nay, is a soft unripened cheese that belongs to the cream cheese family. It is a thick, buttery-rich, sweet and velvety, ivory-colored cheese, with a delicate and mild flavor, produced from cow's milk that has the texture of clotted or sour cream. It is sold in plastic 8 ounce (227 grams) tubs and can be found in specialty food stores and in the deli section of many grocery stores.
The recipe I have included here deviates slightly from the classic Tiramisu. Instead of a Zabaglione, I have used an English style custard, although it does include all the necessary ingredients like eggs, sugar, and alcohol and, of course, mascarpone cheese. Ladyfingers form the base and these finger-shaped cookies that are about 3 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide (8 x 3.5 cm), are made with a sponge cake batter. They are called Savoiardi in Italy and are so named because they come from Savoy Italy. For this dish I like to use store bought ladyfingers (a real time saver) because they are thicker and their texture, crisp yet very absorbent, keeps its shape even after being dipped in the coffee soaking syrup. The top of the Tiramisu is garnished, first with a dusting of cocoa powder, and then with shaved or chopped semisweet chocolate and raspberries (if they are in season). It is a good idea to make this dessert the day before so the flavors have time to mingle, and I also like to place the Tiramisu in the freezer for an hour or two before serving as this makes it much easier to slice.
2 cups (480 ml) milk, divided
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar, divided
1/4 cup (35 grams) all purpose flour
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark rum or Marsala
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
8 ounces (1 cup) (227 grams) mascarpone cheese
32 crisp ladyfingers (Savoiardi)
Coffee Soaking Syrup:
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) very strong brewed coffee or espresso
1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) dark rum or Marsala
Cocoa Powder for Garnishing
1 ounce (30 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated or chopped
Fresh Raspberries (optional)
Cream Topping: In a medium sized saucepan heat 1 3/4 cups (420 ml) milk and 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar just until boiling. Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar, flour, and egg yolks. When the milk comes to a boil, gradually whisk it into the egg yolk mixture. Transfer this mixture into another clean large saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. When it boils, continue to whisk the mixture constantly for another minute or so or until it thickens. Remove from heat and strain into a large bowl. (This will remove any lumps that may have formed.) Whisk in the Marsala (or rum), vanilla extract, and butter. Immediately cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Refrigerate until cold, approximately two hours.
Once the custard has cooled sufficiently, remove from the refrigerator. In a separate bowl, with a wooden spoon, beat the mascarpone cheese until it is soft and smooth. Gently fold, or whisk, the mascarpone into the cold custard until smooth.
Coffee Soaking Syrup: In a large shallow bowl combine the coffee (espresso), sugar, and rum. Taste and add more sugar if you like. Set aside.
To Assemble: Line a 9 x 5 x 3 inch (23 x 13 x 8 cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap extends over the sides of the loaf pan.
Have ready the ladyfingers, coffee mixture, and cream filling.
Working with one ladyfinger at a time, dip 8 ladyfingers in the coffee mixture and place them side by side in a single layer over the bottom of the loaf pan. Spoon 1/3 of the cream filling over the ladyfingers, making sure they are completely covered. Repeat with another layer of ladyfingers by dipping them (8) ladyfingers in the coffee mixture and placing them on top of the cream. Again, cover the ladyfingers with cream and repeat with another layer of ladyfingers, cream, and ladyfingers. Cover the Tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
To Serve: Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the tiramisu. Gently invert the Tiramisu from the loaf pan onto your serving plate and remove the plastic wrap. Sift cocoa powder over the top of the Tiramisu and decorate with grated or chopped semisweet chocolate and fresh raspberries (if in season).
Makes 8 - 10 servings.
de Laurentis, Giada. 'Everyday Italian'. Clarkson Potter/Publishers. New York: 2005.
Sax, Richard. 'Classic Home Desserts'. Houghton Mifflin Company. New York: 1994.