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      Do you know your tiramisù?

      Sep. 27, 2013

      Tiramisù, literally meaning pick-me-up, is the most popular Italian dessert in Italy and abroad. In a recent poll conducted by Assolatte (Associazione Italiana Lattiero Casearia / the Italian Association of Milk and Dairy Products), millions of clicks poured into the association’s system answering the question: which is your favourite dessert? It was a huge success for this beloved and traditional dessert, so simple in its making, yet creating such an explosion of sensations in just one bite.

      But who knows where tiramisù is originally from? Its history is quite uncertain. Some say that it was a favourite on the de’ Medici’s table in Tuscany, others swear it originated in Treviso, a city in the Veneto region where it was invented during the 1970s by Ada Campeol, owner of the restaurant Alle Beccherie and by the then young chef Roberto Linguanotto. Ada was nursing her first child and in order to give her some much-needed energy tiramisù was invented. The president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, has decided to begin the process to have tiramisù recognized as Stg (specialità territoriale garantita / guaranteed traditional speciality), a European Union certification, the same recognition Neapolitan pizza was granted in 2010. If the process is successful, there will be only one recognized tiramisù, made following a precise recipe, with precise ingredients and precise quantity. It sounds all so serious and formal.

      The truth is that once the articles appeared on local and national newspapers reporting the battle Mr. Zaia was about to begin, the paternity of tiramisù was once again immediately challenged. A 96 year old woman from Udine, in nearby Friuli Venezia, said that together with her husband they had began making tiramisù in the 1950s for the guests of their hotels and that the dessert very quickly became so popular that people would flock from the region and beyond to savour it. The woman, Norma Pielli, explained that her tiramisù developed from another cake, called Torino (made with ladyfingers, butter, chocolate, egg yolks and milk) whose recipe she modified replacing butter with mascarpone and immersing the ladyfingers in black coffee. Upon tasting it, her husband commented by saying that it was a cake that lifted up and so they decided to name it tiramisù.

      Setting aside the issue of true provenance and birthplace, tiramisù, like all other Italian recipes, offers an incredible amount of variations, raging from the cookies to the use of Marsale wine passing through a healthier choice when mascarpone is substituted with ricotta cheese.

      In places like the Maritimes, for example, the ingredients to make tiramisù are at times hard to come by. Ladyfingers in particular are a challenge. There are some cookies sold as ladyfingers that don’t look at all like the ‘real’ ones! Sponge cake can be a nice alternative if ladyfingers are not available, although there is the risk of having a tiramisù that is too soggy. Mascarpone is also different than the one found in Italy; the former is much sweeter and seems to have a different consistency than the mascarpone you would find in stores in Italy. Marsala wine was very hard to find in liquor stores a few years ago, but it seems that these days availability is no longer an issue.

      There is nothing wrong with experimenting and most of all adjusting and compromising, especially in places where certain ingredients are difficult to find or are too expensive to purchase. Who knows? Perhaps among all of these varieties, in all of these recipes there is an even better and even yummier tiramisù than the traditional one!


      500 gr of mascarpone
      4 eggs
      White sugar
      Cocoa powder
      Marsala wine
      Espresso coffee

      Make some espresso. If you have a 6-cup stove-top Italian coffee maker, make one. You can decide how strong you like your coffee, keep in mind that usually you should be able to taste it in the tiramisù. Pour the coffee in a dish, add some Marsala wine (quantity to taste) and let it cool down.

      Divide the yolks of the four eggs from the whites. Put aside the whites. Beat the yolks with two tablespoons of white sugar for each yolk. Once the sugar is incorporated with the yolks, add the mascarpone one spoon full at the time. Now, in a separate bowl, beat the whites until they are firm (some people add a pinch of sugar to help the process) and add them to the mixture until it becomes fluffy. Chop some chocolate (you can use milk, dark or white chocolate or a combination of all three) and add it to the mixture that should be smooth, and creamy, now with chunks of chocolate in it.

      Take one ladyfinger at the time and immerse it in the coffee and Marsala. The ladyfinger should not soak, just count one, turn it, count two and then remove it and place it in the dish you are using to make your tiramisù (it is aesthetically pleasing to use a glass or see through dish so that you can see the alternating layers). Repeat this same process for all of the ladyfingers. Once the first layer is prepared, spread the mascarpone mixture on top, and then proceed with the second layer. Keep on alternating between ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture. Remember that the last layer should be mixture. The final touch is sprinkling the top with cocoa powder.

      Refrigerate the tiramisù for a few hours. If you have company for dinner, you can prepare it in the morning. That will give all the ingredients time to set and “bond” together. Some people like to put it in the freezer. That way tiramisù is served more like an ice-cream cake. This recipe serves four people.


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