Tiramisu is an elegant dessert that’s ridiculously easy to make – especially if you use pre-made savoiardi (also called ladyfingers) from your local bakery or market.
Sometimes called “Tuscan Trifle,” tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian. It was created in the 1970′s at a Venetian restaurant called “Le Beccherie,” located in Treviso, Italy, where it was rumored Le Beccherie’s tiramisu provided a “pick me up” to the courtesans who worked in a brothel above the restaurant. (Scandalous!)
The dessert and its name were an instant hit that were soon copied by restaurants all over Italy using variations of the original recipe, which layered savoiardi soaked in espresso or strong coffee with mascarpone-zabaglione cream and bittersweet cocoa powder. A few food historians claim that La Beccherie’s tiramisu was actually a re-imagining of a classic 17th century dessert that was created in Siena to celebrate a visit by the Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III. The dish he enjoyed was a loose custard that wasn’t made with mascarpone. He liked it so much that he brought the recipe back to Florence, where it eventually became enormously popular among English intellectuals. (source)
Savoiardi are relatively easy to find in the United States, where they are called Ladyfingers because, well, that’s what they look like. The name “savoiardi” means “from Savoy,” which is the French duchy they originated in during the late 15th century. These light, crispy cookies shaped like women’s fingers were the official court cookie and were often given as gifts or made into trifles and charlottes for dessert. In the U.K. savoiardi are sometimes called boudoir biscuits, which I find amusing considering the alleged connection between tiramisu and courtesans mentioned above!
Tiramisu is made by soaking savoiardi in espresso or coffee, then layering the softened cookies with a mascarpone-zabaglione cream. Last week I finally decided to give the dish a go, but because traditional tiramisu is served using raw egg yolks and whipped egg whites, also uncooked, I decided a few modifications were in order. There was no reason for this other than my general aversion to raw egg in my food, so if you come across a tiramisu recipe that takes the traditional approach and you’re comfortable eating raw eggs by all means go for it.
Having never made tiramisu before, I turned to Twitter for help modifying the recipe. In no time friends like cookbook author @abbydodge suggested cooking the yolks, while @rosychik suggested the use of Grand Marnier instead of Marsala. With their ideas in mind the recipe you see below crystallized, using four different tiramisu recipes as a starting point. Rather than using raw egg I lightly cooked the yolks with the sugar and Grand Marnier in a double boiler and replaced the whipped egg whites with whipped cream. I also upped the amount of coffee in the recipe (I love coffee!) and replaced the cocoa powder with bittersweet chocolate shavings. Since Grand Marnier is made with a blend of true cognacs and the distilled essence of bitter orange, it added a lovely citrus undertone that complemented the chocolate.
Tiramisu (My Recipe)
Ingredients: Serves 6 to 8, depending on serving size
- 3 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 1 cup chilled heavy cream
- 2 1/2 cups strong brewed coffee
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 24 Italian ladyfingers/savoiardi (see below for Kosher for Passover ladyfinger recipe)
- 1 6-oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate bar, such as Scharffen Berger
Make strong coffee using 7 tablespoons of good quality (preferably freshly ground) coffee and 2 1/2 cups of water. Brew according to your coffee maker’s instructions or even better, in a French press. If using a French press, brew the coffee for 5 minutes before straining it into a large, wide bowl. Set aside to cool.
In the top of a double boiler set over simmering, not boiling, water, combine the egg yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar and Grand Marnier, stirring constantly. (I used a large pot of simmering water and a large metal bowl to make my “double boiler.” Fill the pot about 1/4 full, bring to a simmer, then place your metal bowl into the pot – there should be a fair amount of space between the water and the bottom of your bowl and the bowl should form a seal with the pot.) Cook the yolk mixture about 5 minutes. It will become pale yellow in color and increase in volume.
Remove the yolk mixture from the heat and gently whisk in the mascarpone until combined. Set aside.
In a chilled metal bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar while continuing to beat the cream. The cream is ready when it holds stiff peaks (this will happen very quickly after the soft peak stage). Fold the cream into the egg yolk mixture.
One at a time, dip the ladyfingers into the coffee for 3-4 seconds per side, then transfer them to an 8-inch glass baking dish. Line them up so they are touching each other. Trim the ladyfingers as needed to ensure a snug fit. Spread half of the whipped cream mixture over the ladyfingers, then layer the remaining ladyfingers after dipping them in the coffee. Top with the rest of the whipped cream mixture.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 5 hours before serving. Using a vegetable peeler, grate bittersweet chocolate over the top of the tiramisu just before serving.
The tiramisu can be made up to 1 day in advance and will keep for 2 days max.
Kosher Ladyfingers for Passover
Zoë writes: Here is the kosher sponge that I use. It is from the tried and true Joan Nathan book, Jewish Cooking in America.
Ingredients: Makes about 46 small or 24-30 large ladyfingers, depending on how large you pipe them.
- 8 large eggs, separated
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup sifted matzah cake meal Pinch salt
- 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
Beat the egg yolks until light on medium speed. Reduce speed and add 1 cup of the sugar slowly to the yolks, beat again until lemon yellow in color.
Add the matzah meal, pinch of salt, zest and juice of the lemon.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks on high speed. Reduce speed and slowly add the final 1/2 cup of sugar. Increase speed and beat until whites are stiff peaks, but not dry.
Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk/matzah mixture, in 3 additions.
To make the ladyfingers follow the directions from my website. Be sure to work quickly when piping the ladyfingers.