One of the most famous and well-loved of all Italian desserts, tiramisù (meaning literally: "pick me up") is a descendant of the traditional English trifle. A trifle, which in Italy goes by the rather unappetizing name of zuppa inglese ("English soup"), is essentially layers of sherry-soaked sponge cake, custard sauce and fruit-flavored gelatin, all topped with whipped cream.
The most widespread claim is that it was invented at the Le Beccherie restaurant in Treviso, in Northern Italy's Veneto region. Carlo Campeol, owner of Le Beccherie, has said that his mother Alba Campeol, together with pastry chef Loly Linguanotto, developed the recipe at the restaurant in 1971. It was allegedly inspired by the fact that, after the birth of her son, Alba's mother-in-law brought over an energy boost in the form of a zabaglione cream spiked with espresso.
Carminantonio Iannaccone, meanwhile, claimed in 2007 that he had invented tiramisù and first served it in 1971 at his Piedigrotta restaurant -- also in Treviso. It seems odd, if he were truly the inventor, that he wouldn't have said anything about it or have been mentioned in connection with the dessert until the 2000s, but who knows. His version is more complex, involving a several-day process of making both zabaglione and pastry cream.
- 4 farm-fresh eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup sugar (granulated)
- 1 cup fresh mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups strong espresso (at room temperature)
- 2 dozen (24) savoiardi biscuits or ladyfingers
- In a medium mixing bowl, beat the yolks with a whisk or electric hand mixer, gradually adding the sugar, until the mixture is thick, fluffy, smooth and pale.
- Gently fold the mascarpone into the yolks with a spatula and set aside.
- In a clean, dry mixing bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff (but not dry) peaks.
- Gently fold the beaten whites into the mascarpone-yolk mixture, one-half at a time, and set aside.
- Pour the coffee into a wide, shallow bowl or dish and quickly dip several of the savoiardi into the coffee just long enough to moisten them, but not so long that they grow soggy and lose their shape. Arrange the biscuits in a single layer on a serving platter or in a baking dish.
- Top the biscuits with a layer of the mascarpone cream, then dust evenly with some cocoa powder.
- Repeat the layers until your ingredients are used up, ending with a layer of the mascarpone cream dusted with cocoa.
- Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours or until well-chilled and firm.
- Serve straight from the refrigerator; it's not safe to let this dish sit for a long time at room temperature due to the mascarpone and raw eggs.
Variations and optional additions:
- Substitute the cocoa powder with grated semisweet chocolate.
- Add 1 teaspoon of alcohol to the espresso before soaking the ladyfingers.
- Substitute zabaglione for the mascarpone cream.
- For a lighter version, substitute the mascarpone and eggs with 4 cups of plain yogurt.
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest to the mascarpone cream.
- Top your finished tiramisù with a few chocolate-covered coffee beans.