Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A dessert intermission: Tiramisu

We interrupt our series on buying locally to address a deficit in the postings so far: no dessert recipes! Having been taken to task by an email from a AMFAS reader about just this, I’ve decided to post something about our current fave dessert.

Tiramisu is a staple on the menu of many Italian restaurants all over the world, but did you know it’s a recent culinary invention? By all accounts, it originated in the Veneto region of Italy, Treviso, to be exact, at Le Beccherie restaurant. In Italian, tiramisu means “pick-me-up”. Here’s a quote about it I found online:

“Born recently, less than two decades ago, in the city of Treviso, is a dessert called Tiramisu which was made for the first time in a restaurant, Alle Beccherie, by a pastry chef called Loly Linguanotto. The story is very credible, said Mascioni, who traveled to Treviso to talk to the Campeols last fall. There, matriarch Alba Campeol told Mascioni that she got the idea for the dessert after the birth of one of her children. She was very weak in bed and her mother-in-law brought her a zabaglione, spiked with coffee to give her energy.”

The recipe dates back possibly to the ’60s according to many sources, but certainly the dessert was making its way across Italy and eventually the rest of the world by the late ’80s. And no wonder, it’s a fantastic combination of flavors and textures: coffee, ladyfingers, mascarpone cheese, eggs, whipped cream and chocolate. It’s also surprisingly easy to make and is the perfect end to an Italian meal – or any meal, for that matter. Instead of cocoa powder, we use dark chocolate which looks a bit more interesting and tastes lovely. Traditionalists will cringe, but suit yourself. (They’d also object to our alternative liqueurs.)

Here in the Blechta Test Kitchens in the heart of beautiful midtown Toronto, we’ve developed our own take on this (now) classic Italian dessert, and we’d like to share it with you. It’s lovely and easy to make. Buon appetito!

Serves 6-9

This recipe comes with one important caveat: the original uses raw eggs. We make it with raw eggs, but we also know our egg supplier very well, so we can trust them. If I were using eggs bought in a supermarket, I would definitely use the variation mentioned at the end. The fresher your eggs are, the better they will work, especially whipping the egg whites. If you can, make the basic recipe. It’s a bit lighter and we think it’s tastier, too, but you have to use eggs you can trust! You don’t want your cooking to make people ill.

Also, we’ve begun using Nocello, an Italian walnut-flavored liqueur that’s rather hard to find (impossible in Ontario, it seems). It is really lovely, so if you can find some, sub it in for sweet Marsala (traditional) or Amaretto (almond flavored), which is also very nice.

For a fantastic presentation, make it in a springform pan and after removing the sides, bring it to the table to cut it for serving. Trust me, 0ne forkful and your guests will be impressed.

3 egg yolks
3 oz sugar
3 egg whites
6 oz mascarpone cheese (the fresher, the better)
½ cup heavy cream
espresso or very strong coffee (room temp)
sweet Marsala wine or Amaretto liqueur
32 Savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers)
dark chocolate for grating

1. Beat egg yolks and sugar until they’re thick and creamy.

2. Using a fork, beat the mascarpone until it’s “loosened up a bit” and then gently fold it into the egg and sugar mixture.

3. Beat the heavy cream until stiff and then fold it in. (I also beat in a half-envelope of stabilizer, available at most grocery stores, to keep the cream from breaking down.)

4. Beat the egg whites until stiff and dry, then very gently fold them into the mixture.

5. In an 8" x 8" pan, place a layer of biscuits that have been very briefly dipped in the cold coffee. Cover with half of the cream mixture.

6. Add a second layer of biscuits, this time dipping them quickly into the marsala or amaretto. Cover with the rest of the cream.

7. Chill for at least 2 hours. Just before serving, grate some chocolate over the top. You want a fairly heavy covering.

Notes: This dish is best served on the day it was made. Dip the biscuits into the two liquids in the coffee only briefly. They absorb it very quickly and then you’ll have to deal with them being really mushy apart. It’s nice when they retain a bit of cake-y texture. The liqueurs seem to absorb more slowly, so you should dip them slightly more slowly. If there’s any liqueur left at the end, drizzle it over that layer of ladyfingers.

Since eggs can often contain salmonella bacteria these days, you can change the recipe in order to not have raw eggs in it. Simply beat the egg yolks and sugar in a double boiler until it just boils. Cool it to room temperature. Now mix in the mascarpone. Whip double the amount of heavy cream given above and fold that into the mixture, leaving out the egg whites altogether.

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