Taming the Tiramisu

Tiramisu is not a dessert I eat often. And I eat desserts often. It’s one of those things I always assumed was too difficult to attempt at home or perhaps I just didn’t want to taint its perfection with my own less-than-perfect rendition. But my sweet tooth has been acting up lately and usually my cravings for sweets are very specific. I gave myself two options: tricolor (rainbow) cookies or tiramisu. After perusing some tricolor cookie recipes and deeming it a bit beyond me (and my patience) right now I settled on tiramisu.

Tiramisu conjures up images of spongey, alcohol-and-coffee-infused, creamy deliciousness licked from the back of a spoon after a satisfying meal at a romantic Italian restaurant. It’s a dessert that I’ve only ever had in restaurants and so, to me, it is a special treat. But it’s also deceptively simple to recreate at home.

I’ve been reading up on the origins of tiramisu and a couple things stand out: 1) There is debate over who invented it and where and 2) there are mentions of it being used as a “pick me up” (it contains espresso) by prostitutes in both 17th century Tuscany and 20th century Veneto. Courtesans and tiramisu make for a good but unlikely story. The owner of Piedigrotta Bakery in Baltimore’s Little Italy claims to have invented the dessert in 1969 when he worked as a pastry chef in Treviso but this story is complicated by mentions of other Italian restaurants and chefs. The dessert gained popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s and is now the most well-known Italian dessert (Black 2007). Now matter how it came to be, one thing is for certain, it’s delectable!

with inspiration from Lidia Bastianich’s Tiramisu, Ree Drummond’s Tiramisu, Giada de Laurentiis’s Tiramisu, and Tiramisu from The Joy of Cooking.

2 cups espresso or strong coffee
3/4 cup + 1/3 cup sugar
ladyfingers (about 30 small)*
5 egg yolks
1 lb. mascarpone
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum**

Makes about 8-12 servings.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange ladyfingers on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 6 minutes or until golden brown. This should help the ladyfingers hold up when soaked with coffee.

Arrange half of the ladyfingers in a single layer on the bottom of a pan. I used a 9×13 pan, but smaller would work fine too. Set pan aside.

Combine the yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in a mixer. In my KitchenAid mixer, I mixed for 5 minutes on setting 2 and 5 minutes on setting 4.  Mix in the mascarpone by hand, incorporating thoroughly so that there are no lumps. Set aside.

Whip the cream, remaining sugar, and rum until stiff peaks have formed then add the mascarpone mixture and whip until thoroughly combined. Your filling is complete.

Mix vanilla extract into already-made warm coffee (or espresso). Spoon tablespoons of the liquid onto the ladyfingers in the pan. I had read that too much liquid will saturate the ladyfingers and give them an overly-soggy texture so I was conservative with how much I used  — about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon per ladyfinger. I would definitely increase the coffee to 11/2 to 2 tablespoons per ladyfinger and even more if you’re using large ladyfingers. 

Spread half of the filling over the ladyfingers then repeat another layer of ladyfingers (with space between them) and add the remaining filling. Sprinkle cocoa powder over the top, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight. Sprinkle again with cocoa before serving.

Tiramisu is best consumed within 4 days. If you would rather not eat raw eggs, you can prepare tiramisu with a cooked zabaglione (custard) instead. The Pioneer Woman’s tiramisu recipe prepares it that way.

*A note about ladyfingers. It is worthwhile to purchase large, quality ladyfingers. In an effort to save money and a trip to the local gourmet foods store, I bought generic ladyfingers at the supermarket. They were smaller than typical ladyfingers and so I had to guess at the number needed for my recipe.

**When I make this recipe again, I will increase the rum by a teaspoon or two. You can also use Marsala wine or brandy but I had rum in the house and generally prefer it.



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