Cucina Veneta, Dolci, Italian culinary history, Italian desserts, Italian food, Pellegrino Artusi, Tiramisu'
Buon Primavera! It is the first day of spring and March 21st is also Giornata Mondiale del Tiramisù-World Tiramisù Day. Tiramisù, made up of espresso dipped Savoiardi layered with a cream of whipped eggs and mascarpone, topped with cocoa-is thought to be a rather ‘modern’ creation. It is widely believed to have been invented in Treviso in the late 1970’s and has been popular worldwide since the 1990’s. The basis of it has actually existed for a long time, and Tiramisù as we know it today is an evolution of traditional local desserts, aphrodisiacs and energy drinks. It has quite a controversial history, with at least 6 restaurants in 2 regions claiming to have invented it. Definitely too many cooks stirring this pot!
In the ‘dolci al cucchiaio’ (puddings/spoon desserts) section of Pellegrino Artusi’s 1861 book ‘La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene’ recipe #649 Dolce Torino sounds similar to Tiramisù. It is made with savoiardidipped in a spicy liqueur layered with a cream made of eggs, butter, icing sugar, milk, vanilla and chocolate, topped with ground hazelnuts and pistachios.
Zabaione, made of raw egg yolks whipped with sugar with marsala or sometimes espresso, was considered a restorative energy drink for newlyweds, new mothers and the sick. It also often served as a breakfast for children. In Veneto, it was called sbattutino, meaning little beaten one.
In Treviso, they say the madama at a local brothel served a dish inspired by sbattutino, made with eggs, sugar, caffè and savoiardi to patrons and staff to restore their energy. Sounds like an early Viagra? It was called Tireme su, meaning lift me up in dialetto Veneto. While this is likely leggenda metropolitana– an urban legend, I believe there may be some fact to it!
In his 1968 memoir, Giovanni Comisso (1895-1969), a writer from Treviso wrote about his nonna making a dessert called Tirame-sospiro-su in the early 1900’s and how she remembered it from her childhood. (Note-I tried but was not able to locate his memoir).
The claim for inventing Tiramisù as we know it today is made in both Veneto and Friuli by at least 6 restaurants! Owner Alba Campeol and chef Roberto Linguanotto both claim to have invented it around 1969 at the former Ristorante alle Beccherie in Treviso, as well as Carminantonio Iannaccone, a baker who claims he made and delivered the Tiramisú served at the restaurant! Other Treviso restaurants staking a claim wereAl Camin, El Toula and Le Celeste. In Friuli Mario Cosolo at Al Vetturino in Pieris and Norma Pielli at Albergo Roma in Tolmezzo both claim to have invented Tiremesù in the 1950’s. Mannaggia!
Veneto is definitely responsible for popularizing Tiramisù, after the first published recipe appeared in Vin Veneto magazine in 1981. In the US, it became popular after being mentioned by Tom Hanks in the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle as being a mysterious dessert that women love.
In 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano requested it as a special menu item at the International Space Station……dehydrated Tiramisù. Uh…no, grazie!
My Tiramisù recipe is classic and simple. A few notes on the ingredients:
Mascarpone is a product of Lombardia. Often called a cheese, it is actually a cream, like clotted cream. It can not be replaced with whipping cream and definitely not with cream cheese!
Eggs are raw in Tiramisù. If possible, use farm fresh eggs, kept in the fridge until needed. When separating the eggs, crack the whole eggs into a bowl, then scoop the yolks out by hand and put them in another bowl, rather than using the eggshell to separate them. Make sure there is no yolk mixed in with the whites.
Caffè = espresso, preferably made in a stovetop Moka pot. Decaf espresso is fine and will not change the taste. Do not use North American brewed coffee or instant coffee!
Alcohol is optional. Marsala is the most traditional alcohol to use. My family has always treated caffè and Sambuca as a package deal, so this is what I use and I believe it is the yummiest option.
Savoiardi are usually called Lady Finger Biscuits in English. They are named after the House of Savoia, the ruling family of Italia. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, savoiardi were considered patriotic. Read more in the post Margherita di Savoia. I also like to make Tiramisù with Pavesini. They are smaller, crunchier and much thinner than savoiardi and have a light vanilla taste to them. This results in an elegant looking Tiramisù with multiple thin layers, as in the photo below.
Dish-a dish with straight sides rather than flared works best. I use a 20cm X 30 cm glass baking dish (8 inch X 12 inch) with a plastic lid and it works well for a 2 layer Tiramisú. If you want a 3rd layer, use a smaller dish.
500g container of Mascarpone
1 400 g package Savoiardi
5 large eggs, separated
60g (¼ cup) sugar plus 10g (2 tsp) sugar
300ml (1½ cups) caffè
Sambuca or preferred alcohol
Cocoa powder or shaved chocolate for topping
Pinch of salt
- Make caffè and stir in 10g (2 tsp) sugar while still hot, then add alcohol and let cool.
- Mix yolks with sugar in electric mixer until frothy. Add mascarpone and mix.
- In a separate bowl, using clean whisk or beaters, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Note-If you only have 1 mixer bowl and beater, it may be easier to mix the egg whites first. If any bit of yolk gets into the whites, they will not become fluffy.
- Add egg whites to mascarpone mixture, stirring up from the bottom to keep it fluffy. Do not overmix.
- Spread a bit of mascarpone cream mixture to the bottom of the dish
- Dip savoiardi one by one in caffè/sambuca mixture and arrange on bottom of dish. Cover with half of the remaining cream mixture and repeat.
- Top with sifted cocoa powder or shaved chocolate.
- Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, then cut and serve. It is best to consume it all by the next day, which is not usually a problem!
Happy World Tiramisù Day/Buon Giornata del Tiramisù! Do any of you readers, especially those from the Veneto- have Tiramisù origin stories? Buon Appetito, Cristina!
To listen to more about Tiramisú, check out Luca’s podcast on Luca’s Italy.