Classic Tiramisu

Whether it’s an anniversary, a holiday or simply a family get together (excuse enough to celebrate), there is one thing that is ubiquitous on my Tuscan in laws’ family table when they want to celebrate: tiramisu.

If you ask me, there is really only one way to make tiramisu – this perfect proportion of eggs, sugar, mascarpone; strong coffee; savoiardi biscuits (not Pavesini, which my Tuscan mother in law is a fan of, they are too thin and soak up the coffee too much – speaking of this, just a swift dip of the biscuit is enough, too much and these too get soggy); unsweetened cocoa powder.  This is the same tiramisu recipe that I have been making since I was sixteen. It was given to me by a neighbour from Mauritius when I was living in Beijing, who in turn had lived in Rome. A tiramisu recipe via China may be hardly authentic, you might be thinking. But believe me, it is. The proof is that my mother in law has asked me for the recipe.

That is the thing about tiramisu – it’s international appeal. It is a recipe that has successfully been transported not only all across the peninsula but all across the globe, that is seemingly loved by all palates and cultures and has been adopted into restaurants and homes worldwide. And all this for a dish that is only fifty years old. Sure, it’s been called a variant of the zuppa inglese (literally, “English soup”), that trifle-like dessert tinted pink in Alchermes, so popular in the nineteenth century. But the dessert that we know as tiramisu – layers of savoiardi (also known as lady finger) biscuits, dipped in coffee or rum or both, covered with a thick mascarpone cream and topped with cocoa – was born a Venetian dessert, in Treviso, circa 1960.

Even then there were already elements that you could say contributed to its cross-regional (and continental) success. The biscuits, savoiardi, come from a region that historically was a part of France but today are largely produced in the Veneto, Verona to be exact. Mascarpone, vital to the rich creaminess of the dish, is a typical fresh cheese from the region of Lombardy. Yet stories also abound of the dessert’s origins coming from Siena and Torino. An older, traditional dish, would never have this regional mix of ingredients but strictly those of local production.

It’s an incredibly simple recipe that requires very little effort and only the patience of allowing some time between assembling it and eating it. Perfect for a busy cook preparing for a celebratory meal since this can and should be made the night before.

The original tiramisu did not include alcohol as this was also a favourite children’s dessert (obviously nobody thought twice about the caffeine hit and even my in law’s don’t bat an eyelid about kids eating caffeinated tiramisu but it is the lesser of two evils in this case) and, despite the stick-form of the biscuits, tiramisu was round rather than rectangular. Perhaps it’s because in many ways it is a distant, modern cousin of the trifle-ish zuppa inglese and the round form was an obvious step. In honour of that very first tiramisu, I’ve made this one round too. But at home, in Tuscany, a glass, rectangular pyrex dish would do just fine.

Classic Tiramisu

  • 3 very fresh eggs
  • 150 gr sugar
  • 500 gr mascarpone
  • 500 gr packet of savoiardi (lady finger) biscuits
  • 100 ml strong, black coffee
  • Cocoa powder, unsweetened

To make the mascarpone cream, separate the yolks and the whites into two medium to large sized bowls. Whip the yolks with the sugar until you have a dense, creamy and pale mixture. Add the mascarpone until combined. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites (make sure you use a very clean bowl, glass or metal is best, and very clean beaters to quickly get beautifully stiff whites) until you have stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the mascarpone mixture. Set aside, and if not using straight away, store covered in the fridge.

Make a fresh moka pot of strong, black coffee and pour into a wide bowl. Quickly dip one side and one side only of a savoiardi biscuit into the coffee and layer, coffee side up, in your chosen tin, round or rectangular as it may be. Repeat until you have a nice, tight layer that covers the base of the tin. If you are using a springform cake tin you can get three layers out of this recipe, but a large rectangular dish may allow (height wise for just 2, so note this as you distribute the cream). Cover the lady fingers with a thick layer of mascarpone cream (a third if doing a round one; half if rectangular), it should be at least 1cm thick. Repeat layers, finishing with cream.

Leave in the fridge overnight (or for at least four hours if you are in a hurry but this really benefits a longer wait), covered. When ready to serve, dust with plenty of unsweetened cocoa powder.

Note: If you cannot easily find savoiardi, you can easily make them with three ingredients – sugar, eggs and flour, the recipe is here.

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Comments

  1. Rosa says:

    A beautiful Tiramisù! That is one of my all-time favorite desserts.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Caro says:

    The presentation is beautiful, but it looks pretty dry? The ladyfingers (savoiardi) are supposed to be soaked completely! Otherwise it is no fun to eat at all.

    • Emiko says:

      One of my pet peeves is a soggy tiramisu, can’t stand it! So over the many years that I’ve been making these, I have my savoiardi dipping technique down pat (as in the instructions above) – one quick dip, just one side only! This is how I think it comes out best, how I personally prefer eating tiramisu. Once you leave the tiramisu overnight (always better overnight if you ask me), the moisture from the mascarpone cream and the hint of coffee from the dipping turn the savoiardi into the most perfectly soft cake – no hint of sogginess and never dry. Now this is my favourite kind of tiramisu!

  3. I really enjoyed every single post of the Italian Table Talks, it has been very interesting! Your Tiramisu looks delicious and very pretty with the bunting!
    Here’s to another year of interesting posts, congrats to all the ladies!

    • Emiko says:

      Thanks so much Regula, you’ve always been a great supporter and follower of Italian Table Talk from day one! Hope we can continue to keep you interested with our future posts. x

  4. I love the look of this round, mold-less version of tiramisù. So very pretty!

    • Emiko says:

      Thanks, Frank, I’ve always grappled with making a tiramisu look pretty enough to be photographed but was inspired this time to make a good go of it! 😉

  5. I was so so curious to read about the origins of tiramisu. As you said, it is something so loved and well known that you feel it like ‘your’ dessert, even if it has nothing to do with a Tuscan tradition.
    I am for the cream cream cream version – like a 3:1 ratio to savoiardi! – but I side with the not too soggy savoiardi version.
    Funnily enough, I’ve written about the same behind-the-scenes-activity.. I really enjoy this chitty chatty about recipes and traditions, it’s what makes everything even more interesting!
    So happy to share also this project with you, along wit our never ending list of activities!

    • Emiko says:

      I know what you mean – lots of mascarpone cream is always good. My mother in law makes it with ricotta (or half ricotta, half mascarpone) to make it a bit “lighter” but either way, creaminess is vital! I’d love to make this for you and share a slice or two and compare notes – add it to the list! 😉

  6. Valeria says:

    Tiramisu is the only home-made celebratory food I could think of. My mum has always thought to be a tiramisu master and would make it for us as birthday cake as that was her (only?) strong suit as far as desserts go. She wouldn’t make the round version, which now I learn being the originial one, but the rectangular one, using a huge glass pirex mould. I have always liked my tiramisu soft, with a lot a lot a lot of cream – same ration as Giulia 🙂 But I have never liked soggy savoiardi either, and that was the biggest complaint I was moving to my mum: her tiramisu had too much of a coffee flavour and the cookies were too mushy. So she started to correct her recipe and to dip only one side. Result: a more balanced flavour and better structure. Not sure where the lady who gave you the recipe got hers, but it seems she had nailed all the most important principles for the pefect tiramisu!
    I loved reading your notes btw, I blushed when I read about myself. Thank you! It has been so great to discover a bit at a time, through bits of sentences and thoughts posted here and there, how much we share and have in common. I am loving this project and I am looking forward to the year to come: it wouldn’t be the same without the email exchanges and the collective brainstorming. It also pushes me forward in so many ways –like, having to meet a deadline, I am so bad at it and ITT is such a good motivator.
    To one year and many more to come! 🙂

    • Emiko says:

      Yes the soggy tiramisu thing is most unpleasant and from trial and error you learn the best way to prevent it – exactly how I nailed down my technique too! I, too, love the challenge and the collective effort to talk about our chosen ITT topic, sometimes I do think blogging is so much better done as a group rather than solo all the time! To many more xx

  7. Krista says:

    I just found your blog through your guest post at Zita’s blog. 🙂 Your tiramisu sounds so simple and delicious. It reminds me of a similar one I had at my brother’s wedding in Tuscany. Wonderful. 🙂

  8. Fragolina says:

    my favorite dessert ever!! this is my first time visiting your blog. i like it. i like the pictures, and the recipes, i like everything that has to do with Italy, specially the food part.

  9. Layne says:

    Hey Emiko!

    I just happened across your blog for the first time. Thanks for all the authentic italian recipes…written in English! It’s a beautiful blog! 🙂

    Layne

  10. Elena wright says:

    Hi
    Can you tell me what size springform pan would you use for the round tiramisu. I’m going to make it for my daughters birthday this Thursday. Cheers Elena

  11. Michelle says:

    Hi Emiko,

    I was wondering how you layer the savoiardi in the springform pan? It’s easy to fit stick-shapes into rectangular/square pans but I am having some difficulty picturing how it can be done so prettily as you’ve done here? Thanks!!

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