Ricotta & Fig Tiramisu
What are the recipes that you have at your fingertips, those ones that aren’t even recipes, strictly speaking, but a familiar orchestration of ingredients coming together in that way that you like best?
I pondered this when I was asked recently about which recipe I could make in my sleep. A recipe that I don’t need to measure, or if I do, one that I don’t need to refer to a book or notes for. A recipe that is also adaptable, changeable and perhaps even manageable in an impromptu situation when you have to make do with what you have on hand.
Tiramisu was the first thing to leap to mind.
Tiramisu? But are you sure you don’t need to measure it and that it’s adaptable and flexible as a recipe? Came an uncertain reply.
It’s understandable. Tiramisu is a classic, one that is rarely messed with. And I am all about not messing with classics. Tiramisu has its certain proportions, it’s certain, subtle flavours that make it instantly recognisable as tiramisu. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that not only do I make tiramisu without a recipe, the same tiramisu more or less, that I have been making since I was about sixteen years old, but there are always subtle changes made to it, depending on what’s in the kitchen.
Take, for example, the liquid for soaking the savoiardi, or lady finger biscuits. I usually use coffee, made in the moka (a classic stove top percolator), because this is how I like my tiramisu. Sometimes a splash of rum or vin santo goes in there, if I have it, and if kids aren’t going to be eating it (the caffeine is enough evil).
The topping. My mother in law tops her tiramisu with large chunks of roughly chopped dark chocolate. It looks gorgeous but I don’t like eating it as much – there’s something about the big chunks that require biting into and the rest of the pillowy soft tiramisu that I find jarring. Grated chocolate is better. But I prefer a layer of bittersweet cocoa powder. It has to be a thick layer of much too much cocoa powder.
The mascarpone filling. I’m all about the full on mascarpone experience. But my mother in law always makes hers with half ricotta, half mascarpone. It’s lighter, she claims. And it’s true – it’s not as rich as an all-mascarpone cream, has a somewhat thicker, more filling consistency but is delicious too.
And that’s just the classic tiramisu.
In one of my favourite little trattorie in Florence, they do a delicious raspberry tiramisu. Squashed raspberries are used not only to soak the savoiardi but as a layer on top in a sloppy, just whipped up magenta-rippled tiramisu that’s been spooned roughly into a ramekin. It’s gorgeous and would work really well with defrosted raspberries, if not in season. I’ve done the same with strawberry tiramisu too and love it – the juice is used as the liquid for soaking and the fruit replaces the chocolate or cocoa on top (just put the fruit on when serving so it doesn’t split the mascarpone).
Another personal favourite that I have is matcha tiramisu. Bitter green tea replaces the coffee for soaking savoiardi and matcha powder takes over the cocoa, a bit of Japanese-Italian fusion, something I’m normally against but it just works so well here – the bitterness of the matcha and the rich, creamy sweetness of the mascarpone.
I think a hazelnut tiramisu would be a good one to try next – frangelico spiking the coffee and finely chopped hazelnuts mingling with the cocoa or grated chocolate on top. See? Tiramisu is an adaptable recipe, if you keep it simple.
For my birthday this year I decided to experiment with a new tiramisu, inspired by one of my favourite gelato flavours – ricotta, miele e fichi (ricotta, fig and honey). I didn’t actually use honey because I had just run out but this just goes to show you that this recipe is what it is because I used what I had on hand.
Slightly more ricotta was used because the tubs are larger than the mascarpone ones and I didn’t want any wastage. Only two eggs were used because that’s all I had in the fridge (well of the freshest eggs anyway). I used spiced rum, watered down, but I would have preferred some vin santo for soaking the savoiardi. Next time. The dried figs I had were delicious, almost apricot-like Greek figs that are pale and yellow rather than dark and caramel-coloured. I added pine nuts but was deliberating over whether pistachio or walnuts would be better. But it all came together just so and the result is my new favourite dessert – understated, just like this year’s birthday.
Adapted slightly from my classic tiramisu recipe, this one has a larger cream filling to lady finger biscuit ratio. There is one less egg, but you can use three if you want to make it a little richer. I also used a little less sugar as the figgy syrup is quite sweet itself. You could also add honey to it but in the end, I don’t think it needs it with the dried figs. I might add it though if proper, ripe figs were in season.
Ricotta & fig tiramisu
- 250 gr mascarpone
- 375 gr ricotta
- 120 gr sugar
- 2 eggs, separated
- a handful dried figs
- 300 gr savoiardi (lady finger) biscuits
- 3 shots of vin santo (dessert wine), marsala or spiced rum
- a tablespoon of pine nuts
In a bowl, combine the mascarpone, ricotta, sugar and egg yolks. Beat until creamy and pale. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the ricotta cream. Place in the fridge until needed.
Cut figs in half and boil them in water until very soft and the liquid has reduced to a syrup-like consistency (a little bit like this fig honey recipe but a quicker version). Remove the figs and when cool enough to touch, chop them into pieces and return to the syrup. Set aside to cool until needed.
If using rum, water it down with 3 shots of water. Place alcohol in a shallow bowl.
Prepare a springform pan or rectangular dish. Begin with a layer of savoiardi biscuits, dipped once, quickly into your chosen alcohol. Place dry side down in pan until you have a full layer. Top with a third of the ricotta cream. Another layer of savoiardi, followed by another third of ricotta cream. Last layer of savoiardi and top with the rest of the ricotta cream. Place in the fridge, covered, and let rest for at least 24 hours. This allows the flavours to mingle and then settle and gives the savoiardi time to absorb the liquid evenly, becoming fluffy and soft.
When it is time to serve, if using the round pan, you can remove and plate the tiramisu, presenting it like a cake. If using a rectangular pan, you can leave it in the dish. Combine the figs and pine nuts along with the fig syrup and spoon over the top of the tiramisu – it looks fresher when done just before serving. Serve immediately.