What is Tiramisu?
Tiramisu is a cool, refreshing Italian dessert that once tasted, leaves an indelible impression on you. But that description just doesn’t do it justice …
I’ll have to describe it for you in more graphic terms. Let’s see now . . . for those of you who’ve never had it before, how would I describe it?
Well, first of all, think of a very light chocolate pudding. Very light. No, you’ve got to think lighter than that. Think more in the lines of mocha-flavored whipped cream.
Now add in a little bit of body. Not heaviness, but substance — you know, the kind of fullness that rich foods feel like in your mouth. Except that it doesn’t taste rich, and it doesn’t stay in your mouth long enough to become cloying. It tastes, well, dreamy.
Then, imagine this very light almost-like-mocha-flavored-whipped-cream concoction on lady finger pastry soaked (no, more like “kissed”) with strong espresso coffee. Got that? Light, creamy, smooth lady fingers, the rich aroma of strong coffee?
Okay, now add in just a slight bite on the tongue, and tantalizing hint of the liquor. Suddenly, you get a teeny explosion of chocolate on your tongue that disappears in a flash. Got all that? Good.
Now finally, imagine that you’re dressed in gossamer. You have delicate white wings and are sitting on a fluffy cloud. You are experiencing the greatest dessert ecstasy of your life. You are in Heaven, and Heaven is in your mouth!
Also known as “Tuscan Trifle,” the dessert was initially created in Siena, in the northwestern Italian province of Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). The erstwhile duke brought the dessert back with him to Florence. In the 19th Century, zuppa del duca became popular among the English intellectuals and artists who lived there Consequently, it is also known as zuppa Inglese. They took the dessert to England, where its popularity grew. Zuppa del duca eventually made its way to Treviso, just northwest of Venice, in the northeastern province of Veneto. Treviso is best know for its canals, frescoes and . . . Tiramisu.
Stories are told about how Tiramisu was the favorite of Venice’s courtesans, who needed a “pick me up” (the literal translation of “tirami-su”) to fortify themselves between their amorous encounters. True? Probably not. But it makes for a colorful history. Its American popularity arose in San Francisco, and today, Tiramisu can be found in restaurants throughout the nation.
A Tiramisu website visitor, who signed her letter “Elena from Treviso,” presents a different view: “‘Zuppa Inglese’ is nothing like Tiramisù and that should prove my second point. Tiramisù is really from Treviso. Zuppa Inglese may be from Tuscany, but Tiramisù was first created in Treviso. The story about the courtesans should be true too. As far as I know Tiramisù used to be eaten by the ladies who ‘worked’ in the brothel above the restaurant called ‘Le Beccherie,’ where Tiramisù is said to have been created.”
Also, you might want to read The History of Tiramisu, by Anna Marie Volpi.
The original recipe called for custard and only recently has Mascarpone cheese been substituted. The basic ingredients are eggs, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers, cream, espresso coffee, liquor — brandy, marsala, rum are some of the spirits used — a little bit of sugar, and cocoa or shaved chocolate.
Mascarpone is a triple-creme cheese. It’s made from the milk of cows that have been fed special grasses filled with herbs and flowers. This special diet creates a unique taste that has been described as “fresh and delicious.” Ladyfingers – known in Italy as “savoiardi” — are sweet, little, fairly dry, finger-shaped sponge cakes.