Recipes: Tiramisu 101

Tiramisu is one of those wonderful desert that almost everyone likes - except for 'models' with food 'allergies' (it contains dairy, wheat, eggs) and pregnant women (raw eggs). I'm tired of bad tiramisu in restaurants - it's a simple desert, which takes twenty minutes to make, and really should not be tampered with. So here is my recipe for a Basic Fool-Proof Tiramisu. I sometimes add soft fruit such as raspberries between the layers, but I tend to avoid soaking the biscuits in alcohol (too many friends who don't drink either for religious reasons, or because they are Friends of Bill). The recipe originated with Antonio Carluccio, but has been adapted a little by our family.

I made tiramisu for six people yesterday by doubling the recipe as given below - the portions were generous, and some was left over, so the figures as given should feed four people (doubling is enough for eight).

As with baking, one has to take Cennino Cennini's advice regarding eggs - if they are too yellow, one ends up with a cream mix, and a pure white one is meant to be the ideal. In the Renaissance they were obsessed with white food such a blancmange - the whiter the better - but I'm willing to sacrifice a aesthetics in favor of a better taste.

In a bowl mix the following: for every packet of mascarpone cream cheese (9 oz; 250 g), add one slightly heaped tablespoon of sugar and one whole medium egg. Also add just under one teaspoon of vanilla essence. I prefer to either use grated vanilla pods (which I know is too much work for most people), and leave little brown specks in the mix. Or I use my own home-made vanilla sugar (place whole or broken vanilla pods in a jar of unbleached sugar, and just leave them there to absorb the vanilla ... keep topping up with sugar as you use it). Mix everything together. The mascarpone is easier to mix if first taken out of the fridge, and allowed to reach room temperature. You may be tempted to use an electric whisk, but beware that the mix can very easily turn into butter in its consistency - we are aiming for a thick cream.

I find it easiest to make tiramisu in rectangular or square deep dishes - because savoiardi biscuits are hard to fit into a circular dish. Make one cup of strong coffee. Briefly dunk one savoiardi biscuit into the coffee, then arrange in the dish in whatever pattern fits its size (see photo). Repeat with next biscuit ... one packet of mascarpone should use about a dozen biscuits. Lady Finger biscuits will do, but do not produce as good a result. Squeeze the biscuits a little together, so that there are no gaps - don't worry if they do not look perfect, as they will soon be covered. If there is any coffee left over, just pour it over the biscuits trying to make sure that the liquid is absorbed evenly by them. Some people swear by Marsala wine in the mix - if you want to try this, then just use it to replace some of the water used to make the coffee (coffee is needed to create a contrast with the cream, so don't cut it out of the recipe).

Spread just under half of the mascarpone mix onto the coffee-soaked biscuits. Don't worry about it being too even, just try to ensure that the biscuits are covered more or less evenly by the cream (perfection is not required, as these layers will remain hidden, and we're not Martha Stewart).

This is the stage at which I sometimes add fruit - either fresh or frozen raspberries, although cherries work well too.
Then we go back a step, add one more layer of coffee soaked biscuits, followed by a slightly thicker layer of the mascarpone mix.

Add a generous layer of cocoa sprinkled to the top. This should be the unsweetened kind - not hot chocolate powder (again, we need a contrast to the sweetness of the cream). The cocoa at the bottom will be slightly absorbed by the mascarpone mix, so add a generous layer of it. My mother uses a small tea sieve to distribute it evenly. I use a flour shaker with a built-in sieve at the top. Tiramisu is meant to be slightly 'rustic' so don't worry about making the top layer of mascarpone too smooth - just make it as flat as you can.

And this is what the finished product should look like. I added a few fresh raspberries to the top for color - and vitamin C.
Serve at room temperature.
If you have any left over, just pop it in the fridge - tiramisu can last for a few days, and although the flavor and consistency change, it continues to be good.

Copyright © 2008 Dorothy King

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