Hollywood has propelled its fair share of fresh faces into the world of global fame, but rarely pays the same favor to a specific dish. So the fact that a short dialogue in one movie could pique the curiosity of movie-goers around the world, inspire any decent Italian restaurant to start offering it on their dessert menu and yield an abundance of Tiramisu recipes on the Internet, is pretty fascinating in itself, no?
The popularity of this dessert is pretty easy to see. Coffee and liquor-soaked sponges are layered between thick scoops of mascarpone, enriched with egg yolks, whipped egg whites and sugar. This is a dessert without textural contrast; instead everything is soft and smooth, a spoonful of mush carried on a bitter undertone of coffee and cocoa powder to balance out the rich sweetness of the mousse. Unlike my schoolmate, MW, who has this on her list of exclusive ‘must-have’ desserts, my Tiramisu karma (like my karma with Profiteroles) has brought its fair share of disappointing desserts to the table, often with sponges soaked to within an inch of their crisp life, leaving brown streaks on my plate as the mascarpone heaved its dairy sigh, collapsing on itself when faced with Singapore’s stratospherically high humidity.
So imagine my surprise to learn that M, like MW, counts the Tiramisu as one of his favorite desserts. With my past unappetizing encounters with this dish, I was skeptical about his choice. That is, until I tried the version from my sister-in-law, A, a recipe 100% home-made, tried and tested within the confines of her home kitchen. I guess it’s a reflection of how small the world is that I discover the beauty of an Italian dessert courtesy of a French woman who lives on the French-Swiss border, miles away from Italy. Needless to say, the first time that M prepared this for me and family, he earned enough brownie points to last him a lifetime, with aunts, uncles and kids alike. If you’re looking to impress, give this a try for your next potluck.
Her recipe below is the original version in its full, luscious glory, because there really is little to be changed. Except for the amount of sugar, perhaps, or the amount of coffee, or the liquor to use (if at all). We like to make ours with a stiff cup of espresso mixed up with spoonfuls of Kahlua and Armagnac to give the final dish a more intense flavor, and yes, an espresso is a must if you’re looking for a tasty version of this dessert.
Yields 6 to 8 small portions or one 10-by-10-by-2-inch dish
This tiramisu is best prepared the day before. If you’re in a hurry, you can cheat by putting it in the freezer for a couple of hours, and then the refrigerator just before you’re about to serve. As it contains raw eggs, this dish should be consumed within two days.
18 ounces/ 500 grams mascarpone cheese
4 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons granulated sugar (white or brown)
1 cup espresso
1 to 2 tablespoons liquor, like Kahlua, Armagnac or Brandy (optional – add an extra tablespoon of sugar if you’re omitting the liquor)
20 to 25 sponge ladyfingers
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
Whisk the egg whites until stiff, then chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the other ingredients.
Combine the sugar and the egg yolks, mixing well until the yolks turn a light yellow. Add the mascarpone one spoonful at a time, ensuring that each spoonful is fully incorporated before adding the next, until all the mascarpone is added and you get a silky pale yellow mixture.
Remove the egg whites from the fridge and slowly fold them into the egg/mascarpone mixture, a few tablespoons at a time. Be careful at this stage to maintain the foamy texture of the egg whites as this is what will increase the volume of the mousse and add a certain ‘lightness’ to the final dish.
Mix the espresso and liquor (if using) and pour it into a shallow dish big enough to accommodate the length of the sponge finger. Working quickly, dip both sides of the finger in the liquid, leaving the biscuit for no longer than 5 seconds on each side. You want to get them just nicely soaked, but not too wet – if they’re insufficiently soaked, your Tiramisu will be too dry, if too much, the liquid will seep from the fingers and produce a watery Tiramisu.
Line the soaked sponge fingers in one layer across the bottom of your serving dish. Generously pour about half of the mascarpone mousse on the fingers, then top with another layer of fingers. Spread the rest of the mousse over the second layer, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 to 8 hours before serving.
When you’re ready to serve, dust the top with cocoa powder and cut the Tiramisu into desired portions.