Remember tiramisu? That cool and creamy coffee-infused Italian dessert? The first time I tasted it — back in the ’80s — it was the height of sophistication.
Recipes at that time listed out the six basic ingredients — eggs, espresso, sugar, ladyfingers, cocoa and mascarpone — with notes next to the mascarpone stating it was “available in specialty food shops.”
Fast forward to 2015. Not only is mascarpone sold in even the big-box grocery stores these days, but the classic Italian dessert has been transformed into dozens of variations. I’ve seen recipes for a strawberry and white chocolate version, a peach and brandy combo — and even a beer-infused tiramisu (beeramisu) calling for Guinness and Irish cream. On TV, Giada de Laurentiis combines lemon and hazelnut for another flavor, and Martha Stewart demonstrates her own take on tiramisu with cupcakes — saturating the cakes with espresso and Marsala, then swirling a pile of mascarpone and whipped cream frosting on top.
But on a recent trip to Italy, I rediscovered the simple tasty pleasures of this dolce — in its original form and at its basic best — near Treviso. It seemed somehow appropriate, since Treviso is said to be where tiramisu was invented.
Undoubtedly, the setting had something to do with my renewed passion for the dessert. I was dining at Trattoria alla Cima, a family-owned restaurant that overlooks the beautiful rolling Prosecco wine country vineyards in northern Italy — and, yes, I was drinking some of those lovely refreshing bubbles, too.
But still. As my fork sank into the soft little espresso-infused sweet, it gave me pause. When was the last time I’d made or eaten this at home? When was the last time it had tasted this wonderful?
At its most authentic, tiramisu — translated literally as “pick me up” or “lift me up” — is made with Italian biscuits dipped in espresso, layered with a mascarpone and mousse-like egg mixture of beaten egg whites and yolks, then finished off with a flourish of cocoa powder sifted thickly atop just before serving.
No whipped cream. And most notably, no liquor. Classic tiramisu was created for all ages. In fact, I was told at one time that it was a typical after-school “pick me up” treat for Italian children. Far more likely, though, it was probably an energy boost for their parents.
Donna Tabbert Long is a food and travel writer from Minneapolis.