Gourmet Secrets: The many layers of Tiramisu
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Gourmet Secrets: The many layers of Tiramisu

Believe it or not, but the origin of this Italian favourite is laced with more stories than one

brunch Updated: Nov 10, 2018 23:27 IST
Karen Anand
Karen Anand
Hindustan Times
Tiramisu was invented in Tuscany for a duke and named dolce de duca

The quintessential Italian restaurant dessert is reported to have been invented in the Veneto region of Italy, only about 30 or 40 years ago. Everybody has a story about how and where it originated. Here are some of them…

It was invented in Tuscany for a duke and named dolce de duca. Mascarpone was already around and being whipped up, but cooks to the Tuscan nobility took the dish to another level by adding the coffee-soaked biscuits and the chocolate powder and the humble cream became a ‘dessert’. It was later somehow taken to Treviso, a small town quite near Venice where it soon gained the reputation of being somewhat of an aphrodisiac and was served as a “pre-encounter” dessert responsible for “gastronomic foreplay”.

It was originally created for children and elderly so there was no alcohol and it was a round cake.

It was created during WW1 in Northern Italy. Women made these desserts for their men to take with them as they were being sent off to war. It was believed that the high caffeine and rich sugar content would give the men energy to fight and return to them safely.

The sweet secrets

Tiramisu literally means “pull me up”, a reference to the effects of the sugar and espresso coffee – so figuratively as “pick me up”.

It was also invented for mothers after delivery. The original recipe was crema di mascarpone – mascarpone fortified with Marsala, egg yolks and sugar made for expectant mothers and post delivery and was later made into a dessert.

It is supposed to be a winter dessert like Zabaglione because mascarpone is still available in winter only. However, because of the huge demand for tiramisu in restaurants, many cooks add cream instead of mascarpone or add cream to the mascarpone. This is a dessert not a cake and therefore you will find it in homes and restaurants only not in patisseries.

The most plausible story and the one I believe since a little old lady recounted it to me with great theatricals (yes, I am a bit of a sucker for high drama). It all started off with elderly ladies doing their shopping at the Rialto market in Venice. Since it wasn’t really becoming for women to be seen drinking, they would stop by at a Rialto café to have a quick “pick me up” after shopping. This would consist of a savoiardi biscuit, which they would dunk into a glass of Marsala (fortified sweet wine). This was washed down with a strong espresso. Some clever restaurant owner in Treviso picked up on this and soon created a dessert around these core ingredients.

A fine discovery

Alessandro Persico, the chef de cuisine at Celini, the Grand Hyatt Mumbai, produces a level of cuisine, which is extraordinary by any international standards

I took it upon myself to find the perfect tiramisu recipe while I was in Venice a couple of years ago. No luck. As strange as it may sound, I found a pretty perfect one at Celini at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai last weekend. Alessandro Persico is the chef de cuisine there for the last six years and produces a level of cuisine, which is extraordinary by any international standards. I have often stopped by on my way to the airport for a bowl of his home-made pasta or a pizza. I generally don’t eat dessert and so never tried his tiramisu in all these years.

He has cleverly engineered his menu to include some Italian staples with no compromise and other dishes like the new Luganega sausage and the red snapper which he sources locally. The new vegetarian additions to the menu are also a departure from traditional Italian fare – the beetroot and goat cheese ravioli with salsa verde and the mushroom and sage butter ravioli are both pasta dishes, which excite the taste buds and melt in the mouth. Unable to source a constant supply of 00 Italian flour for his home-made pasta, Alessandro uses refined Indian flour with semolina, which works brilliantly.

Last week I had dinner there with an old friend who ordered the tiramisu and it was perfect. For the tiramisu recipe, he doesn’t flinch and uses imported products only because “they give me the best result” he says. French cream, from Elle & Vire, whipped to a light consistency and added to Italian mascarpone gives the dessert a lovely lightness, which is a departure from the gluey mess you sometimes come across. He makes a sabayon whisking egg yolks for 15 minutes with a trickle of hot sugar syrup boiled to 121 degree C! This makes the egg yolks fluff up to three times their volume until the sabayon is almost like foam with an airy creaminess and no “eggy” aftertaste. Lastly, the tiramisu at Celini is made fresh every day. Clearly no pain, no gain and definitely no compromise. Please try it.

Celini Tiramisu


5 nos egg whites
5 nos egg yolks
500g imported cream
500g mascarpone
100g sugar for egg whites
75 g sugar for egg yolks
35 g Espresso coffee granules
40g sugar
500 ml water
250 g ladyfinger biscuits (Vicenzovo )
10g cocoa powder


Make a sugar syrup with 75g of sugar and 10ml of water. Heat till 121 degrees C. Place in a steel or glass bowl with five egg yolks. Place the bowl on top of a sauce pan in which there is hot water (bain marie). Make sure that the bowl sits in the saucepan and is not immersed fully. Put the saucepan over a low flame so that the water simmers and cooks the egg mixture gently (sabayon). You can also add Kahlua to the sabayon. Whisk the egg yolk and sugar mixture for at least 15 minutes till you have the consistency of a creamy and pale yellow thin frothy custard. Remove the bowl and keep aside. Whip the cream and fold in the mascarpone. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and 100g sugar until stiff (Italian meringue). Add the cream/mascarpone mixture to the egg ‘sabayon’. Fold in the stiff egg whites (meringue) into this carefully. Mix the 40g sugar with the espresso coffee powder and 500ml hot water. Strain.

Dip the ladyfingers into the coffee syrup quickly and arrange on the bottom of a glass dish. Spread a layer of the tiramisu cream evenly on top. Place one more layer of fingers and finish off with a layer of the tiramisu cream. Refrigerate for at least three hours. Sprinkle with cocoa powder from a fine sieve.

(Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.)

From HT Brunch, November 11, 2018

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First Published: Nov 10, 2018 20:43 IST