Tiramisu, Italy’s “Pick Me Up” Dessert

Your Favorite Espresso-Kissed Italian Trifle Dessert

POSTED August 23, 2016

Tiramisu quite literally means, “a pick me up.” One of Italy’s most popular, Tiramisu is a rich treat blending the bold flavors of cocoa and espresso with savory mascarpone cheese and wine, layered with ladyfinger biscuits.

At many Italian tables, a meal is often finished with fresh fruit rather than dessert. The addition of dessert to a meal often marks a special occasion. It stands to reason that this may be why Italian desserts are notable for presenting lavish arrangements of indulgent ingredients and truly unforgettable flavour combinations. Italian dessert making is representative of all Italian cuisine in the respect that it heeds to one distinct rule, that is to create dishes that provide pleasure above all else. The most popular fare among Italian desserts is undoubtedly tiramisu, a widely loved layered dessert that most certainly fulfills the criteria for a pleasurably dining experience. Tiramisu is an elegant and rich Italian dessert that is made by combing lady finger biscuits, espresso, mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, Marsala wine, rum and cocoa powder. Through the grouping of these diverse ingredients, an intense yet refined dish emerges. The delicate flavor of layers of mascarpone and Italian custard are contrasted with the robust presence of espresso and sharpness of cocoa powder. These flavors come together, bringing forth a velvety texture that provides a luxurious treat.

The name “tiramisu” translates into “pick-me-up”. There are two divergent accounts of why the dish has this name. The first account suggests that the name mean ‘a pick me up,’ referring to the two caffeinated ingredients that are present in the dish, espresso and cocoa. A second account refers to the idea that the dish is so wonderful it makes the taster swoon, warranting the person who is eating the tiramisu to state the request, “pick me up”.

The origin of how tiramisu got its name is not the only incident of conflict that relates to the dessert. There is some controversy over where and when the dish was created. Unlike other traditional Italian dishes that have a lengthy culinary history, many claims suggest that tiramisu is a relatively new dish, merely dating back to the 1970’s. A restaurant called Le Beccherie, in Treviso is most often created with having invented this heavenly dessert in 1971. Another account insists that tiramisu was developed during WWI as a dish that was made for men to bring with them when sent off to war. This point of view suggests that the caffeine based dessert was offered in the hopes that it would give the soldiers more energy and ensure a safe return. A third potential source of origin affirms that tiramisu has a much lengthier lineage. This explanation of origin refers to the emergence of layered deserts that were similar to tiramisu in Tuscany during the 17th century.

Whatever its origins might be, what we now consider traditional tiramisu utilizes the same key ingredients. Traditional tiramisu begins with Savoiardi Ladyfingers which are light and sweet sponge cake biscuits. These biscuits or cookies have a long standing heritage in Italian Cuisine. The cookies were developed at the court of the Duchy of Savoy during the 15th century to welcome a visit from the King of France. Later, Savoiardi lady fingers were given their name when they were granted the designation of “official court biscuit.”  Savoiardi lady fingers are subtlety sweet, allowing them to pair well with the other sweetened ingredients that are added to tiramisu.        

When making tiramisu, the Savoiardi lady fingers are soaked in a mixture of espresso, rum and sugar. The crunchy biscuits become soft once the espresso mixture is added.  Next, a layer of mascarpone cheese and a layer of zabaglione are added. Zabaglione is traditional Italian custard made from egg yolks, Marsala wine, and sugar. The use of lady fingers in tiramisu is notable for the fact that they add a distinctive dimension of texture that contrasts well with the silky layers of mascarpone and custard. The dish is finished by adding a layer of cocoa powder, which is sprinkled over the top of the dessert.   

Today a number of tiramisu variations are available. One popular alternative includes chocolate tiramisu, in which chocolate takes the place of the coffee. Another version is fruit tiramisu, where complementary fruit such as berries, peaches or apricots are added. Frozen tiramisu recipes are also available. They include the addition of gelato, frozen yogurt or ice cream in place of the custard. Tiramisu’s popularity over the last three decades have prompted cooks to adapt the essential ingredients used in the dish for a number of recipes such as cakes, ice creams, cheesecakes and puddings.   

Much in the same way that the English trifle is often served during holiday celebrations, tiramisu is a wonderful Italian delicacy to add to holiday festivities. Although after trying it once, food lovers may not be able to wait for a special occasion before they decide to serve it again.