After my first semester as both a sleep-deprived, caffiene-addicted, Italian-studying college student, I developed a deep craving for all things Italian, sweet, and caffienated! So of course it shouldn’t be shocking that I have wanted to make my own tiramisu for quite some time.
The word, “Tiramisu” is literally translated to “pick me up” and, by god, does it do its job. Also, no, I didn’t learn this translation in my Italian class (I credit What’s Cooking America for that fun fact). More interesting that its strangely true Italian translation is its foundations as a dessert and a cultural standard. Carminantonio Iannaccone (ee-ah-nahc-cone-yay) developed tiramisu not so long ago, in 1969. It began as a culmination of the “everyday flavors of Italy” a.k.a. coffee, alcohol, cookies, and cheese. According to Jane Black’s 2007 interview with Iannacocone, he’s not extremely happy with the development of tiramisu in today’s culture. His initial masterpiece is nothing near the soggy mess that is plated in modern restaurants.
So that I do not butcher Black’s recount of the interview, I will allow her to explain the evidence proving Iannaccone as the creator of the dessert:
First, I examined the historical legends: One says the dessert was invented in the 17th century in honor of the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici, but soon became the favorite of courtesans who used it for a little extra energy before performing their duties and gave it the nickname “pick me up.” Another says it was invented in Turin in the mid-19th century at the request of Italy’s first prime minister, Camillo Cavour, a renowned gourmand who needed a pick-me-up for the trying task of unifying the Italian peninsula.
Good stories, both. But neither is true, Italian food experts agree. Mascarpone, one of tiramisu’s key ingredients, is native to the northern Veneto region and wouldn’t have been found in Tuscany hundreds of years ago. Even in the 19th century, without refrigeration, a dessert made with uncooked eggs would likely have sickened more people than it pleased.
Awesome! Right? I must be honest- I didn’t follow the recipe exactly how it was prescribed- so I’m not going to blame this soggy mess on anyone but myself. But then again, it doesn’t seem like Iannaccono had much higher expectations.
The Important Stuff: Ingredients
When searching for a delicious tiramisu recipe, we stumbled across this one from My Halal Kitchen. Most of the ingredients are the same across the internet (but of course, we had to use one that did not use alcohol)- maybe I can blame the sogginess on the lacking alcohol content?
2 cups cold coffee (strong, espresso or bold roast)
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/3 cupwhole milk
2 tablespoons crème frâiche
3 teaspoonsalcohol-free vanilla extract
1 tablespoon powdered sugar or raw cane sugar
16 lady finger cookies
1 tablespoonchocolate shavings
1 tablespooncocoa powder
Here’s what we were supposed to do:
1. Make coffee and set it aside in a large bowl to cool.
2. Using a deep bowl and strong whisk or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, mix the mascarpone, milk, crème frâiche, and vanilla extract.
3. Add powdered sugar and mix well. It should be the consistency of pourable cream; add more milk, if needed (1/2 teaspoon at a time).
4. Line the bottom of a square glass dish layer with the mascarpone-milk mixture.Soak each lady finger cookie one by one in the coffee for about 6-10 seconds, or until the cookie has absorbed enough coffee but it’s still firm enough to set flat in the glass pan.Line the pan with one row of soaked cookies.
5. Next, add the mascarpone mixture and smooth over with a spatula. Repeat this one more time, or until all of the cream and cookies have been used.
6. In a separate bowl, mix the cocoa powder with the chocolate shavings. Dust the top layer of the dish with this mixture.
7. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving, or overnight, giving it time to set.Cut and serve chilled either on small plates or in small cups.
But here’s what we actually did:
1. We couldn’t find any freshly brewed coffee and didn’t have access to an actual coffee maker, so we bought those little bottles of Starbucks coffee (you know, the super watered down ones?)
2. We then combined the mascarpone, vanilla, creme fraiche liquid, and milk with powdered sugar
3. We then dipped the fresh (and all too soft) ladyfingers in the liquid. They SO got soggy immediately and so although we were careful to not let them in for more than two seconds tops, they were destined for failure.
4. Then, we started to place them in a pan and put the mascarpone mix on top with some sprinkled chocolate shavings.
But then, we figured out that creme fraiche is actually a little harder to come across than you might expect. Cue Splendid Tables’ homemade creme fraiche recipe!
Homemade Crème Fraiche
1 to 2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra pasteurized or sterilized, and with no additives)
Here’s what we were supposed to do: Combine the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to tepid (not more than 85 degrees on an instant reading thermometer). Pour into a clean glass jar. Partially cover and let stand at room temperature (between 65 and 75 degrees) for 8 to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours before using. The cream will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Here’s what we actually did:We combined the buttermilk and cream in a pan and heated it until it coated the back of a spoon. Then we poured the mixture into a bowl and let it sit for maybe 45 minutes. Yeah- totally cheated- and totally failed.
The Sciency Stuff
Really the only interesting and scientific part of this recipe was the converting of buttermilk and heavy cream to creme fraiche. The lactic acid in the dairy sours and thickens the cream by clustering the fat and protein molecules. The buttermilk is added to the cream because it is the main reason why it sours at all.
Thank you to the author of Corny Blog, a food lover with a degree in Biology and a deep interest for the science of all things culinary, for the awesome explanation of the science behind creme fraiche!
I think the recipe would have turned out a lot better if we had used hard lady fingers rather than very soft ones. They soaked up all of the liquid incredibly fast and ultimately lead to a very soggy tiramisu. Also, the creme fraiche was way too liquidy because we didn’t give it ample time to firm up. Because this mixture remained a liquid, I think it also contributed to the sogginess of the dish. We also didn’t layer anything in the pan, and so maybe the layers of cookies would have helped to slow some of the sogginess. Lastly, I would want to use real coffee rather than the Starbucks pre-sweetened stuff.. I think it also had a negative impact on the success of the dish.
Looking back, I’m happy that we tried the recipe. I think it was a really good experience and it showed me that, no, you cannot always “improvise” on a recipe. Sometimes you just have to follow the rules! I can’t wait to try it again and hopefully have something that Iannaccono would be proud of!