The most representative dessert of the Italian pastry tradition is undoubtedly the tiramisu.
Did you know that tiramisù was the fifth most widely spoken and pronounced Italian word in the world and the first in the field of cooking and baking?
Tiramisù means “lift me up” or “strengthen my body”. It comes from the Trevisani dialect words tireme su, Italianized in tiramisù during the last decades of the last century.
Tiramisù is probably the most famous Italian dessert in the world and its name is present in the dictionary of 23 different languages. The most famous dessert but also the most controversial. There are indeed many stories related to its origin and paternity.
What is tiramisu?
Tiramisu is a traditional Italian cake prepared with eggs, mascarpone, savoiardi (lady finger biscuits) dipped in sweetened coffee and bitter cocoa. The recipe for this sweet symbol of Italian pastry is therefore very simple; what is not at all simple is to be able to establish with absolute certainty to which Italian region belongs the legitimate paternity of the tiramisù. Indeed, for several years, some regions have had a long battle over the origins of desserts.
What is the origin of tiramisù?
One of the most accepted theses gives the paternity of the tiramisù to the Italian city of Treviso, in Veneto, where the creation of the dessert would have taken place.
Roberto Linguanotto, known as “Loli”, a renowned chef, arrived at a restaurant called Beccherie in 1970 and the owner, Signora Alba Campeol, asked him to prepare a dessert for the “young and old” alike. Loli then had the idea of dipping ladyfingers in black coffee, of disposing a layer of them in a mold which he lined with beaten egg yolks and sugar and mixed with a large amount of mascarpone and beaten egg whites, another layer of biscuits soaked in coffee and one last layer of cream before sprinkling bitter cocoa powder. Tiramisu was born.
It was thus baptized for its so-called energetic virtues that helped men “get up”, the word tiramisù literally translated as “pull me up”.
A few years later, Loli returned to work abroad, but his love for Italy quickly brought him back to his homeland. When he was back, Loli visited his friends at Beccherie where he was greeted enthusiastically by his fellow confectioners who did not spare him pseudo-ironic reproaches: “why did you invent the tiramisù? We must now work very hard because customers are only asking for one dessert!”
Thus, from the restaurant of Treviso, tiramisu has spread throughout Italy, then around the world, becoming one of the most popular and appreciated desserts.
The historical identification of the tiramisu took place thanks to Giuseppe Maffioli, a food and wine expert who wrote about its origins in the wine magazine Vin Veneto in 1981 and located these origins at the restaurant Beccherie by the pastry chef Roberto “Loli” Linguanotto.
There is another theory that mentions that tiramisu was born in Friuli Venezia Giulia, a region in the north-east of Italy bordering Austria and Slovenia. It was reported that tiramisù was invented at the Hotel Rome, run by Norma Pielli and her husband Giuseppe Beppino Del Fabbro. In the restaurant of the hotel, they served the dolce torino with ladyfingers, butter, chocolate, egg yolks and milk, and it is precisely in 1951 that Norma Pielli decided to modify the recipe by replacing the butter with mascarpone and soaking the ladyfingers in bitter coffee. The name tiramisu would have been chosen by her husband.
Another hypothesis on the origins of this dessert situates it geographically in the region of Tuscany, more precisely in Siena, where on the occasion of a visit of the Grand Duke, Cosimo III de Medici, this dessert called zuppa del duca (duke’s soup) with characteristics very similar to tiramisù, was invented. However, this legend, although one of the most plausible, has divergences because ladyfingers and mascarpone were little used in Sienese pastry between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The historical memory of the Venetian region also reminds us that tiramisù was born in Treviso in the second half of the 18th or beginning of the 19th century. A local oral tradition says that this dessert was designed by a brilliant mistress of a brothel located in the historic center of Treviso, Calle dei Dall’Oro, at the end of the Second World War. There are indeed so many witnesses of so many gallant adventures in this region … Why not believe in this aphrodisiac theory?
La Siora (“lady” in Venetian), owner of the restaurant, would have created this dessert which she described as aphrodisiac and invigorating to offer it to her customers at the end of the evening in order to reinvigorate them and to solve the energy problems with marital duties when they returned home to their wives. People say that when the men came down tired from the rooms of this brothel, a beautiful mistress had prepared this dessert and said to them: “I will take you on me and pull you up”.
Thus the tiremesù, a true aphrodisiac, a natural “viagra” of the nineteenth century was born, and it was offered to the customers of this brothel after their antics. Many people think that this last hypothesis as to the origins of tiramisù is the most plausible, but over the centuries, a veil of prudery and popular shame has tried to hide the true origin of tiramisù.
Certain particular aspects transmitted orally testify in an undeniable way of the origin of the dessert in Veneto and in Treviso.
As evidence of the presence of tiramisu in past centuries on the tables, there are grandmothers and great-grandmothers aged more than eighty years old. These ladies tell us that they have prepared this dessert for family and friends with passion and art, well before the 1950s.
People also say that the sbatudin may be the cousin of tiramisù. At the time, in the tradition of the Venetian countries, it was common to give children sbatudin, a beaten egg yolk with sugar to give them energy. It was also commonly used by peasant families in Treviso as an energy booster for honeymooners.
In any case, it is interesting to note that the liquor marsala or Amaretto were not included in any of the original tiramisu recipes. It was not until much later that one of the two alcohols was introduced into the recipe.
Already extremely popular in its original coffee version, this dessert is now available in many versions, both savory and sweet.
I have a particular fondness for a savory version: a tiramisu with two salmons (smoked and raw). The blinis replace the ladyfingers and salmon eggs replace the cocoa powder on top. This savory tiramisu is then garnished with shallots and dill.
For the enjoyment of your taste buds!
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 8 oz. mascarpone
- 30 ladyfinger biscuits
- ½ cup strong coffee
- 1 pod vanilla
- 5 tablespoons Amaretto
- Cocoa powder
- Mix hot coffee and Amaretto. Separate the eggs.
- Add a pinch of salt to the whites and place in the refrigerator.
- Beat the egg yolks and brown sugar until the mixture whitens and becomes firm.
- Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and add them to the egg yolks.
- Without stopping the mixer, slowly incorporate the mascarpone mixture until very smooth.
- Separately, beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites to the yolks and mascarpone mixture.
- Dip each biscuit into the coffee for 3 seconds. Line the bottom of each mold.
- Cover with a layer of cream.
- Alternate cookies and cream ending with a layer of cream.
- For easy unmolding, put the tiramisu in the freezer for 2 hours. Remove from pan and sprinkle generously with cocoa.