I don’t know that I’ve ever had a really good tiramisù until I made one. I’ve been hooked on this rich and wonderful dessert for years. But given I’ve had no Italian friends or relatives, at least none that would indulge me with a slice of their homemade version of same, I’ve had to rely on restaurants for this little slice of heaven.
While they were delicious — creamy, rich, coffee-flavoured custard variously laced with, what? Kahlua? Tia Maria? Brandy? — I, the newly minted tiramisù maker, now realize that most were a bit fake, lazy or fear-based charlatans masquerading as the real thing.
One I recall was made without ladyfingers — yikes! Instead, a crust of chocolate cookie crumbs served as a base for a coffee-flavoured custard. Another I suspect dispensed with the beaten egg yolks, yet another was cooked custard, both versions likely done in terror of serving raw eggs to the public.
The catalyst for my sudden and unexpected departure into this dessert-making venture was my husband’s new espresso machine. The need for nearly two cups, as in measuring cups, of fresh, strong espresso gave him the perfect chance to practice grinding and tamping as he pulled espresso cup after cup. By the time we had the required amount, he’d gotten very good at producing a nice rich crema on top of every cup.
When we served the tiramisù after dinner that night, we all swooned. Dusted with cocoa powder, the little square servings made for a perfect finish. One pal commented that he thought the name “tiramisù” translated to “heavenly something”. And that made me curious.
A few dictionaries and good reference books later I can tell you with certainty that “tiramisù” translates as “pick me up” or “lift me up”. And what a pick-me-up it is. We calculated that the recipe I used, which yielded 20 satisfying servings, amounted to each person having a single espresso.
But the name is even more apropos beyond the obvious reference to caffeine. One particularly detailed account called “Tiramisù, A Trip to Where It All Started” written by Pietro Mascioni and posted on an excellent website hosted by Anna Maria Volpi, who runs cooking classes for Williams-Sonoma, explains that “pick-me-up” also refers to how nutritious the dessert is. If that’s good nutrition, I say bring it on.
After reading the first documented mention of tiramisù in an article in a 1981 issue of the magazine Vin Veneto , Mr. Mascioni visited the wellspring from which all tiramisù flows — the restaurant Le Beccherie in the city of Treviso in Veneto in northern Italy.