Cooking tiramisu is complex but the effort rewards the patient chef. You will create a dish worthy of the Roman gods. Tiramisu sounds like it tastes in your mouth—creamy, exotic, and tiered. Its translated meaning is “pick me up” which makes perfect sense since caffeine figures prominently in the recipe in the form of strong espresso. I used to be afraid to cook tiramisu even though I consider myself an average-to-good chef. This officially has ended now that I have graduated from the Tiramisu Class at Chef Giovanni’s cooking school at Hotel due Torri in Bomerano, Italy.
My Cooking Tiramisu class begins with the chef giving me an apron and paper toque to wear. After I wash my hands, we head to the stainless steel counter where all my ingredients are assembled. The three steps to making a great tiramisu are 1) buy quality ingredients, 2) whip gently and 3) soak ladyfingers in espresso. Here is a quick tutorial:
STEP ONE: You need seven ingredients to make tiramisu. But the key ingredient—savoiardi (ladyfingers)—is not an item that is probably stocked in your pantry. You will also need cream, mascarpone cheese, coffee, cocoa powder, eggs and white sugar. The first step is to brew 1/2 cup of espresso. Alternatively, go buy a cup of espresso at Starbucks to guarantee a wicked strong brew. It is worth the investment. Set the espresso aside to cool in a bowl.
STEP 2: Next whip gently four egg yolks with 1/2 cup of white sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of heavy cream and 2 cups of room temperature mascarpone cheese. (This reduces the chance of lumps of mascarpone.) Whip until soft peaks appear. Some recipes also call for adding 2 tablespoons of dark rum which will make your tiramisu taste like a kahula and rum drink. Also avoid a heavy hand in whipping this mixture. You don’t want it to curdle as a result of over mixing. It should be creamy, not stiff. You can now spread a thin layer of the cream base in your 13” x 9” Pyrex dish.
STEP 3: Next step is to liberally douse each ladyfinger in the espresso for about four seconds . . . or Teresa (the Italian cook that works in the kitchen with Chef Giovanni) gets angry! Teresa wields a mean wooden spoon and she is not reluctant to wave it menacingly at a student (like me). I had to painstakingly drip espresso on the ends of the ladyfingers. Every inch of the cake must be saturated. Dipping ladyfingers is fun. Take your time. You are building an espresso scaffolding for what will become a multi-tiered creamy concoction. After you finish the first layer of ladyfingers, cover it with half of the mascarpone cream. Repeat the process of dipping the ladyfingers in the espresso and creating a second layer. The remaining mascarpone cream is spread on top. The final step is the finishing touch. Lightly dust four tablespoons of cocoa over the entire surface. The goal is to “blanket” the surface. Store the tiramisu in your refrigerator until you are ready to astound your friends as a gifted Italian chef! (Recipe makes 8 servings.)
PS I had the able assistance of Chef Giovanni, so there was no danger of ruining this recipe. Cooking tiramisu was one of my favorite activities on my Amalfi Coast vacation. But I highly encourage you to research YouTube video tutorials before you make tiramisu. I like the Bon Appetit recipe based on the tiramisu offered at the New York restaurant Del Posto. This recipe also offers an alternative to ladyfingers. You can substitute a homemade sponge cake.