Quintessentially Italian and universally popular. Rightly or wrongly though, my version of this recipe is largely based on one by Delia Smith, who is the grand dame of cooking in this country. I think it outshines more “authentic” Italian recipes.
Tiramisu is one of the easiest desserts even for a novice to put tougher. It involves no cooking, just some elbow grease and artful placement of the layers of mascarpone cream to coffee dunked sponge.
To me, Tiramisu is all about ratios. The ratio between the sponge biscuits to cream, the ratio of yolks to white and the coffee to alcohol. Having tried several recipes from Locatelli’s to Ina Garten’s to Smith’s, I am now firmly in the Smith camp, and you will see why.
Sponge to cream ratio
For one, Smith gets the ratio of sponge to cream just right. Even my favourite cookery writer, Felicity Cloake’s “Perfect Tiramisu” from the Guardian has too much cream to sponge ratio. If you follow Smith’s recipe, it might seem that the quantity of the cream is too little; but her ratio allows the dessert to remain light and not cloying in the least.
Yolks to whites
Several traditional Italian recipes eschew the whites completely, focusing on a cream mix of just yolks and mascarpone. Although delicious, I find it too rich and heavy and after a night in the fridge, too dense as well. Using all the whites makes it too light, so I like Smith’s (and the Guardian’s) approach to using slightly fewer whites than yolks.
Like with other recipes calling for egg whites, be careful whilst separating them as even the slightest speck of yolk in the whites, will mean you can’t whip the whites to soft peaks.
Every time I eat a good tiramisu, I make it a point to ask about the alcohol used. There are several options from Smith’s rum, to Marsala (quite traditional) to brandy and Kahlua (a coffee liqueur). I generally find that adding a liqueur makes the dish too sweet, and like the clean flavour of brandy the best, although rum would be a close second. I do add in about a tablespoon with a dry Madeira or Marsala, but you can just increase the brandy or rum instead.
Italian Savoiardi biscuits are somewhat different than the French boudoir biscuits. The former are slightly bigger (so you need to use less) and lighter and drier, making for a lighter end result as pointed out by Cloake in the Guardian. The recipe below, therefore, specifies a smaller quantity of Savoiardi.
If you can’t buy any type of sponge fingers, you can make a thin sponge cake (I have done that when I lived in India and had no choice) and let it dry out in a low oven before using.
You can’t make Tiramisu without good mascarpone. It doesn’t need anything else, and I don’t add any double cream etc. I like Smith’s recipe, which needs exactly 1 tub of mascarpone, which is 250g and no waste.
The coffee used for dipping the biscuits needs to be very strong. If you have an espresso machine you can make several espressos to make up the quantity needed. Not the most economical, but the flavour will be good. I use an instant espresso coffee powder. This is much stronger than regular instant coffee and is remarkably good.
The jury is out on whether we prefer just cocoa powder dusted on top, or chopped chocolate added on. My preference is just good cocoa powder. If you do use chocolate, as I have on this occasion, use really dark chocolate and chop it finely or grate it.