The secret of “young” Tiramisu is in the quality of its ingredients
Despite its enormous popularity, in Italy and around the world, Tiramisù must be considered one of the most recent “traditional” Italian sweets. Its birth date is very recent but then, its main ingredients are relatively young, too, according to the standards of other Italian traditions.
The savoiardi, for example, also known as ladyfingers in English and in French as biscuits à la cuillère, were probably born “just” in the 16th century (see Francesco Elmi’s Recipe below). Their name comes from Savoy, a Duchy on the border of Italy and France, which included lands belonging to both of today’s states. The Savoy Dynasty eventually produced the first kings of the unified Italy in the 19th century. Also known as sponge-fingers, trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits, savoiardi according to tradition were invented to celebrate the visit of a French King to the Duchy of Savoy.
Even more recent is the history of the Sicilian Marsala wine; at least in the way it is made today. It was an English wine merchant, John Woodhouse, who, in 1773, “created” it, by fortifying a very old Sicilian wine, known by the name of the town in the Province of Trapani since the times of the ancient Romans, and shipping it to the UK, his homeland. It was another Englishman, Benjamin Ingham, who further improved the quality of Marsala, and then finally, in 1833, with Vincenzo Florio, Italians too begun to produce this fantastic wine, which after some decades of decadence, in the past century, has now recovered levels of excellent quality.
The origins of Mascarpone cheese date back to the 17th century, again according to tradition, but there are no documents to confirm it. Mascarpone is a triple cream cheese made from fresh cream to which some tartaric acid is added; after this step, which is called denaturation, the whey is removed without pressure or aging. Still controversial are the origins of the name of Mascarpone, which was born in a rural area close to Milan, on the Po Plain, between Lodi and Abbiategrasso. It could come from Mascarpa, the name of a product made with the whey of stracchino or from Mascarpia, ricotta in the local dialect. Yet others claim that the real name of this cheese is Mascherpone, because it was produced on the Mascherpa family farm (cascina Mascherpa) between Milan and Pavia that no longer exists today.
In any case, the key to a good tiramisù is all in these ingredients and their quality. Many pastry chefs or home cooks fail when, for example, they prepare it by using a poor quality mascarpone or some replacement such as ricotta. The correct Mascarpone is critical. While Mascarpone is relatively easy to make, producers around the world still do not have the know-how or the machinery of Italian manufacturers.
The International Day of Italian Cuisines: why 17th January?
January 17 is a date of great symbolic importance. It’s the day of the catholic feast of Sant’Antonio Abate, one of the most popular saints of Italy, the patron of domestic animals, but also of butchers and salami makers. On this day, according to tradition, the Italian Carnival begins, that period of the year during which, since unmemorable time, it’s “licet insanire,” transgressions are tolerated and good, rich food is celebrated and, along with this: cooking.
The cult of Saint Anthony “of January”, who was a hermit who lived in Egypt in the 13th century, is rooted in earlier pagan feasts, le sementine (that celebrates the end of the sowing season) of ancient Rome in honour of Ceres, the Goddess of the Earth.
The sacred and the profane as well as Celtic and Latin rites are mixed together here. Therefore this occasion is celebrated in Italy, from north to south, on January 17th in many different ways. The devotion to the saint is very strong in Pinerolo, in the Province of Turin, in the Province of Como, in Lombardy and in Emilia Romagna.
On the other hand, in the south on that evening “fires” are lit, “focaroni,” “focarazzi” or “focaracci” – bonfires, people congregate in crowds around these pyres to give hommage to the saint who, according to legend, banished the devil and took dominion of the fires of hell. This is what is done in Puglia, Sardinia, Campania e Abruzzo.
In the latter, in the town of Scanno this feast has been celebrated since the fourteenth century until recently with great, steaming pans of sagna (home made pasta) and ricotta in the town square, while in Lanciano a holy representation was held. Also in Lazio, especially in the towns of Nepi and Velletri, in the area of Tuscia, the feast still has strong gastronomic characteristics. In general, almost all the celebrations of 17th January ended with a collection of food products that the entire community then consumed collectively.
Elsewhere, in Guastalla in Emilia Romagna, the fried gnocco (gnocco fritto) is the king of the feast. Saint Antonio has always been represented by a suckling pig (by a wild boar in Celtic countries) whose meat was the most highly esteamed ingredient of a meal at the Italian peasant’s table. Once, many rural communities collectively raised a piglet that they then butchered and ate on that day. Ancient fairs, such as that of Lonato, in Lombardy, that used to be held on 17th January but today have fallen out of use, were completely a celebration of cooking and eating of pork, of which in peasant tradition, as it is of common knowledge, nothing went to waste.
Tiramisu: The Authentic Recipe
Ingredients (10 to 12 serves)
- 220gr Egg
- 100gr Sugar
- 500gr Mascarpone
- 80gr Marsala wine
- 50gr Coffee
- Salt and Cocoa
- Savoiardi (similar to but larger 15/16 than Ladyfingers)
- Separate the yolks from the egg whites.
- Beat the yolks and the sugar.
- Whip the whites and the salt.
- Add the mascarpone to the yolks and sugar.
- Lighten the mixture by adding the whipped cream.
- Add the marsala to the coffee.
- Soak the savoiardi in the mixture of coffee and marsala and lay them out in the desired mould.
- Alternate layers of mascarpone with layers of savoiardi; top off with the mascarpone cream.
- Refrigerate and sprinkle with cacoa.
- Serve at 6 to 8 °C
- 500 gr granulated sugar
- 400 gr egg whites
- 350 gr egg yolks
- 450 gr low-gluten wheat W 160- 180, P/L 0,45-0,50
- 100 gr honey
- 200 gr starch
- 0,5 gr vanilla
- Icing sugar for dusting
- Whip the egg whites with the granulated sugar until they mount.
- Trickle the egg yolks beaten with the honey into this, while delicately mixing, then add the wheat and starch, sieved and mixed with the vanilla.
- On baking pans, lightly buttered and dusted with flour, form lines of the resulting mixture approximately 22 cm long with a sac a poche with a large smooth nozzle.
- Dust the surface with the icing sugar, and eliminate the excess sugar by turning the pan upside-down and lightly tapping it.
- Bake at 190 C° with open draw for approximately 10 minutes.
- Yields 40 savoiardi, 22 cm long
The contentious origin of a piece of heaven
Plenty of legends have been created around the origins of Tiramisù. One of them connects Tiramisù to the “zuppa del Duca” made in honour of Cosimo III dei Medici (1642 – 1723), without Mascarpone cheese. From Tuscany the fame of the zuppa spread out across all of Italy, and arriving in Venice, it was given the name tirame su (pick me up). Definitively, there are no sources that prove this.
Other claims have more credibility, particularly those arguing that the Tiramisù was first created in Veneto, in the city of Treviso, but in relatively recent times, perhaps in the early Seventies of the last century.
Two claims point in that direction: In 2007, an Italian Pastry chef and baker, Carminantonio Iannaccone, who now runs the Piedigrotta Bakery in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, in an interview with The Washington Post, claimed that he was the inventor of the sweet.
Carminantonio Iannaccone and his wife Bruna
make news in The Washington Post
“Iannaccone's story is simple: he trained as a pastry chef in the southern city of Avellino, and then migrated to Milan to find work at the age of 12. In 1969 he married his wife, Bruna, and opened a restaurant also called Piedigrotta in Treviso, where he cooked up a dessert based on the "everyday flavours of the region": strong coffee, creamy mascarpone, eggs, Marsala and ladyfinger cookies. He says it took him two years to perfect the recipe, which was originally served as an elegant, freestanding cake”
On the other hand, also convinced that Tiramisù was born in Treviso was Giuseppe Maffioli (1925-1985), but not in the Iannaccone Restaurant. Maffioli, an actor, a writer and the founding editor of Vin Veneto, a publication on the wines of the region of Veneto, wrote in an article on coffee-based desserts published in 1981 that; “Recently, just a little more than a decade ago, in the city of Treviso emerged a new dessert, the Tiramesù. It was proposed for the first time at the restaurant Le Beccherie by a pastry chef named Loly Linguanotto, who had by chance recently held a few jobs in Germany.”
The first Tiramisù of
Le Beccherie Restaurant Treviso
He added: “The dessert and its name, ‘Tiramesù,’ meant to describe an extraordinarily nutritious and invigorating food, immediately gained popularity. Tiramesù was prepared with absolute faithfulness or a few variations not only in the restaurants of Treviso, but in the entire Veneto region and in all of Italy. The Tiramesù is, after all, a coffee-flavoured “zuppa inglese” like the one made in my own house on the day of St. Joseph for my grandfather’s birthday. This old preparation, though, was not yet Tiramesù, and it must be said that the name has its own prestigious importance.”
Roberto Linguanotto, former
pastry chef of Le Beccherie
In an interview with Pietro Mascioni, in 2006, Alba Campeol, the former owner of Le Beccherie, claimed that the origin of tiramisù was an invention of her mother-in-law, after the birth of her, son (Alba’s) when she was very weak. “My mother-in-law,” she said to Mascioni “to help me recuperate some energy, gave me a zabaglione… with a bit of mascarpone cheese... and also added a bit of coffee to it.” She told Loly Linguanotto and asked him to prepare a dessert for the restaurant; “And he had the idea of making layers of Savoiardi cookies dipped in coffee. Then we added the cocoa topping. It was then that I remembered my mother-in-law’s words, and we called it ‘Tiramesù.’ It’s important to notice that in Le Becchierie tiramisù there was no Marsala Wine, while there was in Iannaccone’s. Aldo Campeoli, Alba’s husband, declared to the Washington Post, that he had never heard of Iannaccone.
Aldo and Alba Campeol, former owners of
Le Beccherie Restaurant, Treviso
The dispute is still open. What is certain, however, is that, until well into the 1970s Tiramesu or Tiramisù, was not among the typical sweets of Italy. British cookbook author Elizabeth David makes no mention of the dessert in her 1954 Italian Food, nor does Marcella Hazan in The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973). And in respect to Veneto, Fernando and Tina Raris, in La Marca gastronomica published a list of typical Veneto desserts, compiled in 1964 by Giuseppe Mazzotti, on occasion of the Sixth Festival of Treviso’s Gastronomy, in which there is also no mention of Tiramisù.