Thursday, 29 August 2013

Flo and Elle's Tuscan Recipe 3: Nonna’s Tiramisu

Don’t worry I am not going to do a Nigella – the nonna in this case is not mine! 

Tiramisu, n.

An Italian dessert consisting of layers of sponge cake soaked in coffee and brandy or liqueur and a filling of mascarpone cheese, topped with cocoa powder.
Etymology:  Italian, ‘pick me up’ < phrase tira mi su.

The name of this dessert is first cited in the early eighties and its origin hotly debated. Some believing its birthplace to be Treviso, near Venice, and others Siena. Nevertheless, the best Tiramisu I have ever had, has to be in the Tuscan Town of Volterra where Ombra della Sera have been making the owner’s grandmother’s recipe for several decades.

What is wonderful about this particular version is that it feels like you are eating clouds. It is light, almost frothy and nowhere near the heavy, over-chilled, stodgy versions you get all over the UK. 

The owner let me in on their technique of using zabaglione, whisked egg whites and mascarpone to get that delicious texture. This may not be the definitive traditional method, but I firmly believe it is the best, and in a dish that can only be around 40 years old, this method has its own venerable family tradition.

If you compare the recipe below to, for example, Nigella’s method from Nigella Express, you can instantly grasp the difference. Where Nigella (who I love with the exception of her Express book) uses 2 whisked egg yolks and 1 whisked egg white to 500 grams of mascarpone, I use 5 whisked yolks and 5 egg whites to 300g mascarpone. 

You can see how much more aerated my mix will be. Delia Smith too, has a less airy ratio. Moreover, because both the zabaglione and the Italian meringue mixes involve heat (the zabaglione is made over a Bain Marie and the Italian meringue mix uses hot sugar) they are more stable, meaning the air is much harder to punch out of them. 

So, here my recipe. It is worth noting, before you start, that it should be left around an hour before eating and that it shouldn’t be made any more than 5 hours in advance, since the savoiardi biscuits will begin to disintegrate.

Prep time: 45 mins – 1 hour
Resting time: 1 hour (up to 4 hours)
Serves 10


For the coffee liqueur mix
1 teacup of espresso coffee – I brewed mine using Lavazza and a percolator but any strong coffee will do
2/3 of a teacup of Vin Santo (or other)
These measurements don’t need to be precise since you won’t use all of it

For the zabaglione
5 egg yolks
5 tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons of Vin Santo (you can also use other liqueurs but I like the taste of Vin Santo)

For the Italian Meringue 
5 egg whites
80g sugar

For the rest
300g mascarpone
2 packs of savoiardi biscuits (around 20)
3 teaspoons of cocoa powder
2 squares of dark chocolate (optional)

Coffee Liqueur Mix
Brew your espresso and allow to cool
Mix in the Vin Santo


Put a saucepan of water on the boil
Put your egg yolks and 5 tablespoons of sugar into a glass bowl that fits over the saucepan
Measure out your 5 table spoons of liqueur into a glass
Turn the heat down so you have a gentle simmer and place the glass bowl over the top of it
Using an electric whisk at top speed, whisk until foamy 

Add the Vin Santo and continue whisking for 5-8 minutes, taking off the heat every now again so the eggs don’t cook and scramble! I also turn the heat off after a minute of whisking so that the water doesn’t get any hotter

You are aiming for a thick and foamy texture that will hold the shape of a swirl in it for around a second, like a thick hollandaise sauce. Just keep whisking until it reaches that consistency. It should have tripled in volume. 
Take off the heat and put aside until required

The Italian Meringue Mix
Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius electric or 180 degrees Celsius fan 
Line a baking sheet and pour in 80g sugar (or use an unlined pyrex dish). Make sure the sugar is in an even layer
Place in the oven for 10-12 minutes to heat up – make sure it doesn’t burn or liquidise – you will see from the edges if it starts to so take it out straight away of that happens
Put the egg whites in a large, clean mixing bowl. 
Using an electric mixer, start to whisk them vigorously. 
When they are foamy, add the sugar a little at a time until the mixture is stiff, fluffy and glossy like satin
Put aside until needed

Combining the Tiramisu Filling

Put the mascarpone in a bowl and whisk using an electric hand held whisk
Slowly incorporate the zabaglione whilst whisking 

Vigorously stir in 3 tablespoons of the Italian meringue mix

Fold in the rest of the Italian meringue with a metal spoon and a folding motion, dragging the marscapone-zabaglione mix over the egg whites until the whole mix is smooth and fully incorporated

Assembling the Tiramisu 

Slice your savoiardi biscuits lengthways so you have 2 long thin pieces. This creates a thinner, more delicate sponge layer
Arrange along the bottom of a squareish glass dish so that they cover as much of it as possible

Using a teaspoon, delicately spoon the coffee-liqueur mix over the biscuits so they are all uniformly brown. I do this rather painstaking technique to avoid soggy, wet sponge layers which really do ruin the overall effect. I used 2-3 small teaspoons per biscuit

Spoon over half the Tiramisu filling and flatten with a spoon

Arrange another layer of savoiardi biscuits and spoon over the coffee liqueur mix as before

Spoon over the rest of the Tiramisu filling
Flatten with a spoon
Put the cocoa powder in a very fine sieve or tea strainer and sprinkle over the top
Grate the chocolate on a fine setting and sprinkle that over too
Keep in the fridge but make sure you take it out 15 minutes before serving so it is not too cold