Sunday lunch with the family is a well know Italian tradition, especially when you are a child. I remember I was always happy to go to my grandmother’s house because I would get to eat her delicious Tiramsù. While every Italian will say that their grandmother’s Tiramsù is the best, I’m sure that my grandma really is the winner!
How did Tiramsù become such an iconic Italian dessert loved across the country and now even internationally? It probably has to do with the fact that Tiramisù represents draws on the traditions of the many regions of Italy. The ingredients come from three important Italian regions: first, from Naples, strong espresso coffee; second, from Lombardy, dense and creamy Mascarpone cheese; third, from Piedmont, ladyfinger sponge cake cookies called Savoiardi (they were the official cookie of the court of the Duchy of Savoy).
I remember that I was so excited the Sunday my grandma finally taught me how to make Tiramsù. While the recipe is simple, most families have their own variation that is passed on from generation to generation. Generally, the preparation is easy. Tiramisù is composed of alternating layers of espresso-soaked Savoiardi and a cream made from Mascarpone cheese and Zabaglione (beaten egg yolks, rum or Marsala dessert wine and sugar). The final touch is a dusting of cocoa powder.
While most people know the ingredients of this famous dessert, they might not be familiar with the history. In part this is because there is still debate on its origins. The most commonly accepted stories explaining the birth of Tiramsù might be better called legends, since both have been disproven by food historians. One claims that Tiramisù was invented in the 17th century by pastry chefs from the Tuscan city of Siena in honor of Grand Duke Cosimo III De Medici, while yet another sees it as originating with Camillo Cavour, a hero of Italian national unification in the 19th century. However, the most interesting idea is that it was actually born in the 1970s in a restaurant in Treviso called Alle Beccherie. Either way, its history is hard to trace because it is such a national, rather than regional, dessert.
While my love for Tiramsù started with my grandmother, today I love it because it is fresh, tasty and easy to prepare. The strong flavor and dense texture of the Italian espresso-soaked sponge cake contrasts perfectly with the smooth and light Mascarpone cream. I also love the name which means both a pick-me-up and “make me happy!” I think it’s the perfect label since that’s exactly what Tiramisù does!