Is “tiramisu” a dessert classic ? For my generation, perhaps not, since it only appeared and was most probably first prepared in the early 70’s in Italy, then was modified and reinterpreted over time until today, 50 years later, everywhere.
This dessert is a simple assembly of repeated layers made of ladyfinger cookies, espresso coffee, coffee liqueur, perhaps some fortified wine, mascarpone cream cheese, egg yolks, egg whites, sugar, cocoa, vanilla.
You’ll need 3 layers of ladyfingers or savoiardi biscuits, soaked in a mixture of 2 parts strong espresso coffee and 1 part alcohol-based coffee liqueur (occasionally combined with some fortified aromatic wine like Marsala or Vermouth, for a more complex flavor) and slightly thickened with sugar and cocoa powder and accentuated with a hint of vanilla.
In my opinion, the best result is when the coffee-flavored soaking liquid is very slightly syrupy (and thus slightly thicker and stickier) and after the cookie is very briefly soaked, the cookie weight has exactly doubled (13-14 grams) when compared to the dry unsoaked cookie weight (6,5-7 grams), becoming just moist and tasty enough without falling apart nor turning the dessert soupy.
You will also need 3 layers of the cream mixture, with 2 parts of mascarpone cheese and 1 part of the sugar and egg mixture, which is half sugar and half eggs. One half of the egg mixture is beaten egg yolks with sugar, like a pre-custard before adding the milk and the other half of the mixture is whipped egg whites with sugar, like an unbaked meringue. Both mixtures should be slightly heated to cook the egg yolks and egg whites partly so they do not remain raw, but I explain that in the instructions.
Assembly is easy since its 2 alternating layers of soaked cookies and the cream mixture and I like to do 3 of each with a final dusting of dark cocoa powder, once before freezing and once when serving.
For serving, even after refrigeration, the dessert is quite soft and creamy and difficult or impossible to slice cleanly, unless it’s prepared in individual ramekins with no slicing. Ideally, for something clean and straight when sliced and served, this dessert should be frozen before unmolding, slicing and plating and then allowed to thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature until soft and creamy again, but still remaining chilled, like a semifreddo, which is how it was initially prepared and served a long time ago.
The important question, depending on the recipient(s) you will be using to make 1 large version or 2 medium versions or 3 to 4 smaller versions, is how much mixture will you need ?
That’s easy, but only after all of my testing of course ! It’s all about measurements with volumes and densities. Whatever you decide to use, it’s better to measure the volume of your assembly dish using plain water filled up to rim of your recipients and weighing it. Whatever the result is, you’ll need 80% of that weight in prepared tiramisu weight.
The cookies I use are 9 cm long and I happen to have straight-sided metal baking containers that measure 18 cm x 18 cm and also inexpensive flexible silicone containers (for making home-made soap blocks) that measure 9 cm x 9 cm each so it’s easier for me but use what you have and preferably use something with straight and not sloping sides and use baking paper to line everything for easy removal and for freezing and cut the cookies if you must so they fit just right.
By the way, you can make several batches of tiramisu and freeze the blocks as is or slice them after an initial freezing and then place them in freezer bags with the air sucked out (with a straw) back inside the freeze and take them out when needed, even 2 months later, if well sealed.
To recap everything, the dessert is approximately 1/3 coffee syrup-soaked cookies which are half cookies and half soaking syrup and 2/3 cream mixture which is 2/3 mascarpone cheese and 1/3 egg and sugar mixture which broken down further is ½ eggs and ½ sugar and broken down further is the egg whites with half of the sugar and the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar.
The recipe if flexible. A little more or less of this and that will make practically no difference but I’m giving you the precise measurements that I used for my own corresponding volume measurements of the square recipients but it’s so much easier to just use a kitchen scale to weigh everything instead of using cup and spoon measurements that will just mess up everything in the kitchen !
The recipe and quantities here represent 10% more of what I needed to use because you always lose a little here and there by tasting and adjusting and transferring mixtures from one mixing bowl to another so always make just a little bit more than what you think you need which will be closer to 75% with 5% that is lost. The 80% ratio or weight of the finished tiramisu compared to the recipient volume(s) measured with water which is 100% is ideal and 100% safe.
I also tell you exactly how much to make of everything from start to finish, even if you don’t have coffee liqueur, by making your own fancy version and how strong to prepare your coffee and all the rest.
TIRAMISU in Italian means “pick me up” or “pull me up” or “cheer me up”, which is why you should make some soon, as the big return to school and work schedules (and newer and older events in this crazy world) have swooped down on us and are shaking us about ! … :)