How We Found An Authentic Tiramisu Recipe
I had my first Tiramisu dessert in Germany in the mid 1980s and I have been on a mission to find the best tiramisu recipe ever since. Naturally, this creamy, fluffy dessert is a staple in practically every Italian restaurant in the world. However, it is surprising how many different methods there are to prepare it. So what is the “traditional” tiramisu recipe? Where did we find our favorite tiramisu?
Just What is a Traditional Tiramisu?
It’s hard, really, to use the term “traditional” when talking about tiramisu. It hasn’t been around that long; most experts figure the first tiramisu showed up on a menu in Italy in the 1960s and has exploded in popularity since then. How should it be made? Do you use eggs, no eggs, just the yolk, incorporate the beaten egg whites? Should the mixture be cooked over a double broiler? Alcohol or no alcohol? If so, which do you use? All of these questions over such a seemingly simple dessert; it boggles the mind.
I had tried a few variations by the time we visited Sicily but hadn’t settled on my favorite tiramisu recipe. So when we wandered past the Ristorante Tiramisu in Taormina, Italy on the island of Sicily, I knew where my lunch stop would be. Of course, first we had to spend a few hours climbing around the ruins of an ancient Greek (yes Greek, not Roman) amphitheater.
The Ancient Amphitheater of Taormina
Well, it’s impossible to have something that old that wasn’t also used by the Romans, so naturally this is the case with the amphitheater. The outer wall, constructed of brick, and most of the stage side wings were reconstructed at some point in the past 2000 years. But archaeological evidence points to a previous Greek theater on the site. Today, the theater has been gently renovated and reconstructed to maintain as much antiquity as possible while still allowing the site to be used for concerts and other performances. Walking through the threshold, I could immediately see why this site has been so popular for such a long time. The views of the Mediterranean Sea far down below at the bottom of the cliff and Mount Etna quietly puffing away in the distance are both utterly remarkable.
After climbing up and down the seats of the amphitheater and exploring the tunnels and passageways, it was time for some good eats. It turns out there are two restaurants in Taormina named Tiramisu, one is a Pizzeria Ristorante and the other is a trattoria. They both looked good and both ranked pretty high in Yelp and Tripadvisor, so I don’t really think you can go wrong with either one. However, we were more impressed with the Ristorante Tiramisu menu so that’s where we went. What a serendipitous decision!
Tiramisu – A Restaurant And A Recipe
We were given a choice of sitting inside the restaurant or in an inner courtyard garden. And, despite some earlier rain showers, the green and flowery garden was much more pleasant looking. I noticed a small counter all set up for food preparation in one corner and kept wondering what was gong to happen, and when. Who doesn’t like a live cooking show? Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer, so I asked the waiter, “What are we cooking?”
He laughed, “We aren’t cooking anything. My mama is making tiramisu, no cooking needed!” Shortly after that, out she came with one bowl of eggs and another bowl overflowing with mascarpone. She went right to work cracking the eggs and separating them into different bowls, then whipping like a mad woman. It was fascinating to see how quickly the egg whites fluffed up; and, before we knew it, she was dipping and layering tray after tray of the delectable tiramisu cake. She left us in a cloud of cocoa dust, wheeling a cart stacked with enough trays of tiramisu to feed an army. I asked our waiter if that was the weekly preparation. “What? No! Tiramisu must be eaten fresh. That is for the dinner tonight.” The tiramisu was perfect. I collected my notes and vowed to give it a try as soon as we returned home.
I’ve been making it the same way ever since with only a few modifications. First of all, the idea of whipping egg whites by hand is not for me. I have a Kitchenaid for that. Second of all, I’ve tried a few different liqueurs and have settled on Amaretto as my favorite flavor enhancer. But I’ve stuck with the uncooked version just as Mama Leone in Taormina made it, all those years ago.
Some kitchen essentials for making the perfect tiramisu recipe include:
- Bialetti 6-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker
- The Keurig Rivo Cappuccino and Latte System
- Lavazza Espresso Classico Keurig Rivo Pack, 18 Count
- Pyrex 6-Cup Rectangle Food Storage, Pack of 2 Containers
- Illy Ground Ground Espresso Medium Roast, 8.8oz (Pack of 2)
- illy Espresso Ground Decaffeinated Coffee, 8.8oz (Pack of 2)
If you should find yourself in Taormina, eating at Ristorante Tiramisu, and you you need a place to spend the night, why not try out one of these excellent options…
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Pin our Best Tiramisu Recipe for later!
- 4 Eggs, separated
- 4 Tbs Sugar
- 2 cups (500g) Mascarpone
- 4 Tbs Amaretto or Marsala (optional)
- 1 1/2 cup Espresso (12 shots)
- 24 Savoiardi or Ladyfingers
- 2 Tbs Cocoa Powder
- Pour the coffee into a shallow dish with half the liqueur (if desired) and place in the refrigerator to chill.
- Use a mixer on medium to whip the egg yolks and sugar until fluffy and pale yellow.
- Add the mascarpone and the rest of the liqueur and continue mixing on low speed until mixture is smooth. Keep cool in the refrigerator.
- In a new bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
- Fold in the mascarpone mixture until fully incorporated, being careful not to knock down the egg whites.
- Quickly dip the savoiardi, or ladyfingers, into the espresso mixture for 3-5 seconds depending how soft the biscuits are. Be careful to not fully submerge them, instead only dip half way into the liquid.
- Place the soaked biscuit into the bottom of the dish forming one even layer along the bottom.
- Spoon in one half of the mascarpone and egg mixture.
- Repeat the biscuit soaking process and form one more layer on top of the mascarpone and egg mixture, coffee side down.
- Spoon the remaining mixture over this layer of soaked biscuits.
- Dust the top with a layer of cocoa powder.
- Place in refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
- For the coffee, you can go buy six double shots of espresso, but this can get expensive. Instead consider making it yourself with a stove top espresso maker or Moka Pot. If you have a Keurig or Nespresso machine, you could also use espresso pods with that.
- Use savoiardi instead of lady fingers if you can find them. They are a crispier cookie and hold up better to the coffee soak.
Recipe Credit: I based this recipe on the tiramisu I had at Ristorante Tiramisu in Taormina, Italy. I was lucky enough to observe the dessert being prepared while we were eating lunch. I didn't get the exact measurements at the time, but trial and error have resulted in this near perfect version.