My Sicilian mother-in-law always made her version of Zuppa Inglese (literal translation: English Soup – a spin-off of English trifle) for holidays . It was a layered dessert with a delicious homemade custard, whipped cream, rum-soaked lady fingers and maraschino cherries). Zuppa Inglese was a popular dessert in Italian households in the 50’s and 60’s. Some people believe that Tiramisu is a variation of Zuppa Inglese. More likely, it’s a variation of a dessert I used to make, Italian cream cake, aka Italian rum cake, that was popular in that same time period. Italian cream cake consisted of a hot-milk sponge cake soaked with coffee and rum, frosted with rum whipped cream and sometimes topped with shaved chocolate. The missing ingredients, of course, were mascarpone cheese and zabaglione.
Although many people believe that Tiramisu is a very old traditional Italian dessert, the truth is it probably didn’t come into existence until the 1960’s sometime, according to Cooking for Engineers. It was made with zabaglione (zah-bye-yonee), a very smooth, light and frothy egg custard made only with egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar, and mixed with the other ingredients of cream, mascarpone and espresso-alcohol-soaked ladyfingers. Today, the trend is to make a shortened version, leaving out the zabaglione, where much of the flavor resides. I’ve made it both ways, and I much prefer Tiramisu made with zabaglione.
Some things you might like to know:
1. Don’t leave out the Mascarpone. Mascarpone (mas-car-poh-nay) is not a true cheese, because it’s not aged. It’s a triple cream cheese made from crème fraîche with the excess whey removed. It’s flavor is unique and can’t be duplicated by substituting anything else.
2. You don’t have to use Marsala wine. I don’t ever use it in Tiramisu, and no one has ever suffered. Rum, Cognac and coffee brandy are all good substitutes.
3. You don’t have to use espresso, especially if you’re cooking for older folks, like me, who are caffeine sensitive. I use decaffeinated coffee with coffee essence. It’s enough to impart a nice coffee flavor with a little kick, but not enough to keep someone up all night.
4. Tiramisu is wonderful made with hot-milk sponge cake, but regular lady fingers or the imported lady finger biscuits (savoiardi) that are now available in almost every grocery store, are good substitutes, even if they are expensive.
5. If I’m putting eggs in Tiramisu, I want them cooked. Raw eggs can harbor nasty little germs that can make you very sick.
6. My adapted version below cuts a few calories, but all of the flavor is there. Subbing Neufchatel for part of the Mascarpone works really well, because you get the flavor of the Mascarpone with some of the fat reduced. Trust me when I tell you that no one will ever know. But if you don’t care about calories, cholesterol or the exorbitant price of Mascarpone, go for the full-fat version and use 12 oz. of Mascarpone.
Really Good Tiramisu
Adapted from allrecipes.com
Rating: 10 out of 10
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3 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup 1% milk, or milk of choice
8 oz. heavy whipping cream, chilled
1-1/4 tsp. good-quality vanilla extract (I used 1/4 tsp. extract + 1 tsp. homemade vanilla powder)
8 oz. mascarpone cheese, chilled
4 oz. Philadelphia brand Neufchatel (lower-fat cream cheese), chilled
1/4 cup freshly brewed regular or decaf coffee, room temperature
1 Tbsp. instant coffee
1/4 cup rum
1 (7-oz.) pkg. savoiardi (imported lady finger biscuits)
About 2-1/2 oz. grated dark chocolate bar (Ghiradelli’s Bittersweet, for example)
1. In medium heavy saucepan, whisk egg yolks and sugar until well blended. Whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, till mixture begins to boil (about 20 minutes). Boil gently for 1 minute; remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap that is placed directly on custard surface; chill in fridge 1 hour.
2. In medium bowl, using medium speed of electric mixer, beat heavy cream with vanilla till stiff peaks form.
3. Add Mascarpone and Neufchatel cheeses gradually to cooled custard, beating till smooth after each addition. Fold in whipped cream. Refrigerate till ready to use.
4. In a small, shallow bowl, combine brewed coffee, instant coffee and rum. Quickly dip the savoiardi, one at a time, into the liquid, dipping one side, then quickly flipping to the other side. Do not let the biscuits sit in the liquid, just dip, quickly count to 3, flip, quickly count to 3. (Or you can brush the liquid onto both sides of the biscuits, using a pastry brush.) Lay the glazed biscuits, one at a time, into a 9x9” glass pan (or two 9x5” glass loaf pans). When one layer of biscuits fills the bottom of the pan, spread half of the mascarpone-custard-cream mixture over top. Sprinkle with half the grated chocolate. Repeat. Cover loosely and refrigerate 4-6 hours, until set. Yield: About 12 servings