Cookies and cream taste good in any language. The English have their trifle, the Portuguese the serradura and the Italians tiramisu.
Literally meaning “pick me up” for its stimulating combination of coffee and cocoa, the origin of Italy’s most famous sweet can be traced back to 17th century Siena, Tuscany. Prepared for the Grand Duke Cosimo de’Medici III, the cake steeped in liqueur and topped with pastry cream became known as Zuppa del Duca, or Duke’s Pudding. It later became a hit in England, where it was known as Zuppa Inglese (“English soup”) or the Tuscan Trifle.
“Everybody in Italy eats tiramisu since they’re born,” says chef/owner of La Bettola, Giuseppe Amorello of the simple concoction of eggs, sugar, mascarpone and coffee-soaked ladyfingers. “It’s like pho bo for Vietnamese. Every mother in Italy makes it. There’s always some in the fridge to be eaten any time.”
Like the original recipe, La Bettola’s family-friendly version (VND125,000+; 84 Ho Tung Mau, D1) doesn’t include alcohol. “If you want, you can add some Bailey’s or brandy. My grandma used to put in a little grappa,” laughs Giuseppi.
Instead, in his trendy eatery, Giuseppi focuses on using 100 percent fresh, homemade ingredients, from the eggs, sugar and flour for the ladyfingers to the mascarpone cheese made with heavy cream and a bit of acid, like lemon juice. “Some places use whipping cream or add more cookie so they can get away with using less mascarpone. But since we don’t have to buy any processed ingredients, our tiramisu has a very homemade taste.”
The assembly calls for soaking the lady fingers in a strong espresso then topped with a layer of mascarpone into which egg whites have been folded for a light, foamy texture, all served up in a martini glass and garnished with a sprig of mint and a lingua di gatto cookie. “Even though the ingredients are simple, tiramisu is not very easy to make. You need to find the right balance between cream and cookie,” says Giuseppi.
No longer reserved for visiting royalty, anytime is tiramisu time Yes, the ultimate Italian dessert – tiramisu.
* Text by James Pham, Michael Arnold, NPD Khanh
* Images by Ngoc Tran, Neil Featherstone