If you’ve never eaten a seriously good tiramisu, you’ve not really lived.
Unfortunately if you’ve eaten a seriously bad one, you’re not alone.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation for being delicious, Italian food is something that continually suffers from major misrepresentation around the world. But rather than focusing on flabby pizza or pre-shaved parmesan – don’t get me started on savoury, I could rant all day – I’m turning my attention today to all things sweet (surprise, surprise).
We have the Italians to thank for the gorgeous jam-filled crostata, delicious biscuits like brutti ma buoni or cantuccini, wobbly panacotta, smooth semifreddo, numerous ways with ricotta cheese and of course their incredible gelato. Yet so many Italian restaurants around the country are churning out substandard offers that customers happily accept – sickly sweet ice cream, lurid cassata or tiramisu with the texture of shaving foam.
Texture is crucial when it comes to what we eat. Biscuits should snap or be chewy, depending on their purpose, ice cream is only good when wonderfully smooth and tiramisu is best when it’s light yet creamy, guided to glide across your tongue by the right balance of fat before breaking into soft boozy pockets of coffee-soaked sponge.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to get good tiramisu in the UK. Plenty of restaurants make lovely versions, sometimes adding in their own signature twist with an alternative alcohol or additional flavour. But if you’re unsure about tiramisu, if you’ve ever had a bad experience or you find it bland or boring, too thick, too foamy, too sickly, too sweet, I urge you to make it yourself at home.
This recipe is simple and delicious. There’s no need to turn your oven on and you don’t even need scales if you have none to hand (as I discovered on last week’s Tuscan trip where tasting and measuring by eye were crucial after I failed to find any kind of weighing system in the kitchen). If you don’t have Vin Santo, swap it out for more traditional Marsala or a bit of rum or brandy. Throw in some chopped nuts for crunch. Lose the chocolate shavings if you like, they’re not completely traditional.
However you decide to mix it up, the result will be a seriously good tiramisu. And then you will have lived.
Tiramisu with Vin Santo
400ml espresso, at room temperature
6 tbsp Vin Santo
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
150g caster sugar
200g savoiardi biscuits (also known as ladyfingers)
50g dark chocolate, grated
Cocoa powder, for dusting
Mix the espresso and Vin Santo together in a shallow dish. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and 75g of sugar until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, beat in the mascarpone until completely smooth.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they begin to stiffen. Add the remaining 75g of sugar and whisk until stiff.
Using a large metal spoon, fold one third of the egg whites into the mascarpone and egg yolk mixture, then fold in the rest.
One at a time, dip each savoiardi biscuit into the espresso and Vin Santo mixture, allowing it to soak up as much liquid as possible without breaking. Use your dipped biscuits to line the base of a large rectangular serving dish (mine was about 30 x 15cm). Sprinkle with half the grated chocolate then top with half the mascarpone cream mixture. Smooth flat, then repeat with a second layer of soaked biscuits, grated chocolate and cream.
Smooth flat then refrigerate to allow it to firm up, four hours minimum. When ready to eat, dust generously with cocoa powder and serve.