When someone mentions Italy, my first association is always good food and the best desserts in the world. There are numerous very different desserts, which are usually very typical for a specific Italian region. The most famous Italian dessert is definitely tiramisu, which originates in Treviso, near Venice. And we mustn’t forget that Italians are also famous for having the best ice cream, called gelato.
Then, among the most well-known ones, there are also desserts such as Panettone, Torta Barozzi, Cassata, Cannoli, Panna cotta and Biscotti. Here is a whole list of Italian desserts and their places of origin:
- Amaretti (Lombardy)
- Aranci in Salsa di Marsala
- Bigné di San Giuseppe (Rome)
- Biscotti (Prato)
- Biscotti dei Fantasmi
- Brutti ma Buoni (Tuscany)
- Canestrelli (Monferrato area)
- Cannoli (Sicily)
- Cantuccini Prato (near Florence)
- Cassata (Sicily)
- Cavallucci (Siena)
- Cenci alla Fiorentina (Tuscany)
- Colomba (Milan)
- Génoise (Genoa)
- Gianduiotti (Piedmont)
- Krumiri (Casale Monferrato)
- Marron Glacé (Piedmont)
- Nociata (Rome)
- Ossa dei Morti Biscotti
- Pan di Spagna
- Pandoro (Verona)
- Panettone (Milan)
- Panforte (Tuscany)
- Panna Cotta (Piedmont)
- Pan Pepato
- Pastiera (Naples)
- Pignolata (Sicily)
- Pitta M’Pigliatay (Calabria)
- Pizzella (Abruzzo)
- Ricciarelli (Siena, Tuscany)
- Savoiardi (Piedmont)
- Sfogliatelle (Province of Salerno)
- Sfogliatine (Venice)
- Spumoni (Naples)
- Struffoli (Naples)
- Zuccotto (Florence)
- Zuppa Inglese (Parma, Bologna, Forlì, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia)
As Italy is culturally and, consequently, culinary such a diverse and interesting country, I have decided to make more than one Italian dessert. But I started out with tiramisu, not only because it is the most well-known Italian dessert, but also because it is my favorite one and I prepare it quite often.
First, let me tell you a bit about the history of tiramisu, since I find it quite interesting. The translation of the name (tirami sù) literally means “pick-me-up” (metaphorically, “make me happy”). This probably refers to the caffeine in the espresso and the effect of the cocoa used in the recipe.
There is some debate regarding the origin of tiramisu, so I can only offer you a short recap of some of the facts connected to the invention of this dessert.
According to the article, “The Trail of Tiramisu”, by Jane Black, Washington Post newspaper, July 11, 2007, the present day version of tiramisu was said to have been created in a restaurant in Treviso, located northwest of Venice on Italy’s northern Adriatic coast, called Le Beccherie. Carminantonio Iannaccone claims to have invented the tiramisu:
“Iannaccone’s story is simple. He trained as a pastry chef in the southern city of Avellino, then migrated to Milan to find work at the age of 12. In 1969 he married his wife, Bruna, and opened a restaurant also called Piedigrotta in Treviso, where he cooked up a dessert based on the “everyday flavors of the region”: strong coffee, creamy mascarpone, eggs, Marsala and ladyfinger cookies. He says it took him two years to perfect the recipe, which was originally served as an elegant, freestanding cake.”
“Tiramisu was an instant hit. Chefs, Iannaccone says, ‘came to taste it, and soon they were either making their own versions or he was supplying them with his. By the early ’80s, tiramisu had become ubiquitous throughout Italy and beyond.”
The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine – Centuries of Scrumptious Dining, by Anna Maria Volpi, states the following from her research on the history of tiramisu:
“Later in my research the oldest recipe I could find was in the book by Giovanni Capnist “I Dolci del Veneto” (The Desserts of Veneto). The first edition was published in 1983 and has a classic recipe for Tiramisu. Recent recipe with infinite variations from the town of Treviso”, says Capnist, “discovery of restaurants more than family tradition.
But the final word on the origin of Tiramisu is from the book by Fernando e Tina Raris La Marca Gastronomica, published in 1998, a book entirely dedicated to the cuisine from the town of Treviso. The authors remember what Giuseppe Maffioli wrote in an article in 1981: “Tiramisu was born recently, just 10 years ago in the town of Treviso. It was proposed for the first time in the restaurant Le Beccherie. The dessert and its name became immediately extremely popular, and this cake and the name where copied by many restaurants first in Treviso then all around Italy”. Still today the restaurant “Le Beccherie” makes the dessert with the classical recipe: ladyfingers soaked in bitter strong espresso coffee, mascarpone-zabaglione cream, and bitter cocoa powder. Alba and Ado Campeol, owners of the restaurant, regret they didn’t patent the name and the recipe, especially to avoid all the speculation and guesses on the origin of this cake, and the diffusion of so many recipes that have nothing to do with the original Tiramisu.”
Researcher Pietro Mascioni traces the dessert back to the 1960’s, to a town in Tuscany called Treviso.
“Born recently, less than two decades ago, in the city of Treviso, is a dessert called Tiramesu which was made for the first time in a restaurant, Alle Beccherie, by a pastry chef called Loly Linguanotto. The story is very credible, said Mascioni, who traveled to Treviso to talk to the Campeols last fall. There, matriarch Alba Campeol told Mascioni that she got the idea for the dessert after the birth of one of her children. She was very weak in bed and her mother-in-law brought her a zabaglione, spiked with coffee to give her energy.”
Now, because this is my favorite dessert in the world, I don’t have any interesting anecdotes about making it, but let me explain why I use ricotta cheese instead of mascarpone and latte instead of espresso. I simply like it more this way. I never drink espresso, but always latte. My favorite one is latte macchiato. And I’ve been preparing tiramisu with mascarpone for many years, but then I tried it out with ricotta and found it much tastier. Mascarpone is too strong for my taste. So this is my personal recipe for tiramisu, custom-made to satisfy my preferences.
- 500g ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbs sugar
- rum to taste
- Latte (about 120 ml – ½ cup)
- Savoiardi/Ladyfingers (store-bought or home-made)
- Cocoa powder
Prepare whichever coffee you prefer, add as much sugar as you wish and any other aromas you may like (vanilla, rum…).
Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites (I use egg whites instead of cream). Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Use a whisk or, to make things easier, a handheld electric mixer at medium speed. Remove bowl from heat then beat in ricotta cheese until combined.
Whip the egg whites in a bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Combine with the ricotta cheese cream and some rum, if you like the aroma.
Cover the bottom of a 9-inch (23 cm) square dish with Savoiardi. You can beforehand dip them in coffee, or, like me, pour the coffee over it. I do it this way because I really like my tiramisu juicy.
Spoon half of the ricotta filling over the ladyfingers and spread into an even layer. And cover with another layer of ladyfingers. Then dip the remaining ladyfingers quickly into the coffee and arrange a second layer over filling. Spoon remaining ricotta mixture over ladyfingers and sprinkle cocoa powder over it. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours.