Heavenly Tiramisu (with recipe)

Photo is courtesy of Opera Singer in the Kitchen

Photo: courtesy of Opera Singer in the Kitchen

Tiramisu’s history is almost as foggy as the espresso that gives it its amazing flavor. At the heart of some vigorous debate among Italian dessert lovers, tiramisu definitely got its start in Italy sometime between the early 18 th century and the mid 20 th century. Some say its first incarnation was made to celebrate a visit by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, to the city of Siena . Since Cosimo passed away in 1723, we can only guess he was fed the cake sometime before that year.

However, other culinary websites and Italian cookbooks place tiramisu’s origins as relatively recent as 1971. Tiramisu as we know it today is said to have been created that year in the northern Italian town of Treviso . Even still, the first reference to the dessert doesn’t appear in print until 1983.

Ancient origins, modern sweets

Perhaps it’s simpler to break down tiramisu’s ingredients and examine the dessert’s history from a slightly more defined angle. The savoiardi cookies at the heart of this treat have been around since the 15 th century. They get the nickname “ladyfingers” from their long cylindrical shape and are often used as a base for desserts such as fruit or custard trifles.

Savoiardi are said to be named for the northern Italian court where they originated, the Duchy of Savoy. This principality now shares much of its territory with modern-day France , and appropriately enough, the cookies are said to have been first prepared to celebrate a visit to the Duchy by the king of France . Because of their leaven-free nature, ladyfingers became a popular treat for Orthodox Jewish families at Passover.

Espresso also has a storied past. While coffee itself can be traced back hundreds of years, espresso is a relatively recent invention. Created in 1903, when the world seemed to be turning to the modern inclination of wanting everything done better and faster, an Italian businessman named Luigi Bezzera was looking for a way to make coffee brewing less time consuming.

Bezzera created a machine that added intense pressure to the brewing process and extracted more flavor from the beans at the same time. Thanks to the quick brewing process, the liquid that resulted from using this “Fast Coffee Machine”, took on the name espresso, which is Italian for “fast”. It signaled a permanent change to the way Italians drink coffee.

One thing we can know for sure about tiramisu is that the Italians have always been aware of the buzz-inducing properties that come with the combination of espresso and sugar. The origins of the word “tiramisu” itself come from two Italian words that literally mean “pull me up” or “pick me up”, Tiramisu. It is thought that the cakes, sans alcohol, were originally made into round shapes and meant for children and the elderly.

Dozens of recipes, including some with video instruction to help simplify the process, can be found online to help you make this delicious treat at home. Whether you’re in need of a pick me up, or the perfect finish to a great meal, you can’t go wrong with this mysterious, yet heavenly, dessert.

Italian chef Matteo Carboni is demonstrating his preparation of tiramisu:

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