The origins and History of “Tiramisú”

Posted by Delicious Italian on February 26, 2012

The origins and History of “Tiramisú”

By Andrea Montefusco

from Delicious Italian

The term tiramisu in Italian language means “pick me up” or “lift me” and ambiguously refers to the energetic properties of its ingredients or, less subtly, to its allegedly aphrodisiac qualities. Its creation, unlike many secular Italian recipes, is quite recent; in fact, according to some food historians the earliest mention of tiramisu can be traced back to the late 70’s and early 80’s and it is found in some Italian dictionaries and North-Italian food magazines of the time.

The birthplace of this wonderful dessert is vehemently contended between two well known popular Italian regions – Veneto and Tuscany. Most of the literature however, identifies Veneto and more specifically the restaurant Le Beccherie in the town of Treviso as the native ground of Tiramisu. Despite that, some historical tales report Siena in Tuscany has its lieu of origin. According to the legend this dessert was created to celebrate the arrival in Siena of the grand duke Cosimo III a local noble from the De Medici family.

The doubts about the truthfulness of this tale reside in the fact that Cosimo III lived in the seventeenth century and, back then, the sourcing of those ingredients would have been quite an achievement especially because Savoiardi biscuits and mascarpone cheese were foreign items to that region. Moreover Mascarpone is a fresh cheese used to be produced in the region of Lombardy and the journey down to Tuscany would have made it rancid and therefore unfit for culinary use, coffee on the other hand was exclusively used for drinking rather than ingredient in food preparations.


Whilst being a traditional Italian dessert tens of Tiramisu versions exist worldwide however, the original recipe requires the presence of the following ingredients: Savoiardi biscuits (Anglo-Saxon name “ladyfingers”), egg yolks, sugar, coffee, mascarpone cheese and cocoa powder.

Many people are familiar with its preparation method which sees the egg yolk beaten with sugar and soften mascarpone added to it to form a smooth cream. The Savoiardi are then sunk in coffee then layered down alternated by mascarpone cream and cocoa powder. Tradition dictates that there should be a heaped spoon of sugar, one egg per 100gr of Mascarpone used.

Some of the most popular variations include Tiramisu with strawberries, fruit berries, chocolate, lemon, almonds, pineapple, yoghurt, coconut, banana etc… A lot of people enjoy adding liqueurs to their recipe such as Marsala, Brandy, Limoncello, Strega, Rum and so on, needless to say such an addition should be avoided if destined to children’s consumption.

Other interesting and popular additions to the original recipe are freshly whipped cream and/or whipped egg white. The sole addition of fresh cream gives the cream a firmer consistency whilst the egg white a softer one although many advice to use the former rather than the latter as, despite its fat content, fresh cream is supposed to be more digestible due to the high amount of proteins present in the egg white.


Some people frown upon the use of raw eggs due to the risk of Salmonella, a way to circumvent this is to cook the eggs with sugar thus creating a sabayon. Whilst a safer alternative, sabayon requires some culinary skills as it is quite common to overcook and split the eggs. Another curiosity sees the original shape of Tiramisu round rather than rectangular even though Savoiardi biscuits favour the latter shape rather than the former. The method and ingredients utilised in the Tiramisu place it as a spoon dessert derived from the popular Zuppa Inglese which is an Italian layered cake with sponge and pastry cream.



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