A few years ago, my family and I each did a DNA test. Most of the results were evident without doing the cheek swab; our family is resolutely British, with a big blob of DNA in England which is then squashed and spread into Scotland and Wales. What we did discover, however, was that there was some, rather more romantically, European DNA in us, but none was more exciting than mine. Apparently, out of nowhere, I am 5% Italian. I do love Italian food after all. Therefore, consider this tiramisu a celebration of my Italian identity. And also a moan-inducing, melt-in-the-mouth snack for late at night. The speck of Italian in me is making vigorous hand gestures at the thought.
Tiramisu needs little introduction – she is a friend to us all, providing soft and velvety hugs in a bowl. Yet, can you believe, I was suspicious of tiramisu for the longest time, say my entire childhood. I now want to shelter her from my words, cradling her creamy custard, soothing her densely cocoa-coated head. Evidently, the Italian side of me hadn’t grown in by then, maybe it came with my wisdom teeth. Tiramisu is steeped in coffee, you see. And what child will beg for a dessert dunked in that bitter, poisonous smelling drink that you see your parents guzzling with such determination.
Then, one day, I went to a friend’s house for lunch. Dessert was coffee cake. I, in all my childish wisdom, told my friend’s mother that I didn’t like coffee cake. Nowadays, that mother would probably apologise and whisk the cake away in a blink of an eye, then rustle up some cookies from scratch.
Not Lara’s mother. No sir-ee. She was a scary mum. I’m actually quite impressed that I had the nerve to tell her I didn’t want to eat her cake. She looked at me sternly and my stomach plunged to my knees. ‘Have you ever tried it before?’ she asked. Still strangely confident, I shook my head. She straightened up, eyebrow raised, ready for her retort. ‘Then how do you know you don’t like it?’
As I child I was certainly slow on the uptake. I then ate that slice of coffee cake and, what do you know, I scraped the plate clean. I had no idea that coffee, when masked in a blanket of sugar and butter, could be so warmingly delicious.
This seems to be a childish predication I haven’t quite grown out of, though, because to me, coffee desserts, much like alcohol desserts, need a dusting of other flavours to balance the harshness. I’m here for coffee and alcohol, but usually in a drinking vessel. Desserts are for chocolate and raspberries.
Chocolate and Raspberry Tiramisu
Alternative tiramisu is a fad right now – there are all these berry-misus and banana-misus and Rosie Birkett made this very vibrant rhubarb and pistachio version, the crushed nuts on top looking like a grassy field ready for lambs and chicks (spring is so close, guys, we can just reach out a grab it). Maybe all these tiramisu makers feel the same about coffee in their desserts? Are we becoming too soft, oozing around like a silky tiramisu custard, too afraid to add a hit of pep to our food?
This is why I am here today with the best of both. A perfect, some may say transcendent, tiramisu made with zabaglione custard, cocoa and those biscuits named after ladies’ fingers all dunked like Olympic divers into a bowl of good strong espresso. And we also have the shower of grated chocolate, the smear of raspberry jam and scattered fresh raspberries, a dessert’s confetti.
I made this tiramisu last week to eat after a lunch of roast chicken rubbed in garlic and basil – soaking up my Italian side in all my courses. Tiramisu making is a messy job (or is it just me?) so I allocated myself the table on the terrace to spread out all my bowls and of course cocoa went everywhere, as did the grated chocolate, and despite all the scrubbing since, there is a new chocolatey layer to the table that I doubt will ever shift.
My dish was mite too big for a two-layered tiramisu and yet it stands pretty proudly in the centre. Next time, I’ll actually use the appropriate sized dish, say 20cm square or smaller. And I might try to resist eating so much sweet, moussey zabaglione beforehand. Honestly, mascarpone mixed with raw egg and sugar shouldn’t be so addictive, I might just hook myself up to a drip of it to help me get through the day. Add a few raspberries and a little raspberry jam and you have juicy tangy freshness to cleanse your palate, meaning you can eat more. And what can I say that we don’t already know about raspberries and chocolate? A match made in heaven?
Tiramisu is like a game of Jenga but ideally without the destructive part – no whipping out any ladyfingers! It’s all about those layers. Stack it all up: cocoa, chocolate, zabaglione, raspberries and a little raspberry jam, coffee-soaked biscuits, then start again. Each layer almost sighs in supplication as they each ooze down onto the next.
After an unbearable but necessary chill in the fridge, the tiramisu is ready to eat. I found cutting slices slowed me down, eating out of the dish worked just as well. Each layer of tiramisu melts on the tongue, there’s barely a need to chew. If you can resist eating the whole thing on the first day, believe me and, I don’t know how it’s possible, but it’s better on the second!
As for that Italian DNA, I mean, they were probably having a slow day at the lab and who wouldn’t want to mess around with DNA when you’re bored. Or, I had eaten pasta for lunch. But maybe it’s the evidence I need to explain my deep, yearning, ‘give me a hit quick’ love for pizza, pasta, general carby goodness, and of course, this tiramisu.
Tiramisu with Raspberries and Chocolate
- 150 ml freshly brewed coffee, ideally espresso roughly 2 double shots
- 250 g mascarpone
- 2 eggs
- 50 g sugar
- 150 g Savoiardi biscuits, also called ladyfingers
- 6 tsp raspberry jam
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1-2 squares dark chocolate
- 1 packet fresh raspberries
- First of all, brew your coffee – I have a little Italian espresso maker that makes only one double shot, and what do you know, I ran out of coffee right at the worst possible moment in the middle of layers. So, start off with enough coffee – two double shots will be enough. Pour it all into a wide shallow bowl.
- Tip the mascarpone into a bowl, maybe a large soup bowl, and give it a good beating with a wooden spoon so it is smooth and easier to handle.
- For this recipe, you'll need a lot of bowls! Separate the eggs and divide the yolks and whites between two mixing bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and whip them with electric beaters until thick, moussey and pale. Once it supports its own weight with the ribbon test, it's ready.
- Slowly add the mascarpone, not all at once but over three or four additions, and fold it in to combine.
- It's time to whisk the egg whites – either wash your electric beater prongs or use an actual whisk. Whip them until they form stiff peaks then fold them, again in three or four additions, into the mascarpone custard.
- Avengers assemble. It's time to build a tiramisu.Grab a sieve for the cocoa, a fine grater for the chocolate, and a serving dish for tiramisu.
- Start by sifting a layer of cocoa on the bottom of the dish. Then grate over some chocolate and spread a third of the mascarpone custard on top. Then add 2 tsp jam – stir it first so it is loose and easier to spread. It will mix into the custard but it doesn't matter, you just want the flavour to come through. Then add a 4-5 raspberries – tear them in half and scatter them evenly on top.
- Soak the ladyfingers in the coffee until almost completely saturated but you don't want them to start falling apart. Line them up so they are covering the custard. Then start the layers again.
- Cocoa, then chocolate, then custard, then jam and raspberries, then coffee-soaked ladyfingers. Top this second layer with another sprinkling of cocoa and chocolate, then spread over the last of the mascarpone custard. Dust a thick layer of cocoa on top, some more grated chocolate and some pretty raspberries as garnish.
- Place the dish in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight then cut into slices and serve.
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