Monday, April 2, 2012

A well deserved 'pick me up' - Tiramisu

There's been something of a deep Spring clean taking place in the Matassa household over the past few weeks. I've borne the brunt of the effort (as always) and so over the weekend Elena decided that I was overdue a pick-me-up for all my efforts. At last, I thought to myself, due recognition. A reward in the Matassa household almost always involves food and this case was no different. Elena rallied the troops (kids) and set them to work.

It was an opportune moment, I have to admit, because the house is not the only thing that was earmarked for something of a Spring clean. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to give the Blog something of a makeover - or perhaps I should say "pick-me-up". Two new regular features are on the cards. The first, which you are about to witness, we will call Bambini in Cucina - or, put another way, Children in the Kitchen. In fact, put another way, my kids - Massimo (8), Giuliano (6) and Milly (1 and a little bit) - in the kitchen.

Today, on their debut appearance, they will be making (me) a tiramisu. I'll come back to you tomorrow on the subject of tiramisu and anyone that doesn't quite catch the recipe from the film that follows, I'll be posting that too. For now, get out the popcorn, find yourself a comfy seat and enjoy the movie (and please feel free to share your thoughts).

P.S. I should point out that not only is this my children's debut screen appearance, but also my directorial debut - so don't expect Spielberg!

Tiramisù – literally “pick me-up” – is an Italian dessert akin to an English trifle, most often made with a base of savoiardi biscuits soaked in espresso coffee (and usually liqueur) and covered with alternate layers of cream made from a mix of mascarpone, eggs and sugar and dusted with cocoa powder.  

The origins of this dish are steeped in uncertainty. The Slow Food Movement believes that it originated rather recently in Treviso in the Veneto, some time in the late 19th century.  However, as is often the case in such matters, both Piedmont and the Tuscans have also staked their claim over authorship. The Tuscans argue that it was invented in the 17th century by patisserie chefs in Siena in anticipation of, and as a tribute to, the arrival of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo de Medici. At the time, they claim, it was known as Zuppa del Duca – or the Duke’s Soup – and so taken was he by the dessert that he brought the recipe with him to Florence where it spread throughout Italy. Legend also has it that it quickly became a favourite amongst the nobles of the court who ascribed it aphrodisiac properties – hence the name, “pick me-up”.

In Turin in Piedmont, however, they tell a different story. The Piemontese claim that it was actually invented by a Turin pastry chef who made the cake in honour of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, to honour him in his task of unifying Italy.  Alternatively in Veneto it has been claimed that the dish originated in the ‘El Toulà’ restaurant in the town of Treviso.  The restaurant was located near a brothel, so they say, and the dish was invented by a chef at the restaurant specifically to ‘give a lift’!

Whichever story you choose to believe, tiramisù rapidly gained popularity both in Italy and abroad. There are many variations on the recipe. Some use zabaglione as the cream element, some prefer to incorporate strawberries or blueberries between the alternate layers, others add bitter chocolate, some use brandy, others prefer rum. Whichever recipe you use, at its worse tiramisù can be sickly sweet but at its best, sublime. Personally, I find it a wonderful ‘pick me-up’, as the name implies, after a long day’s work. Especially if someone else is making it! The recipe that follows has always worked well – just remember, you might want to omit the brandy if you intend serving it to children.


Serves 8
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: N/A

4 free-range eggs
4 tablespoons caster sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
400g savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers)
350ml lightly sweetened espresso coffee
2-3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder

Begin by separating the eggs and placing the yolks and whites in large separate bowls.  Whisk the egg whites with an electric beater until stiff peaks have formed and set aside.  Add four tablespoons of sugar to the egg yolks and beat until pale and thick.  To this add the mascarpone cheese (better if the cheese has been left out of the fridge for 30 minutes) and beat everything together well.  Take the beaten egg whites and gently fold these into the mascarpone mixture.  To assemble the dish, take a large dish with high sides (a. 30 x 20 cm), dip the savoiardi biscuits into the coffee one at a time and lay them all along the bottom of the dish.  Add half of the mascarpone cream on top and spread out evenly.  Sift over a few tablespoons of dark cocoa powder.  Add another layer of savoiardi biscuits dipped in espresso, the remainder of the mascarpone cream and finally dust with cocoa powder.  Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, before serving.


  1. This is a fantastic post. Well done with your video effort Mario. Your family is just gorgeous. I look forward to the kids in the kitchen posts. A timely post for me as my 10 year old daughter is showing increasing interest in the kitchen. She made us an omelette for dinner last night. Tiramisu would also have to be my favourite Italian dessert.

  2. Thanks Cathy. Glad you liked it. Cinematography is not my forte. Luckily the boys love cooking, especially when the table's full of savoiardi biscuits!

  3. How fun that your kids got in on the action and made something so decadent for you. :-) I love cooking with my goddaughters. They have so much fun clambering up on stools and stirring away. :-)

  4. Thanks for the lovely comments. Cooking with children is great fun, you just never know what's going to happen. My boys love to cook - especially when it involves biscuits. The Tiramisu was excellent but with three children, needless to say, it didn't last very long!

  5. Thanks Mario for this post. It has really inspired me to take to the kitchen this holiday weekend with the children!