I totally love tiramisu. Even when travelling through Vietnam for my birthday one year, I chose the local Italian beach restaurant for my special family dinner, because I had heard that they did a decent tiramisu. It is my favourite dessert of all time.
I have been blessed to have travelled to the home of the dish. My friend and I were conducting a youthful version of a foodie trip around Italy at the time and we couldn’t afford to stay in Venise. Having said that, Treviso is not much better on a budget , but we somehow managed two nights there. We blew about a week’s worth of money, but we had the most insane meals – and neither of us will forget them. The tiramisu paraded in the windows of the local bakeries and Alimentari were a sad indictment of tourism and all that it brings. Clearly, there is a market for the mass produced dessert in a drier more sliced and cakey version. However, we were never put off and were determined to eat a truly decadent, gooey, creamy version in it’s home. And we did!
First we made a common error and ate our way through some of the antipasti we assumed was gratis on the counter top of what appeared to be a super cool bar, mid town. Luckily, we were graciously encouraged by the young business crowd, sporting their smart casual Benetton (of which Treviso is also home to!) and we made some new friends who were happy to point us in the direction of their favourite ‘foodie’ haunt. And that is where we literally wallowed in food that I could only have dreamed of until that moment. The tiramisu came in a huge homemade rectangular dish and from there was served into small dishes for each of us – where it collapsed into an unattractive slop. It was perfection, and we went back the second night for more.
It was many years later that I travelled back to Siena in Italy and did a stint at a language and cooking school. (Siena is the home of the famous Palio) There we made tiramisu, the home version – and again I fell in love – with the tiramisu, the boys and the horse race!! Our teacher reminded us that tiramisu can be perfected only by the cook. It can be sweetened with chocolate, or more bitter with a true lashing of espresso and she insisted you can use whatever alcohol you like. I had always to this point assumed you must use Marsala – as tradition dictates. But hey, if there is no marsala in the pantry, and you want to make tiramisu – should you divert to a lesser dessert?
Well I say NO. When I made tiramisu on MasterChef NZ there was no marsala in the pantry so I chose to use Kahlua. I also made the tiramisu of Italy as I learned it. It was rich and fluid.
So, a judge who likes to eat the traditional dish, may not be content with the change of alcohol. But, to this day I will make my tiramisu in one large dish, bittersweet and with whatever alcohol I have on hand.
Here is my recipe: Tiramisu
And, if you check out the local paper here in Auckland this weekend you will even note a Donna Hay recipe for blueberry and Limoncello Tiramisu. Actually, it was reading her recipe that renewed the year old gripe, that I struggle to let go of, the contention caused in using Kahlua in my tiramisu on MasterChef NZ.
PS. Tessa Kiros from her book Venezia says “This can be varied as much as you like: make it less sweet, more sweet; serve it with gratings of semisweet chocolate on top; use whatever alcohol you like……….”