19 January 2012


SARONNO, Italy –A few years back, when I worked for Women’s Wear Daily, I never worked alone.  None of the journalists did, nor do they now. We were always assigned photographers and one of my favorite photographers was Davide Maestri. It was Davide, who had started working for WWD when the office in Milan first opened, who knew all the ins and outs of covering the fashion world. Many of his photographs made the front pages of WWD, DNR, the mens fashion and fabric newspaper and all the other fashion industry papers Fairchild published at the time.
Classic Tiramisu
We covered a lot of assignments together not only in Milan but in Florence, Bologna and lots of other places in between. But Davide had one little quirk. He never wanted to eat in a restaurant that didn’t have Tiramisu’ on the menu. He loved Tiramisu. He was mad for Tiramisu,  so much in fact that over the years he had become a Tiramisu expert. He could tell you which restaurant in which city made the best Tiramisu, and why it was the best, and what was wrong with the others who didn’t make the cut.

I often teased him about his passion and said that he and I should write a book on Tiramisu, but he didn’t care about writing a book, he just liked to eat it. Even though the history of Tiramisu, like so many other Italian dishes, is a little muddled, the most colorful story of its inception dates back to the late 1800’s in a bordello in the northern town of Treviso, a short distance from Venice.
It seems that there was a lot of competition for clients between the bordellos of Treviso and as an incentive to attract clients, one bordello began offering a cup of espresso coffee to its patrons. The other bordellos in town soon followed suit. As competition heated up, some bordellos began offering savoiardi cookies (lady fingers) to dunk in the cups of espresso coffee, or a glass of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

One enterprising Madam, who probably didn’t have a sufficient supply of savoiardi cookies on hand, decided to combine the cookies with the coffee and bind it together with Mascarpone cheese and eggs. She named her dish Tiramisu, which means “pick me up” which some of her clients may have needed after visiting the “ladies” of the house. It may also have been an incentive to get the men up and out, instead of wanting to hang around and take a nap.
Trattoria Alle Beccherie, Treviso, Italy
This story is highly contested by the Trattoria Alle Beccherie in Treviso, which claims the dish was first prepared by their pastry chef, Loly Linguanotto, less than two decades ago. The truth maybe somewhere in the middle as the Trattoria is in a very old building in the historic center of Treviso and the bordello in question  may very well have been in the same building.

This recipe is from Giuliano Bugialli’s Classic Techniques of Italian cooking. Bugialli makes his own mascapone cheese and lady fingers,  but trust me, if you buy good brands of mascapone and lady fingers,  it will work just fine.
Serves 12

8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate
24 ladyfingers*
2 cups of strong espresso coffee cooled
6 eggs separated
6 heaping tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 lb of marcapone

*if using store bought ladyfingers toast them in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

Chop the chocolate coarsely.
Put the ladyfingers on a plate and lightly soak them with the cold coffee 
Arrange half of the ladyfingers in a rectangular or oval dish, at least 2” high
While the ladyfingers are soaking, use a wooden spoon to mix the egg yolks together with the sugar in a ceramic bowl. Mix until the sugar is completely incorporated and the egg yolks have turned a lighter color. Then add the mascarpone and stir gently. In a copper bowl beat the egg whites with a wire whisk until they are stiff. Gently fold the whiles into the mascarpone-egg yolk mixture.
Use half of this mixture to make a layer on top of the ladyfingers in the serving dish. Sprinkle with half of the chopped chocolate. Repeat the procedure to make another layer of soaked ladyfingers, the mascarpone mixture and the chopped chocolate.
Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Here’s a video recipe for Tiramisu that is even easier than Bugialli's receipe.  In it, the chef calls the egg yolks the “red” of the egg, because in Italian the yolk is called the “rosso.” And if the video link doesn't work, here's the web site: http://aaron99.hubpages.com/hub/Tiramisu-The-History-of-legendary-Italian-Cake


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