(recipe by Marco Cagetti)

There is no unique or traditional recipe for tiramisù-tiramisù is in fact a rather recent invention. I use a very simplified version. Since you don't have to cook the cream, this version is very easy; you can taste the cake as you prepare it and adjust the ingredients as you like. You can vary the proportions, or add other flavors. The main variable you can change is the proportion of yolks, egg whites, and mascarpone (and perhaps whipped cream). The version I prefer has no whites; this makes for a somewhat more solid and stronger tasting cream. But most of the versions seen in restaurants have softer creams, usually thanks to whipped cream. These versions have a more delicate and fatty taste (though the same number of calories, whipped cream is saturated fat).

Many people don't realize that there is alcohol in the cake, one of the reasons why it tastes so good. I can't think of a tiramisù without any hint of alcohol. But you can try, of course.

The usual recipe (in Italy) calls for pan di spagna, but if you find it too difficult to prepare, you can substitute it with savoiardi cookies, which I have seen in many stores also in the US. I have seen recipes with ladyfinger cookies instead, but a friend told me that she tried preparing the cake with ladyfingers and the result wasn't good. An electric mixer is strongly recommended.

The following recipe makes a big bowl and serves approx. 10-12 people.



To prepare the cream, mix the yolks and the sugar until creamy and clear, 5 minutes or more, the time depends on your mixer. Then add the mascarpone cheese and mix until it is incorporated into the cream (do not overmix, but do not leave chunks of cheese either). You can also add a couple of tablespoon of liquor (I do). The more liquid you add, the more liquid the cream will be. If it becomes too liquid, it will fall off, although I think it tastes better with a lot of alcohol. Before using the cream, refrigerate for an hour or more if it feels too liquid.

Prepare a strong coffee, and sweeten it with sugar, if you like. Add liquor to the coffee, as much as you like. I do recommend that you add at least three or four tablespoons - but I'd go for more.

Because liquid can seep from the cake, you should assemble the cake in a big flat-bottomed bowl or in a pyrex pan, not on a cake dish. If you are using pan di spagna, cut it horizontally in half, and put one half on the bottom of the bowl. Pour half of the coffee on the pan di spagna. Then cover it with somewhat less than half of the tiramisu cream. Add the second layer of pan di spagna and repeat the operation. Sprinkle the top with a little cocoa powder. (The ratio of cream to cake is high with these quantities, which I like. Many cakes I have seen have much less cream.) A note on pan di Spagna: pan di Spagna has no butter, so it is rather dry on its own. In some restaurants, it almost seems that the cook is using some type of butter based cake- I don't like this, the cake becomes too heavy. But if you prefer it that way, you can experiment with a different base.

If you are using savoiardi, dip the savoiardi in the coffee mixture. Dip them quickly. If you keep them for too long, they become soggy and fall apart. (Alternatively, I use a more secure system: I line the cookies on a dish, then cover with the right quantity of coffee.) Lay the cookies down on the bottom of a large serving bowl. Cover with the tiramisù cream. Add a second layer of savoiardi and repeat the operation, until you finish the cream. Depending on the size of the bowl, you will have 2 to 4 layers savoiardi. If you prefer, you can also make two or three pans of one layered tiramisu. As before, you can cover with some cocoa powder.

Refrigerate the tiramisù for at least one hour before serving, overnight may be even better. You can keep the tiramisù for up to a week in the refrigerator, if there's enough alcohol, it should keep well and perhaps even improve after a day.

Variation 1

Substitute the 7 egg yolks with 5 yolks and 3 whites.

Carefully separate the yolks and the whites. Mix the yolks, the sugar and the mascarpone as described above. In another bowl, whip the eggwhites until stiff peaks form (you can add a pinch of salt or of cream of tartar to speed up the process). With a wooden spoon, tranfer the whites to the mascarpone mixture and slowly incorporate it. Do not pour the whole bowl of whites in the mixture, since most likely you'll have some unwhipped white on the bottom. Do not mix the whites into the mascarpone cream with the mixer, otherwise they'll deflate too much. Once the cream is ready, proceed as above.

This variation is probably the most common in Italian families (really parsimonious families use 4 eggs and 4 whites, so you don't have to toss away any whites). It produces slightly softer cream, which may be easier to spread if you're using savoiardi. It is not as airy and delicate as-but I think it is more flavorful than-the next version.

Variation 2

This version is taken from the recipe used by Peck, a famous food store in Milano. It tastes less eggy and is lighter (in the sense of airy, not in the sense of calories).

Work the sugar and the yolks as above, then work in the mascarpone. Separately, whip the heavy cream, and then slowly incorporate the heavy cream into the cream. Proceed to assemble the tiramisù as in the main recipe.