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The Lost Italian: Tiramisu lives up to its perky name

Tiramisu. Just saying that word aloud makes me feel better, and it's no wonder. When translated from Italian to English, tiramisu means "pick me up."...

Dust the top of the tiramisu with a layer of cocoa powder
Dust the top of the tiramisu with a layer of cocoa powder. (Photos by Carrie Snyder / The Forum)
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Tiramisu. Just saying that word aloud makes me feel better, and it's no wonder. When translated from Italian to English, tiramisu means "pick me up."

My first experience with this heavenly dessert was back in 1992, shortly after I joined the crew of the cruise ship M/V World Discoverer. We had a wonderful pastry chef, a Filipino gentleman named Nick, who made the most delectable desserts. Nick was a true artist when it came to his pastries, and he had a flair for dramatic presentations. Regardless of how much the ship was moving, his creations were flawless, and included sky-high Chocolate Soufflés, perfectly layered Napoleons and individual, flaming Baked Alaska.

Visually, Nick's tiramisu paled in comparison. But in terms of flavor, this sweet creation had no rival. In fairness, my high regard may have been influenced by another factor. I'd just met a handsome young Italian named Tony who was quickly sweeping me off my feet, and he loved tiramisu. But honestly, I'd never tasted anything like it before.

Fortunately, I married that cute Italian. And even better, he knows how to make tiramisu.

Tiramisu is a popular Italian dessert with somewhat ambiguous origins, which vary depending on the part of Italy you visit.


The Savoy region of Piedmont claims to have invented it, and points to the use of ladyfingers, or savoiardi, as proof.

The people of Lombardia, however, will argue that the honor should be theirs, based on the mascarpone cheese, as it is a Lombardian creation.

Tuscans and Venetians will happily jump into the debate, but their reasons for doing so aren't as clear. And the Romans will put forth that any dessert so typically Italian could only be Roman.

Similar to a trifle, tiramisu is a creamy, layered dessert consisting of ladyfinger cookies and a mixture of whipped mascarpone cheese, sugar, egg yolks and egg whites. Many recipes use heavy cream, but Tony prefers to use egg whites instead, which make the filling lighter and extend its shelf life in the refrigerator. This step also ensures that the entire egg is used, which is great since the recipe calls for 10 eggs.

Traditionally, the ladyfingers are soaked in a mixture of espresso and liquor - we use brandy, but you can also use Marsala wine, Amaretto, rum, or just go without.

Tiramisu can be shaped to whatever dish you choose. In our recipe, we use an 8-by-12-inch glass baking dish, but at Sarello's we prepare our Tiramisu in small bowls, for individual servings.

You may begin layering with either the cheese mixture or the ladyfingers, but the top layer should always be the cheese. To finish, dust the top with a layer of cocoa powder, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.

The end result is delicate, fluffy, light and delicious.


Some people claim tiramisu was given the name "pick me up" because of its high egg and sugar content, or its blend of espresso and liquor.

While those ingredients are important, their effects are only temporary. It is the perfect combination of all the ingredients coming together to create an unforgettable taste experience that make this dessert truly worthy of its name.

Classic Tiramisu

Serves 8 to 10


2 cups sugar, divided in half

10 eggs, separated

1 pound mascarpone cheese


2 cups brewed espresso, chilled

1 cup brandy (optional)

4 packages lady fingers

Cocoa powder for dusting


In a medium-sized bowl, mix the espresso and brandy together and set aside.

Using the whip attachment of an electric mixer, whip one cup of sugar with the egg yolks on medium speed for about five minutes. The mixture will double in size and become pale yellow in color.

Add the mascarpone cheese and change the whip attachment to the paddle. Mix on medium speed until the cheese is incorporated into the mixture. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whip the other cup of sugar with the egg whites until medium-firm peaks are formed. (If you don't have two bowls for your mixer, use a hand-held mixer). Gently fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture.

In an 8-by-12-inch glass baking dish, spread one layer of the cheese mixture on the bottom. Dip the lady fingers in the espresso/brandy mixture very quickly (no more than five seconds), and layer them evenly on top of the cheese.

Make another layer of cheese and lady fingers, finishing with one last layer of cheese. Dust generously with cocoa powder and chill for at least 24 hours before serving.

Tony's Tip

Soak the ladyfingers just before each layer so that they do not become soggy.

To store

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three or four days.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine@sarellos.com or http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com .

Dust the top of the tiramisu with a layer of cocoa powder
Several regions of Italy lay claim to inventing tiramisu. Regardless, you'll say "grazie" to the creator of this sweet sensation. Photos by Carrie Snyder / The Forum

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