A classic Italian dessert which has, like Black Forest Gateau, Crepe Suzettes, trifle and profiteroles, become something of a cliché. Done badly, it is sickly, cloying and claggy. Done well, it is light and fluffy, a pillow of marscapone and egg whites over a coffee and liqueur-soaked sponge base.

I have to confess to a real fondness for Tiramisu, and I often order it if I see it on an Italian restaurant menu. The best I've had was at Ca'an Mea, a wonderful and eccentric restaurant just outside Badalucco in Liguria (more here), where it was, inexplicably, served in an enamel chamber pot. My friend Nick also makes a mean version.

The word "tiramisu" literally translates as "pick me up" and it was invented within the last 50-odd years. It is traditionally made with "savoiardi" or Boudoir biscuits/lady fingers, eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese. It's lighter than a cheesecake, or a trifle. There are countless variations, using panettone or other yeasted breads, different cheeses, with or without eggs. Nigella Lawson has a "white" version, using white rum and crushed meringues. I had planned to make my version for dinner tonight using leftover Madeleines purchased in France last week, but when I went to use them, I discovered someone (who shall remain nameless) had eaten them all. Instead, I used Pain d'Epice (a French spiced cake made from an enriched yeasted dough). Once I had soaked it in a mixture of black coffee and Amaretto, I reckoned it would taste pretty authentic!

Tiramisu is quick and simple to make. Ideally, make it in advance so that the cheese/egg mixture has time to set. Here is Nigella's recipe for White Tiramisu, and a link to Delia Smith's more classic version.

Happy new year!
White Tiramisu (serves 6)
  • Box of shop meringues
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 325g mascarpone
  • 160ml white rum, such as Bacardi
  • 200 ml full fat milk
  • 18 savoiardi or as many as needed
Choose a dish about 10cm deep, suitable for holding 9 savoiardi in one layer (a glass one looks nice). Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and mousse-like. Fold in the mascarpone gradually and then beat until incorporated. Whisk one of the egg whites (you don't need the second) until firm and fold into mascarpone mixture. Mix the rum and milk in a soup plate and dip the biscuits in the mixture just long enough for them to soften. Lay about 9 moistened biscuits in the dish and spread over about one-third of the mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle with the meringue crumbs. Dip another 9 biscuits into the rum and milk as before and then arrange them on top of the meringue crumbs. You may need a little more or less of each part; remember that with trifle the point is to make the layers, and the dimensions of the dish will determine how much you need of each of these layers. Spread over about half the remaining cream, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate. Put the remaining cream in a closed container and refrigerate also. Leave for a day. Before serving, smooth the remaining cream all over the pudding and decorate with a final scattering of meringues bits.

A bowl of raspberries makes a good accompaniment.


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