a 12 or 13 inch tiramisù, serving 12 or more
Though Treviso is recognized as the birthplace of tiramisu, the precise origins of this phenomenally popular dessert are shrouded in mystery. Imagine my excitement, then, when my friend Celeste Tonon, proprietor of the Ristorante da Celeste, passed on to me the original procedures for making this luscious assemblage of ladyfingers (savoiardi) and mascarpone cream, which Celeste learned from his mentor Speranza Garatti, the true mother of tiramisu, he claims. Her creation was made and served in individual portions, in a goblet or coppa, which I suspect gave rise to its name, which means pick me up in the Venetian dialect.
One of the delights of making tiramisu is its versatility. This recipe makes a family-style dessert in a large dish, but you can easily compose single servings in dessert glasses, wine goblets, or even elegant teacups for a more impressive presentation, in the style of Signora Garatti’s original “coppa imperial.” And while the conventional version of tiramisu calls for espresso-soaked savoiardi, I’ve found that other flavors can be incorporated into the dessert with great success. Here, the brightness of fresh lemons and limoncello liqueur lace the cream and soaking syrup to make for a tiramisu that is refreshing and irresistible.
- 5 large eggs
- 5 or 6 lemons
- 1 cup sugar
- 1-½ cups limoncello liqueur
- 1 cup water
- 1 pound (2 cups) mascarpone, at room temperature
- 40 ladyfingers (preferably imported Italian Savoiardi) or more as needed
Recommended equipment: A double boiler with a large stainless steel bowl and a wide sauce pan to hold it; A large flexible wire whisk; A shallow rimmed pan for moistening the Savoiardi with syrup.
For assembling the tiramisù, a shallow casserole or baking dish with 3-quart capacity, such as a 9- by 13-inch Pyrex pan.
Pour just enough water in a double boiler pan so the water level is right below the bottom of the mixing bowl when it is sitting in the pan. Separate the eggs, putting yolks into the large bowl of the double boiler and the whites into another stainless bowl for whipping by hand or with an electric mixer.
Remove the zest of 2 or more of the lemons, using a fine grater, to get 2 tablespoons of zest. Squeeze out and strain the juice of these and other lemons to get ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice. To make the base for the tiramisù, heat the water in the pan to a steady simmer. Off heat, beat the egg yolks with ¼ cup of the sugar and ½ cup of the limoncello until well blended. Set the bowl over the simmering water and whisk constantly, frequently scraping the whisk around the sides and bottom of the bowl, as the egg mixture expands and heats into a frothy sponge, 5 minutes or longer. When the sponge has thickened enough to form a ribbon when it drops on the surface, take the bowl off the double boiler pan and let it cool.
Meanwhile, pour the remaining cup of limoncello, all of the lemon juice, the 1 cup water and ½ cup of the sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar, and cook for 5 minutes, evaporating the alcohol. Let the syrup cool completely.
In another large bowl, stir the mascarpone with a wooden spoon to soften it then drop in the grated lemon zest and beat until light and creamy. Whip the egg whites with the remaining ¼ cup sugar, by hand or by machine, until it holds moderately firm peaks.
When the cooked limoncello sponge (or zabaglione) is cooled, scrape about a third of it over the mascarpone and fold it in with a large rubber spatula. Fold in the rest of the zabaglione in 2 or 3 additions. Now fold in the whipped egg whites in several additions, until the limoncello-mascarpone cream is light and evenly blended.
Pour some of the cooled syrup, no deeper than ¼-inch depth, into the pan to moisten the ladyfingers (Savoiardi). One at a time, roll a ladyfinger in the syrup and place it in the dessert pan. Wet each cookie briefly—if it soaks up too much syrup, it will fall apart. Arrange the moistened ladyfingers in neat tight rows, filling the bottom of the pan completely. You should be able to fit in about 20 ladyfingers in a single layer.
Scoop half of the limoncello-mascarpone cream onto the ladyfingers and smooth it to fill the pan and cover them. Dip and arrange a second layer of ladyfingers in the pan and cover it completely with the remainder of the cream. Smooth the cream with the spatula and seal the tiramisù airtight in plastic wrap. Before serving, refrigerate for 6 hours (up to 2 days) or put it in the freezer for 2 hours. To serve, cut portions of tiramisù in any size you like and lift each out of the pan onto dessert plates.
Lidia and Felidia’s Chef Fortunato Nicotra prepare this dessert here: