The other day I was at the Coffee Hour at the Episcopal Church of St. Michael and All Angels in Tucson and they were serving a very good cake. Only later, when I inquired, did the hostess let me know that it was a Tiramisu that she had bought at a local supermarket. This was disconcerting to me because, if I had known, I would not have eaten a tiramisu. Traditionally a tiramisu contains mascarpone cheese, an Italian soft cheese comparable to cream cheese. Of course that would have kicked off my allergy to dairy (other than that I would love to be able to eat it).
But at the time I ate it, I did not detect any trace of cheese flavor. It seems to me that the Italian delicacy known as tiramisu is devolving into a white cake with a whipped frosting, similar to a fancy dessert or the Tres Leches cake that is popular in Latin America.
I have seen the version of tiramisu that Chef Giada de Laurentiis made for her show, and I must say that it is not just a cake and frosting. The flavors of tiramisu include coffee as well as mascarpone, so it occurred to me that if you have bought one here in Tucson's supermarkets, you may not have enjoyed the classic flavors that make it. It isn't even that difficult to make. You don't have to bake layers and stack them up with frosting, which is something I don't like to do very much (I make most of my cakes in a large rectangular baking pan). The recipe produces a large rectangular "cake" that is more like a trifle than a cake, actually. We might say it is an Italian trifle and be within the confines of reason.
6 egg yolks from pasteurized eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1-1/2 cups strong espresso, cooled
2 teaspoons dark rum
24 packaged ladyfingers
1/2 cup chocolate shavings, for garnish
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Add the mascarpone and beat until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of espresso and mix until thoroughly combined.
In a small shallow dish, add the remaining espresso and rum. Dip each ladyfinger into espresso for only 5 seconds (letting the ladyfingers soak too long will cause them to fall apart). Place the soaked ladyfingers on the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish, breaking them in half if necessary in order to fit the bottom.
Spread half the mascarpone mixture evenly over the ladyfingers. Arrange another layer of soaked ladyfingers and top with remaining mascarpone mixture.
Cover the tiramisu with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
Before serving, sprinkle with chocolate shavings.
Giada recommends bittersweet chocolate for the tiramisu, which you would grate using a micro plane grater. It will produce very fine chocolate flakes. However, if you would prefer using semi-sweet or milk chocolate for the garnish, you can of course use anything you like yourself.