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No Italian dessert menu is ever complete without a tiramisu. This classic Italian dessert literally means "pick me up". It's comprised of a coffee soaked cake (usually lady fingers) layered with a sweetened mascarpone (a mild flavored Italian cream cheese) and cream, then topped off with whipped cream and a generous dusting of cocoa and/or cinnamon. It's a rich dessert for sure, but light enough to still enjoy after that hunk of braciole.
Though it's been around forever, this classic treat is still one of my favorite desserts. And I have to admit that when I see it on a menu, I'll even pass on the chocolate option in favor of the tiramisu. The reason? Not only does the combination of coffee and mascarpone rock, but though tiramisu appears to be pretty standard, it isn't always made the same way. I'm forever curious to see each restaurant's individual take on the dessert, and if it'll deliver the goods.
This also includes my own experimentation with tiramisu. I've made countless recipes over the years, experimenting with pans, individual desserts, and cake interpretations. Some of the tiramisu were super easy recipes, involving little more than stirring together mascarpone cheese and sugar for the cream, and some were super duper labor intensive behemoths, such as a vermouth and mascarpone sabayon set with gelatin and layered with homemade ladyfingers (yes it was worth it). To be honest, I've rarely met a tiramisu I didn't like—pretty much any version is good with me, as long as it's got good coffee flavor and is moist almost to the point of dripping. I mean seriously, there's nothing worse than a dry tiramisu.
Most recently I've experimented with a chocolate-mocha version. Along with making sure it was good and moist, I also wanted to keep it easy. Crisp, purchased Italian lady finger biscuits are soaked with a flavorful chocolate, coffee, and Kahlua (coffee liquor) mixture, then layered in the pan with a quick-whisked chocolate mascarpone cream. There's more chocolate on the top with a satiny smooth chocolate whipped cream. Though I wanted it to be a chocolate dessert, I was conscious not to overdo it. There's "just enough" chocolate here to keep the coffee flavors strong and the texture light (too much chocolate will weigh it down). If you can stand waiting, a chill in the fridge fully softens the lady fingers and allows all the flavors to meld. And though sweet vermouth is the more traditional liquor of choice, my favorite addition of Kahlua gives this dessert the extra kick that'll keep you coming back for more.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.