The fifth most internationally known Italian word, and the first that refers to desserts, don’t you believe it? The Accademia Italiana della Crusca eliminates all doubt: the word tiramisù is listed as “gastronomic Italianism” in 23 languages. All the dictionaries mention it, mentioning the main ingredients. 

Related article: How to eat like an Italian

Jump to the main sections of the article

Origin of the word tiramisù
Origin of the recipe

Between legend and reality, two stories about the origin of tiramisu

Mascarpone is more than good
A must for tiramisu lovers: Restaurant ‘Le Beccherie’ in Treviso

Recipes

Tiramisù Day

The origin of the word Tiramisù

The etymology of the word Tiramisu means “raise me up, strengthen my body”. It derives from the Treviso dialect “Tireme su”, Italianised into tiramisu in the last decades of the twentieth century.

tiramisù

Tiramisù is the king of Italian desserts. Known all over the world, it is attributed with aphrodisiac, intoxicating and historical properties. Rejected only by those who do not drink alcohol. It is the perfect mix between sweet, bitter, smooth texture on the palate and the final taste of chocolate…

Available in all the world’s cuisine restaurants, which is great because you can try it in any capital of the world. But is it well-made? Is tiramisu really ‘how it should be’? The original recipe has alcohol in it? Read on. 

Origins of the recipe

The recipe would be derived from “sbatudin” a mixture of beaten egg yolk with sugar, commonly used by peasant families as a restorative or for newlyweds. To this was then added the mascarpone, coffee and cocoa that all our families remember having tasted since childhood before its prohibition during the last world war.

Between legend and reality

Tiramisù is a cultural product, the result of a mixture of simple ingredients from different places. It is the great-grandson of a Romagnolo dessert, it uses Piedmontese Ladyfingers, Brazilian cocoa, Lombard mascarpone.

It is to be expected, then, that many regions dispute their place of birth. 

Origin in Treviso, Veneto region, Italy

Tiramisù Academy claims to have all the evidence to say that the tiramisu was created in Treviso, Veneto region, Italy, towards the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s.  

The brothels of Veneto

The Prodigal Son, from Jacopo de Palma, XVI century
The Prodigal Son, from Jacopo de Palma, XVI century

One of the legends about the origin of tiramisu says that the dessert was created by a courtesan from a brothel in the historic centre of Treviso, Italy. The dessert was offered to customers at the end of the evening. When giving it to them, a courtesan holding the cake warned them in this way: “desso ve tiro su mi”, which means ‘now I lift you’ / ‘now I throw you on me’, hence the origin of the name.

tiramisù ingredients

The ingredients of ‘tiramisu’ support the theory

All of them are nutritious and caloric: eggs, sugar, Lady Fingers, mascarpone cheese, coffee and cocoa (a portion of tiramisu can reach 500 calories!). Even the simple preparation of the recipe, anyone can do it without special tools.

This is how the ”Tiremesù” was born, a natural viagra from the 1800s

Over the centuries, a veil of popular shame and embarrassment has concealed the true origin of Tiramisú. In fact, it is not mentioned in books until the second half of the 20th century, with the sexual liberation. 

Other places that dispute the authorship of tiramisu

The ‘Zuppa del Duca’ the name of the Tramisù in Siena, Italy

The rivalry between the two most important cities in the Tuscany region of Italy, Siena and Florence, is well known.

Legend has it that in the 17th century the inhabitants of Siena were once expecting a visit from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici. And after deliberating whether to put a snake in his bunk or give him poisoned wine to drink, the Sienese decided to open their doors without warlike purposes and be hospitable.

But how do you honor a Grand Duke? 

It was known that the Duke had just married a certain Marguerite Louise d’Orléans, a cousin of King Louis XIV, known for her airs and graces. 

So to ‘cheer up’ the new couple, a pastry chef devised a cake with energetic ingredients to warm up even the coldest nights. 

So they served the Grand Duke mascarpone, ladyfingers, coffee and chocolate. 

Duke Cosimo III de Medici was fascinated.

The Duke’s Soup or ‘Zuppa del Duca’ conquered the palate and heart of the Grand Duke and the beautiful Margherita, who decided to take the recipe with them so that they would never run out.

‘’Más que bueno’’ (Spainsh for ‘more than good’)

An important ingredient of Tiramisù is mascarpone or mascherpone. It is probably derived from the Lombard “mascherpa” which means ricotta cheese, though it is not ricotta cheese. Mascarpone is an acidified milk cream. 

Some historians say that the origin of this cheese goes back to medieval times and the name derives from an expression used by a Spanish nobleman in 1200 who called it “Mas che bueno”.

A must for tiramisu lovers

In Piazzetta Ancilotto, in the centre of Treviso, an old inn of the time, the current restaurant Le Beccherie, was the first to include Tiramisù on its menu. And it is the restaurant that claims to have invented it, saying that the dessert made the opposite journey to its origins: from houses to inns, restaurants and bakeries.

First tiramisu recipe

Roberto ‘Loli’ Linguanotto and his tiramisu
Roberto ‘Loli’ Linguanotto and his tiramisu

The first written recipe on record is that of the restaurant Le Beccherie in Treviso. In 1983, in his book “La cucina trevigiana”, the oenogastronome Giuseppe Maffioli describes the recipe for the legitimate ‘Tiramisu delle Beccherie’.

It was in that year that the dessert was first served. It was prepared by the confectioner Roberto ”Loli” Linguanotto and he called it “zuppa inglese al caffè”. Linguanotto’s work was influenced in many ways during his years in Germany. Linguanotto added the Lady Fingers, biscuits born in the Savoy of the late Middle Ages, which also appear in the French Charlotte.

The first written recipe for tiramisu

Snow-mount 12 egg yolks with half a kilo of sugar and then add 1 kg of mascarpone, obtaining a smooth cream. Wet 30 Ladyfingers with sugared coffee. Spread half of the cream on the Ladyfingers, then place another 30 Ladyfingers and dip them in more coffee, smearing with the remaining mascarpone. Sprinkle the mascarpone with bitter cocoa, and place in the fridge until serving. 

Another traditional recipe from Treviso

This recipe, as I said before, does not include Marsala wine. This was added later. 

It is almost the same as the first recipe mentioned in this article, only the proportions are slightly different, and the quantities lower. 

To prepare it according to the original recipe, the following ingredients are needed Lady Fingers, egg yolks, sugar, coffee, mascarpone and cocoa powder. 

The original recipe does not include egg whites and liquor (however, if you want to add some, the most suitable is the Marsala). 

The original shape of the cake is round, although the shape of the Lady Fingers favours the use of a rectangular or square baking dish, spreading the classic “brick” image. However, it is often also assembled inside round glass cups, showing the various layers, or in the form of a pyramid.

Ingredients for 6-8 people
  • 300g of mascarpone
  • 3 egg yolks
  • sugar (1 and a half spoons per yolk)
  • Ladyfingers
  • coffee (slightly sweetened)
  • bitter cocoa powder
Preparation
  1. Beat the egg yolks with sugar
  2. Combine the mascarpone to obtain a soft cream
  3. Soak the ladyfingers in coffee and put them in a layer
  4. Cover the cake layer with the cream and repeat the operation, ending with a layer of cream. 
  5. Place in the fridge for a few hours
  6. Finally sprinkle with bitter cocoa and serve cold.

Tiramisù, classic Italian recipe

A final version of the tiramisu, which includes the addition of liquor, preferably Marsala wine, although the recipe leaves it optional. 

The classic recipe of the Italian dessert, made with simplicity and tradition. With Marsala wine. 

Ingredients
  • 500 g mascarpone
  • 300 g lady fingers
  • 250 g of coffee (mocha or espresso)
  • 200 g of sugar 
  • 80 g Marsala (Optional)
  • 4 eggs
  • Bitter cocoa
  • Salt
Preparation
  1. Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks in two different bowls. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt to the yolks.
  2. Keep the egg whites aside and beat the yolks with a whisk until they are frothy and clear.
  3. Add the mascarpone cheese to the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a spoon.
  4. Beat the egg whites with a hand or electric mixer: if you use the hand mixer, choose a large mixer to add more air. Add the beaten egg whites to the yolk and mascarpone mixture, stirring the cream from bottom to top.
  5. Pour the coffee at room temperature into a low, wide dish, mix a spoonful of sugar and the Marsala (soak).
  6. Soak 2 Ladyfingers at a time in the dish, for 1 second on each side, then distribute them side by side, in a first layer, in an oven dish (30×30 cm), not leaving any empty spaces.
  7. Cover the Ladyfingers with 1/3 of the cream and repeat the same operations to make two more equal layers.
  8. Let the tiramisu cool in the fridge for a couple of hours covered with aluminium foil, then sprinkle with cocoa just before serving.

To celebrate the tiramisu day

The World Tiramisu Day is celebrated on 21 March. It is the first day of spring in Europe and the day that recharges you for the new season. 

We do not really know how it originated. But tiramisu is certainly one of the best known Italian desserts in world gastronomy, because of its ingredients of varied origins and the ease of preparation. And I hope it will remain like that for a long time to come. 

Did you like the recipes?

If you do, don’t hesitate to share them on social networks by tagging @thetraditionalfoodie

And I’ll see you at the next article!