Years ago now, during my early days in London, I remember watching a Gordon Ramsay series on TV. (I can’t remember what it was called anymore, but it must have been early days, or at least before he became famous for screaming down kitchen walls, as I have never bothered much with watching any of the latter-day Gordon). The interesting bit the program involved a kind of blind taste test, (performed by audience members), that pitted a dessert made by a guest celebrity, against a version of the same dessert made by Ramsay. I say ‘interesting’ because, (and I have to admit here to only watching three episodes or so), Gordon never won! Apple crumble, lemon meringue, rice pudding – it was the nature of the challenge for Ramsay to have to be chef-y, to mess with the original and introduce something new. The celebrities on the other hand, came armed with a recipe from their mum, or gran, then followed it to the letter. I don’t think any of them were secret super-chefs, it just turned out that regular people, the tasters plucked from the audience, really didn’t want cardamom in their rice pudding, or a flambéed crumble with mixed seed topping!
I don’t want to say – ‘don’t mess with desserts, the classic recipes are always best’ – that’s not exactly the moral I took away. For the most part, I love putting cardamom in things! But there is one dessert I won’t mess with, and that’s tiramisu. I’m speculating a little now, but it’s my feeling that when it comes to dessert, it is always the favourite from childhood that has to be faithfully reproduced, made just so. If I’d had English parents, I might be a passionate defender of rice pudding against the perils of cardamom, but as is, my ‘don’t mess’ warning applies to tiramisu alone.
Having said this, if tiramisu is not scared to you, please feel free to mess with the recipe below. I don’t put alcohol in mine, and I know that, for many, this is an essential. Awful Italian liqueurs managed to permeate most of the desserts I recall from childhood, never a sponge cake without a good soak of Galliano, but the tiramisu escaped somehow, and has been fortunate, in my opinion, to have remained on the run.
This recipe can be made in either a tray, or individual cups. For reasons of presentation though, I strongly favour cups. This is a very loose-set style tiramisu – using half mascarpone to cream, and egg whites to further lighten the texture. It is also nice to really drown the biscuits in coffee, which doesn’t much help the structural situation. If it must be a tray – refrigerate overnight for extra stability. The cup versions can be refrigerated for less time – 6 hours is more than enough. Great creative with the glassware – I used Baby Cham coupes here, but little wine glasses or Picardie glasses would also be rather nice.
- Large packet of Savoiardi biscuits (or sponge/lady finger biscuits)
- 3 large eggs – separated
- 100g caster sugar
- 125g mascarpone
- 125g double cream
- 300mls espresso coffee – cooled to room temperature
- Cocoa to dust
Lay out three large mixing bowls. In the first bowl, beat the egg whites using an electric mixer until these are very aerated, and form soft peaks.
In the second bowl, whip the cream, also to soft-peak stage.
In the final bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until creamy. Then mix the mascarpone through until everything is combined.
Lightly fold the cream through the egg and mascarpone mixture using a rubber spatula. Then, taking care to retain the air, fold the eggs through as well.
Pour the espresso into a shallow dish such that it comes up to roughly half the depth of one Savoiard biscuit. Take a look at the size of your biscuits relative to your serving glasses. If you are using a champagne coupe, you may need to cut the Savoiardi into different lengths – one very short length to sit where the stem meets the bowl, two identical longer lengths to form the second layer, and three longer still lengths to form the widest layer at the top. Experiment a little with the first serve before going ahead and cutting all the biscuits – err on the long side and you can easily pinch off a little bit of the espresso soaked biccie if need be.
To assemble, place a small dollop of the egg, cream, & mascarpone mix, (heaped teaspoon sized for a coupe), and place this in the bottom of the glass. Lay the short, base section of Savoiard biscuit in the espresso, leave for a second to soak, and then flip this over to soak the other half. I like for the biscuit to be fully soaked, but not so sodden that it falls apart when you handle it. A bit of trial and error should quickly establish the right amount of soaking time for the size of the biscuits you are using.
Place the first, short section of biscuit at the point where the glass stem meets the bowl. Add a little bit of the egg, mascarpone, & cream mix directly on top to cover this, and then proceed to soak the first biscuit for the next layer. Don’t be tempted to try to soak the biscuits for an entire layer at once, as they will become so soggy they'll be impossible to handle. Proceed until you have a complete second layer, then cover this with a dollop of the egg, mascarpone & cream mix.
Continue on to construct the third layer, then carefully spoon a covering layer of mixture on top.
Set in the fridge for at least 6 hours or until ready to serve. Before doing so, use a sieve to dust with a layer of cocoa powder. (If you were feeling particularly creative, little stencils could be employed here to create a pattern or image in the cocoa, or even to personalise each serve for a dinner party.) Or, as pictured, you could just go with the oh-so-classic full dusting – why mess?