By Madhulika Dash
Of the few things that you would always find in Chef Michele Prevedello's kitchen is a batch of Tiramisu. It is his little treat to keep him happy and going through the long shift as the executive chef of one of the more luxurious hotel in Hyderabad, Park Hyatt, and also up the game (read: food and wine) in Tre Forni, the hotel's outstanding Italian restaurant.
Born in the little province of Treviso, the birthplace of modern-day Tiramisu, he surely knows a thing or two about making that perfect dream dessert that is known as much for its sweet-bitter-airy flavour as it is known for its various incarnations. For the not in the know, tiramisu was amongst the first dessert along with the iconic apple pie to be deconstructed, successfully. But nudge him to part with that "secret" recipe to make an "authentic" tiramisu, and he giggles. "There is no secret ingredient for making a classic tiramisu. In fact, across Italy, you would find as many variations of this instant happy sweet as you would find of kheer in India. And the best part, each is a classic- and known for its great flavour match," says Chef Prevedello, whose growing up years in this little Venetian province is filled with the waft of the aromatic coffee, cocoa powder and the sight of eggs beaten to a white, snow-like fluff. In fact, adds the tiramisu aficionado "it was a must-have for all occasion, be it a get together, birthday party, coming of age ceremony or even a quiet family dinner – the tiramisu was everywhere. So much so that we grew up watching a fresh batch made almost every other day, as much as my parents grew up seeing sbatudin."
A RECENT HISTORY
Considered to be the godfather of tiramisu, sbatudin was this little treat made of egg whites and sugar generously layered over a biscuit that was given to kids to keep them satiated and energetic through the day. It was around 1960, when German pastry chef Roberto Loli Linguanotto took fancy to this traditional treat and turned it into a layered cake with baicoli – traditional Venetian cookie – as the base.
The first iteration, says Chef Prevedello, "was a home-style combination of a sort of Sabayon mixed with whipped cream and baicoli. The first Tiramisu was born in 1970 in the kitchen of Le Beccherie in Treviso, where Chef Lilo combined his childhood memories with what he had seen in Italy, and thus was born "Tiramesu", which later became Italianate Tiramisu and was this fantastic mix of coffee, savoiardi cookie, mascarpone, eggs and cacao, which till date are the most important ingredients of the dessert."
Of course, food lore also credits restaurant owners, Aldo and Alba Campeol for coming out with this masterpiece. It is said that the idea of Tiramisu came from the little treat Alba’s mother-in-law used to serve her after her second pregnancy, when she had got terribly weak. "My mother-in-law began serving me whipped egg and sugar on a butter cookie and as the days passed began adding newer energy boosters like cream, coffee, cocoa and so on." So when the couple started on their own, it was a perfect family dessert to introduce.
Whether it was Lilo or Mrs Campeol, Tiramisu first made its debut in 1968 as part of Italian gastronome Giuseppe Maffioli book "Il ghiottone Veneto", (The Venetian Glutton), where he takes 15th century Zabaglione custard as Tiramisu inspiration. According to Maffioli, the evolution of tiramisu began when zabajon was served sometimes added with whipped cream and frozen baicoli as a honeymoon treat"
The first recipe however appeared in Giovanni Capnist "I Dolci del Veneto" (The Desserts of Veneto) in 1983.
ACING THE CAKE
But till then courtesy Chef Lilo, Tiramisu in Treviso had had quite a few versions. Like, recalls Chef Prevedello, "My grandmother used to do it with butter cookies and it was also lovely, sometimes she would mix amaretti cookies and chocolate chips to give it a twist. What remained sacrosanct to the recipe were the core ingredients and it had to be served a day later and cold not frozen."
It is these benchmark that executive chef still follows to the T while making his own batch of tiramisu.
So how does one get the best tiramisu? By catching as much air as possible, says Chef Prevedello, who makes his version through the test of taste rather than a recipe (see below). Here is how he gets his pick me up, perfect:
It's all about white peaks
The beauty of tiramisu is the airy-ness which comes when you have beaten both the egg yolk and the whites to a nice white peak. The test of good peaks is that you turn the bowl and it will hold well. To this add the sugar and beat till its creamy in texture.
Fold the cream, don't whisk it
The trick of getting that nice snow light creaminess is to fold it gradually into the egg yolk till we get that nice light cream base. Do not try to move the ladle fast or else you would heat up the cream. Do it in small batches and fold it till most of the cream gets into the mixture. A good way to ensure that the cheese doesn't heat up is to do it over an ice bath.
The base is the key
While every good recipe for tiramisu demands savoiardi, the Italian version of the classic ladyfinger or boudoir biscuit, any light, egg-based sweet sponge cookie or dry cake would do the trick. The idea of getting a biscuit base is two: one it will soak flavours well and two, it lends texture to the otherwise mousse like dessert.
Some like it strong, others stronger
While coffee and spirits is a personal choice, any strong espresso will do the deal. In fact, if you are using filter coffee you might want to add a complimenting spirit like a rum or kalhua or even whiskey that can give it that bitter-sweet edge. The ideal way to get the best of flavour is to add the spirit in the egg mix than in coffee. It also helps in masking eggy smell, if any. The trick here is to dip the biscuit in the coffee to get both side coated, don’t soak it else there would be no bite texture.
Best the next day
The reason that tiramisu is often served cold is that it allows all the flavours to mingle and create that fairytale kind of mouth play. So the more intense flavour your want the longer you keep it in the fridge. In my experience, it tastes better the next day.
The best for the last
Want to add surprises like choco chip cookies, strawberries or any other additional garnish for that interesting twist, do it an hour before you plan to serve the dessert. The only thing at the end is the sprinkling of cocoa powder on the top.
Final test: The mark of a good tiramisu is that it comes out like a nice layer cake and then dissolves in the mouth with a lingering after-taste of coffee, cheese, cocoa and spirit. It has the consistency of a mousse minus the heaviness.