A Special Holiday Dessert : Tiramisù

Tira Misu: Quite Possibly the Most Adored Dessert in the World This recipe offering is actually a special tribute to Anna Teresa Callen, one of the most beloved Italian cooking teachers, who died this year. She loved to tell the story about when I was working on The Cake Bible and asked her about the recipe called Tira Misu which translates as Raise Me Up. The name appealed to my sense of poetry, though I had never heard of it before nor did most people outside of Italy. All that was to change in short order as it swept the world. In Japan they even created a drink with the TIra Misu profile. Anna Teresa used to laugh heartily as she told people her response to my interest in including it in my book which was: When Rosa asked for the recipe, I said: Why would you want such an oRRRdinary dessert?! You write such elegant and extraordinary recipes! Tira Misu is the ultimate comfort food. It is essentially a voluptuous mascarpone and Marsala egg yolk custard, layered with Savoiardi biscuits that have been dipped in a coffee syrup, topped with cocoa.In its very simplicity It is one of life's perfect things. It didn't make it into The Cake Bible, but it was included in my next cake book 20 years later, Rose's Heavenly Cakes. And here it is now. The ordinary that became the extraordinary by virtue of its excellence.

Tira Misu Serves 14 to 16

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Equipment: A 13 by 9 by 2-inch (3 quart) baking pan Place a medium mixing bowl and the beaters in the refrigerator to chill for the whipped cream. Have ready near the range a silicone scraper and medium bowl.
Mix the Batter In a large round-bottomed bowl, whisk together the yolks, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and 3 tablespoons of the Marsala and set it over a saucepan with simmering water that does not touch the bottom of the bowl. If you have an unlined copper bowl you can use it directly on a low flame. Whisk constantly until the mixture approximately triples in volume and begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not too overcook the yolks to prevent scrambling! An instant read thermometer will register 165 to 170˚F/75˚C. Immediately scrape the mixture into the bowl by the range. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes or until completely cool.

Espresso Syrup In a medium bowl, stir together the hot espresso and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar, until dissolved. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the vanilla and remaining 1 tablespoon of Marsala. Pour half of the syrup into a shallow pan and reserve the remainder for the second layer of ladyfingers.

Mix the Mascarpone and Egg Yolk Mixture In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, on low speed beat the mascarpone about 10 seconds or until creamy. Raise the speed slightly and gradually beat in the cooled egg yolk mixture until completely incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice with a silicone spatula.

Whip the Cream and Add it to the Mascarpone Mixture In the chilled mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Whip on medium-high speed until the cream begins to thicken. Add the remaining teaspoon of vanilla and beat just until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised. With a large silicone spatula, fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture.

Dip the Ladyfingers in the Espresso Syrup and Compose the Tira Misu Dip each ladyfinger very quickly in the espresso syrup, dipping first one side, then the other, taking no longer than about a full second a side. The goal is to moisten most of the biscuit but maintain a firm texture and an narrow inner core that is unsyruped.

After each finger is dipped, set it in the large rectangular serving pan, forming 3 rows of 6 fingers for the first layer. If necessary press the fingers slightly to fit them into the pan. You should have less than 1/2 cup of espresso syrup remaining. If you have more, brush the syrup evenly onto the fingers until you have a little less than 1/2 cup. Now add the reserved syrup for the second layer to the remaining syrup in the shallow pan.

Spread half (3 cups) the mascarpone mixture evenly over the fingers. Dip the remaining fingers into the syrup and arrange a second layer on top of the mascarpone mixture. (You should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup of left-over espresso syrup which can be discarded. If you have more, again brush the fingers evenly until no more than 3/4 cup remains.)

Pour the remaining mascarpone mixture over the top and use a spatula to spread it evenly. Place the cocoa in a fine strainer, held over the Tira Misu, and sprinkle it lightly over the surface, using a small spoon to stir the cocoa in the strainer. I prefer a light sprinkle but more cocoa can be added if a thicker coat is desired.

Store airtight. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours up to 3 days before serving. The Tira Misu can also be frozen for up to 3 months. To serve, use a large serving spoon or pancake turner to scoop out portions. For 12 servings, use a knife to score it in thirds the long way and quarters the short way.

Variation: Chocolate Snowflake Topping Dark chocolate is a lovely and sweeter alternative to the bitter cocoa dusting but it must be grated so finely it melts on the tongue to maintain the harmonious creaminess of the dessert. The chocolate needs to be as hard as possible to grate finely so it must not be warm. If you have a large block of chocolate use a melon-baller to scrape the chocolate, making short, light strokes that do not cut too deeply into the chocolate. Alternatively, use the coarse holes on a cheese grater to grate the edge of a chocolate bar. Hold the chocolate with a paper towel so that your fingers won't melt the chocolate. Allow the flakes to fall onto a small cool baking sheet. Place the sheet inside a large plastic bag and shake the flakes into the bag. Avoid touching them because they melt very easily. Use a large spoon to lift the chocolate flakes and sprinkle them on the surface of the Tira Misu.

Note: this requires 8 shots of espresso. Alternatively, you can use 1/4 cup/0.5 ounce/15 grams Medaglio d'Oro instant espresso powder. Dissolve it with the sugar in 1 cup of boiling water. Remove it from the heat and add another cup of cold water, the vanilla and the remaining 1 tablespoon of Marsala.