Q. I never know what I’m getting when I order tiramisu in a restaurant. Sometimes it comes out like a slice of cake. Sometimes they scoop it like pudding. I heard you say that some restaurant has a tiramisu in the shape of a Yule log. What’s the authentic one?
A. I’ve wondered this myself. Italians I’ve asked–both in this country and in Italy–have tell me both that it can be made like a layer cake and served in slices, or with layers of lady finger cookies, resulting in the scoopable kind. It’s interesting to me that no Italian chef I know rises into doctrinaire mode, calling one way or the other the only real, authentic way to make tira mi su. I’m inclined to believe that both methods are acceptable.
Perhaps this is because tiramisu is a dessert of relatively recent invention–perhaps no more than thirty years ago. For one thing, they can’t seem to decide how to spell it. The name is three words shoved together–tira mi su–meaning “pick me up.” It’s so called because the cake (or ladyfingers) are brushed generously with espresso, before being layered with sweetened mascarpone cheese and dusted on top with cocoa or even slivered chocolate. (The dessert is evolving even as we speak.) It is (or should be) very light, so much so that you practically inhale it. Then it delivers the jolt of espresso.
In Italy, tiramisu have become popular as a groom’s cake at wedding receptions. The groom probably does need a pick-me-up. I had one at my own wedding.