Like music or poetry, tiramisu defies categorization. It is multifaceted in taste, aesthetic, ingredients, and even origin stories. While officially considered to have been invented in the 1960s in “Le Beccherie”, a restaurant in Treviso in north Italy, there are claims that it originated elsewhere in Treviso, or even in Siena in the late 17th century. Its popularity burgeoned in the US in the 1980s with the increase in imports of Italian ingredients. Traditionally consisting of layers of coffee-soaked savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers), a creamy mixture of mascarpone, sugar, eggs, espresso and Marsala wine, dusted with cocoa powder, this iconic dessert has around 200 variations, according to a 1980s New York Times article. The type of ladyfingers affects the texture of the dish; some chefs use whipped cream instead of mascarpone; a variety of liqueurs and spirits can be used instead of Marsala, or none at all; the egg whites can be separated from the yolks to adjust the lightness of the cream…. Like musicians composing different melodies with the same scale, chefs seem to shape the idea of tiramisu in a myriad ways, often with strong opinions. Yet they are all variations on a theme, and you can always expect the artful layering of slight crunch with cream, chocolate brown with white; the synergy of flavors between the coffee, sugar and alcohol; the decadent softness as your spoon slices through. The word ‘tiramisu’ means ‘pick me up’ or ‘cheer me up’, and that is exactly what it does to me. Though I drink neither coffee nor alcohol, I find the taste of tiramisu sublime. The name, sleek and lyrical, evokes charming cobbled streets and romantic cafes in Italy. For me, enjoying tiramisu after an Italian meal is a holistic sensory experience, with its visual elegance, flavors, textures and evocations – enhanced by the anticipation of which variation it will be. I am not a foodie, but tiramisu is quite the adventure.
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