Years later, I can still remember the shock. Casually I had enquired what David would like as a special birthday meal.
After some serious thinking, he’d said one word. Tiramisu.
I had thought he’d suggest a fine steak, followed by some lovely custard.
But no. Tiramisu, pronounced and prepared properly. Isn’t that one of those hideously complicated things, made by Italian peasants with nothing better to do with their time than make fantastic food?
I rallied – if Italian peasants can make it, so might I. Then I remembered the only Italian peasants I’d met. Strictly speaking, they were Sardinians, but that’s close enough. They were dropping in for lunch during a two-week visit to New Zealand. Our friend Mariarno told us they wanted to visit a real Kiwi farm. “No worries,” we thought, and got out an extra loaf of white bread from the freezer.
They arrived en masse – a little old Sardinian grandmother dressed all in black, a few of her daughters and their husbands and a smattering of the next generation. Black, as in designer black, purchased from the fanciest outlets in Roma. High heels, slick hairstyles… maybe they weren’t peasants, I pondered, looking at my red-checked shirt, slacks and woolly socks with despair.
As it turned out, they were wonderful guests, if incredibly stylish. It helped they couldn’t speak any English. Grandmother took stock of the situation and the kitchen and whipped up a pasta feast from her own supplies.
I vowed – if they could do that, then I could make tiramisu, or something that looked like it. Since that first time I have modified the recipe extensively – in fact, I’ve copied my friend Megan’s recipe. Mine was good, no, it was lovely, but Megan’s is the best in the world.
Being a clever clogs, she fiddled with the recipe, and then went to her favourite Italian café and asked the chef how he did it. The result is unbeatable. And it’s a piece of cake to make. Don’t take my word for it – check out Megan’s website which has a small tutorial showing how easy it is.
Best Ever Tiramisu
8 large egg yolks
½ cup caster sugar + 2 tbsp
1½ cups dessert wine
2 cups strong espresso coffee
3 tbsp Kahlua
2 packets sponge finger biscuits
Whisk the yolks and ½ cup caster sugar together until pale and thick.
Over simmering water in a double boiler slowly add ½ cup dessert wine to the yolk/sugar mixture. Keep on stirring until it thickens like custard (this takes about 7 minutes). Set aside and whisk occasionally as it cools so it is thick and creamy. A sink full of cold water is useful to dip the bowl in and stop the cooking.
Stir (do not beat) mascarpone until well blended and smooth.
Whip the cream until thick – just past the soft peak stage.
Fold together the mascarpone, whipped cream and zabaglione one at a time (for example, add zabaglione to the mascarpone, and then add the cream to that mix).
Mix together the coffee, 2 tbsp of caster sugar, 1 cup dessert wine and 3 tbsp of Kahlua. Make sure the sugar is completely dissolved.
Dip Savoiardi sponge finger biscuits into the cooled dipping mixture until they are moist but not sodden and line the bottom of a large lasagne dish with them. Layer half of the Tiramisu Cream over the top of the biscuits.
Repeat another layer of dipped biscuits and tiramisu cream. Bang the dish firmly to make the Tiramisu Cream settle into the gaps between the biscuits. Cover and chill overnight.
Just before serving dust liberally with cocoa.