The Complex History of Tiramisu: Untangling the Legends of the Classic Italian Dessert

The Complex History of Tiramisu: Untangling the Legends of the Classic Italian Dessert

There is confusion surrounding the origins of the classic Italian dessert Tiramisu. The history of Tiramisu is not straightforward. Allow me to bring clarity to the situation.

While tiramisu is deeply ingrained in Italian culture today, making its origins seem eternally set, determining where, when and who created this beloved dessert proves challenging. However, its place and time of origin remain uncertain, as do its earliest recipes. Join me in exploring the beginnings of this revered food and drink tradition. As we will learn, the journey is difficult: tiramisu emerged recently and has multiple reported inventors. Its history thus contains many intertwining details.

The History of Tiramisu

Tiramisu, meaning “pick me up” in Italian, originated in Treviso, Italy. It began as a simple dessert called “sbatudin”, a energy snack the families made from whipped egg yolks and sugar, that children, the elderly, and those recovering from illness loved. In the late 1960s, author and gastronome Giuseppe Maffioli published a book describing the Venetian custom of consuming zabaione, a custard made with egg yolks and sweet wine or spirits, alongside whipped cream and dry biscuits.

Mascarpone cream for Tiramisu

Pastry chefs and restaurateurs in Treviso worked to develop this “sbatudin” into a truly special dessert. This dessert would debut in 1970, as Maffioli later testified. He noted that a new dessert was created just over two decades prior in Treviso called “Tiramisù”, which was first proposed at the Alle Beccherie restaurant by pastry chef Loly Linguanotto, who had recent work experience in Germany. The dessert and its name “tiramisu” quickly became very popular for its nutritious and restorative qualities, and was faithfully adopted or with some variations by restaurants not only in Treviso and the surrounding province, but throughout the Veneto region and all of Italy. While based on a “trifle with coffee”, it was a new creation deserving of its own prestigious name – “Tiramisù”.

The story continues…

Carlo Campeol, the last owner of the Alle Beccherie restaurant, noted in a 2012 interview that he created a dessert in the early 1970s by simply combining familiar ingredients, igniting imagination and sparking debates about its origin.

This point seeks to clarify the “many fathers” referenced in relation to the origins of this dessert. Over the years, much speculation has occurred around the origins of this dish. Some, like Francesco Soletti, have cited a Sienese “zuppa del duca”, a dessert dedicated to Cosimo III de’ Medici, which however seems more akin to an ancestor of trifle than tiramisu due to the absence of ladyfingers and mascarpone.

Another legend – perhaps owing to the sweet description of Turin above – indicates Turin as the birthplace of tiramisu, even to “cheer up” the Count of Cavour in his efforts to unify Italy. However, these are just legends. If anything, the debate centers around the restaurant in the Northeast where tiramisu originated, as other establishments in Treviso and Friuli also lay claim to the title.

The Influences of Other Desserts on Tiramisu

Historically, Maffioli suggests that the chef coincidentally gained experience in Germany, which helped inspire elements of tiramisu. In addition to Sbatudin and Zuppa Inglese, an ancient Italian dessert from Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany regions, tiramisu also draws some inspiration from Bavarian spoon desserts.

The Savoriardi (ladyfingers) seem more inspired by the French charlotte and especially the Piedmontese dessert called Turin, a chocolate-based recipe previously described by Artusi, and which uses liqueurs like rosolio, alchermes or rum.

The version of tiramisu using liqueur and abundant chocolate appears to be the result of distant Piedmontese influence. The use of mascarpone instead seems to be a borrowing from Lombard cuisine, given that the epicenter of its production is located between the cities of Lodi and Abbiategrasso.

Classic Tiramisu Rec

First Authentic Tiramisu Recipe

Traditionally, Tiramisu is composed of layers of delicate ladyfinger biscuits (or Savoiardi), soaked in espresso coffee, which infuses them with a rich and robust flavor.

These coffee-soaked biscuits are then layered with a creamy mixture of mascarpone cheese, raw eggs, and sugar, creating a luscious and decadent filling. The dessert is often finished with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder, adding a touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the dish.

As you can see, in the classic recipe neither liqueurs nor chocolate appear inside the layers.


The Variations of the Tiramisu Recipe

While tiramisu originated many years ago, the beloved dessert has come a long way from its origins to its current global popularity. What was once a cult classic in the 1980s is now one of the great staples of international cuisine. However, tiramisu’s evolution has not stopped – creative chefs and home bakers continue to experiment with new and innovative variations on the tiramisu recipe.

In addition to the preparations containing liqueur and chocolate, you can now find tiramisu made with sponge cake, Pavesini crackers, fresh strawberries, scoops of ice cream, limoncello liquor, and yogurt among many other adaptations. These modern takes pay homage to the unparalleled original recipe while injecting new flavors and ingredients into the layers.

Tiramisu has undoubtedly secured its place in culinary history as an inimitable dessert, and its widespread popularity shows no signs of slowing as chefs continue to revisit and reinvent this timeless classic.

My Latest Tiramisu Recipes

The history of tiramisu is a testament to the creativity and passion of Italian chefs, who have crafted a dessert that continues to captivate the hearts around the globe with its timeless appeal and irresistible charm.

Today, tiramisu is not only the most famous Italian dessert, but has also gained international acclaim, becoming a symbol of Italian culinary prowess.

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