Legend or Myth:
17th century – A dessert similar to tiramisu was was created in Siena, in the northwestern Italian province of Tuscany. The occasion was a visit by Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III (1642-1723), in whose honor the concoction was dubbed zuppa del duca (the “duke’s soup”). He brought the recipe back with him to Florence. In the 19th century, tiramisu became extremely popular among the English intellectuals and artists who lived in Florence. The dessert made its way to England, where its popularity grew.
According to the article, The Trail of Tiramisu, by Jane Black, Washington Post newspaper, July 11, 2007, the present day version of tiramisu was said to have been created in a restaurant in Treviso, located northwest of Venice on Italy’s northern Adriatic coast, called Le Beccherie. Carminantonio Iannaccone:
“Lannaccone’s story is simple. He trained as a pastry chef in the southern city of Avellino, then migrated to Milan to find work at the age of 12. In 1969 he married his wife, Bruna, and opened a restaurant also called Piedigrotta in Treviso, where he cooked up a dessert based on the “everyday flavors of the region”: strong coffee, creamy mascarpone, eggs, Marsala and ladyfinger cookies. He says it took him two years to perfect the recipe, which was originally served as an elegant, freestanding cake.”
“Tiramisu, which means “pick me up” – a reference to its shot of espresso — was an instant hit. Chefs, Iannaccone says, came to taste it, and soon they were either making their own versions or he was supplying them with his. By the early ’80s, tiramisu had become ubiquitous throughout Italy and beyond.”
The Timeless Art of Italian Cuisine – Centuries of Scrumptious Dining by Anna Maria Volpi, states the following from her research on the history of tiramisu:
“Later in my research the oldest recipe I could find was in the book by Giovanni Capnist I Dolci del Veneto (The Desserts of Veneto). The first edition was published in 1983 and has a classic recipe for Tiramisu. Recent recipe with infinite variations from the town of Treviso, says Capnist, discovery of restaurants more then family tradition.
But the final word on the origin of Tiramisu is from the book by Fernando e Tina Raris La Marca Gastronomica published in 1998, a book entirely dedicated to the cuisine from the town of Treviso. The authors remember what Giuseppe Maffioli wrote in an article in 1981: Tiramisu was born recently, just 10 years ago in the town of Treviso. It was proposed for the first time in the restaurant Le Beccherie. The dessert and its name became immediately extremely popular, and this cake and the name where copied by many restaurants first in Treviso then all around Italy. Still today the restaurant Le Beccherie makes the dessert with the classical recipe: ladyfingers soaked in bitter strong espresso coffee, mascarpone-zabaglione cream, and bitter cocoa powder. Alba and Ado Campeol, owners of the restaurant regret they did not patent the name and the recipe, especially to avoid all the speculation and guesses on the origin of this cake, and the diffusion of so many recipes that have nothing to do with the original Tiramisu.”
Researcher Pietro Mascioni traces the dessert back to the 1960’s, to a town in Tuscany called Treviso:
“Born recently, less than two decades ago, in the city of Treviso, is a dessert called Tiramesu which was made for the first time in a restaurant, Alle Beccherie, by a pastry chef called Loly Linguanotto. The story is very credible, said Mascioni, who traveled to Treviso to talk to the Campeols last fall. There, matriarch Alba Campeol told Mascioni that she got the idea for the dessert after the birth of one of her children. She was very weak in bed and her mother-in-law brought her a zabaglione, spiked with coffee to give her energy.
1990s – In America, its popularity began in San Francisco, and today, Tiramisu can be found in restaurants throughout the United States.
Comments from Charlie (Calogero) Villareale (I grew up on Long Island, NY but now reside in Ormond Beach, FL):
Love your site on Tiramisu. I was doing some research on this delicious dessert so I can make it at home and stumbled upon it today. Interested in its history as a young man, I was told of its origin many years ago by my uncle, who was born in Sicily in 1916. I am a first generation American and my family immigrated from Sicily. My uncle traveled the world, during his years in business, manufacturing ink ribbons for typewriters and then computer printers. My uncle was the man who invented the machine that put the carbon onto carbon paper and the ribbons back in the 1950’s, and he patented it. He did quite well for himself over the years and told me of his escapades in Italy where he patronized those same bordellos. He told me a similar story regarding brothels, or bordellos as he referred to them. He said it was the patrons, not the courtesans, that were offered the Tiramisu.
According to my uncle, he was told that it started back in the late 19th century when the competition between bordellos was fierce. As the story goes, one bordello offered espresso coffee as a complimentary beverage after a customer patronized it’s establishment. Once word got out, the others followed suit to attract more customers. As the competition increased so did the complimentary drinks, from just espresso, to espresso and savoiardi cookies (like lady finger cookies, which were commonly dunked in the espresso), and possibly a cordial or wine. One Madam in particular took all of these ingredients, combined them. and created this confection adding eggs and Mascarpone cheese to the filling.
The name Tiramisu or Tira Mi Su means “Pick me up” in Italian, and it is translated to mean “an energy booster.” The patrons originally enjoyed the energy boost that espresso gave them after sex so they could go about the rest of their daily activity, instead of wanting to take a nap afterwards. After the onslaught of desserts that were offered during that competitive era, Tiramisu became popularized due to the protein, sugar, and caffeine (and sometimes alcohol) it contained. Courtesans were not treated good enough to be given this expensive treat. and it was certainly the patrons who appreciated it enough to return to those that offered it. I’m sure that due to the sensitive nature of how one might have learned about this delicious dessert, the story was changed as to not “incriminate” oneself.
So my thinking is, as the word got out to all the other bordellos, it eventually reached that “brothel above the restaurant” and became famous. =) My 2 cents…
Savoiardi – Lady Fingers Recipe:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (185 degrees C.). Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray, dust with flour and discard any that doesn’t stick.
In a small bowl, combine the corn starch and sifted cake flour.
In another bowl, beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar.
In a large bowl using your electric mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff. Slowly incorporate the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Fold the egg yolk mixture in the egg white mixture. Then fold in the flour/corn starch mixture.
Pour or spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip. Pipe 5-inch long strips of the batter, about 1-inch apart, onto the prepared baking sheet. Let the batter strips sit for 1 to 2 minutes and then dust the strips with sifted powdered sugar. Bake for approximately 10 minutes. They should puff up, brown lightly, and still be soft. Remove from oven and leave on the baking sheet for approximately 5 minutes before placing them on a cooling rack.
Ladyfingers keep 2 to 3 weeks in an airtight container.
Makes approximately 20 to 25 lady fingers.
Espresso Coffee Syrup:
2/3 cup strong-brewed espresso coffee
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 ounces Amaretto Di Saronno liqueur
3 egg yolks
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine espresso coffee and sugar; bring just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once cooled, stir in the Amaretto Di Saronno liqueur. Place mixture in a large mixing bowl and add 3 egg yolks. With with your electric mixer, beat approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
In a large bowl using your electric mixer, place the heavy whipping cream, sugar, Amaretto Di Saronno liqueur, and egg whites; beat until soft peaks form. Fold the softened mascarpone cheese into the whipped mixture and then gently mix until creamy.
Source: Charlie (Calogero) Villareale