Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is This Man the Inventor of Tiramisu?

Tiramisu (stress on the last syllable please) means "pick-me-up." And who among us does not have lifted spirits after indulging in this dessert with so many notes - creamy, sweet, bitter and floral? It's not a dessert with a long history, believe it or not - and in fact, the man who first concocted it could possibly be this baker in Baltimore, Carminantonio Iannaccone.

The Washington Post's Jane Black
traces the origins of the dessert and upon meeting Iannaccone, says he could well be the Italian equivalent of the Earl of Sandwich!

"Iannaccone'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." (What? He trained as a chef before he hit puberty, then got a job at age twelve? Boy, times have changed!)

"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."

Black writes that Iannacone's claim as creator of the dessert seems is unlikely.

"Why would the creator of tiramisu be operating a tiny bakery on the outskirts of Baltimore's Little Italy? And would the inventor even be alive? Italians pride themselves on their culinary traditions, not newfangled innovation (like those crazy Catalonians). Surely, a classic like tiramisu would date back to the Renaissance. Catherine de Medici gave us artichokes, truffles, gelato, even the fork. Surely, she would have had a hand in tiramisu, too."

So Black decides to examine the historical legends. "One says the dessert was invented in the 17th century in honor of the grand duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de Medici, but soon became the favorite of courtesans who used it for a little extra energy before performing their duties and gave it the nickname "pick me up." Another says it was invented in Turin in the mid-19th century at the request of Italy's first prime minister, Camillo Cavour, a renowned gourmand who needed a pick-me-up for the trying task of unifying the Italian peninsula.

"Good stories, both. But neither is true, Italian food experts agree. Mascarpone, one of tiramisu's key ingredients, is native to the northern Veneto region and wouldn't have been found in Tuscany hundreds of years ago. Even in the 19th century, without refrigeration, a dessert made with uncooked eggs would likely have sickened more people than it pleased."

(I just love culinary sleuthing!)

"Next, I scoured authoritative cookbooks for a recipe that would predate Iannaccone's claim. But, as he predicted, niente: British cookbook author Elizabeth David makes no mention of the dessert in her Italian Food (1954), nor does Marcella Hazan in The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973).

"Indeed, it wasn't until the 1980s that published references to tiramisu began to appear. Two Treviso restaurants get the credit: El Toula (from cookbook authors Claudia Roden and Anna del Conte and Saveur magazine) and Le Beccherie (from several Italian magazines and cookbooks)."

Le Becchierie ownder Carlo Campeol is adamant that the dessert is his restaurant's own creation; Iannaccone is just as adamant that it is not. So Black turns to Pietro Mascioni for help. She says he became "an amateur tiramisu-ologist after reading about Iannaccone's claim last year in foodie newsletter the Rosengarten Report."

Mascione finds the first printed recipe for tiramisu in a 1981 edition of "Vin Veneto," contributed by respected gourmet Giuseppe Maffioli.

"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."

Mascione traveled to northern Italy last fall to talk to the Campeol family, and concludes the story is credible. But he finds that tiramisu as made at Le Beccherie never contained Marsala.

The dessert that won fans around the globe, though, "has a hearty dose of the stuff," writes Jane Black. "It's the Marsala's depth that balances the strong coffee and the creamy zabaglione and gives the dessert sophistication, or as the gourmet Maffioli acknowledged, a certain "refinement."

"And that's the way Iannaccone says he's always made tiramisu. The ladyfingers are dipped quickly in coffee so they hold their shape. The zabaglione, a mix of egg yolks, sugar, Marsala, lemon zest and vanilla extract, and the pastry cream, made from milk, egg yolks, sugar and flour, are made separately, and allowed to chill overnight before being gently folded with mascarpone and whipped cream before assembly.

"That may seem complicated to Mascioni and others, but Iannaccone explains that's only because we're used to making tiramisu "the cheap and easy way."

A long and bitter feud over tiramisu brews along with the espresso.

Want to make it yourself? Here's Carminantonio Iannaccone's recipe.

Notes from my kitchen: I've not found a really good Marsala, but have successfully used grappa, Grand Marnier, coffee liqueur and cognac instead. The best chocolate for sprinkling (unless you grate it yourself) is Droste. Use the best, freshest eggs available - it really makes a difference. When I raised my own chickens I'd use freshly-laid eggs. They were best in early spring, when the birds would feast on fresh young grass, and the eggs would be a gloriously deep orange. (I haven't made tiramisu since I stopped raising chickens!)


Suma said...

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Gillian Coldsnow said...

Thanks Suma!

Best wishes,


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