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Pick me up, tiramisu

The dessert that was almost invented in Venice



When your kitchen is filled with the scent of vanilla, rum and espresso something magical is unfolding.

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Mention the word Italian dessert, and the classical answer is tiramisu. Tiramisu is not only the perfect dessert for grown-ups. It is the perfect dessert. Easy to make, it can be prepared in advance, and has a subtle yet wonderful scent and taste. There is only one problem. Its relative ease is based on buying ladyfingers. What if you are gluten intolerant?

The dessert that was almost invented in Venice

Veneto. V for Veneto. The region in the northeastern corner of Italy known for the cities of Verona and Venezia and valpolicella wine. Lately the region of Veneto has made claim to be recognized as the birthplace of tiramisu, the same way the city of Naples has been recognized for pizza. The town of Treviso not far from Venice claims to have invented tiramisu. What is undisputed is the fact that tiramisu is a quite new invention among Italian desserts, it does not show up in cookbooks until the 60s and 70s. Some say as late as the 80s.


Pick me up, but forget the amaretto

The word tiramisu means pick me up or lift me up, probably because of the invigorating effect of coffee. To me just thinking of tiramisu lifts me up. Traditionally tiramisu was made without egg whites and alcohol. Today there are many varieties, some containing egg whites, which makes the texture lighter. I like it when it is made more like a dessert with just one sponge layer and plenty of vanilla cream. It is important to soak the sponge just until moist and be generous with the mascarpone to achieve a quite dense cream. When it comes to alcohol, I prefer rum, but do try marsala, vin santo or even brandy. Just avoid the almond-flavoured amaretto liqueur. In my opinion it destroys the delicious vanilla-coffee flavour you want to achieve.

Gluten-free tiramisu

I am not allergic to gluten, but my better half does not tolerate gluten well. Hence most of the food at our home is gluten-free. Most of the time this works well, but sometimes it can be a challenge. Making profiteroles or cream puffs is a total failure resulting in wheat bullets, and it is far from easy making small pies as a starter when you have to make the puffed pastry yourself. Pizza on the other hand requires some practise but works fine in the end. If you want to enjoy a tarte tartin, just substitute the puff pastry with gluten-free pie dough. Instead of ladyfingers you can make a very easy sponge. It may not be as authentic as ladyfingers, but you will not taste much difference.

Magic in the kitchen

Egg yolks, mascarpone, espresso, rum, vanilla bean, cocoa and savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers). These are the magical ingredients in a tiramisu. Leave the dessert overnight in the refrigerator for it to set and the flavours to develop even more. I also add bits of dark chocolate, just to drive home the grown-up flavours that perfectly melt together to create one of the world’s finest desserts.

P.S. If you want to make it without alcohol, substitute the alcohol with orange juice and serve it in individual portions. Also, I only use half the sponge and freeze the rest for another time to make tiramisu.


Gluten-free tiramisu (makes 3-4)

2 eggs
5o g / 1,8 oz sugar
75 g / 2,6 oz flour or gluten-free flour

Liquid for soaking:
40 ml espresso
1,5 tbsp rum

2 egg yolks
35 g / 1,2 oz icing sugar
½ vanilla bean
100 ml heavy cream
250 g / 8,8 oz mascarpone (a tub)
25 g / 0,8 oz dark chocolate

To finish:
cocoa powder for dusting

1. Sponge: Preheat oven to 150C/300F and place parchment paper in a round baking tin (20 cm / 8 inch). Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Fold gently in the flour. Bake for about 20 minutes. Leave to cool and divide into two.

2. Liquid for soaking: Mix the espresso with rum and allow to cool.

3. Cream: Whisk the yolks and sugar with an electric whisk until pale and fluffy. Add the seeds of the vanilla bean and stir well. In another bowl whip the cream until soft peaks and fold in the mascarpone. Chop the chocolate roughly and add to the cream.

4. To assemble: Place half the sponge in a serving bowl and pour the coffee-rum evenly. Spoon the cream on top, cover and leave overnight in the refrigerator. Right before serving, sprinkle generously with cocoa powder.

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