One of the traditional desserts of Treviso, not far from Venice, tiramisù has hundreds of variations. The dessert has achieved an incredible popularity, both all over Italy as well as in the United States. One reason it has won such a following in Italy is that, when made from savoiardi, Italian ladyfingers — which can be purchased easily in Italian pastry shops — most of the work is already accomplished. All that remains is to mix a few egg yolks and some sugar into the mascarpone, brew a pot of coffee to moisten the savoiardi, layer the filling and moistened savoiardi together, and shake a little cocoa powder over the top.
The following version is one I have been using successfully for about five years. It uses pan di spagna instead of savoiardi; espresso sweetened with sugar syrup and flavored with brandy; and a filling made from zabaione, mascarpone, and a little whipped cream. The top is covered with more whipped cream to give it a finished appearance.
For the syrup, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Cool and stir in the espresso and brandy.
For the zabaione filling, beat the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer or another heat-proof bowl and beat in the sugar and Marsala. Whisk over a pan of simmering water until thickened. Remove and beat, either with a hand mixer set at medium speed or in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the whip, until cold. Smash the mascarpone in a bowl with a rubber spatula until it is smooth. Fold in the zabaione. Whip the cream and fold it in.
Cut the pan di spagna into vertical slices about
Whip the cream with the sugar until it holds its shape and spread it on the surface of the dessert. Decorate with the cinnamon and ground coffee or the cocoa powder. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.
Substitute a layer of Polenta Dolce for the pan di spagna. Omit the espresso from the syrup so that the corn flavor is apparent. This makes an unusually good and thoroughly nontraditional twist on the traditional tiramisù.
© 1990 Nick Malgieri. All rights reserved.