BeanScene Magazine

The history of tiramisu

From the August 2016 issue.
The history of tiramisu

Arguably Italy’s most famous and loved dessert, tiramisu’s history is relatively recent. Though sometimes disputed, Treviso is widely accepted as its birthplace.

If you have ever looked through an old Italian cookbook and wondered why tiramisu was nowhere to be seen, that’s because it was only invented less than half a century ago. As its popularity around Italy surged during the 1980s, the recipe started to appear in more and more cookbooks too.

While five regions lay claim to being the birthplace of tiramisu – Veneto, Tuscany, Piedmont, Lombardy and Friuli Venezia Giulia – the story of its creation in the city of Treviso in Veneto is perhaps the most plausible.

One legend suggests tiramisu was invented in Siena, Tuscany, in the 17th century in a bid to please Grand Duke Cosimo di Medici. But this story brings with it much speculation, mainly based around one of the dessert’s key ingredients. Though mascarpone eventually spread throughout Italy, its production was originally centred in the Lombardy region, therefore it would have been difficult to transport the delicate product so far away without it spoiling at a time before modern technology such as refrigeration.

Instead, the layered dessert – made from a combination of sponge finger biscuits, mascarpone cheese, espresso, cocoa powder, sugar and eggs – is said to have its origins at a family-run restaurant called Le Beccherie in the city of Treviso. At the time, the venue was owned by Ada and Aldo Campeol. As the story goes, Ada invented the recipe in the late 1960s because she wanted to create a dessert that would give her energy following the birth of her son. It was given the name ‘tiramisu’, translating to ‘pick me up’, in the early 1970s.

The restaurant was first opened in 1939 and remained in the Campeol family for three generations, until it closed its doors on 30 March 2014, gaining worldwide headlines. The closure was brought on by dwindling customer numbers as a result of difficult financial times. In the lead up to this, there had been attempts by Treviso to have the city recognised by the European Union as the birthplace of tiramisu, much like Naples is regarded as the traditional home of pizza. This was a bid that was backed by President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia.

As Le Beccherie served its last slice of tiramisu, many regarded the restaurant’s closure as a sad day in the city’s culinary history. Thankfully though, this was only short-lived, to the delight of many locals. A mere six months later, Le Becchierie was given a second lease of life when it was reopened in September. New owner, Paolo Lai, gave the iconic venue a complete modern makeover and Zaia thanked him for his effort in resurrecting this important piece of local history.

Tiramisu is relatively simple to make. First, sugar and egg yolks are whisked together, before the mascarpone is added to make the cream filling. Sponge finger biscuits are briefly dipped into the espresso coffee and then arranged inside the dish to create the first layer. A layer of the mascarpone mixture follows, then another layer of espresso dipped biscuits and so on, finishing with a layer of the mascarpone mixture, dusted with cocoa powder. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving to allow the flavours to meld together.

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