Tiramisu is one of the most famous cakes in the world. And like all renowned things, it has a complicated history. We bring you the most famous Tiramisu history versions, along with an original recipe.
Tiramisu: the myths
The duke’s soup
Every Tiramisu story starts in Italy. This is the oldest Tiramisu myth, and it takes place in Siena, a small city in Tuscany. It was the 17th century, and the Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici III (1642-1723) was preparing to visit Siena. To honour and please the duke, the chefs of Siena prepared him a layered cake made of ladyfingers, mascarpone, egg and coffee. The new recipe was called Zuppa del Duca – the duke’s soup. The duke was so delighted that he carried the original recipe back to Florence.
In the 19th century, the recipe was rediscovered by English artists that visited Florence. They popularised the recipe in England, where it was an instant hit. From England, the Tiramisu spread to the rest of the world. It also became famous as Zuppa Inglese – The English soup.
That is one of my favourite stories, but it has no facts to support it. The Zuppa Inglese dessert exists, but it is a sponge cake soaked in hard liquor. In the best case, it can be a predecessor of the Tiramisu.
The following Tiramisu history version is even better.
The energy booster after an exhausting brothel visit
It was the 19th century in Italy, and brothels were more common than bakeries. The competition was fierce among them, and brothel-owners always tried to outsmart the competition. That was around the time the first espresso machine was invented. One of the brothels started offering espresso coffee to its customers. The customers were pleased. Free coffee is a great perk in every part of the human era.
That particular brothel had a boost of visitors. And the other brothels wanted their slice of the cake (pun intended). So, they started offering espresso with savoiardi (ladyfingers). Sometimes the offer was accompanied by a glass of sweet wine. An unknown Madam combined coffee, savoiardi and sweet wine with mascarpone and eggs, creating an energy booster – Tiramisu. Tiramisu literally means pick me up, so it was a killer name choice.
It was an instant hit. After visiting the establishment, you would eat a piece of Tiramisu. The espresso, sugar, and eggs would give you the energy to continue your day instead of taking a nap (as nature intended). Later, some versions included harder liqueurs, which, naturally, boosted the popularity even more.
This story is popular because it includes brothels, visiting them and using their services. We assume that the public likes to think that Tiramisu had such a naughty history.
Why do the Tiramisu myths remain myths?
- Mascarpone. Mascarpone is native to the northern parts of Italy, specifically the Veneto region. This creamy cheese was impossible to find in Tuscany.
- Eggs. Any dessert made with raw eggs would not stand a chance in Italian temperatures. These myths take place from the 17th to the 19th century. No refrigerators. Tiramisu would probably kill you in the summer.
- History cookbooks. If Tiramisu was such an old recipe, it would have found its place in the traditional Italian cookbooks. But no trace. Not until the 1980s. The first written Tiramisu recipe was in 1981 Vin Veneto magasine, written by Giuseppe Maffioli. Giuseppe was a famous Italian gastronome, writer, actor and know-it-all.
Tiramisu: the facts
Carminantonio Iannaccone’s story
In 2007, Jane Black, a Washington Post writer, interviewed Carminantonio Iannaccone, an Italian chef. Jane got a detailed story from the old pastry chef. In 1969, Iannaccone opened a Piedigrotta restaurant in Treviso. The newlywed chef created a new dessert based on the traditional flavours of the Treviso region. To be precise, it was a light cake, made of:
- Marsala wine
- Savoiardi cookies
Iannaccone claims he was responsible for the sudden boom of Tiramisu popularity in the second half of the 20th century. He also says he has neither time nor energy to prove the story.
The Campeol family’s story
Ado Campeo was the owner of Le Beccherie, a restaurant in Treviso, Italy. He was also noted as the inventor of the first written Tiramisu recipe in 1981. All the standard Tiramisu ingredients were there: eggs, sugar, mascarpone and ladyfingers soaked in coffee. No alcohol in this version, as Le Beccherie served Tiramisu to children and the elderly.
By the official version, Ado’s wife, Alba and chef Roberto Lello Linguanotto came up with the first recipe. The first version was called Tiramesu. Later it was renamed Tiramisu
Petro Mascioni intervieved Alba Campeol in the 2006. Alba claims she got the inspiration for the Tiramisu after giving birth to her son. She was weak, and her mother-in-law would serve her zabaglione spiked with some espresso to restore the energy. Zabaglione is a simple dessert made from eggs, sugar, and Marsala wine.
After Alba got better, she went back to the restaurant kitchen and started to work on the recipe, along with chef Lello.
Of course, the Campeol family say they never even heard of Carminantonio Iannaccone, his restaurant, or his recipe.
These two stories are not the only ones. Some claim that chef Speranza Garatti was the true mother of Tiramisu. Allegedly, Speranza made the first Tiramisu in a goblet and called it coppa imperiale – the royal cup. Her friend and competitor, Ado Campeol, copied it (with minor changes) and named it Tiramisu.
Others claim it was the pure genius of chef Roberto Lello Linguanotto. His experience with German cuisine and soft cakes led to the invention of Tiramisu.
Obviously, many people claim they invented this creamy deliciousness. But nobody patented it, so we will never know for sure.
The first written Tiramisu recipe and a step-by-step guide
As we mentioned above, the first Tiramisu recipe was mentioned in 1981 in Vin Veneto magazine. The full name was Il Tiramisu’ Legittimo delle Beccherie (The Legitimate Tiramisu of Le Beccherie).
Of course, the recipe was for a restaurant-sized Tiramisu. For a home-sized recipe, simply reduce the ingredients by half.
- 60 ladyfinger cookies
- 1 kg of mascarpone cheese
- ½ kg of sugar
- 12 egg yolks
- Espresso coffee, as necessry
- Cocoa powder, as necessary
- Prepare a batch of strong espresso coffee and put it in a shallow bowl. You need to have enough coffee for dipping the ladyfingers.
- While the coffee is still hot, dissolve four tablespoons of sugar inside (two for the home version). Let the coffee cool.
- Beat the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until you get a fluffy, airy cream.
- Now combine it with the mascarpone cheese.
- Take half of the ladyfingers and dip them in the coffee. Then start placing them in a single layer.
- Spread half of the mascarpone-egg cream onto the first layer of ladyfingers.
- Put the new layer of ladyfingers dipped in the mascarpone. Top it with the remaining cream.
- Finish the Tiramisu by sprinkling the cocoa powder on the top. Leave it in the fridge for at least three hours.
- Raw eggs can cause salmonella. Always get your eggs from a reputable source.
- Raw eggs also give Tiramisu that specific unforgettable taste that no egg substitute can achieve.
- Don’t try to substitute mascarpone with cream cheese. It won’t work.
So, who invented Tiramisu?
The Campeol family has a more convincing story, no doubt about it. But they lack one thing in their recipe, and that’s alcohol. Iannoccone’s version of Tiramisu has a hefty dose of Marsala wine. And Tiramisu with alcohol is the version that conquered the world.
Who can tell the truth? We guess, nobody. There is no certain way to confirm who invented the Tiramisu. But we can certainly enjoy it. After all, everyone has their favourite version of this Italian classic.
I like to add Baileys or a fine Cuban rum to my Tiramisu. Do not be afraid to try new things and make adjustments to old recipes. Tiramisu has more than 200 different versions now. You can always add a few more.