“I need caffeine” seems to be the mantra most used prior to the start of a new work day and also during lunch hour sandwiched between chaos at the cubicle.
Which is why, quite rightfully, the Italians must have named the greatest cake on earth: tiramisu.
I remember seeing this word distinction at Grappas, an Italian eatery, here in Hong Kong: tira meaning ‘pull’, mi is ‘me’, su is ‘up.’
Pick me up.
Who doesn’t love a ‘pick me up’ anyway? A rush of energy, a whiff of adrenaline- whatever short term pleasure you can indulge in to momentarily get away. Anyhow I’ve always loved pickmeups especially in the form of layers of ladyfingers soaked in rich espresso and full body wine and slathered with rich cheese and cream with a kiss of cocoa. My family was a huge fan of tiramisu so whenever we went out to dine, it it was on the menu, we’d order it: Grappa’s tiramisu in a chocolate cup, to the small Italian pizzeria in Toronto which served thick large squares on a platter (that was the best).
So it was a surprise when my mom was reading the Chinese weekly magazine with the ‘Ming Pao’ newspaper which covered an interview with an executive chef at Cova, a ‘luxury’ high-end patisserie/cafe in Hong Kong. At the end ofthe article right splat there, was the Cova tiramisu recipe.
We thought it was unbelievable and too good to be true that a fancy schmancy cafe would share such a secret to the public. We had to try it.
As of now, we’ve kept and been using this tiramisu recipe for about eight years now. I’ve never tried another one nor do I eat tiramisu unless it’s my own. How good is it?
-My cousin at the age of 10, requests it to be his birthday cake. He refuses to buy a Maxims one. He scarfed down three large squares in ten minutes and was high on caffeine and alcohol for a while-Alex proposed to me after bite (in jest might I add)
-Richard calls it ‘heaven’ and does the signature post-tiramisu expression which is essentially eyes closed with eyebrows raised, head slightly tilted to the sky and mouth closed.
There are many different renditions of the tiramisu: some use rum or kahlua or some other coffee-laced alcohol. Some use cake mix. Some use cream cheese.
I’m a purist and pseudo snob to say that I only like to use the original ingredients of drip espresso, ladyfingers, whipping cream/mascarpone cheese and marsala wine. You pay a hefty price for it considerably, but I think if you’re gonna do, you gotta do it right. But there’s not much to it: expensive fine ingredients with a very easy recipe. Then again, my cousin and I made a matcha tiramisu and a ‘yin-yang’ on since we ran out of espresso and used HK milk tea mix to soak the fingers in. =P
I used to buy my espresso at Starbucks or Timothy’s. Try asking for fifteen shots of pure espresso. The conversation usually, to my annoyance, goes like this:
“Hi, may I have fifteen shots of espresso in a venti cup”
“Um sorry? Do you mean with coffee?”
“Fifteen shots. Pure shots of espresso”
“Are you going to drink fifteen shots?”
“No. It’s for tiramisu”
“Um, hang on a second. I’m not sure how to charge you for that.”
And then not to mention having to stand there watching them painfully make shot after shot. Therefore it was to my utmost delight when I was invited to an Italian family for dinner and I made them tiramisu (not sure why I did that come to think about it.. Chinese girl makes tiramisu for Italians- sounds fake) and my friend’s mom introduced me to the stove top espresso maker. When I returned to Manhattan, my roommate and I ordered one on Amazon and used it for three years (we used till it died and had to throw it away). Yup, so brew your own espresso: save yourself a little grief, saliva, Starbucks cups and money.
Tip1: Warm/lukewarm/hot espresso soaks faster into the ladyfinger than cold espresso so make sure it is totally at room temperature before you use it or you run the risk of using it up too quicky (another bonus for those with espresso makers who can just brew another shot).
Tip2: The recipe said refrigerate it for four hours. I do six.
Many people have asked us for the recipe, few have actually executed it. I only know the steps off by heart so it may not be Cova to a tee, but I think it’s even bette judging by my last visit to the cafe. Let me know if you decide to embark on this journey. It’s worth every finger lick of it. Now you know why I didn’t venture into fruits until as of late:
mascarpone cheese – 500g
egg yolk- 6
whipping cream – 1L
espresso (triple espresso X 2 for those who need to go out and buy. Ask for 15 shots)
marsala wine – 50g
sugar – 3 tbsp
1. In a bowl, mix the mascarpone cheese and egg yolks together.
2. In a separate bowl, whip the whipping cream until stiff. Toss three tablespoons of sugar in (a family altered thing =P)
3. Fold the cheese into the whipping cream. Mix until just blended.
4. Stir the wine into the espresso.
5. In a serving dish (I use Pyrex or those disposable aluminum catering trays): ladle a thin layer of cream/cheese mixture on the bottom.
6. Dip the ladyfingers one by one, count for three seconds and remove. Place in rows on top of the first layer of cream.
7. Apply second layer of cream/cheese.
8. Second round of ladyfingers in espresso/wine
9. Top with final layer of cream and garnish with cocoa powder.
10. Let it sit in the fridge for six hours.
It is by far not the prettiest dessert on earth. Last year I was given the challenge to beautify the tiramisu. I tried to cookie-cutter out the tiramisu to form individual circles topped with a gold-dusted espresso bean but alas, my version with cream does not stand well on its own. Nonetheless, it was made for sharing and there are few worries about transportation. And no one, i the end, complains that it doesn’t look good because taste trumps everything.