Dennis Littley has seen lot of so-so tiramisu in his day.
“It’s something you often see on dessert menus; it’s very popular, but it’s rarely made correctly,” says Littley, executive chef for Flik-operated Mount St. Joseph Academy, a high school in Flourtown, PA.
“You have to go back to the roots of the dish—otherwise you get tiramisu that’s soggy or caked with so much cocoa that you could choke on it,” he says.
The techniques involve include creating a sabayon, constantly whipping eggs and sugar over heat. A sabayon can be a starting point for many desserts, including mousse, so it’s worthwhile to learn.
He acknowledges that “most people are in too much of a rush, and when you describe standing over a stove stirring for 10 minutes, you’ve lost them.”
“It can seem complex, but it’s really easy,” Littley says. “It takes about 30 minutes to make it, and once you try it the correct way, you won’t go back.”
RECIPE: Classic Tiramisu
Littley teaches how to make tiramisu in his after- school cooking classes, which are very popular with the students and are always enrolled to capacity.
Step 1. Start by whisking the egg yolks and sugar in a metal bowl over a double boiler. “The bowl works better than the pot that’s on top of a double boiler,” Littley says. “You can whisk more completely because there aren’t any corners.” The heat will render the egg yolks safe to eat. “Cooking it also increases the volume.”
Step 2. “Next, I add the mascarpone. Think of it as Italian cream cheese but more neutral,” Littley says. “It changes the texture of the mixture, giving it weight and density.”
Step 3. Time to fold. Folding is important, Littley says. “You’re increasing the volume and adding more rich flavors. Take your time. The biggest mistake people make with folding is doing it too fast. Slowly, carefully and gently fold it in.
Step 4. The word ‘tiramisu’ translates to ‘pick me up’ or ‘lift me up.’ That explains the cup of espresso in this next step. It’s important to use the crunchy Italian lady fingers, not the cake-like American ones. This is crucial to fight sogginess. “Don’t drown them in espresso and liquor. Get them to absorb a fair amount of liquid, but stop well before the ‘mush level,’” Littley says.
Step 5. Now for the fun part. The first layer: Place the lady fingers in the pan, cutting them with kitchen scissors if necessary for a perfect fit. Each piece needs to be uniform.
Step 6. Spread the mascarpone/egg/cream mixture with a spatula over the lady fingers carefully and evenly.
Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the other layers.
Step 7. The finished product! Sprinkle with cocoa powder, but don’t overdo it.