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What's so special about Tiramisu, and what else is mascarpone good in?

  • Pei Apr 11, 2007 08:17 AM
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I'm kind of over the tiramisu. It is good, but it's a long shot from being my favorite dessert. Can anyone explain to me the general craze over tiramisu? I can think of at least five people who would call it their "favorite dessert," and if you ask a roomful of people what they want for dessert someone is bound to shout "Tiramisu!" and be met with a round of agreement.

Name me one great quality of a tiramisu--it's creamy, it's chocolatey, it's boozey--and I'll name several desserts better exemplify that quality. To me, tiramisu is a little of everything, a lot of nothing. Of course, maybe it's the "greater than its parts" quality that people like. However, it is exactly this quality that overpowers the delicate flavors of a great mascarpone, which to me is only unique thing about a tiramisu in the first place.

My next goal is to find a dessert in which mascarpone shines. Any ideas?

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  1. I think of it like an italian trifle. I like the way everything comes together kind of mushy but I haven't had tiramisu in years. As mascarpone goes, you can use it in place of cream cheese to give a lighter texture. Mascarpone cheesecake is good. I also like whipped ricotta and mascarpone for a cold summer dessert:

    http://www.lacasa.com.au/recipes.htm#5

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      Actually, there is a classic Italian version of the English Trifle - look for "zuppa inglese" on the dessert menu; it literally means "English Soup".

      1. re: chowser

        Have to disagree that Tiramisu isn't that great - have you ever eaten it when its cooked by a first generation Italian? You haven't lived! This is a traditional recipe for Tiramisu which is beautiful...

        http://www.lacasa.com.au/mascarponeti...

        Do tend to agree with you that Mascarpone is more of a glob on top sort of product, but really you can use it as a replacement for any recipe with cream in it - and it gives a richer deeper flavour.

      2. it's creamy, it's chocolatey, it's boozey--

        Well, there you go ... you answered your own question.

        Also it is the Zagut of desserts ... it self-perpetuates.

        Once a restaurant is in Zagut, people know about it, go, and vote for it, and it goes in the next book ... So it goes with tiramisu.

        It is on so many restaurant menus, so people order it more often, making it their favorite dessert out of the usual sad dessert list, so because people order it so much, restaurants keep it on the menu. It beats the sad, usually rubbery cheesecake, ice cream, chocolate mousse, creme brulee or piece of chocolate dessert.

        Also, it keeps well, like cheese cake and ice cream which is why it is often on menus. Seriously though, how many people make tiramisu at home? I was going to prove my point by pointing to Home Cooking, but there are a few recipies including one for Twinkie tiramisu
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/276134

        Which brings up the point that maybe you don't like tiramisu because there are so many dreadful versions out there. When everything is balanced, it can be a very nice dessert. By no means my favorite, but good.

        Top fresh figs with marscapone. I've seen Marscapone cheesecake. I haven't tried it, but in our area, if ever in Sepastopol, it is at the new Sfoglia Sicilian bakery.
        http://www.chow.com/digest/2544

        So, what are the several desserts that exemplify the qualities of tiramisu better?

        12 Replies
        1. re: rworange

          I have to agree that people probably like the combination of qualities, i just feel that each quality is diluted. Maybe my problem is I don't like trifles either!

          I'm not saying any of these is superior to a well-made tiramisu, but personally I would rather:
          -eat a chocolate cake with ganache frosting to satisfy my chocolate craving
          -eat a cream puff to sate my gooey creamy dessert craving
          -have a bowl of chocolate mousse to satisfy both
          -drink a glass of port or have a biscotti with vin santo to quell that booze craving

          I guess I'm one of those who can identify my craving of the moment, and I want something that's really going to hone in on that craving and satifsy it.

          And yes, it irritates the !$!@ out of me that people will order anything with the word tiramisu attached to it, even when it's bound to be terrible (at a Chinese bakery, for instance, where it's almost always a layer of cake covered in rubbery coffee mousse). And then they complain that they got a bad tiramisu, when it was so obvious to me the restaurant's strength would have been something else.

          But you're right. If I owned a restaurant or cafe, I would serve it too.

          1. re: Pei

            You also forgot to mention that there's coffee in them-there tiramisu . . .

            . . . I would definitely count a well-made tiramisu among my favorite desserts, but then, I'm really into creamy, custardy desserts. I will order the gelato, the bread pudding or the panna cotta over the cake/pie/tart any day of the week.

            I think the key for tiramisu to become a transcendant dessert is that it HAS to be well-proportioned. To me, the recipe linked beliow makes the BEST tiramisu bar-none -- if you follow this recipe for tiramisu to a "T" and STILL don't get it, I think we can just chalk it up to differing personal preferences :-)

            http://www.tantemarie.com/recipes/des...

            1. re: DanaB

              I'll give you this--that is one of the best recipes out there. I got a lot of compliments when I used it!

              1. re: DanaB

                Interesting, never heard of lemon juice being used. The recipe I was verbally told and have stuck to without fail is 500 grams of marscapone, 5 eggs, 5 soup spoons of sugar, espresso and whatever alcohol to taste. More or less same technique as yours, no cooking. However, this only works for me with imported cheese, NEVER the domestic. I got stuck one NY's eve making one pan with imported and one with domestic (Bellgiosa or something?) and the difference was so pronounced!

            2. re: rworange

              Years ago, I used to make tiramisu fairly often, only it was hard to find mascarpone cheese (years ago...) back then. I like it home made. I guess I've had it poorly done at enough restaurants that I don't even notice on the menu anymore since I don't look for it. The last straw was having it w/out mascarpone cheese, only whipped cream on yellow layer cake and canned peaches. Sorry, call it something else at that point.

              1. re: rworange

                Holy crap. Literally. So fascinated was I by the concept of "twinkie tiramisu" I googled it and, surprise surprise, there was a recipe for it on foodnetwork.com. It got 4 stars! All the reviewers pronounced it good, except for one who said it was tasty, though not as tasty as homemade tiramisu.

                Gee ... ya think?

                Now don't get me wrong, I'm generally no food snob. (Though that's another thread). I am an avid Panera patron, a vigilant defender of several food network personalities, and I love me some Krispy Kreme bread pudding -- with Cool Whip! But seriously, twinkie tiramisu even makes ME go ker-blink.

                Though I'm so fascinated, I sorta want to make it and try it, just to see what it's like ...

                1. re: charmedgirl

                  ker-blink! I love it.

                  Please, oh please, do report back on the home cooking board if you make it!

                  1. re: charmedgirl

                    Wonder if you could take it up a notch and deep fry the Twinkie first.

                    1. re: charmedgirl

                      Never mind that. I want the recipe for Krispy Kreme bread pudding.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I've had that! For an approximation of the flavor and feeling it leaves in your stomach, take a bite of a krispy kreme doughnut and a good slug of sweetened condensed milk.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Heh, I was only kidding about the Krispy Kreme bread pudding.

                          Sorta.

                          It's a Paula Deen recipe and she gets a TON of flack for it, though plenty of other supposedly more "foodie" chefs also have donut bread pudding recipes out there. I actually came across one in (I think it was) Gourmet magazine within the past year. Anyways, I made the Paula Deen one for my girlfriends one night out of sheer curiousity and we all thought it was good! Two caveats though: (1) I like donuts, I like bread pudding, and you will rarely hear me pronounce something too "sweet", so it was up my alley anyway and (2) I haven't made it since, and this was about 3 years ago. It just never comes to mind when I'm wracking my brain for desserts to make and serve.

                          Anywho, if you're curious give it a shot! And don't skip the butter rum sauce. http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...

                          Oh, P.S. I halved it, serving five girls and there were still left overs.

                      2. re: rworange

                        I have to agree with rworage... of the bites I've had of everybody else's tiramisu at dinners (I don't order it myself), most have been pretty awful. One or two were simply amazing. I think before dismissing tiramisu, finding the preeminent tiramisu and tasting is worth it.

                        That said, I largely agree with the OP.

                      3. I think I've only had really good tiramisu once or twice in my life. Most places just screw it up somehow - cheaping out on the mascarpone, too much booze, too little booze, watery, etc. Now, I usually refrain from ordering it, which is okay, because I've been on a big coconut dessert kick lately.

                        1. I LOVE tiramisu! It's sinfully rich, delicious when made with top-quality ingredients, and it's a perfect dessert when served with a little Vin Santo on the side.

                          1. Yeah, I'm guilty- it's probably one of my favorite desserts! I love to make Wolfgang Puck's version where you make your own ladyfingers- so much better and also a pain to make! But, if you think tiramisu is over done and over-rated, I offer you up creme brulee! Blech... I'm so tired of seeing that on menus and think, what's the big deal! You said name you something with one of the qualities: creamy *or* chocolatey *or* boozey, but name me something better with all three qualities!

                            1. Every tiramisu I've ever tasted has been pretty awful. I've never made it myself, mostly because it doesn't appeal to me. If I wanted a boozy, creamy, dessert I'd make trifle.

                              This recipe for mascarpone cheesecake is my go-to for cheesecake:
                              http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                              The first time I made it, I made the strawberry-rhubarb glaze and it was delicious, but I now make a lemon glaze which I prefer but that's just my citrus addiction. The cheesecake has wonderfully smooth, silky texture and is rich without feeling overwhelming heavy.

                              1. Tiramisu = dessert lasagna.

                                By the way, I really like making cheesecake with mascarpone, as well as taro cake with mascarpone frosting.

                                1. I love a good mascarpone gelato, especially when served with fresh strawberries or alongside a strawberry gelato.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: littlegreenpea

                                    You win--that's the next dessert I'm making with mascarpone.

                                    1. re: Pei

                                      I've made this raspberry chocolate tart with a lot of success, and it's the first time I had used mascarpone in a dessert: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                                      Since then I used a whipped chocolate mascarpone to top meringue cookies and strawberries, which was a great combo.

                                      While I think tiramisu is fine, I have never ordered it in a restaurant. It also doesn't appeal to me when there are so many other fabulous desserts to waste my calories on. My hubby loves it though, and he'll order it so I can have a bit if I wish.

                                      1. re: Pei

                                        Great. Let me know how it turns out, as I've yet to try at home.

                                    2. Three words: Sleepless in Seattle.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: PeterL

                                        Peter, I think you hit the nail on the head. A Google search turned up this:

                                        http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/fo...

                                        Thank you for that chuckle.

                                        1. re: Pei

                                          Australia is the most civilised place in the English speaking world...

                                          Yup.

                                          And you seriously can get tiramisu in every single "beestro" here in OZ.. Hell, they even sell TM at most corner pizzas shops. Albeit dodgy stale sponge with weird rubbery sprodoingy coffee-flavoured filling, but hell.. it's called TM!!

                                          My personal fave is the Lorenza De Medici version, where you make a "proper" (that lovely subjective word, again!) zabaglione as one of the three parts.

                                      2. grill pineapple rings
                                        mix mascarpone with some powdered sugar

                                        top each ring with nutella, a dallop of the mascarpone and some pine nuts.
                                        this recipe is from everyday italian. i tried it and its very refreshing and oh so good.

                                        YUM!

                                        1. Make your own whipped cream (you know the drill - heavy whipping cream, (confectioners') sugar). Bring mascarpone up to room temp. Fold together. You can add some vanilla or almond extract or some liquor of your choice if you want. Then just decide what to serve it with. I like it with the vanilla extract and served with mixed berries. You could put that over angel food cake. Or, maybe add some Grand Marnier or raspberry liquor and serve it over chocolate cake....

                                          1. I found a local coffee/dessert cafe that makes an excellent tiramisu. They let you keep the glass dish. Actually all their goods are excellent but I still drop in for the tiramisu for $4.95. I think done well tiramisu is a fabulous dessert choice but if it isnt then you will be put off by it and not try it again.
                                            Actually, I have a very hard time finding a decent choc cake or cream puff. Havent had a good one in many years.

                                            1. There's a lot of bad tiramisu out there. But a really good one is sublime, in my opinion. Then again, it's probably like brownies--different people want different things from it.

                                              There's a really good recipe for a chocolate-orange-mascarpone tart in one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. I think it's Jamie's Kitchen or Jamie's Dinners. I made it once and it was very popular with my partner and friends.

                                              1. One of my friends makes Cannoli with marscapone cheese, and it turns out to be quite good. Takes a lot of work to do at home though (since it requires deep frying.)

                                                1. I think tiramisu persists because it is what people expect when they think "Italian dessert." How much fruit would restaurants sell - even if that's what most Italians end their meals with? Americans want something sweet and decadent. As you say "creamy, chocolatey, boozey." It also has to sound Italian. Make a big pan of it, sell squares, you're home free. Everybody's happy. Not many others desserts quite fill that niche as easily.
                                                  Americans have expectations of an Italian menu: lots of garlic, oregano, basil, balsamic vinegar, tomato sauce, meatballs, pasta, lots of cheese, fried calamari, garlic bread, red checked tablecloths... pretty soon you're at the Olive Garden.
                                                  Differs at the high end but so much of the market is set by ordinary perceptions.

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    The last (and best) tiramisu I had was made by the Italian host at a Ferragosto celebration last year in Sardegna. It certainly is popular in the States (where, I agree, we eat more sweets), but that doesn't mean it's just some American "Italian dessert."

                                                    1. re: Kagey

                                                      I didn't say that it was an American dessert, only that it has become an American expectation. Perhaps this is because it has an Italian name and has become so ubiquitous. Perhaps because it's so easy for restaurants to prepare and hold. It's also easy for home cooks. It fits American tastes for rich, sweet desserts better than many other Italian desserts. Same reason Creme Brulee is everywhere.
                                                      If you ask 10 Americans to name an Italian dessert, what do you think most of them will say? Tiramisu and gelato. You personally can probably name more but what market will there be for them in most restaurants in the US?

                                                      1. re: MakingSense

                                                        In my youth, the "typical" and ubiquitous Italian desserts in the USA were bisque tortoni, spumoni, and ricottta cheesecake (maybe a cannoli or a baba rhum for the adventurous) and no one ever heard of tiramisu. Ah, tempus fugit.!

                                                        1. re: Striver

                                                          Add panna cotta and you have most of my faves, striver! Edy's makes a passable spumoni now. I really had big hopes for ricotta pie after Carmella started making it regularly on the Sopranos but that went nowhere.
                                                          I grew up with all this stuff and, like you, never heard of tiramisu! Love it now when it's well made but wish more restaurants offered a wider range because all these desserts and cookies are sooooo good.

                                                          1. re: MakingSense

                                                            No offense, but depending on how old you all are, you might not have heard of tiramisu "growing up" because it is a relatively recent creation. Most accounts date it to the late 70s and early 80's.

                                                            1. re: charmedgirl

                                                              It's not a recent creation, just a fairly recent addition to American menus and it's exploded lately. So I think your dates are correct. Someone who knows regional Italian cheeses better than I might chime in here but it could be a Northern Italian dessert.
                                                              Until the late 70s, most Italian food in the US was pretty much that of Southern Italy which is where most immigrants came from. Desserts in restaurants were different.
                                                              The first Northern Italian food started showing up in NY in the mid 60s. We got Cantina d'Italia in DC in 1968 and by the mid-70s it was full-blown Northern Italian and the hottest thing in town. Then we had a wave of that which is still going on at all price points, mixed with the old reliable Southern Italian.
                                                              Most Italian food in the US is still Southern Italian. Tiramisu is on almost all the menus because people expect it now.

                                                              1. re: MakingSense

                                                                desserts similar to tiramisu have been all over italy since the 1600s.

                                                                a restaurant in treviso takes credit for the modern incarnation, around the late 70s.

                                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                                  And thank goodness Northern Italian did make it over here!

                                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                                    Like hotoynoodle mentioned, desserts similar to tiramisu have been around Italy for hundreds of years. But the dessert that is considered "tiramisu" (lady fingers, espresso, mascarpone cheese etc.) didn't even show up in Italy until the 70s. Maybe, maybe as early as 1968, but that's the earliest I've seen quoted anywhere. A restaurant in Treviso claims credit. (Though the owner of an Italian bakery here in Baltimore also claims to be the originator, and he DOES make a damn good tiramisu!!) Anyways, it didn't spread through Italy though until the late 70s and early 80s, and then didn't explode in the US until early to mid 90s. So even Italians weren't exposed to tiramisu growing up unless they are 40 or younger.

                                                      2. i'll be the voice of dissent here. my perception of tiramisu is that it was an 80s thing. i can't remember the last time i saw it on a menu. in our north end, many places don't serve dessert at all (to aid table turnover), so perhaps the plague is a suburban phenomenom of which i can remain blissfully unaware.

                                                        i do use mascarpone in cheeesecake, often replacing 1/2 the cream cheese, and it makes a much lighter cake.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                          Maybe it's a Caliornia thing. It's everywhere in LA and SF.

                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                            I think I had a decent one at cafe vittoria, but then again that was 3 or so years ago

                                                            marscapone or mascarpone (sp?) can be used in savoury applications like ravioli, cannoli, or probably even lasagna. how do you pronounce it anyways?

                                                            I've heard ina garten say "mar sca pony" so many times and that just sounds ridiculous to me

                                                            1. re: bitsubeats

                                                              your 2nd spelling is correct. i'm always mystified why the "r" gets transposed in pronunciation so often.

                                                              cannoli are traditionally filled with sweetened ricotta, or (heaven forbid) pastry cream. mascarpone would be very unusual. that being said, in italy it's traditionally used in sweet, not savory, dishes.

                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                As to the transposition of the "r"...in some NY accents this happens in a lot of words at the end of a syllable (e.g., some people say "idear" instead of "idea").Poor mascarpone unfortunately wound up in this category.

                                                            2. re: hotoynoodle

                                                              The first time I saw tiramisu was on the frugal gourmet, and on the Great Chefs cooking series. It has become popular(safe) because it doesn't have threatening or unusual ingredients.

                                                              I like to use mascarpone to replace cream cheese or sour cream in baked goods. If you think carrot cake or Cinnabon are good with cream cheese icing, you really should try them with a mascarpone icing.

                                                            3. It's kinda uncool to still like Tiramisu, the great dessert of the 90s. But I still love it.

                                                              as you said "it's creamy, it's chocolatey, it's boozey" and it also has espresso in it. What's not to love?

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: orangewasabi

                                                                Maybe tiramisu has gone chardonnay.

                                                                Like years ago, in its original incarnation, it was splendiferous. And now, not so. (There is one chardonnay I like and that's a buttery one that has undergone secondary malo-lactic fermentation so it's not harsh and fruity, but the trend today is toward quicker-to-market chardonnays I believe. I think, anyway.)

                                                                1. re: Cinnamon

                                                                  you could be right (love that analogy) abot i "going chardonnay"

                                                                  the tiramisu I like is made by italian old-school mamas and chefs in very 'un-cool' environments

                                                              2. I do like tiramisu, albeit when I do the whole enchilada. I have seen interesting versions of it, namely by Albert Adrià, Oriol Balaguer, and the Pastry Chefs at Maestro (Tom Wellings' version is featured in starchefs: http://www.starchefs.com/chefs/rising...).

                                                                As for Mascarpone, one of the best things I've tasted was Mascarpone crème glacée. We used to make it paris to serve with a lemon-thyme soufflé cake with a warm, liquid lemon cream center and lemon balm sauce. Paired with a nice late harvest, it was amazing.

                                                                1. came across your quest in a random search for tiramisu, a year later. A great use for mascarpone...a simple tart with mascarpone, a little black pepper, fresh figs, and a little honey