Food & Drink

Don’t lose sleep over this version of tiramisu

The American craze for Italian tiramisu started with Rob Reiner and Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle.”
The American craze for Italian tiramisu started with Rob Reiner and Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle.”

If it’s hard for you to think of a time when tiramisu wasn’t an ice cream flavor, a standard offering at local pizzerias, and available frozen or ready-made in your supermarket, then your memory doesn't go back to 1993 and that terrific rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle.” Pre-movie, tiramisu was just another Italian dessert; afterward, it was a phenom.

In the film, Tom Hanks plays a young widower who hasn't dated since the Carter administration (that would be 1977). Anxious about what it’s going to be like in the new boy-girl world, he talks with his buddy, a.k.a. Rob Reiner. Sometime in the discussion, Reiner says, “Tiramisu.” Random. And Hanks asks, “What is tiramisu?”

When Reiner says, “You'll find out,” a nervous Hanks says, “Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I'm not gonna know what it is!” And so the craze began. Minutes after the movie opened, every morning TV show had some cook making tiramisu.

We can thank the late, beloved screenwriter Nora Ephron for single-handedly reviving this dessert.

Oh, wait: After this introduction, if you don't know what tiramisu is, are you going to be too embarrassed to admit it? Translated from the Italian, tiramisu means “pick-me-up” – which, now that I'm writing it, I realize might be the best name ever for a date-night dessert. It has layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers and a mix of mascarpone and egg-yolk custard; it's covered with cocoa powder; and it's served cold. Sometimes alcohol is involved. No matter the version, it's always soft and creamy and rich, rich, very rich.

Tiramisu is not on regular rotation for me. But recently, I couldn't get it out of my mind. Oddly, I had mascarpone, but not enough eggs to make the classic. So I came up with an eggless version.

It also became a chocolate dessert because it could, which is one of those joys of being the cook: You're the boss. As soon as I started making the espresso for the ladyfinger-soak, I started thinking about mocha; then mochaccino; and then mochamisu.

Built in a pie plate and chilled, it's a no-bake, make-ahead dessert that teeters between the familiar and the fab.

Milk Chocolate-Mochamisu Pie

From cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.

6 ounces best-quality milk chocolate

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or 2 teaspoons instant coffee crystals

8 ounces chilled mascarpone

About 20 ladyfingers (5 to 6 ounces)

2/3 cup chilled espresso or strong coffee

Unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolate shavings (optional)

Finely chop 4 ounces chocolate and place it in a medium heatproof bowl. Chop the remaining chocolate into pieces the size of mini chocolate chips.

Combine the heavy cream and instant espresso powder or coffee crystals in a microwave-safe bowl or in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the espresso or coffee. Pour half of the hot cream over the chocolate, wait a few seconds and then whisk gently until the chocolate starts to melt. Add the rest of the cream; continue to whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. (It will be thin, like chocolate milk, and won't thicken until you whip it later.) Refrigerate until very cold, about 2 hours. Or put the bowl of chocolate cream into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water; stir occasionally until the cream is thoroughly chilled.

Scrape the mascarpone into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the chilled chocolate cream. Use a flexible spatula to mash and stir the mascarpone until it softens. Don't work too long or too hard, because the mascarpone can go from cream to butter quickly.

Beat the chocolate cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a balloon-whisk attachment, or a handheld electric mixer, on high speed until it holds soft-to-medium peaks, about 1 minute and 20 seconds. Stir about a quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Fold in the remaining chopped chocolate.

If you're using soft, caky ladyfingers, line the bottom of the pie plate or baking dish with them, placing them flat side up and squeezing and cutting them, as needed, to cover. Spoon a little of the cold espresso over each ladyfinger, moistening but not soaking them. (You may have espresso left over.) If you're using cookie-type ladyfingers, dip them in a shallow dish of the cold espresso just until moistened, then proceed with layering.

Use an offset icing spatula or a table knife to spread half of the cream mixture over the ladyfingers; smooth the surface. Make another layer of ladyfingers and moisten with espresso. Finish by spreading over the remaining cream over the top.

Chill (uncovered) for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. Cover with plastic wrap once the top is set.

At serving time, dust the top with cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.

Per serving (based on 10, using crisp ladyfingers): 370 calories, 4 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 29 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 17 g sugar

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.