Tiramisu is one of the most popular desserts on just about any menu today... but in 1988 when I was a pastry chef at the wonderful local Italian restaurant, Ristorante Avanti, www.ristoranteavanti.com
I had never heard of such a thing... It sounded rather Asian to me rather than Italian...but I was soon to be enlightened.
We had hired this very cute young NY Italian guy for the summer as a buser. He as not only cute with his thick dark curls and dark eyes but had the most charming NY Italian accent. The young waitresses were completely taken with him. He had told us he just finished high school and was here for the summer before entering college back in NY.
Everyday I worked with him he would come into my tiny workspace and beg me to make tiramisu. "What???" I would respond. He then told me his Mother had an Italian restaurant in NYC and made this dessert and he could get me the recipe. So one day he calls his Mom in NYC and gives me the phone to ask for this legendary dessert. She first says to me,"So write this down! You know how to make a pastry cream, right?" "Sure" I respond wondering what exactly I need to write. Then she tells me to make it "very rich with 1/2 and 1/2 instead of milk." Ok, so far I don't need to write this down but I am sure there is more. Suddenly she tells me to hold on and puts the phone down a bit and begins to yell at the top of her lungs in Italian! She is screaming at her cooks since I can hear all the sounds of a busy kitchen in the background! I try to keep from busting up laughing and when she gets back on the phone she doesn't miss a beat and says, "Marscapone is too expensive and hard to find so get an equal amount of cream cheese, the Philly type not that soft stuff and on a mixer mix it with the pastry cream and a bit of Marsala." "ok..." I hesitantly answer wondering where this is going... Again she puts the phone down and begins yelling at her employees... and again picks up right where she left off. "You know how to make lady fingers don't you? Well, make a lot of them and then mix together 8 or so shots of espresso and 2 ounces of dark rum, like Meyers. Then in a shallow pan pour the coffee mixture over the cookies and make sure they soak up every drop. They should be very soggy. Now in a small hotel pan start with the soaked cookies and then layer with the cream mix, on top of that put some finely chopped semi sweet chocolate bits, and then repeat with the cookies and then cream and then chocolate. Top the entire thing with whipped cream and cocoa powder and you have the tiramisu!" "Got it!" I blurt out. She then explains that it is much better the next day after the flavors begin to marry. I couldn't wait to try this and when I did I couldn't make enough of it! We sold out day after day...
But now marscapone is more common and less expensive so I no longer make it with cream cheese. But if you made it for your most discerning customer I would bet they couldn't tell it was not marscapone... it is very rich and wonderfully tasty!
So the end of the story goes like this... Mom then says to me, "take care of my boy please and make sure he comes home to finish school!" I then say, " but I thought he was going to college?" And she replies," I know he told you all that he is 18 but really he is 16 and don't tell him I told you. I don't want him to loose the job, but I worry..." I assured her that the secret was safe with me and I would encourage him to go home. But I had to laugh every time I saw that cute young 21 year old waitress going out with him after work thinking he was 18 and couldn't wait for the day when he went back to school and I was able to fill her in on her summer fling!