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If the Tiramisu’s a-Rockin’ …

Some desserts are synonymous with a place. Baked Alaska. Linzer torte. New York cheesecake. Turkish delight. Swiss roll. Boston creme pie. Fig Newton. (You have Newton, Massachusetts, to thank for that one.) But some desserts have become so universal that we have to pause and think about where they began.

Take tiramisu, for example.

While it may seem like an age-old recipe passed down through generations of grandmothers, tiramisu has only been around for 50 or 60 years. And exactly where it began is still up for debate.

According to Laura Vozzella of a baker named Roberto Linguanotto dreamed up the dessert in Treviso, Italy, sometime in the 1960s. Linguanotto’s bakery supplied the desserts for Le Beccherie, the Italian restaurant where tiramisu was supposedly first served on Christmas Eve in 1969.

Legend also has it that the tiramisu made its way into the brothels of Treviso, where it was known for being an aphrodisiac. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that it’s a staple dessert at steakhouses around the world, particularly those with an Italian bent.

The place I eat tiramisu most often seems to be on cruise ships, particularly when we elect to upgrade to one of the ship’s fine-dining options.

We did this two years ago for our anniversary as we sailed a Mediterranean route that visited Mykonos, Athens, Rhodes, Santorini, Crete, Malta, Sicily, and Naples. Somewhere in the Tyrrhenian Sea, we enjoyed a dinner of savory filet mignon, creamy potato purée, and beautifully sautéed asparagus followed by tiramisu for two.

Now, I don’t know if it was the perfectly-cooked dinner that did the trick or perhaps the sugar rush from the dessert (or the bottle of wine we split in celebration), but it was a decidedly romantic anniversary evening.

I wanted to recreate that perfect dinner for Mr. Mike Ballard, but I struggled a bit when it came to the tiramisu. The last time I attempted it, the lady fingers wound up a soggy mess, and it didn’t leave a very good taste in my mouth either literally or figuratively.

There was another major hurdle to overcome: Neither one of us drinks coffee. (Yes, I understand how blasphemous that is.) But when it comes to tiramisu, the coffee element is critical. For the most authentic version of the dessert, strong Italian espresso is required.

As I pondered these dilemmas, my eye landed on the bottle of Kahlúa I bought a few weeks ago to make Monkey La La cocktails. What if I replaced the espresso from the traditional recipe with coffee liqueur and turned it into tipsy tiramisu? Now we’re talking .

(Maybe this is the version Linguanotto sold to the Italian brothels? The world may never know.)

The tipsy version is just as delicious as the original. The espresso flavor is amped up by the addition of coffee extract to balance the sweetness of the liqueur, and by using crispy or traditional Italian lady fingers, you avoid the soggy outcome of my first tiramisu attempt. The recipe is also scaled down to serve two, which adds to the romance.

So it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean or the South Pacific — or at your own kitchen table — if the tiramisu’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’.

Plan a full date-night dinner that will make any evening feel like a special occasion. Butter-Broiled Filet Mignon, Gourmet Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Sautéed Asparagus with Lemon will taste like they came from the kitchen of your favorite steakhouse — or one of the fine-dining options on your favorite cruise liner. But between you and me, they’re incredibly simple to prepare at home. Subscribers to Around the World in 80 Plates have access to all three romantic recipes this week.

Tipsy Tiramisu for Two

biscotti savoiardi

Using an electric mixer in a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar until they are doubled in volume and lighten to a pale yellow; they should be the color of butter.

In another bowl, use an electric mixer to whip the cream and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks form when you raise the mixer. Avoid overmixing. Add the mascarpone and beat until fully combined into a spreadable mixture.

Prepare two individually-sized serving dishes by sifting a small amount of cocoa powder into the bottom of each.

Combine the Kahlúa and coffee extract in a shallow bowl. If necessary, break the lady fingers into smaller pieces that will fit snugly into a layer on the bottom of each serving dish. Quickly dip each lady finger into the Kahlúa and coffee mixture; don’t leave them for more than a second, or they’ll soak up too much liquid and fall apart. Place the dipped lady fingers into the bottom of a serving dish, creating an even layer in each.

Spread a generous layer of the mascarpone cream mixture on top of the lady fingers, being sure to press down gently as you spread it to seal the edges around the dish. If you have deeper serving dishes and more ingredients left, you may choose to add another layer of dipped lady fingers topped by another layer of the mascarpone cream.

Sift the remaining cocoa powder evenly over the two dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of six hours; 24 hours in the refrigerator will yield an even better flavor.

This week’s recipes for subscribers only:

  • Butter-Broiled Filet Mignon: You only need two ingredients for the most delicious steak you’ve ever made.
  • Gourmet Garlic Mashed Potatoes: Put away the masher. There are two tricks to making effortlessly creamy potatoes that are full of flavor.
  • Sautéed Asparagus with Lemon: This is the opposite of the limp, mushy, brownish asparagus you may have had in the past.

Food and folklore from my travels to over 100 countries.

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