Tiramisù: a Nora Ephron pick-me-up

July 2, 2012

Nora Ephron died this week and my first thoughts were of dessert. Well, it was dinnertime after all.

A respected journalist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist, producer and director Ephron also loved good food and the Italian dessert tiramisù was a favourite. In her DVD commentary for 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle she says, “It hardly seems possible there was a time when all of America didn’t know what tiramisù was”.

In one of the film’s best scenes, widower Tom Hanks is getting ready for his first date in 13 years when friend Rob Reiner explains things have now changed and his date will probably pay for her own meal and if sex is likely, he’ll use a condom. And, most importantly “there is now tiramisù”. Hanks has no idea what tiramisù is and Reiner replies “you’ll find out”. Panicking, Hanks shouts “You better tell me … some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is”.

There’s always much debate regarding tiramisù’s origins. Most roads tend to lead to the Beccherie restaurant in Treviso, north-eastern Italy. Pastry chef Roberto Linguanotto claims to have given birth to the dessert in 1970 while working there and it was originally called “Tiramesù” in the regional dialect, ie “pick-me-up”.

As far as Australia goes, journalist David Dale wrote some time ago in the Sydney Morning Herald that tiramisù was introduced in 1977 by restaurateur Giuseppe Zuzza – first at Darcy’s in Paddington, then at Glebe’s Mixing Pot restaurant. I ate it for the first time at Darcy’s in 1978, where I was taken for special occasions during the honeymoon period of a long-forgotten relationship. Dale also writes it may have been invented in Trieste in the 1950s and the recipe then taken to Treviso. I hate to admit it, but I’ve scoured my mother’s old Trieste cuisine cookbooks and there’s no reference to it, just zuppa inglese (trifle). So much controversy.

The building block of our 1960s-style tiramisù (left)


the real deal (right)

Well, I think MY family invented it. In the early 1960s, we made our own Sydney inner-west version – with Arnott’s Milk Coffee biscuits (the ones with the three rows of pinholes and the scalloped edges) and I think we called it “Torta Fredda” (Cold Cake). No, really. Not a sponge finger or Savoiardi in sight, just standard issue Oz biscuits that produced a more solid, tightly compacted cake than the new tiramisù.

I loved helping to soak the biscuits alternately in coffee and Marsala, as my father made large vats of chocolate buttercream* to spread between the biscuit layers and then thickly coat the cake and trowel the sides like a brick wall. I’m guessing that this cake may have been influenced by the squillion layered, artery blocking Hungarian Dobos torte. *(Ephron once said “you can never have too much butter”, so I feel much better).

Some think Ephron’s 1983 novel Heartburn was unique for including recipes, so it’s only fitting that I include her tiramisù recipe in this usually recipe-free blog.


And on New Year’s Day 1965, we celebrated with “Cold Cake”.

The official Tiramisù site:


The Beccherie restaurant:



  1. This is great. My husband is a Tiramisu lover and is quite picky about it. :) We don’t find many good pastries or cafes here where servers good ones. I am not particular about it but I do love any good cake. :) Thank you for the comment in my blog.

    • Do try the recipe – it’s delicious. Please ignore however the reference I made to ‘Forget Paris’ being an Ephron film (I confused it with Billy Crystal, who directed and starred in the film). Obviously, my blood sugar levels are low. Need some tiramisu!

      • LOL…I was surprised to see you mention the film…but I thought…oh maybe I just didn’t know. I love that movie. it’s so…real, but romantic at the same time. I am a bad cook but I think you encouraged me.

      • Here we go, as promised. My latest blogpost (about stinkbugs and mandarins) features FORGET PARIS. Enjoy!

  2. I’ve never noticed the tiramisu exchange in Sleepless in Seattle. It’s priceless – as is you family recipe for the dessert. Thanks for sharing:)

    • Thanks. Yes, the tiramisu scene has Tom Hanks at his harrassed best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 162 other followers

%d bloggers like this: