Italian Language Blog

Tiramisu’: a healthy version! Posted by on Jul 6, 2009 in Uncategorized

It’s time for another recipe, and as we are in the middle of a sultry summer here in Italy, in the period known as il solleone (the lion sun), what’s better than a nice, cool, refreshing dessert? Tiramisu’ is probably the best known Italian pudding in the world, but perhaps not many people are aware of the meaning of its name. Literally translated, tira-mi-su’ means “pull-me-up” or, as you say in English, “pick-me-up”. In fact we feel quite invigorated when we eat it, no? But a small slip in the spelling of its name can create an amusing mistake: a few years ago we went to a pub in a tiny village somewhere in the south of England. While sipping the local cider I happened to glance up at the menu’ written in chalk on the blackboard: one of the desserts on offer was “tiramuso”! I started giggling and had to explain to my surprised husband that the misspelling, tira-muso, means “pull-a sulky face”, quite the opposite of the original meaning!

A good Tiramisu’ is always welcome, but it’s not the sort of thing you make everyday, as it’s a very rich and time consuming recipe (too much of it will pull your cholesterol up instead of your morale). Fortunately, however, there is an alternative, and many years ago a friend of mine taught me this simple, relatively healthy, version that you can make at home with everyday ingredients, and eat without worrying too much about the consequences. I’m going to give you the recipe, but you’ll have to forgive me because I never measure things when I make it, lo faccio ad occhio (I do it by eye).


Dry, plain biscotti (biscuits), the sort we call Marie, and that we eat for breakfast dipped in “caffelatte”.

Caffe’ nero dolcificato   Black coffee, slightly sweetened.

Liquore: Brandy or similar (optional)

Burro (butter) or margarina (margarine)

Farina (flour) or Maizena (cornstarch)

Latte (milk)

Zucchero (sugar)

Cacao dolce (sweet cocoa)



Make a besciamella dolce (sweet béchamel sauce) with butter (or margarine), flour (or cornstarch), and milk, adding sugar  when it is almost cooked, and leave it to cool slightly. Mix the coffee with a couple of spoonfuls of brandy (if you choose to use it). Use a rectangular container with tall sides, made of Pyrex if possible. Put a layer of biscuits at the bottom of the container. Pour some of the coffee mixture over the top to soak them, then cover with some sweet béchamel sauce. Repeat the process of making layers in the same way until all the ingredients are finished (I often have to make some more besciamella because I’ve made too little, or I make too much sauce and have to get another container to make an extra portion of pudding, oh dear!). Put it in the fridge for several hours to cool down and set; sprinkle the top with cocoa before serving. Enjoy it chilled.

Variazione extra salutare (Extra healthy variation)

A few days ago I had some guests who didn’t drink anything caffeinated. As I didn’t have any decaffeinated coffee, I decided to improvise and use caffe’ d’orzo (barley coffee) instead, and it worked really well. Caffe’ d’orzo is a popular substitute for coffee here in Italy as it is naturally caffeine free, and let’s face it, there’s something a bit ‘unnatural’ about decaffeinated coffee! Caffe’ d’orzo is made from ground, roasted barley, and is prepared in the normal mocha (Italian coffee maker) or, even better, in the caffettiera Napoletana (Neapolitan coffee maker).

Mmm… Mi e’ venuta l’acquolina in bocca! Vado a prepararmi un buon Tiramisu’ salutare! (Mmm… my mouth is watering! I’m going to prepare a nice, healthy Tiramisu’!)

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  1. Bella:

    Hi Serena! Here in the States “la besciamella dolce” of which you speak is what we know as a cooked vanilla pudding. For those less “bravi” in cucina, that is to say that they would feel more sure with a list of amounts for the ingredients, it would be possible to find a recipe on the Internet for this preparation or even to buy a mix (preparato) for a cooked pudding. Mixes for instant pudding are available, where you just have to add milk and stir, but they lack the flavor and consistency (well, in my opinion) of a good cooked vanilla pudding. It takes a little more work and attention at the stove so the pudding does not lump or scorch, but it is worth the extra work. We also have “marie” cookies here, usually found in the section of the grocery store that sells Hispanic foods. Would it also be possible to use “savoiardi”? I ask because perhaps it would change the texture or character of this particular version of Tiramisu.
    Grazie per questa ricetta!

  2. Serena:

    Ciao Bella, scusa per il ritardo! I agree that using a ready mix saves a lot of time and it’s easier, but it doesn’t taste the same. I’ve never used “savoiardi” in this particular recipe, but you can try them. Another possibility is using “Pan di Spagna”, a plain sponge cake.

  3. sweets in bulk:

    Thanks for posting this article! I learned many things from it. Tiramisu is one of my favorite but i am afraid about my sugar level. Thanks for posting this!

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