“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo" wrote Mark Twain more than a century ago, and walking through Florence you can understand what he meant. In other cities you have to go in search of art, but in Florence there is breathtaking art wherever you look. This is the city where Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci worked side by side, creating masterpieces that are unrivaled anywhere in the world.
Standing in front of the magnificent Duomo on a moonlit night, once all the crowds have left, is a magical experience. The marble buildings seem luminescent, giving off a glow that dispels the dark in the piazza around them.
The museums of Florence are a vast treasury of beauty, all watched over by the calm gaze of Michelangelo's David, probably the most famous piece of sculpture in the world. Though people line up for hours to get a glimpse of this and other renowned masterpieces, there are magnificent sights on every corner. Just wandering through the streets feels like a lesson in art history.
Florentine cuisine is also an art form in itself. While the gigantic Bistecca Fiorentina - a huge slab of beef steak served almost rare - can easily be called Florence's signature dish, Ribollita - thick Tuscan bean and bread soup, Tomato bread soup, fluffy pillows of ricotta stuffed pasta topped with a sausage and mushroom ragu, and Chianti simmered black pepper beef over papardelle are also delicious specialties of the region.
And then there's Tiramisu, Italy's signature dessert! In spite of seeing it on every menu in every restaurant we went to, we never tired of ending our meals with it. How can you go wrong with fluffy clouds of whipped cream layered between cakey cookies drenched in syrupy coffee?! It's no wonder that Tiramisu translates into the phrase 'pick me up' - all that sugar and coffee is wonderfully reviving after a day spent sightseeing!
This delicious recipe (minus the cardamom!) has been generously provided by my friend Paola Moscato, who makes the best Tiramisu I have ever tasted! I like to add ground cardamom for it's subtle aroma which pairs well with Kahlua. Paola suggests serving just the Zabaglione cream over mixed berries as a lighter, summer alternative, if desired. This Tiramisu freezes very well, making it perfect for serving to unexpected guests!
Cardamom Kahlua Tiramisu
For the Zabaglione:
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp Kahlua liqueur
11/4 cups each: 35 % whipping cream, strong coffee (preferably espresso)
1/2 cup sugar, divided
275g tub Mascarpone cheese
1 tsp ground cardamom
2 tbsp Kahlua liqueur
200g Savoiardi biscuits
Chocolate powder for garnish
Half fill a large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.
Meanwhile, combine Zabaglione ingredients in a rounded bowl big enough to fit over the saucepan without touching the water.
Beat with a whisk until thickened, increased in volume and lightened in colour, about 5 min. Remove from heat and continue beating for 1 more min until smooth. Reserve.
In separate bowl, beat whipping cream and 1/4 cup sugar with hand mixer until thickened, about 5 min.
Add reserved zabaglione mixture and mascarpone cheese to whipped cream, beating lightly with hand mixer with each addition. Chill and reserve until needed.
Warm coffee in shallow bowl, mix in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, ground cardamom and Kahlua liqueur.
You can assemble the tiramisu in a large, deep, flat bottomed glass dish or in individual cups, according to your choice.
Dip the savoiardi cookies generously in the prepared coffee mixture and lay in a single layer in bottom of dish. Top with half of reserved zabaglione cream mixture. Repeat with one more layer of cookies dipped in coffee and remainder of the cream mixture. Sprinkle top lightly with chocolate powder.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or up to overnight for best flavour.
Serves six - eight