Friday, 1 October 2010

That Is Not Tiramisu

Occasionally I have been known to don an apron, carefully tuck in my cravat, and whip up a dessert in the Cravat Towers kitchen. One of my ‘signature’ dishes is that late eighties classic Tiramisu and I must admit it is normally very well received and particularly toothsome. Recently, however, I had cause to re-evaluate my performance in the face of stiff competition from all sides.

The first attack was delivered by the present Mrs. C when she had the temerity to choose Tiramisu on a recent excursion to Theo Randall’s eponymous restaurant. She taunted me with her description of the lightness of texture and defined flavours and even I would admit it looked very workmanlike but to my mind it was close but not quite there. It was a bit ‘Tiramisu Lite’ in that there were two layers of very light sponge and there was not alcohol ‘hit. The flavoured filing was beautifully light but again did not have the necessary ‘oomph’ to act as a pick me up. The cardinal sin, as far as I was concerned, was that the bottom layer of sponge was chocolate flavoured! I am sure there are Italian ladies of a certain age around the world reaching for the smelling salts at the thought of such a travesty but there it was. Chocolate sponge! At Theo Randall’s! The chef who professes to love simple Italian food without pretension! Whatever next?

Step forward Celebrity Masterchef, the program where a couple of blokes (one bald and shouty, and the other wearing and increasingly bizarre range of tasteless cardigans) gurn at the camera whilst minor ‘celebrities’ cook increasingly tortured food for even lesser celebrities. It was the FINAL, and the thin blonde contestant (who had continued through the competition despite continually making mistakes and having a nervous breakdown each time John Torode put her food near his flip-top mouth) had to make a ‘deconstructed’ TIRAMISU under the guidance of some MICHELIN STARRED CHEF. After making a VANILLA flavoured sponge (which was heavy according to the judges) this was topped with a COFFEE cream before chilling, covering with CHOCOLATE, topped with CREAM and another thin sheet of CHOCOLATE! As Mr Shouty would say – THAT IS NOT TIRAMISU! It’s a ponced about chocolate sponge cake. I don’t care if you dust it with cocoa powder and put a quenelle of marscapone on the side, it’s still not Tiramisu. Oh, quelle suprise, the young blonde won the competition, beating the battleaxe and the man with a hairy caterpillar under his nose, despite being the worst cook out of the three – no dodgy dealings there then!.

My apologies for all the SHOUTING there. When are the BBC going to get rid of Wallace and Torode? The Shouty Costermonger is, at least, a fairly decent sort of bloke but he’s certainly not a expert in fine food despite his waistline. Mr Cardigan is an altogether different beast, a reasonable cook perhaps but overly sensitive to any divergence from his views, and not a very nice character. On a purely personal note Torode’s tasting style never ceases to annoy, especially as his overladen fork fails to cleanly negotiate the gaping cavern that his mouth becomes and you get the sharp crack of metal against teeth – absolutely truly stomach-turning. Together, with their cliché ridden behind the scenes discussions and appalling background face pulling and smiting of brows, they have become a parody of a not very successful music hall act. The concept of the show is fine, if a bit dated now, but why do they persist with these two braying buffoons?

My apologies for the digression but it just had to be said! So, after two instances of people ‘failing’ my signature dish I just felt I needed to create my own, if only to prove to Mrs. C that I am indeed The Tiramisu Maestro! The ideal opportunity arose at a family dinner prior to Mrs. C’s cousin’s daughter’s wedding so some thirty hours prior to EET (Expected Eating Time) I started the science that would culminate in a proper Tiramisu. The Marsala and Brandy were mixed, and half combined with the expresso coffee. Egg yolks were beaten with sugar and marscapone added, the whites beaten until stiff before folding into the marsccapne mix and then the cooled coffee mixture added. The sponge fingers (bought, vanilla, and as the Italians do it) were drenched in the marsala and brandy and layered in the bottom of the presentation dish before half the creamy mixture was ladled over them. A second layer followed before being consigned to the fridge for all the flavours to meld and the filling to firm up. Five hours prior to EET a generous layer of finely grated bitter chocolate covers the top of the pudding and VOILA!, a proper Tiramisu. The contrast of the velvety filling with the alcoholic hit from the soaked soft sponge and the bitterness of the chocolate was heavenly and did indeed reinstate me at the top of the Italian Pudding podium, as agreed by Mrs..C. so it must be true! And the following morning a small spoonful prior to breakfast proved it is correctly named. Wonderful!

So, I can hear you all ask, what was the point of this particular ramble through the convoluted passageways of the Cravat psyche? In this age of over-elaboration and fusion this and that have we actually lost our way ? If I buy a tin of red emulsion paint, I expect a sweep of my paintbrush to deliver a deep red splash of colour on my wall, not a complex swathe of the component hues. If that was what I wanted then I would have bought a tin of ‘complex swathe of component hues (red)’ emulsion paint. If I order Tiramisu, surely I should get just that, not some tortuous overwrought, deconstructed, artifice?

We already have various food movements such as Slow Food, Field to Plate etc.. but I feel there is room for one more and I am therefore launching the ‘Pure Classics, Truthful Menus’ movement and I invite you all to join me. I am happy for chefs to produce their interpretations of classic dishes, just put a truthful descriptive name on the menu. If the menu says Tiramisu, you are right to expect a classic Tiramisu and, to my mind, perfectly entitled to send any travesty masquerading as Tiramisu back to the kitchen. United, we can claim back our beloved Classics!  Even I have meddled with classic dishes occasionally but have proudly proclaimed my 'ingenuity and creativeness' rather than admitting I'd forgotten an ingredient or my artistic side just got the better of me!

I recently ate at a couple of very contrasting but both excellent pubs in deepest Essex (I am waiting to return to one before writing a review, and the other I just haven't got around to writing the review of yet - so little time, so many restaurants!) that delivered on nthe plate exactly what it said on the menu or blackboard.  Well done indeed to those establishments but why can't everyone else follow their fine examples. 
Stand up and be counted - let 'Pure Classics - Truthful Menus' be our rallying cry!

Oh, and if we could get rid of the 'comedy'double act along the way, all well and good .

1 comment:

  1. *awe*

    You are a gentleman after my own heart. Bravo sir, bravo. Many is the time I have sat in a restaurant and said "Well, it is perfectly nice but it just ISN'T [whatever it was purported to be]."

    (and yes, I am slowly working my way back through your blog.)