My favourite part about it all was easily the crema. In more than an occasion, I begged my mum to change her well-seasoned recipe to include a higher crema-to-cookie ratio – I begged until I was listened to, or rather, I was allowed to supervise the making of the cake. The image of mum making crema al mascarpone for tiramisù is so sharply ingrained in my mind. First she would divide the yolks from the whites, and whisk them with sugar until pale yellow; then she would top this with heavy mascarpone; finally, she would fluff the whites to soft peaks, and fold them into the cream, gently, patiently. Only after all the layers had been piled, and the last avalanche of cream falling on the savoiardi was dusted in black, powdered cocoa, I was getting to do what I had been waiting for the whole time: cleaning the bowl and the wooden spoon of any little bit of cream attached to them. I was observing this, and without even knowing it, I was actively making space in my mind for these memories.
I have never made crema before, neither for tiramisù nor to be served as it is, topped with nougat or amaretti, or even just berries, and served in cups like you would find in many restaurants around Veneto. But the occasion was just right – and the theme called for it. Two years ago, together with three talented ladies with really diverse backgrounds yet with a common passion for Italian food, we decided to start this series of posts dedicated to authentic, regional Italian cuisine – with stories of real life and recipes from real kitchens. We called it Italian Table Talk and it is now at its second anniversary!
We chose to celebrate with something sweet, and to do so with a beloved theme for all of us – dolci al cucchiaio (literally, sweets by the spoon, or spoon desserts), a category including all desserts which are soft, creamy and almost spoonable – from chocolate puddings to zabaione. Emiko made a beautiful semolina pudding from her beloved Artusi book, topped with a loquat coulis; Giulia went for the classic yet evergreen chocolate pudding; and Jasmine made a crème caramel, something French-sounding yet ingrained in the Italian culinary traditions, particularly in the North.
As for me, I made my crema repeating the same gestures my mum used to perform in those days: the whisking, the folding, the chilling – a beautiful exercise in recalling flavours and memories.
Venetian Crema with Almonds
For the croccante:
60g almonds, roughly chopped
100g caster sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
4 egg yolks
In a large bowl, whisk the yolks and the sugar until the latter has dissolved and the yolks turn fluffy and pale yellow, about 10 minutes. Sift in the starch and keep whisking energetically, until fully incorporated.
Slowly pour the hot milk over the egg mixture while still whisking. Transfer it to a large saucepan and heat it over very low heat. The custard will take about 15 minutes to fully set, and during this time, you will have to keep whisking it to avoid burning or sticking. The custard is done when it visibly thickens and turns darker in colour. Remove from the heat and transfer to a glass bowl to cool.
Only when the custard has reached room temperature, whip the cream to firm peaks. Fold gently into the custard, together with the bits of croccante, until fully combined. Transfer the custard to individual cups and refrigerate for 4 hours before serving.