Short List: Tiramisu

At worst, tiramisu can be a travesty of a dessert – a dense mix of mascarpone and too-sweet whipped cream, ladyfingers gone to mush and a finish of cheap booze and bitter coffee. But made well, this classic Italian dessert is truly brilliant – light and airy, rich and sweet but not cloyingly so. The ladyfingers take on the texture of a moist cake, and the liquor is beautifully balanced with the coffee and chocolate. Sometimes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you get to the prince. Herein lie my favorite Italian royalty.

I Fratellini
7624 Wydown Blvd., St. Louis, 314.727.7901

No matter what you order the next time you sit down for a meal at I Fratellini, save room for the tiramisu. This is a dessert that angels would sing about. Ladyfingers are dipped in Marsala and Kahluá, lending their luscious flavors without overpowering the dish. The ratio of egg to mascarpone to whipped cream is ideal, keeping things light – and me giggling with glee.

Sugo’s Spaghetteria
10419 Clayton Road, St. Louis, 314.569.0400

The recipe is Mary Rose “Mama” Del Pietro’s, and although I used my best detective skills, the only secret I could get out of her son, Michael, was “we whip the heck out of it.” However, there is no question that one of the ingredients is love. I picked up a hint of anise from the ladyfingers, perhaps, and certainly a bit of dark rum. This version is wonderfully creamy yet incredibly light. Mama knows what makes it great, but she’s not telling!

5356 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.772.4893

Featured years ago on Food Network’s Cooking Live With Sara Moulton, Gian-Tony’s tiramisu is renowned – and for good reason. It arrived at the table sitting in a small pool of Frangelico and Amaretto, a tasty but not-too-potent puddle of boozy perfection. Substituting these liqueurs for the more traditional rum or Marsala wine gave the dish a delightful nuttiness that paired perfectly with the shaved cocoa and sweet mascarpone.

To see this month's Short List Runner-Up, click here.