Dueling Desserts

Chef Marc Murphy learned about pistachio tiramisu on a trip to italy.
Chef Marc Murphy learned about pistachio tiramisu on a trip to italy. Cedric Angeles

When it comes to dessert, there’s nothing more Italian than tiramisu and cannoli. Here, two chefs square off on their love for each.

To Marc Murphy, executive chef and restaurateur of Landmarc and Ditch Plains, Italian desserts are perfect. They’re simple, not too sweet, and served in smaller, just-right portions.  

“It’s not about [being] over the top, six layers of whipped cream, and sparklers coming off the top like you do in France, with tempered chocolate and complexities like that,” Murphy says. “It’s taken a bit differently over in Italy. You just have to have something right before the espresso and the grappa.”

In his time spent living in Italy (he was born in Milan), Murphy says it was common for diners to be served whatever fruit was fresh at the market that day for the dessert course—a simplicity he says is underrated in many U.S. restaurants, where decadence rules the dessert menu. 

“If I had to describe Italian desserts in one word, it would be subtleness,” he says. “The subtlety of flavor is, I think, the reason that Italian desserts can be under-appreciated and could use some more recognition.” 

Murphy is certainly doing his part to get simple Italian desserts the recognition they deserve by allowing subtlety to shine through in the dessert menu at his latest restaurant, Kingside.

We had Murphy go to bat for his beloved tiramisu, while chef Adrienne Bandlow stands up for the other Italian staple: cannoli.

In this corner: Tiramisu 

The Italian word tiramisù translates literally to “pick me up.” And after years of stagnation in the U.S. market, the dessert has been in need of a little elevation.

The Pistachio Tiramisu at Kingside in uptown New York City does just that by presenting a fresh, flavorful, and elegant spin on the old mainstay.

“Tiramisu is one of those desserts that was around a lot in America, and maybe even overused at a certain point,” Murphy says. “It was great for so many years for a reason, and when I found this new twist, I just felt like, ‘Tiramisu is not dead! It’s still delicious and exciting.’”

Tiramisu is traditionally made by layering coffee-dipped ladyfingers with a cocoa-flavored mixture of eggs, sugar, brandy, and Mascarpone cheese. But while visiting some friends in Rome, Murphy discovered a new take to tiramisu that he loved: Adding pistachios, another favorite flavor in Italian cuisine, but one that he had never seen used in this way. He was especially surprised to see this twist in Rome, where the cuisine is notoriously entrenched in tradition and consumers are wary of innovation. 

“It’s a place where, if it doesn’t taste like mom made it, then it’s not right. So this really surprised and impressed me,” Murphy says. 

He immediately put the recipe on the dessert menu when he opened Kingside in 2013. The Pistachio Tiramisu also got a spot in his April 2015 cookbook, Season with Authority.

While the recipe contains all of the classic ingredients, the pistachio paste, whole shelled pistachios, and a pinch of cream tartar bring a little something different to the table, especially when coupled with its presentation in a small glass jar. 

By drawing attention to a dish that was at one point so standardized and ubiquitous that it was often overlooked, Murphy is bringing back the spark to tiramisu, and supporting a resurgence of respect for its subtlety. 


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