Conquering My Late Father-in-Law’s Tiramisu

In 2014, I went to my very first marathon.

And by “went to,” I don’t mean “ran.”

I was a spectator at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon–one that my very new boyfriend was running. I’d never been to a marathon before and, as many of you know, it was this first experience as Anthony’s “water girl” and the indescribable elation of participating in this collective athletic conquest that ultimately led to my love of long-distance running.

It was also the first time I met Robert, my very new boyfriend’s father.

Anthony made it clear during the first few months of our budding romance that his best friend in the entire world wasn’t his little brother, the neighborhood boy he clambered up the roof with when he was 10 years old, or any of the kids that dressed up like KISS with him for Halloween.

Anthony’s best friend was his father.

They had that kind of relationship that I think many Korean kids are jealous of. I was no exception to that rule. Korean dads are notoriously aloof, leaving 90% of child-rearing to their wives, demonstrating little to no affection to their offspring. My father’s main contributions involved weekly math tutoring, picking me up from school, and the occasional game of Chinese chess (which I hated). It was hardly the “father-daughter” stuff of after school television (though, don’t get me wrong–I always knew my father loved me).

In contrast, “after school sitcom-y” is exactly the way I would describe Anthony’s relationship with his Dad. Robert was not just Anthony’s first playmate, he was his soccer coach, career coach, and confidante. I was envious of their relationship.

But, on that day in 2014, I was terrified.

It’s always a little nerve wracking to meet your new boyfriend’s parents, but it was especially intimidating to meet the man that Anthony often spoke of as a hero.

What if he didn’t like me?

Of course, my fears were totally unfounded. He not only “liked” a photograph I posted from the race on Facebook (which was more heart-pounding than getting a “like” from freaking Beyoncé), but after that evening, Robert and I became fast friends.

Over the course of the next year, I discovered a joy of cooking and baking thanks, in part, to Robert (who was an excellent cook and baker). It turns out that one of the side-benefits of dating Anthony was all the amazing Italian food I got to eat, including Robert’s tiramisu.

Sadly, I only got to try it once before Robert passed away about a year later. As a result, I can’t really remember what it tasted like. I do remember, though, thinking that there was something thrilling about getting to try a tiramisu from someone who’d been making and eating it for decades and thus knew how to make it taste the BEST from so many years of trial and error and experience.

The Challenge: Making a Vegan Tiramisu.

When I went vegan in 2016, making a vegan tiramisu was not on my list of priorities. It looked really hard unlike the chocolate cake I’d veganized practically on Day 1 of going vegan. As such, Anthony and I opted simply to eat as many vegan versions of this classic Italian dish at various restaurants across the world, including in Italy (I can still remember a lovely iteration of this dish called “Cocomisu” (a coconut cream based version) that we enjoyed at a small eatery in Sardegna.

For whatever reason, though, in the last six months, I developed a hankering to try making my own vegan tiramisu. Without ceremony or fanfare, I presented my husband with my very first attempt a few months ago, to which he replied,

“Wait, when did you decide to make a vegan tiramisu? You do realize that it’s literally my favorite dessert, right?”

The truth was, I hadn’t realized that tiramisu was my husband’s favorite dessert. But his words might as well have been the proverbial gauntlet, the grenade that inevitably exploded into 20 versions of plant-based tiramisu over the next several weeks, as I set out to make a version that Anthony would like, but, more importantly, would have made his best friend proud.

There’s no way to cram a lifetime of eating and making tiramisu in the span of a few months. But I consulted many blogs, articles, videos–vegan and non-vegan–and, of course, Robert’s recipe for tiramisu, as I continued to refine my own. And, needless to say, Anthony was my happy and more-than-willing taste tester, providing thoughtful insight on how he remembered his father’s most renowned dessert.

I must have whipped up 20 cans of aquafaba, gone through dozens of tubes of soondooboo (the softest version of Korean tofu), and experimented with dozens of formulas for the perfect ladyfinger. Anthony’s “it can’t be CAKE!” became a refrain around the house, propelling me to dunk and soak my savoiardi in the espresso syrup longer and longer, until they grew so soggy they fell apart before I even had a chance to layer them in my casserole dish and a friend remarked, “I mean, I love your food, but…it’s too espresso-y for me…”

Eventually, through a very concentrated and determined period of trial and error, I arrived at something that I loved, even if I couldn’t honestly recall Robert’s version. And while that’s all that matters at the end of the day, it was quite satisfying to hear Anthony say,

“I think you’ve got it. This is the BEST vegan tiramisu I’ve ever had. In fact, I’d be happy to have this at any Italian restaurant–vegan or not.”

This Week’s Recipe Inspo.

A Slice of Vegan Tiramisu

What I’m…

Watching. A friend of mine recommended this show to me and I finished the entire thing in 2 days–I could not stop watching it!! Framed as a documentary on the US jury system, jurors are tailed throughout the entirety of a single trial. The twist, however, is that only one juror is an actual juror–everyone else in the show, from the judge, to fellow jurors, to even the deputy who brings in the lunch, are all paid actors! With tons of laughs and plenty of heart, this is a fun and easy watch. Check it out, you’ll be glad you did!

Reading. Any Lisa Jewell fans out there?? I’ve been reading Lisa Jewell for years and I have to say, None of this is True is now one of my favorites. It kept me on the edge of my psychological seat from the get-go. Jewell does a great job of incorporating prescient themes and thought-provoking questions about the impact of our very digital world on our continued pursuit of truth. I highly recommend both the traditional and audio versions (I love the actress who reads Jewell’s books!).

Excited About. We’ve all been waiting for Nisha Vora’s next book for like 100 years…. ok, maybe not, but it sure does feel like it! The Creator of the amazing blog and YouTube channel, Rainbow Plant Life, recently announced the launch of her second book, Big Vegan Flavor, and it shot up the Amazon rankings like a rocket. Don’t miss out and pre-order your copy NOW!!

The Sporkful Live: Anything’s Pastable With Dan Pashman And Joanne Molinaro (March 21 in Chicago!)

Join me and Dan Pashman for a live recording of his popular and award-winning podcast, The Sporfkul, on March 21 in Chicago. We’ll be discussing his new cookbook, “Anything’s Pastable!”

Parting Thoughts.

This past week, I spent a few days in Puerto Rico with some friends. Don’t get too excited–I didn’t leave our AirBNB, other than to get in a couple workouts and visit the grocery store across the street. I know, I can be rather boring. Honestly, I would have been equally content if the BNB was located in Houston, Texas–I just wanted to be around my friends for a few days, while getting some work done (i.e., the Tiramisu recipe!).

Though I didn’t party all night or sunbathe on the beach, I did a lot of things I haven’t done since college. I stayed up all night–literally until the birds were chirping–every single night to talk with one of my girlfriends. We laughed a lot, cried a little, and exchanged secrets we only felt safe sharing when it was dark. Instead of going out to eat, we headed to the grocery store as a group, collectively acquiring ingredients for homemade tacos and “souped up salsa.” We all did the “work thing” a little, only “work” is a little unusual for a house full of YouTubers: we traded notes on the best cameras, the best app for burning subtitles into our vertical videos, the ups and downs of algorithms, and, of course, the looming showdown between TikTok and Congress.

When it was time to go home, I was exhausted, practically delirious from sleep deprivation by the time I got the 4:30am notification that my taxi had arrived to take me to the airport. The house was asleep as I left for the red-eye back to LAX. Slipping into my sneakers, I counted the shoes gathered together at the front door. And I was reminded that there was no safer feeling in the world than seeing so many empty shoes. A full house equals a full heart, I thought, as my cab driver ushered me into the backseat.

I’ve talked about it before, but making friends isn’t always easy in your 40s. We don’t have school to introduce us to new people every few years or “force” us to get to know teammates on the track team, bandmates in Jazz Band, fellow nerds in Math Club. Work? Well, it’s the same people, usually, day-in and day-out: you’re either already “friends” with them or you’ve figured out a way to avoid them.

Social media sprang into my life in 2008, when my brother convinced me to try Facebook. It became a real, live hobby when I started The Korean Vegan in 2016. Then, it became my career in 2021, when I chose to be a full-time content creator. I never would have guessed all the way back when I uploaded my very first “profile pic” on Facebook that, one day, I’d be headed to a “retreat” with some of my closest friends–all of whom I met on social media. For folks who are painfully shy “in real life,” who have a hard time letting their guard down with just about everyone, or maybe just don’t understand, yet, the value of fellowship with one’s peers, the online world can offer a stepping stone–one that maybe isn’t as intimidating as a happy hour or “networking” conference.

For all its flaws (and there are so many), I’m grateful that the internet has brought these people into my life–has brought all of you into my life. I get to spill all my half-formed thoughts and feelings into your inbox–a type of generosity that sometimes takes my breath away–and, so very often, you reciprocate, proving, over and over again, that however painful life can get, we are never alone.

Wishing you all the best,

Comments And Questions

vegan tiramisu on a plate with a fork against a flowery background

March 18, 2024

Join The Discussion

  1. Sid says:

    Absolutely love the Tiramisu. Indistinguishable from the non vegan version. Interesting to hear the inspiration behind it

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