Tiramisu – the final word in desserts! Apparently, Tiramisu means “pick me up” or “cheer me up” in Italian. Very fitting!!
Tiramisu is a classic no-bake dessert with store-bought ladyfingers, called savoiardi, dipped in espresso. Traditionally, Marsala wine would be added to the espresso but for an alcohol-free version, it can easily be omitted. Some Italian recipes add coffee liqueur to the cream instead of using Marsala, either way is fine. Just remember that wine has a much lower alcohol content so you need to use much less of the liqueur.
Some home cooks have experimented with other flavoured liqueurs like Grand Marnier, which is orange-flavoured, or Amaretto, which is almond-flavoured. Everyone has a different taste, of course, but personally, I like the coffee flavour to shine on its own.
The cream is based on egg yolks and mascarpone. The egg yolks can be gently cooked with sugar like a custard base but this step is more for your peace of mind and not necessary for the texture and hold of the cream. Some people add only mascarpone cheese to the yolk mixture, some also add wipped cream to lighten it, and some add egg whites instead – or even both.
Whatever you do, don’t compromise on the mascarpone, though. Yes, the fat content is higher than cream cheese but will give you the distinct flavour and texture. I have seen light sour cream, yogurt and cream cheese substituted but the results were far from the real thing. So instead of substituting, consider taking a smaller portion and freezing some for later!
The first Tiramisu recipe that I was given by a friend from Italy included egg whites as well as whipped cream with the mascarpone mixture. While the taste and even texture is wonderful, this combination works much better for layering in a trifle bowl than for a dessert that can be cut into slices as the cream is less stiff and won’t hold up well for slicing. So my recipe has been changing over the years and here is my version without egg whites but with added whipped cream.
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups mascarpone
1 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cups very strong espresso
1/4 cup marsala OR 2 tbsp coffee liqueur (either is optional)
between 300 – 400g or about 40 savoiardi biscuits*, depending on your dish
cocoa for dusting
*Those are dry cookies, also called ladyfingers, not to be confused with the more cake-like variety that will not soak up the liquid as needed.
Brew the espresso or make instant espresso or extremely strong coffee. Pour into a shallow pan and let cool. Add Marsala, if using.
In a double boiler, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until slightly thickened and tripled in volume. (You can also do this step without heating.) Make sure not to have the heat too high or else you will end up with scrambled eggs. Let cool slightly.
Add the mascarpone to the egg yolk mixture and beat until well mixed and no lumps remain. Add the liqueur, if using.
In a separate bowl, whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Fold it into the mascarpone mixture.
To assemble, you can use a 9×13″ dish or anything of similar size.
Dip each side of each savoiardi biscuit briefly into the coffee and layer to cover the bottom of your pan.
Spread half of the cream over the biscuits, then repeat the process with the remaining biscuits and cream.
Cover and refrigerate overnight to let the flavours blend and the biscuits soak up the liquid. Dust with cocoa and serve.