A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe yields an iconic Italian dessert that gets its subtle flavor profile from both strong coffee and sweet liquor.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe
Some will read this and giggle…doesn’t EVERYBODY know what Tiramisu is? I have learned the correct answer to this question is ‘no.’ So, to first define, an authentic Italian Tiramisu is an iconic dessert oftentimes referred to as a cake, though better described as a creamy coffee and liquor-spiked dessert that looks like something in between a trifle and a Napoleon. Because there are so few components to this dessert, the freshness and quality of its ingredients are paramount to a Tiramisu’s success.
Because there are so few components to this dessert, the freshness and quality of its ingredients are paramount to a Tiramisu’s success.
In this version of the classic, it’s more about the freshness and the sheer quality of the ingredients that are going to make this dessert a success on your table. Trust me when I advise for you to take the time to track down all of the components as I have them listed herein.
Do You Have What’s Needed To Make A Classic Tiramisu? Check The List!
Americano, espresso, or other strong coffee
heavy whipping cream
unsweetened cocoa powder
fresh fruit for garnishing
semisweet chocolate bar for making chocolate curls or shavings for garnishing
How This Recipe Came About…
The first time I observed Tiramisu being made, I was eleven years old. I watched an Italian grandma on my street use 18 eggs in her version of this Italian recipe for tiramisu. That said, there were multiple generations living in that household; 11 people to be exact, so thinking about it later on, 18 eggs didn’t seem like too many…
Fast forward to today (and reality!) and my always being on the hunt for easier versions of classic dishes. Thing is, an easy Tiramisu recipe is not something that can have its “parts” altered in too many ways before it’s no longer Tiramisu.
What Substitutions Can I Make In A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe?
That said, there is some flexibility when selecting the coffee, the liquor, and the ladyfingers. In preparation for the queries I know I will receive regarding the replacement of mascarpone cheese with cream cheese, the answer is ‘no.’ At least not in this recipe, although I am certain that if it’s your preference to use cream cheese, finding an alternate recipe on the internet would not be difficult.
For the coffee, an authentic Tiramisu recipe will specify “strong coffee.” Unless you are outfitted with a barista-style espresso machine at home, I recommend hitting the drive-thru at Starbucks and ordering the coffee. Why?
The coffee plays a big, big role in this method, and securing strong coffee, probably a whole lot stronger than you are used to making at home, is key. Order an Americano or an espresso at your local coffee shop. The espresso in an Americano adds an intensely aromatic flavor that just cannot be achieved any other way.
You’ll need 1 1/2 cups, so if ordering just espresso, you may need to order several or just go for the Venti Americano and call it a day. Allow the coffee to cool to room temperature before using.
For the liquor, sweet Marsala wine has always been used to sweeten the mascarpone mixture that makes up Tiramisu’s seductive layers. That said, replacing sweet Marsala with a quality Cognac or rum won’t automatically deem this Italian Tiramisu recipe a guise. I must impress here though, that you WILL taste the liquor you select, so make it a good quality choice.
Last, but not least, the ladyfingers. If you’ve purchased ladyfingers before, you know that most store-bought varieties vary from soft and spongy to hard and crunchy. The difference is better explained by comparing angel food cake to biscotti.
Any ladyfinger you select will work, but should you purchase the soft and spongy, forgo ‘the coffee dip’ and opt instead for brushing the coffee onto an assembled layer of cookies with a pastry brush. This way, you add the espresso without the layer becoming soggy.
How To Make A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe?
Now that I’ve impressed the importance of ingredients, let’s make a Tiramisu. Assemble in a trifle dish for an exquisite presentation. Alternatively, this may be assembled in a springform pan. Lastly, can simply grab a pretty 9 x 9-inch baking dish.
Pour the coffee into a pie plate. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the sweet Marsala to the coffee. I go 3 tablespoons, but if you’re not sure you’ll be keen on the flavor of the Marsala, go 2 tablespoons. Set aside.
In a metal mixing bowl, combine the raw eggs, sugar, and more sweet Marsala. Set the bowl atop but NOT IN a pot of simmering water much like you’d set up a double boiler. Use an electric hand mixer to beat the mixture until it reaches 160°F AND has doubled in volume.
This is the basis for our mascarpone cream. Egg yolks, egg whites, it matters not as it’s all combined. The process may take as many as 10 minutes, so focus on the temperature and the volume, as there’s no skipping ahead here.
Remove from the heat and turn your attention to whipping heavy cream into stiff peaks. Use a wire whisk to whisk the mascarpone cheese into the egg mixture GENTLY. As it’s incorporated, the mascarpone will melt. Now fold in that peeky whipped cream.
The Final Assembly
To put this all together, set up a kind of assembly line for yourself – ladyfingers, coffee, then baking dish. If you’re using hard and crunchy ladyfingers similar if hardness to say biscotti, dunk each cookie in the coffee and arrange snuggly side by side in the bottom of the baking dish. If however, using soft and spongy ladyfingers, arrange snuggly side by side in the bottom of the baking dish and use a pastry brush to brush the coffee mixture over each cookie.
Follow with an even layer of half the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers, then repeat beginning with the ladyfingers again, then remaining mascarpone mixture. The whole dish then gets a dusting of a tablespoon cocoa powder…or three. Use plastic wrap to cover the baking dish tightly without allowing the wrap to actually touch or rest on the Tiramisu itself. Now the hard part of this recipe – THE WAIT!
Modifying The Norm To Make It Not Entirely Average…
There is nothing here, based on the way the recipe is written, that I would personally change. That said, I could see a teaspoon of raspberry or amaretto being added to both the mascarpone mixture as well as the coffee mixture for a “flavored” Tiramisu. I’d definitely then serve it with fresh raspberries, chocolate curls, or fresh roasted apricots with almonds.
How Long Does A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe Take To Make?
This recipe in particular may be ready in as few as 9 hours. No sooner. Cutting into it sooner will result in the walls of your layered masterpiece collapsing in on themselves.
Personally, I make this 24 hours in advance of serving it. The longer it has to set up and the longer those silky liquor-spiked layers have to marry, the better.
Assembling a full day ahead also ensures that you will get nicely defined slices of Tiramisu. Use a chef’s knife to make cuts and use a damp cloth to wipe the blade after every pass. I do NOT recommend a serrated knife.
Can A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe Be Made Ahead?
The whole idea behind this fabulous dessert is time – time to make, time to set up, time for the flavors to marry. As I referenced above, I prepare 24 hours in advance of serving. Any fewer than 9 hours chilling/setting time will result in collapsing layers. Tiramisu is among the most popular make ahead, no-bake dessert recipes.
What Main Dishes Should I Serve When Planning A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe?
I make Tiramisu for so many occasions. Christmas, Valentine’s Day, a warm summer night. Makes no difference to me because it’s so fantastic.
If serving during the holidays, consider my Christmas Beef Tenderloin Roast and Whipped Horseradish Creme. Valentine’s Day I serve it after a hearty Pork Parmigiana bowl complete with angel hair pasta. And for that warm summer night, maybe an easy Chicken Francaise.
What To Drink With A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe?
This is a fun dessert meant to be dressed up. Of course, there is the proverbial glass of milk. But also consider hot espresso with a pony of amaretto or Sambuca. Better yet, take the amaretto or Sambuca straight with just some fired coffee beans afloat.
If you are one to take a wine with dessert, Tiramisu dictates a sweet wine such as a Barsac from Sauternes in Bordeaux. My immediate “go to’s” here are Chateau Climens Barsac or Chateau Coutet Sauternes-Barsac. Both classified as dessert wines, both blends, and either one PERFECT for Tiramisu.
Classic Tiramisu Recipe
- 9 x 9-inch baking dish or trifle bowl or springform 9-inch pan
- pie plate or wide shallow bowl
- handheld electric mixer
- double boiler or large metal mixing bowl and medium sized pot that the bowl can rest atop but not in
- spatula for folding
- plastic film
- fine mesh sieve for dusting
- optional: vegetable peeler for chocolate curls or chocolate shavings
Ingredients for A Traditional Tiramisu Recipe
- 1 1/2 cups Americano or espresso coffee room temperature: I recommend just picking up at a local coffee shop or Starbucks to ensure you've got a good and strong coffee
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sweet Marsala divided
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 24 to 30 ladyfingers
- unsweetened cocoa powder
- fresh fruit to garnish optional
- semisweet chocolate bar for chocolate curls or shavings optional
- Pour coffee into a pie dish or wide shallow bowl with 2 tablespoons of the Marsala. Combine eggs, sugar, and remaining 1/3 cup Marsala in a large double boiler only half full of simmering water or a metal bowl set on top of (but not in) a pot of simmering water. Use an electric hand mixer to beat the eggs until mixture doubles in volume and reaches 160°F on a thermometer. This process may take up to 10 minutes and several tests using an instant read thermometer.
- Remove mixture from heat and allow to cool slightly. Clean and dry beaters. In another bowl, use the electric mixer to whip heavy cream to form peaks. Set aside.
- Gently whisk the mascarpone cheese into egg mixture. I find it helps to break up the mascarpone into large spoonful's versus simply emptying the whole container into the egg mixture. Mascarpone with slowly melt as it's whisked in. Fold in the freshly whipped cream.
- If you're using hard and crunchy ladyfingers similar of hardness to say biscotti, dunk each cookie in the coffee and arrange snuggly side by side in the bottom of the baking dish. If, however, using soft and spongy ladyfingers similar to angel food cake, arrange snuggly side by side in the bottom of the baking dish and use a pastry brush to brush the coffee mixture over each cookie.
- Evenly spread half of mascarpone cream over the moistened ladyfingers. Dip or brush remaining half of ladyfingers in coffee and repeat layering with cookies and mascarpone cream.
- Use a fine mesh sieve to sift a layer of cocoa over the entire top so it infuses the mascarpone cream. Wrap dish with plastic film making sure the plastic does not touch or rest upon the tiramisu. Refrigerate at least 9 hours and up to 1 day. To serve, sift another layer of cocoa over top and cut into squares. Arrange on plates with fruit, chocolate curls, or chocolate shavings if desired.