Tiramisu (pronounced “tih-ruh-mee-SOO”) is a popular Italian dessert that consists of ladyfingers that are soaked in espresso and rum and then topped with a mix of mascarpone cheese and custard (Zabaione). This is usually done in two to three layers. It is then finished with a topping of cocoa and shaved chocolate. Tiramisu can be served scooped out of a baking or trifle dish, or as a slice if made in cake form using a springform pan. When translated in Italian, tiramisu means “pick me up” or “carry me up”. This could refer to the caffeine kick you get from the espresso soaked ladyfingers, the increase in the feel good brain chemical serotonin due to the dark chocolate shavings and sugar, or that the dessert is so delicious that it will carry you up to heaven.
Tiramisu is traditionally made with ladyfingers or what the Italians call Savoiardi. However, sometimes an airy sponge cake is used as a cheaper substitute. For example, the tiramisu served at the Italian restaurant chain Bucca di Beppo has thin layers of an airy cake instead of ladyfingers. On a side note, If you soaked the cake of a Boston cream pie in espresso and rum you would probably have something that tastes pretty close to tiramisu.
One of the main ingredients in tiramisu is mascarpone cheese. Mascarpone (pronounced Mas-car-po-nay — Giada de Laurentiis has the best pronunciation I’ve heard) is an easily spreadable cow’s milk Italian cream cheese that has a mild flavor. It has a smoother texture than cream cheese and is kind of a cross between regular cream cheese and butter. Some dairies feed their cows flowers and herbs to produce a fresh and fragrant mascarpone.
Although mascarpone is the best cheese to use for tiramisu, there are a couple of things I must point out.
First, it can be quite expensive. Just a little eight ounce / one cup tub can cost around $5.00 USD. Being that you will need three cups of mascarpone cheese, you can see that tiramisu is quite an expensive dessert to make, and we are not even including the ladyfingers or rum yet.
Second, depending on where you live, you may have trouble finding mascarpone cheese at your local grocery store. I was able to locate some at an Italian specialty store / deli. If you have a Whole Foods near you I believe they carry it in stock, so check there. If you are unable to find some, you may want to call up your local Italian restaurant as they may be willing to sell some to you.
Finally, mascarpone cheese is loaded with fat and calories. I looked on the back of the plastic tub and just one tablespoon contains sixty calories, fifty-four of those from fat. It also contains six grams of fat with four grams of those coming from saturated. Tiramisu is definitely not a healthy dessert! Based on that, for this tiramisu recipe I used 2 eight ounce containers of mascarpone just to try and cut out some calories. However, if you want a creamier tiramisu that also looks better, use 3 containers of mascarpone.
If you can’t find mascarpone cheese or the price is just too high, you can always use a substitution. Although, it won’t be a perfect duplicate for mascarpone, if you or your guests are not familiar with mascarpone, they wouldn’t know the subtle difference.
How to Make a Mascarpone Cheese Substitute
Combine one full-fat 8-ounce package of cream cheese, ¼ cup heavy whipping cream and 2 ½ tablespoons of full-fat sour cream. Scale up to make as much as needed.
- 7 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 1/2 tablespoons instant expresso powder (to mix with coffee if you don't have actual espresso)
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 cups strong coffee or espresso - at room temperature
- 3 cups (1.5 lbs) mascarpone cheese
- 6 egg yolks - pasteurized in shell, large, at room temperature
- 40 ladyfingers / savoiardi
- cocoa powder - for dusting. Dutch processed is best.
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup + 1/3 cup heavy cream - chilled
- dark chocolate - for grating on top
Pour strong coffee or espresso into a baking dish.
If you didn't have espresso and only used strong coffee, add in the instant espresso powder.
Add in 4 tablespoons of dark rum. Rum is made from sugarcane and goes well with the chocolate flavor in tiramisu. If you don't have dark rum then brandy or whiskey will do. Kahlua, a coffee liqueur, may work nicely as well. Mix everything together until well combined. Note: Don't use any kind of alcohol if you will be serving this to children or pregnant women.
Add all the egg yolks into a medium-sized bowl.
Whisk the egg yolks together.
Add the salt (will help enhance the flavors), sugar, and 1/3 cup of heavy cream to the egg yolks.
Even though I'm using eggs that have been pasteurized in their shells, I still like to cook the egg mixture as an extra precaution. Tiramisu is good, but poisoning your family or guests with salmonella isn't.
Place a medium-sized sauce pan over medium-high heat with about an inch of water in it. Once the water is simmering and steam is produced, set the bowl with the egg mixture over the pan. Lift the bowl back up and check the bottom, it should not be wet. The bottom of the bowl should be above the simmering water.
Continually stir the egg mixture with the spatula while the eggs cook and scrape down the bowl if needed. You will need to do this for around 5-8 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 160º Fahrenheit on an instant read thermometer. Another test to indicate if the custard is done is the spoon test. Place a spoon in the custard then run your finger through the middle of it. If a clear path is left where your finger was and the custard above the line doesn't start running over the line, then it is ready.
Shut the stove off. Take the bowl custard off pan carefully. Use oven mitts as it will be hot! Give the custard a quick stir with your spatula for a minute and place the bowl aside to cool to room temperature.
Mix in 3 tablespoons of rum. While we are not using it in this recipe, at this point you could add a bit of marsala wine in place of the rum. This would then be closer to a true zabaglione custard.
Place the custard in your stand mixer's bowl. Then add in the 3 cups of mascarpone cheese.
Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, beat the mascarpone and custard together for about a minute at medium speed until it is smooth.
Remove the cheese mixture from the stand mixer's bowl as best you can and place in a clean, large-sized bowl.
Tip: Now is a good time to place your stand mixer's bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer to chill (It's ok if it isn't perfectly clean). Be sure your heavy cream remains in the fridge to stay cold. Also, use a metal stand mixer bowl if you have it, as it should hold a chill better than glass.
Grab a ladyfinger cookie (Savoiardi) and dunk half a side in the coffee mix. Roll it over, remove it, and place it into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. You don't want to fully submerge the ladyfinger. If you do, they will get soggy. The ladyfinger should only be in the coffee mixture for about three seconds. It's just to get them quickly wet. Repeat these steps until the bottom of the baking dish is lined with the ladyfingers. If for any reason you have trouble getting the ladyfingers to fit, just cut off what you don't need.
Remove the stand mixer's bowl and whisk attachment from the freezer (they should be ice cold) and add the 3/4 cup of chilled heavy cream.
Start at low speed and gradually work up to high speed as it thickens. Once you see the cream getting foamier, stop the mixer and lift up / remove the whisk to take a look at how it looks. If you see soft peaks formed on the whisk it is almost done. Soft peaks will bend over the top of the whisk when you hold the whisk up. If you beat just a tad longer you will get stiff peaks that don't bend over. This is what you are aiming for. At this point, stop. Do not over-mix or it will get lumpy and turn into what looks like butter. If this happens, dump it out and start over with new heavy cream.
In batches, scrape the whipped cream from the stand mixer's bowl into the bowl containing the mascarpone mixture. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cheese / custard mixture. Repeat until all the whipped cream has been folded in.
Spread 1/2 of the mixture onto the ladyfingers in the baking dish.
Top the mascarpone mixture evenly with cocoa. Do this by placing cocoa into a fine mesh sieve and tapping it above the dish.
Add another layer of ladyfingers that were dipped in the coffee mixture just as you did in the earlier step. Remember not do submerge them!
Add the last half of the mascarpone mixture on top of the ladyfingers. If you used 3 cups of mascarpone, you will have a thicker top layer than shown in the photo.
Top with a final layer of cocoa powder. Using a box grater, grate some dark chocolate all over the top of the cocoa powder.
If you want your tiramisu to be similar to the one served at Buca di Beppo, top the tiramisu with hazelnut biscotti.
Some bakeries also like to decorate their tiramisu with chocolate covered espresso beans or raspberries.
Loosely cover the tiramisu and place it in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving. However, tiramisu tastes best after having been left in the fridge for 24 hours.
Now that you have learned how to make tiramisu, please be sure to view these other cake recipes.
Recipes Similar to Tiramisu
Have you made this recipe? If so, please rate it.
Final Step: Share It!
Love this recipe? Why don't you share it with others or post a comment. Choose which one below.