Tiramisu is a popular Italian dessert, a literal sweet “pick me up” to enjoy after dinner. The recipe is easy to prepare, requires no baking, and you can make it ahead of time.
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Tiramisu is a no-bake dessert perfect for sharing. It starts with soaking crispy ladyfinger cookies in a boozy coffee mixture to create a light, cakey texture. The cookies are then layered between a decadent mascarpone cheese filling that’s lightly sweetened to balance the bitterness of the coffee.
Dust with cocoa powder on top to create a stunning color contrast. The preparation requires refrigeration to meld all the flavors and layers, making it a great dessert to prepare the day before. Now you can slice and serve!
What is tiramisu?
Tiramisu is an Italian dessert consisting of coffee-soaked sponge cake, creamy mascarpone cheese filling, and cocoa powder. The traditional recipe uses raw eggs. The yolk is combined with cheese and sugar, while the whites are whipped and folded in. However, this method can pose a food safety issue if not pasteurized or stored correctly.
My tiramisu recipe cooks the egg yolks to destroy harmful bacteria, then uses whipped cream instead of egg white to lighten the cheese filling. I still make the cakey layer from ladyfingers cookies soaked in a coffee mixture. After at least 8 hours in the refrigerator to set the layers together, it’s then topped with cocoa powder before serving.
Cook the egg mixture
Like commercial egg pasteurization temperatures, I cook the egg yolk until it reaches 140ºF (60ºC) to kill harmful bacteria. Set a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water to do this. This setup is called a bain-marie, used to make things like hollandaise sauce. The steam gently heats the bowl to cook and gradually thickens the egg during whisking.
A few tablespoons of coffee liquor, sugar, and vanilla are mixed with the yolk to disperse the egg proteins. This step prevents it from curdling as it cooks. You’ll notice after about 5 minutes that the mixture becomes an opaque yellow foam that triples in volume.
Cool the mixture
Mascarpone cheese creates a rich and velvety texture. It’s an Italian cheese made from pasteurized milk, cream, and citric acid. The taste is mild and creamy (about 45 to 55% fat level), with a hint of sweetness. It’s not tart, like cream cheese, but it has a similar spreadable consistency. You gently fold it into the cooked egg mixture to help cool it down.
Add whipped cream
I use heavy whipping cream instead of raw egg whites to make a lightened foam for the cheese mixture. When whipped with sugar, air pockets are trapped in the cream. Whisk until medium peaks form to hold their shape but are not too airy. This version is much safer to eat and makes the mascarpone mixture smooth.
Ladyfingers get their name from their long and slender shape. They are also delicate, crisp in texture, and light in weight. The moisture has been dried to yield a biscuit-type cookie that makes them the perfect sponge for soaking up the flavorful coffee.
After several hours, the cookies magically transform into a soft cake. Making dessert doesn’t get easier than this! You can use homemade ladyfingers, which will be a little denser, or store-bought. I use about 24 to 26 cookies, a 7-ounce package, depending on how high I want the rows to be together. I always buy two packages just in case.
Use a medium or dark roast coffee for a more pungent taste. You can also use freshly brewed espresso. Just chill before using, or the ladyfingers will fall apart when dipped. Another quicker option is to use a bottle of cold brew. It has a pleasant smooth taste that’s not as bitter.
Make a coffee mixture for dipping
To make tiramisu more interesting in flavor, you can add alcohol. Traditionally sweet marsala wine, rum, or coffee liqueur is used. I opt for coffee liquor. It has rum already mixed in, and it elevates the coffee taste. There are various brands, but I prefer Kahlua. Just add three tablespoons to 1 ¼ cup of cold coffee.
How to make tiramisu
I recommend using a square 8 by 8-inch baking dish to make nice tall slices. When ready to assemble, the first step is to quickly dip the ladyfingers. The cookies are very porous. Soak each cookie in the coffee liqueur for only two seconds per side. Any longer, and it will turn to mush!
Line them in a tight row on the bottom of the baking dish. Top with half of the mascarpone cheese mixture. Repeat the dipping process, then add the remaining cheese. Finish it with a sprinkling of cocoa powder on top, then cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to two days.
How long do you have to wait to serve?
I like to let the dish sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving to let the mascarpone cream layers slightly soften but still be sliceable. Top with a little more cocoa powder right before serving for more flavor.
Ways to switch it up
- Add Irish cream for a St. Patrick’s Day treat
- Use matcha green tea instead of coffee
- Add pumpkin spice to the cocoa powder or cheese filling
A no-bake Italian dessert made with eggs, mascarpone cheese, coffee, alcohol, cocoa, and ladyfinger cookies. The biscuits soak up the coffee to create a layered cake that’s sweetened mascarpone cream.
Yes, it may contain rum, marsala wine, or coffee liquor. A small amount is used for flavor. It shouldn’t taste so strong that it overpowers the coffee taste and sweetened cheese filling.
No, you can skip the alcohol in the recipe. If the tiramisu is being made for a family gathering with kids or for personal reasons, omit the alcohol.
If adding the alcohol, do not serve it to children as it’s not cooked out of the desert. It can also be omitted from the recipe. You can also use decaffeinated coffee if you are concerned about caffeine levels.
Is tiramisu safe to eat?
When working with raw eggs, make sure only to use eggs that have been pasteurized to ensure that any harmful bacteria have been eliminated. In my recipe, I also cook the egg yolk to around 140ºF (60ºC), egg pasteurization temperature to destroy any bacteria. I replaced the egg white with whipped cream to make it safer to eat.
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- 5 tablespoons coffee liqueur, rum, or marsala, divided
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, chilled
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 ¼ cups coffee, or espresso, at room temperature
- 24 ladyfinger cookies, 7-ounce package
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, for dusting
- Make Mascarpone Cream – In a medium heatproof bowl, add egg yolks, 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, ¼ cup of sugar, and vanilla. Set the bowl on top of a saucepan filled with about 1-inch water. Bring the water to barely a simmer, ensuring that the bowl's bottom does not touch the water.Vigorously whisk until the mixture is foamy and about triples in volume, and reaches around 140ºF (60ºC), about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and take the bowl off of the pot. Add mascarpone cheese to the egg mixture and whisk until smooth.
- Whip Heavy Cream – In a separate medium bowl, vigorously whisk the heavy whipping cream and ¼ cup sugar until medium peaks form.Gently fold ⅓ of the whipped cream mixture into the mascarpone mixture. Then add the remaining whipped cream, and fold until just combined.
- Dip Half the Ladyfingers – In a small bowl, combine coffee and 3 tablespoons of coffee liqueur. Working one at a time, dip half the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, about 2 seconds per side. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish. They should cover the entire bottom.
- Add Cream Layer – Add half of the mascarpone mixture to the baking dish. Evenly spread over the dipped ladyfingers.
- Dip Remaining Ladyfingers – Dip the remaining pieces in the coffee liqueur mixture, and arrange them on top of the cream layer. Spread the remaining mascarpone evenly on top.
- Add Cocoa Then Chill – Sprinkle some of the cocoa powder evenly on top. Clean the edges of the dish. Cover with foil and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 5 days.
- To Serve – Allow tiramisu to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before cutting. Sprinkle with more cocoa powder right before serving.
- Omitting Alcohol: Substitute with more coffee or espresso.
- Making Individual Portions: Make mini tiramisu in ramekins or small cups, about 6 to 8 ounces. Yield will depend on cup size.
- Storing: Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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