This classic Tiramisu is made authentically in the Italian way, with espresso soaked ladyfingers layered with a light and airy mascarpone cream, and dusted with cocoa powder to finish.
Most of us have had Tiramisu plenty of times in our lives, but probably not like this.
It wasn’t until a trip to Italy years ago that I realized how incredible it can be. The Tiramisu tasted SO different from any tiramisu I’d ever tried. And I really wanted to know why.
If you take a look at some of the tiramisu recipes on the internet, you’ll see a huge variation in ingredients. And therein lies the issue.
An authentic Italian tiramisu only uses a small handful of ingredients, and they are:
- a touch of sugar
- a touch of alcohol (I like amaretto or spiced rum)
- …and a dusting of cocoa powder on top
The airy, light texture of Italian tiramisu comes primarily from whipped eggs. It’s what gives the tiramisu an ethereally light and creamy quality.
I see so many people using heavy whipping cream in tiramisu, or even cooking and thickening the filling almost like a pudding. To me, none of these versions compare to the traditional method. They simply aren’t as good.
Also, part of what makes an incredible tiramisu is quality ingredients, made from scratch.
Tiramisu at cafés and restaurants are often not freshly made, and likely comes out the back of a Sysco truck half the time.
Freshly pulled espresso and quality mascarpone make for an amazing tiramisu.
Since first posting this recipe in 2012, I have since updated it with the option of making the tiramisu in individual ramekins (or you can do the 8×8 dish). Over time I’ve come to prefer the individual cups for guests.
While you can cut the tiramisu into slices (as shown in my photo above), it is very delicate. It takes a lot of practice plus building the structure properly with sturdy ladyfingers, plus a thorough chilling so the mascarpone is as firm as possible. You don’t have to worry about all this when you do the individual ramekins.
In this post, I will show you how to make it both ways, in a square 8×8 dish, and in the cups. The choice is yours.
How to Make Tiramisu:
To get started, separate 6 eggs, and place 3 of the egg whites in one bowl, and 6 egg yolks in another.
Add 3 tablespoons of sugar to the egg white bowl:
Use a hand mixer to whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
At first, with about 30 seconds of whipping, the mixture will look foamy (left photo), but after a couple minutes of whipping, the egg whites will start to thicken (right photo).
You’ll know the egg whites have reached stiff peaks when you pull a beater out of the mixture and a little peak sticks straight up:
Side note: if you’ve never whipped egg whites to soft or stiff peaks before, make sure you take care not to over whip the egg whites. After stiff peaks, the egg whites will curdle and you’ll have to start over again.
Set the stiff egg whites aside, and switch over to the egg yolk bowl.
Add 3 tablespoons of sugar to the egg yolks:
Whip this mixture for a couple minutes, until the mixture goes from bright yellow (left photo) to a pale yellow color (right photo):
It should be thick, and you can see that the mixture piles on top of itself when you let it drip from the beater.
Now it’s time to add the mascarpone, which is a mild and creamy Italian cheese that typically comes in small tubs.
It’s often compared to cream cheese, but the flavor is SO different, and the texture is much nicer in my opinion.
You can see how creamy and smooth it is here:
The flavor of mascarpone is unlike anything else, and it’s essential for this recipe. Fortunately, it is widely available.
Mix in the mascarpone with a hand mixer until incorporated, then gently fold in the stiff egg whites, 1/3 at a time:
Take care not to deflate the egg whites too much as you fold.
Now it’s time to build the tiramisu!
Since we already discussed that the quality of a tiramisu is dependent on the quality and freshness of the ingredients, make sure to use fresh espresso here, and not an instant espresso powder.
If you don’t have the equipment to make your own espresso, stop by a coffee shop to get some. You’ll need the espresso to come to room temperature anyway, so it will be fine for the car ride home.
When the espresso has cooled to room temperature, combine it with a couple tablespoons of amaretto or spiced rum. Those are my two favorite choices, but marsala and brandy are also commonly used if you prefer those instead.
Also, feel free to omit the alcohol if you don’t want it, but it enhances the flavors.
To dip, I like to place the espresso mixture in a flat and small dish, so the entire ladyfinger soaks evenly:
The ladyfingers only need a quick soak, about 1-2 seconds.
What ladyfingers are best for tiramisu?
I’ve tried many brands of ladyfingers, and have also made my own.
I find that the best kind of ladyfingers to buy are the smaller and thinner ones, and my go-to brand is Natural Nectar, which I find at Whole Foods.
Whole Foods also sells their own brand of ladyfingers imported from Italy, but they’re twice the size of the others (they’re in the photo below), and I think thinner layers taste better (I used Natural Nectar for the glass ramekins).
As far as making your own, I’ve concluded that it’s not worth the trouble (for me anyway), and often times the homemade ladyfingers are not as dry, and won’t soak up the espresso as well.
As you soak the cookies, place them in a 8×8 square dish in an even layer:
Then pour over a layer of the mascarpone cream to cover, and repeat:
You can also make the tiramisu in small glass ramekins, like this:
Just break apart or cut the ladyfingers to fit the glass.
I like making tiramisu this way because the single-serving portions are really nice, and it looks pretty!
And now comes the hard part…letting the tiramisu sit in the fridge for a good 4-6 hours.
This lets the layers soak into each other and lets the flavor meld.
Additionally, if you’re making the 8×8 pan, the tiramisu must be chilled close to the 38 degree range in order to hold when cut into squares. This lets the mascarpone cheese and everything else firm up.
Then you can dig into the ramekins with a spoon, or cut squares from the 8×8 pan.
Serve the tiramisu cold, with a dusting of cocoa powder on top. I use this dusting wand (affiliate) and it gives the most even layer on top.
I find it’s best enjoyed the same day, but the next day is okay too. The eggs will deflate a little bit by the next day, but it still tastes great.
Enjoy! And there’s a full video below the recipe on how to make the tiramisu, if you’d like more guidance.
FAQ and Tips:
- How long will it keep in the fridge? I wouldn’t keep this longer than a couple days, because the egg whites start to deflate.
- Can you freeze tiramisu? I don’t recommend it.
- Can tiramisu make you sick? If you do a Google search, you’ll see that the CDC estimates 1 in 20,000 eggs to have salmonella. That’s a small enough risk that I take my chances (and haven’t had an issue). If you prefer, you can purchase pasteurized eggs for this recipe, and there are also tutorials online for pasteurizing eggs yourself.
- Can it be made ahead? Once you assemble the tiramisu, it needs 4-6 hours to properly chill anyway, so it has to be made ahead.
- 3 egg whites*
- 6 egg yolks*
- 3 +3 tbsp sugar
- 8 oz mascarpone cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup freshly pulled espresso cooled to room temperature
- 2 tbsp amaretto or spiced rum
- 3-4 dozen ladyfingers storebought or homemade**
- cocoa powder for dusting
- In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites and 3 tbsp of sugar together with a hand mixer, for about 3-5 minutes until the egg whites hold stiff peaks.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg yolks with the remaining 3 tbsp sugar for 2-3 minutes until the egg yolks are thick and pale yellow in color.
- Add the mascarpone to the egg yolks and whip until combined.
- Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.
- In a small flat dish or bowl, combine the espresso and amaretto.
- Dunk each ladyfinger fully into the espresso mixture for 1-2 seconds and place into the bottom of a 8x8 dish, or into individual ramekins. Don’t let the ladyfinger soak so much that it falls apart, just a quick dunk to let it absorb a little bit of espresso.
- Once the ladyfingers have formed a single layer in the bottom of the dish, spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers.
- Arrange another layer of espresso soaked ladyfingers on top, and spread over the remaining mascarpone cream.
- Cover the top of the dish with plastic wrap and let the tiramisu refrigerate for 4-6 hours.
- Serve cold, with a light dusting of cocoa on top. Enjoy!