Tiramisu is a very popular Italian, coffee flavoured, layered dessert made with lady fingers and a creamy filling. I’ve always made it a point to try tiramisu from various restaurants, banquet halls, and bakeries – I even tested a few simple tiramisu recipes – but I never found one that blew me away, so I couldn’t understand why this dessert was so popular… until now. I now know that the simpler tiramisu recipes just don’t cut it, and you really need to use the best quality mascarpone that you can get your hands on. I realize that mascarpone cheese is a pricey ingredient, but if you spend just a few more dollars, it will make a world of difference to this dessert.
For my mother’s past birthday, I made a tiramisu cake. Everyone loved it, even Ed and his family who don’t normally care for tiramisu. My dad, who isn’t a fan of dessert in general, enthusiastically asked for a large second helping. He kept saying, “I don’t like dessert, but I Need to eat more of this.” Yes, the word he used was, “need”. :) I loved it so much that I briefly contemplated not sharing the rest of it with Ed and his family (and that is Not like me)!
The very next week, I tested another recipe that used zabaglione as a starting base for the creamy filling. Zabaglione is used in Italian desserts and is basically a light and custardy sauce that consists of eggs and sugar. I found that this technique resulted in a lighter filling. Although this was more time consuming and labour intensive, I recommend it for people that don’t feel comfortable consuming raw eggs. Personally, I didn’t think that this technique made enough of a difference to make the extra labour worth it, so I don’t plan on using a zabaglione for tiramisu again. I have provided instructions for both methods below.
Tiramisu or Tiramisu Cake Recipe
makes a 4-layer, loaf pan sized tiramisu cake (or you can double the recipe to make a 9″ x 13″ 2-layer tiramisu); adapted from Steven Ullman
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
6 tbsp granulated white sugar
250 g (1/2 of a tub) good quality mascarpone cheese (I really like the Italian import, brand Igor)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
pinch of salt
2 tbsp Kahlua (coffee liqueur)
1 cup (250 mL) hot espresso (or strong coffee made with 3 tbsp instant coffee)
approx. 33 Savoiardi lady fingers (Italian cookies)
bar of chocolate (I used 80% cocoa)
If you are making a tiramisu cake using a loaf pan: Lightly spray the loaf pan with vegetable cooking spray. Then line it cross wise and length wise using two long sheets of syran wrap. Make sure that there is enough overhang on all sides of the loaf pan to cover the top of the cake. This will also be used to remove the cake from the pan. Then lightly spray the syran wrap lining with cooking spray. Set aside.
If you are making a tiramisu: Lightly spray the 9″ x 13″ baking dish with vegetable cooking spray and set aside.
Reminder: If you are making a 9″ x 13″ tiramisu, double the ingredients listed above and in the instructions.
If you want to use a zabaglione as the starting base for your filling: Bring water, 1 inch deep, to a simmer in a small pot. Lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Whisk together the egg, the egg yolk, and 4 tbsp of the sugar in a copper bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Then set the bowl over the pot of barely simmering water and make sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk constantly and vigorously until the mixture becomes frothy, shiny, and at least doubles in size (5 to 7 minutes). (If the heat is too high or if you haven’t whisked quickly enough, the sauce won’t increase in size and it will look like a custard with bits of cooked eggs in it. If this happens, start over.) Then remove the bowl from the double boiler and using the whisk attachment on medium speed, whisk the mixture until the bottom of the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch, at least 5 minutes. Then whisk in the mascarpone followed by 1 tbsp of Kahlua.
If you do Not want to make a zabaglione: (Note: This recipe uses raw eggs. Consuming raw eggs may put you at risk of salmonella or other food-borne illnesses. Only use fresh and properly refrigerated eggs.) Place the egg, the egg yolk, and 4 tbsp of the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk the mixture at high speed until you nearly have soft peaks and the mixture forms a good ribbon (ie. it forms a ribbon on the surface of the mixture if you use the whisk attachment to drizzle some over the rest). Then, using medium speed, whisk in the mascarpone cheese followed by 1 tbsp of Kahlua.
Using a separate stand mixer bowl, use the whisk attachment at the highest speed to whip the heavy cream with 1 tbsp of the sugar and a small pinch of salt until you have hard peaks. Do not overbeat or you will start to get butter. Then gently stir the whipped cream into the egg and mascarpone mixture until smooth and well combined.
Part 4 (Assembly):
Stir 1 tbsp of Kahlua into the warm cup of espresso or strong coffee and pour this into a shallow dish so that it is no deeper than half the thickness of a lady finger. Working with one lady finger at a time, dip one side of the biscuit into the espresso mixture, instantly flip the lady finger over so that the other side has been dipped into the espresso mixture, and then instantly remove the lady finger. You must work very quickly or the lady fingers will be soggy. Place the lady finger on the bottom of your pan and repeat this until you have completely covered the bottom of your pan with a single layer of espresso-dipped lady fingers. (In the loaf pan, I arranged the lady fingers by lining them up length wise along the length of the pan so that I had two rows of 4 lady fingers.) You can use additional lady fingers to fill any gaps if desired. (For example, for the last row in the loaf pan, because of how the loaf pan is shaped, I placed one lady finger, laid on its side and placed crosswise in the pan, to fill a gap in between the two rows of lady fingers).
If you are making a tiramisu cake using a loaf pan: Use a rubber spatula to spread 1/3 of the creamy filling evenly over the bottom layer of lady fingers. Repeat the process of dipping the lady fingers into the espresso and arrange them until you have a second layer of lady fingers (these should cover the creamy filling). Then use the spatula to spread another 1/3 of the filling over this layer of lady fingers. Repeat the process of dipping the lady fingers into the espresso and arrange them until you have a third layer of lady fingers. Then spread the remaining filling over these lady fingers and cover the top with a final layer of lady fingers that have been dipped in the espresso mixture. Use the overhanging syran wrap to cover the top. Press down gently and chill in the refrigerator for at least overnight (preferably 24 hours). When you are ready to enjoy this, carefully lift the tiramisu cake straight out of the loaf pan by pulling on the syran wrap overhang. Once the cake has been loosened from the pan and can easily be removed, place it back into the pan. Pull the loose syran wrap back over the sides of the loaf pan and place a serving plate upside down on top of the opening of the loaf pan (with the tiramisu cake still in it). Hold the pan and the plate firmly together and flip both upside down in one smooth and quick motion. Then hold the syrap wrap down as you gently and slowly lift the loaf pan off the cake. The bottom of the tiramisu cake should now be on the top. Remove and discard the syran wrap and wipe your serving plate clean. Grate chocolate (as much as you’d like) over the top of the tiramisu cake and serve.
If you are making a tiramisu: Use a rubber spatula to spread 1/2 of the creamy filling evenly over the bottom layer of lady fingers. Repeat the process of dipping the lady fingers into the espresso and arrange them until you have a second layer of lady fingers (these should cover the creamy filling). Then use the spatula to spread the remaining filling over these lady fingers. Cover with syran wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least overnight (preferably 24 hours). Simply grate chocolate (as much as you’d like) over the top and serve.