I've always thought of tiramisu as a "restaurant dessert." You know – one of those fancy desserts that you would never think to make at home.
This is mostly because tiramisu is one of two desserts that my mom always orders at restaurants (the other being crème brulee; she likes a classic). I'd honestly never encountered tiramisu outside of a restaurant setting!
But a few years ago this changed when we hosted our first Christmas dinner and my mom requested tiramisu for dessert. I was definitely a little fearful, but went into "what's the worst that could happen?" mode.
It turns out that making a good tiramisu at home isn't really all that difficult. It really just requires a little patience, some solid whisking, and a few tips to help you along!
Video: How to Make Classic Tiramisu
How to Make Classic Tiramisu
Tiramisu is kind of like the cool, older Italian cousin of an American icebox cake. They’re both essentially desserts of layered cookies with a light creamy filling.
Tiramisu, however, has a few signature components that set it apart. The filling starts with a zabaglione — which is a fancy name for egg yolks whisked with sugar and marsala wine (or rum, in our case) over a double-boiler until light, pale and foamy. This zabaglione establishes the flavor of the whole dish.
To stabilize the zabaglione and give it some body, I whip the mascarpone and the heavy cream together (a trick learned from Zoe Francois, who in turn picked it from Joanne Chang's Flour cookbook). I then fold the whipped cream into the cooled zabaglione.
Incorporating the mascarpone with the whipped cream, rather than stirring it into the zabaglione as is traditional, also seems to help prevent the mixture from separating and becoming grainy, which is a common problem many people run into with tiramisu.
The result is a sweet and silky – and slightly boozy! – cream filling. Once that part is done, the rest of the tiramisu is just an assembly job, followed by a long chill in the fridge.
My Christmas Tiramisu ended up being a hit, which was great since I overcooked our prime rib! The tiramisu set up beautifully, sliced easily (so much better than I expected), and definitely made our first Christmas feel extra special.
Tips for Tiramisu Success
- Let your zabaglione cool to room temperature: Technically, it only needs to cool to 90F, but unless you want to whip out your thermometer, let it cool to room temperature or slightly warmer. Too hot and it will melt the whipped cream when you mix them together.
- Wait to whip the cream until the zabaglione has cooled: Whipping goes fast and it's best not to let the whipped cream stand around for too long, so wait until the zabaglione is cool before whipping the cream.
- Whip the mascarpone with the whipped cream: Many recipes add the mascarpone to the zabaglione, but we found that this sometimes made the zabaglione go inexplicably grainy. Whipping it with the cream instead makes it easier to integrate the mascarpone into the dish without worrying about this issue
- Beat the mascarpone for just 15 to 30 seconds to soften: Before whipping it with the cream, beat the mascarpone briefly on its own to soften it. Be careful not to over-whip since the high-fat mascarpone can start to separate. Better to err on the side of under-whipping rather than overdoing it.
- Add the cream slowly: After the mascarpone is softened, drizzle in the cream very slowly while beating on medium speed. Once it's all added, stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, and then continue beating for another 30 to 60 seconds until the mixture holds firm peaks.
- Aim for whipped cream with firm peaks: You want the whipped cream to be in between soft peaks, where the tips of the whipped cream soften down on themselves, and stiff peaks, when the peaks stand straight up. You want a little wobble in your peaks.
How to Make Classic Tiramisu
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar, divided
- 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) dark rum, divided
- 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) mascarpone cheese, cold from the fridge
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream, cold from the fridge
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
- 1 (7-ounce) package ladyfingers
- Cocoa powder for dusting the top
Prep the dish:
Lightly oil an 8x8 inch baking dish.
Whisk the yolks and sugar to make the zabaglione:
Set a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water to create a double boiler (the bowl should rest on the rim of the pan and the bottom should not touch the surface of the water).
Whisk together the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of the sugar in the bowl. Continue whisking until the sugar has dissolved, the mixture has increased slightly in volume, and it looks light yellow color. Not sure? Rub a little of the mixture between two fingers (it will be warm, but not too hot to touch) – it should feel smooth and silky; if you feel any sugar granules, keep whisking.
Add in the rum:
Gradually whisk in 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) of the rum and continue whisking rapidly over the double boiler for about 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick, foamy, and very pale yellow. (You can also use a hand mixer for this step, if you prefer.)
Remove the bowl from the double boiler and set aside until cooled to at least 90F or room temperature.
Whip the mascarpone and cream:
You can use either a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a whisk attachment for this step. If using a stand mixer, be very attentive and do not walk away while the mascarpone is whipping. Stand mixers are so powerful, that it's easy to overwhip, which causes the mascarpone to separate. You have a little more wiggle room with a hand mixer.
With a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the mascarpone on medium speed for 15 to 30 seconds, until it smooths out and softens. Be careful not to over-beat or else the mascarpone will separate and become grainy.
With the mixer still on medium speed, gradually add the cream in a thin, slow stream until it's all incorporated. This should take 1 to 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. Continue beating with the mixer on medium-high speed for another 30 to 60 seconds, until the mixture holds firm, not-quite-stiff peaks.
Mix the whipped cream and the zabaglione:
Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the zabaglione to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Make the coffee dipping liquid for the ladyfingers:
In a wide, shallow dish, whisk the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the remaining 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of rum, the boiling water, and the espresso powder. Stir to dissolve the sugar and espresso.
Assemble the tiramisu:
Dunk one ladyfinger at a time in the espresso liquid, turning it so that all sides are evenly moistened – a quick dunk is all you need; any more and the ladyfingers start to disintegrate. Arrange the dunked ladyfingers in rows on the bottom of the baking dish.
Once you finish the layer, spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the top. Repeat dunking and arranging a second layer, and spread the remaining mascarpone over top.
Chill the tiramisu:
Cover the tiramisu and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours to give the tiramisu time to firm up and for the ladyfingers to soften.
Dust with cocoa before serving. Serve in wedges directly from the pan. Leftovers will keep for about 5 days.