Traditional Italian cuisine evolved from their amazingly talented home cooks, honed by years at the stove, watching as older generations handed down treasured recipes. But the modern version of Tiramisu was created by pastry chefs in the town of Treviso, above Venice in the Veneto region of Italy as recently as the 1960s or 70s. There is some debate about exactly who was the first to think of putting the combination of ingredients together, but we are certainly grateful to them!
Tiramisu is a layered dessert made with lady fingers or sponge cake, espresso, and spiked mascarpone cheese. Tiramisu means “pick me up” in Italian and the combination of espresso and sugar will certainly do that. Whether you pronounce it tih-ruh-mih-SOO like The Artist does (in true Italian style) or tih-ruh-mee-soo like I do, it is a terrific way to end a meal.
Unfortunately many American restaurants serve a version that is a wet soggy mess with little to no flavor. Many people will go their entire lives not realizing that a “real” tiramisu has layers of slightly crunchy cookies enrobed in a rich mascarpone cream with a strong hit of espresso and, depending on the chef, some Marsala wine, rum or other alcohol.
I wanted to take the classic dessert that is usually just dusted lightly with cocoa powder and give it a Chocolate Monday makeover, so I added cocoa to the mascarpone and bourbon with the espresso. The result is a wonderfully light and tender dessert that that is utterly irresistible.
Mascarpone on its own is luscious and rich, but I wanted something lighter. A combination of egg whites and whipped cream added to the mascarpone gives you a dessert that you can indulge in even after a heavy meal. I also love that you can assemble it up to a day in advance, giving you more freedom to focus on the rest of the menu on the day of your party.
Ladyfingers are the traditional cookie used in Tiramisu, and they are fairly easy to find in grocery stores. While sponge cake is usually listed as an alternative, I think you really need the crispness of a hard cooked cookie to hold up to the mascarpone. I was lucky to find a gluten-free version from Schar’s brand and they worked remarkably well.
Here’s a trick to making your baking life much smoother … When I got my KitchenAid mixer (geez, almost 20 years ago!) I decided to purchase an extra mixing bowl and beater paddle so I wouldn’t have to be constantly washing the bowl when making complicated recipes or a huge holiday dinner. When I started working on this recipe, I was grateful for my second set. It is extremely helpful to have and makes my life a whole lot easier. You should add them to your wish list and hopefully someone special will get them for you. (Note: the links above are for equipment that fits a 6-qt KitchenAid – be sure you get the ones that fit your model!)
I hope you love this treat as much as The Artist and I do and make sure you serve it with a steaming hot cup of espresso. You will swear you are sitting on a veranda overlooking the beautiful canals in Venice at sunset!
Happy Chocolate Monday!
Use gluten-free ladyfingers if you can find them at the store or make your own from scratch. I loved Schar’s version and highly recommend them. If you have trouble with dark alcohols, it is likely the caramel coloring added after distillation to make them more attractive. For those with strong reactions, use potato vodka instead of the bourbon.
Kitchen Skill: How to Separate Eggs
Set two bowls on the counter. Crack one egg and, holding it over one of the bowls, gently separate the two halves of the shell. Pour the contents into one hand. With your fingers slightly separated, pass the egg yolk back and forth between your hands allowing the egg whites to drip into the bowl. Gently set the yolk in the second bowl. Continue working over the first bowl, collecting all the egg whites there, while gently placing the yolks in the second bowl until all the eggs have been separated.
Note: If you are whipping the egg whites for a meringue, ANY speck of yolk or other fat in the whites or on the bowl and beater you are using can cause the egg whites to not fully whip. Be extremely careful when separating eggs for this application.
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, well chilled
- 2 large eggs (use pasteurized eggs if you are concerned about consuming raw eggs), separated (See Kitchen Skill above for directions)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
- 1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
- 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp bourbon, Marsala wine, rum, coffee liqueur, espresso, or heavy cream
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup brewed espresso or strong coffee
- 1 (5 to 7 oz) package of crunchy ladyfinger cookies (use gluten-free if needed)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- Grated semisweet chocolate, optional
- Lightly butter a 9-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish. Set aside.
- Prepare the Cream Layers: In a well-chilled bowl, using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, whip the cream until you reach firm peaks. Set aside. Wash the whisk attachment in hot soapy water and dry.
- In another bowl, using the paddle attachment of your standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy and the sugar has dissolved. Pinch a little of the mixture between your fingers to see if you can still feel the granules. If you can, keep beating. Add the mascarpone, 3 tbsp of cocoa powder, and bourbon. Beat until light and smooth.
- Using a large flexible spatula, fold half of the whipped cream into the beaten egg yolk mixture, lightening it. Add remaining whipped cream and fold in until completely integrated and no streaks remain. Set aside.
- In a clean bowl, using the whisk attachment of your standing mixer, beat the egg whites on medium-high until foamy and peaks are just starting to develop. Add the pinch of cream of tartar, pinch of salt, and remaining 2 tbsp of granulated sugar. Continue beating on high speed until you reach firm peaks (the whites will stand up when the beaters are lifted and the tips of the peaks will bend over).
- Using a flexible spatula, fold half of the beaten egg whites into the mascarpone-cream mixture until combined but a few streaks still remain. Fold in remaining egg whites and keep folding until fully incorporated and there are no streaks remaining.
- Assemble the Tiramisu: Pour the espresso into a shallow bowl. Dip half of the cookies into the espresso on both sides and arrange in prepared baking dish, covering the bottom. Spread half of the mascarpone-cream mixture over the top, smoothing into an even layer with an offset spatula. Dip the remaining cookies in the espresso on both sides and arrange them over the top of the mascarpone-cream mixture. Spread the remaining cream over the top and smooth.
- Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Just before serving remove and discard the plastic wrap. Sift the remaining 1/4-cup of cocoa powder evenly over the top of the dish. Add a sprinkling of grated chocolate if desired. Cut into squares and serve immediately. Store any leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Make Ahead: The Tiramisu can be held in the refrigerator, covered, up to 1 day ahead. It is best when it has been chilled overnight.
- Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
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