Tiramisù, at first glance, may seem a daunting dessert to craft at home. The preparation of the light, creamy filling of this espresso-infused cake does take a deft hand, but it is not beyond the skills of a confident cook. It is quite similar to our Coffee Zabaglione, but lighter in texture.
An indulgence bar none, tiramisù (Italian for “pick-me-up”) offers a wonderful foundation for flavor exploration; here we have chosen amaretto as our liqueur, but that is only a starting point. We’ve included some variations, but as always, we encourage you to let your mental mouth guide you. If you are a flavored coffee aficionado, now is your opportunity to bring those flavors to life in another form.
Serves 8 to 10
For the filling:
12 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup Sauternes or sweet Marsala wine
1 tablespoon water
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
For the coffee syrup:
1 cup cooled espresso
3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur (we used Amaretto di Saronno here, which has a delicate almond flavor)
2 tablespoons sugar
24 sevoiardi, or ladyfingers (see Chef’s Notes)
1 to 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate covered coffee beans (optional)
Prepare the filling:
Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and allow to soften at room temperature.
In a medium-sized, heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is a pale yellow, and ribbons form (about 2 minutes). Whisk in the sweet wine and water and set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, creating a double boiler. Whisk continuously until the mixture triples in size, leaving you with a thick, creamy mixture (the temperature should reach 160˚ F).
Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool, stirring occasionally.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and vanilla and beat until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream and cooled egg mixture into the mascarpone cheese.
Prepare the coffee syrup:
Combine the espresso, liqueur, and sugar in a small bowl, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Prepare the sevoiardi:
Line a serving dish with half the sevoiardi, leaving a small amount of space between each sponge cake (see Chef’s Notes below). Using a pastry brush, paint the sevoiardi with the coffee syrup, taking care to thoroughly wet them. Spread half the filling over the top of the sponge cakes, filling in the gaps with the cream.
Create another layer of cake using the same process, smoothing out the filling (which will be the top of the cake). Sift the unsweetened cocoa over the top, and decorate with a few chocolate covered coffee beans (optional).
Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or for up to 24 hours.
[Chef’s Notes: When selecting the sevoiardi, or ladyfingers, to use in this recipe, we highly recommend that you purchase them from a specialty store. The delicate texture and lightness are essential to the mouth feel of this cake, and while the ladyfingers can certainly be made at home, purchasing them offers not only a huge time saver, but a better guarantee of success.
We have been specifically vague about the size of the serving dish in this recipe because you have several options: you could choose a round, slightly deeper dish and divide the ladyfingers and filling into thirds, creating three layers, or you could make individual servings of tiramisù in wine goblets, deep ramekins, or any vessel you like. Since this is not a baked dessert, you can serve it in just about anything.]
When creating your espresso syrup, you have an opportunity to get creative. For sweet liqueurs, we use a lesser quantity of sugar, but heighten the sweetness a bit when using more potent, distilled liquors.
Suggested liqueurs (combine 3 tablespoons with 1 cup espresso and 2 tablespoons sugar):
Bailey’s Irish Cream or Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream
Kahlua or Tia Maria (for a coffee overdose!)
Sambuca or Galliano (anise flavor)
Frangelico (hazelnut flavor)
Chambord (raspberry flavor)
Cointreau or Grand Marnier (cognac)
Suggested liquors (combine 3 tablespoons with 1 cup espresso and 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar, to taste):
Rum (consider the spiced and flavored varieties)
Above all, have fun with your creations, and please share your combinations with us!
Recipe by Jennifer Iannolo
Photo by Kelly Cline