Tiramisu

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Tiramisu is a classic no-bake Italian dessert made with lady fingers, coffee, and cream. This easy version is about as luscious as it gets, and you can even make it ahead.

A piece of tiramisu on a blue plate with a fork.


 

Did you know Tiramisu means “lift me up”?  Perhaps it’s the espresso… or the rum… or the whipped cream… or the thin layer of powdery unsweetened cocoa over the very top. Every single part of this traditional Italian dessert is special.

And one thing is for sure; Tiramisu lifts everyone’s spirits. The chocolate lovers, custard fanatics, and the something-sweet-but-not-too-sweet people all adore it. How many other desserts can do all that?

And as for me, I’m personally obsessed with Tiramisu. I once accidentally ordered Tiramsiu at Buca de Beppos, forgetting the portions are family-friendly (enormous). What a happy mistake that was!

Recipe ingredients

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Egg yolks: The custard uses a lot of egg yolks, but no egg whites. Hold onto the whites, though!  You can freeze them for meringue later.
  • Mascarpone cheese: An Italian cream cheese that is usually sold in small plastic tubs in the cheese, dairy, or deli section at grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can make a substitute with cream cheese and heavy cream. For every 8 ounces of mascarpone you need, mix together ¼ cup heavy cream with 8 ounces of softened cream cheese.
  • Espresso or strong coffee: Brew a cup of your deepest, darkest coffee, then chill it. To use instant powdered espresso, combine 1 tablespoon espresso powder with ¼ cup hot water.
  • Dark rum: Substitute an equal amount of light rum, coffee liqueur, brandy, or cognac. If you have a bottle, use Marsala, a sweetened Italian wine with a nutty flavor. It’s a common ingredient in authentic tiramisu recipes. You can also substitute ⅛ teaspoon rum extract mixed with 2 tablespoons water, or just add more coffee.
  • Italian ladyfingers: Oblong, very dry sponge cake cookies, aka Savoiardi. They don’t taste like much all by themselves, but they’re the backbone of this dessert. You should be able to find cellophane-wrapped packages of lady fingers at almost any well-stocked grocery, made by Italian brands such as Delallo, Balocco, Vicenzovo, or Marini.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: Much more than just for show, the cocoa melts onto the top whipped cream layer and tastes incredible. Dutch-processed or natural are both fine.

Step-by-step instructions

To make the filling:

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended. Stir in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
Making tiramisu custard in a pan.
  1. Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Remove mascarpone cheese from the refrigerator so it softens while the custard chills.
Tiramisu custard covered with plastic wrap to chill.
  1. In an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a spatula, add chilled custard and softened mascarpone cheese.
Tiramisu custard mixed with whipped cream.
  1. Blend until smooth and set aside.
Whipped cream in a bowl.

To assemble the cake:

  1. To make the whipped cream, in an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, or with an electric hand mixer, beat cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form. 
A chilled mixing bowl filled with whipped cream.
  1. In a small bowl, combine chilled espresso and rum. Separate the lady fingers horizontally and arrange a single layer in the bottom of an ungreased 11-inch by 7-inch baking dish (about 12 lady fingers).
Lady fingers in a white rectangular baking dish.
  1. Brush with the espresso-rum mixture.
Lady fingers being brushed with rum and coffee.
  1. Spread half of the custard mixture over the lady fingers.
Mascarpone filling spread over lady fingers.
  1. Then top with half of the whipped cream. Repeat with remaining lady fingers brush with the espresso-rum mixture, remaining custard mixture, and remaining whipped cream.
Whipped cream on tiramisu.
  1. Sprinkle with cocoa as desired (1 tablespoon or up to ¼ cup). Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Tiramisu being dusted with cocoa powder.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes 8 generous slices of Tiramisu (more or less depending on how you cut them).
  • Storage: Store leftover Tiramisu covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Chilled Tiramisu makes a heavenly breakfast with fresh berries (I won’t tell) a delightful afternoon snack with a demitasse of espresso, or an unforgettable midnight snack.
  • Make ahead: You can make this the morning before you plan to serve it, or even the night before. However, it doesn’t freeze well because of the whipped cream layers. A perfect dessert for your Valentine’s Day meal.
  • Don’t over-soak the cookies. If you don’t have a pastry brush, you can quickly (really quickly!) dip the ladyfingers into the coffee liquid, pulling them out as soon as possible. Then arrange them in the baking dish.
  • Don’t skimp on the cocoa. The denser the layer of chocolate on top, the less likely it is to stick to the plastic wrap or foil. Wipe the edges of the dish to keep the cocoa from going everywhere as you move it.
  • Cutting tiramisu: I usually take the rustic route and scoop out portions with a big spoon, but you can slice it into neat squares using a sharp knife, wiping the blade clean between cuts. A small metal spatula helps coax the pieces out of the dish.
  • A drink with dessert: Look for a sweet, dessert-style wine such as Moscato, Riesling, or Gewürztraminer. Learn more in my Guide to White Wine.
A piece of tiramisu on a blue plate with a fork.

Frequently Asked Questions

I can’t find lady fingers. Is there something else I can use instead?

The easiest substitute for lady fingers is a store-bought pound cake (or, depending on the size, 2 of them). Cut into 1/2-inch slices and layer it in the bottom of your baking dish, the brush it with the espresso mixture as directed in the recipe. You could also use sponge cake or Panettone Italian cake.

Can you make tiramisu without alcohol?

If you want the rum flavor without the rum, substitute ⅛ teaspoon rum extract mixed with 2 tablespoons water. If not, just add more coffee.

More chocolate dessert ideas

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A piece of tiramisu on a blue plate with a fork.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu is a classic no-bake Italian dessert made with lady fingers, coffee, and cream. This easy version is about as luscious as it gets, and you can even make it ahead.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Chilling time 5 hours
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Calories 523
5 from 23 votes

Ingredients 

For the filling:

For the whipped cream:

For the cake:

Instructions 

To make the filling:

  • In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until well blended. Stir in milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.
  • Boil for 1 minute; remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Remove mascarpone cheese from the refrigerator so it softens while the custard chills.
  • In an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a spatula, blend chilled custard with softened mascarpone cheese until smooth. Set aside.

To assemble the cake:

  • To make the whipped cream, in an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, or with an electric hand mixer, beat cream and vanilla until stiff peaks form. 
  • In a small bowl, combine chilled espresso and rum. Separate the lady fingers horizontally and arrange a single layer in the bottom of an ungreased 11-inch by 7-inch baking dish (about 16 lady fingers).
  • Brush with the espresso-rum mixture. Spread half of the custard mixture over the lady fingers, then top with half of the whipped cream.
  • Repeat with remaining lady fingers brush with the espresso-rum mixture, remaining custard mixture, and remaining whipped cream. Sprinkle with cocoa as desired (1 tablespoon or up to ¼ cup). Refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Egg yolks: The custard uses a lot of egg yolks, but no egg whites. Hold onto the whites, though!  You can freeze them for meringue later.
  2. Mascarpone cheese: An Italian cream cheese that is usually sold in small plastic tubs in the cheese, dairy, or deli section at grocery stores. If you can’t find it, you can make a substitute with cream cheese and heavy cream. For every 8 ounces of mascarpone you need, mix together ¼ cup heavy cream with 8 ounces of softened cream cheese. 
  3. Espresso or strong coffee: Brew a cup of your deepest, darkest coffee, then chill it. To use instant powdered espresso, combine 1 tablespoon espresso powder with ¼ cup hot water.
  4. Dark rum: Substitute an equal amount of light rum, coffee liqueur, brandy, or cognac. If you have a bottle, use Marsala, a sweetened Italian wine with a nutty flavor. It’s a common ingredient in authentic tiramisu recipes. You can also substitute ⅛ teaspoon rum extract mixed with 2 tablespoons water, or just add more coffee.
  5. Italian ladyfingers: Oblong, very dry sponge cake cookies, aka savoiardi. They don’t taste like much all by themselves, but they’re the backbone of this dessert. You should be able to find cellophane wrapped packages of lady fingers at almost any well-stocked grocery, made by Italian brands such as Delallo, Balocco, Vicenzovo, or Marini.
  6. Unsweetened cocoa powder: Much more than just for show, the cocoa melts onto the top whipped cream layer and tastes incredible. Dutch processed or natural are both fine.
  7. Yield: This recipe makes 8 generous slices of Tiramisu (more or less depending on how you cut them).
  8. Storage: Store leftover Tiramisu covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Chilled Tiramisu makes a heavenly breakfast with fresh berries (I won’t tell) a delightful afternoon snack with a demitasse of espresso, or an unforgettable midnight snack.

Nutrition

Calories: 523kcalCarbohydrates: 23gProtein: 8gFat: 44gSaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 257mgSodium: 62mgPotassium: 78mgSugar: 20gVitamin A: 1568IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 144mgIron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @culinaryhill on Instagram so we can admire your masterpiece! #culinaryhill
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. Absolutely delicious! Thank you for providing a recipe that is easy to follow for one not all that familiar with cooking!!!5 stars

  2. I think it is a must to make it a day ahead. The flavors truly need to blend. I have made it several times and it was always better the next day.

  3. Happy Birthday to you Meggan! This tiramisu looks fabulous! I am going to have to try your recipe. Stopping by from the fun Food Blogger group. Loving your site!

  4. That’s so cool that you and your brother share the same birthday! Happy birthday to you both! This tiramisu looks like such a wonderful way to celebrate :)

    1. Thank you so much, Kathleen! Now that I have gone through the process of having kids myself, I realize how crazy the timing is to have 2 kids born on the same day, 2 years apart!

  5. That is SO FUN that you and your brother share the same birthday! Happy Birthday! This looks like such a great way to celebrate! xo

    1. Justine we had some great joint birthday party sleepovers growing up. Imagine 10 boys playing basketball in the living room and 10 girls squealing while playing dress-up upstairs, then our worlds would collide for pizza and cake. Fun times!!! :)

    1. Thank you so much for the pin, Maggie! :) I think it’s just as pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat!

  6. Happy B-Day Meggan! You know I love tiramisu and had lots of it last week, but after seeing this one, I’m craving more! Can’t wait to try it! Looks great!

    1. Thank you, Mira! You are definitely the Tiramisu girl. :) I hope you are staying warm!

  7. Firstly, happy birthday, again. Secondly, I don’t think there’s many people who don’t love tiramisu, it is the perfect birthday dessert. Your recipe looks devine.5 stars

    1. Thank you so much, as always. :) It’s a lovely dessert, pretty to look at and even better to eat. The first day, I ate 1/3 of the entire cake and I’m pretty sure I got a buzz….

    1. Rachel, I ate it for breakfast 3 days in a row! :) It certainly gets me off to a cracking start! Thank you!

  8. This is a dessert I always thought I didn’t really like, but how wrong could I be! You’ve persuaded me to give this a go some time when I have guests, Meggan. It seems pretty easy, especially as you don’t have to make any cake.5 stars

    1. I think you might like it, Helen! Sometimes I make it with weak coffee (I’m not a coffee drinker) instead of espresso and you could also leave out the rum.. I cannot imagine what other components might give you pause. ;) Thank you so much!