Dish out the best tiramisu you’ll ever eat with this easy-to-follow recipe. Made with layers of coffee-dipped ladyfingers, Kahlua flavored mascarpone custard, and cocoa powder, this Italian dessert is perfect for an extra-special birthday, dinner party, or holiday!
Growing up, we sometimes frequented the Olive Garden for a family dinner out, and that meant multiple things: lots of salad and breadsticks, leaving with a fistful of Andes mints, and getting a piece of tiramisu for dessert. I fell in love with this dessert at first bite as a kid and I still love it so much all these decades later.
I first tackled tiramisu at home more than 10 years ago, when I first saw a recipe pop up in an issue of Cook’s Illustrated. However, that recipe utilized raw eggs and, while truly authentic, I just couldn’t get past it, even using pasteurized eggs. I re-worked the recipe with a cooked custard and I think it’s just absolutely fabulous.
What is Tiramisu?
This coffee-flavored, no-bake Italian dessert is made with ladyfingers dipped in coffee, layered with mascarpone custard, and topped with cocoa powder.
It’s a traditional Italian dish that means “pick me up” and after one bite, I am sure you will agree! Typically served cold, this layered dessert is the perfect finish to an Italian dinner.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Coffee + Espresso Powder: Mixed together to make a deep coffee base for soaking the ladyfingers.
Kahula: Adds a little pick-me-up and pairs perfectly with the coffee.
Egg Yolks: Used to make the base of the custard.
Sugar + Salt: To sweeten and flavor the mascarpone custard.
Heavy Cream: Whips and holds its shape in the custard.
Mascarpone: A buttery cheese that’s milder than cream cheese.
Ladyfingers: Savoiardi are the light egg-based cookie layers soaked in the coffee mixture. They provide a solid layer for the custard to top.
Cocoa powder: Dusted over the custard layers, it adds a chocolaty flavor to the dessert.
How to Make It
Tiramisu is traditionally made by layering ladyfingers that have been soaked in espresso and alcohol with a mascarpone cheese custard and a dusting of cocoa powder.
Many recipes call for using raw eggs in tiramisu, but I made a cooked custard instead (much like you would do to make pastry cream) and beat it into mascarpone cheese with heavy cream. The flavor and the texture are superb.
Step 1: Make the Mascarpone Custard
Beat egg yolks: In the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks at a low speed until just combined.
Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice.
Pour in heavy cream: Add 1/3 cup of heavy cream to the yolks and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape the bowl.
Temper the eggs: Set the bowl with the yolks over a medium saucepan containing 1 inch of gently simmering water; cook, constantly scraping along the bottom and sides of the bowl with a heatproof rubber spatula, until mixture coats the back of a spoon and registers 160°F on an instant-read thermometer, 4 to 7 minutes.
Cool the custard: Remove from heat and stir vigorously to cool slightly, then set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
Add Kahlua and mascarpone: Whisk in remaining Kahlua until combined. Transfer to standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Beat heavy cream: In an empty mixer bowl, beat the remaining cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Increase to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer.
Fold in mascarpone mixture: Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set aside.
Step 2: Assemble the Tiramisu
Make the coffee mixture: In a wide bowl or baking dish, stir together coffee, espresso powder, and 2 1/2 tablespoons Kahlua until the espresso dissolves; set aside.
Note: Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture, the entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie. If submerged, the ladyfingers will disintegrate.
Make a ladyfinger layer: Arrange the soaked cookies in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking or trimming the ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into the dish.
Spread mascarpone over ladyfingers: Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to the sides and corners and smooth surface.
Dust with cocoa powder: Place 2 tablespoons cocoa in fine-mesh strainer and dust cocoa over mascarpone.
Repeat dipping and arrangement of the ladyfingers; spread with remaining mascarpone mixture, and dust with remaining cocoa powder.
Wipe the edges dry with a paper towel.
Refrigerate: over with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours.
Serve: Cut into pieces and serve chilled.
Can You Make Tiramisu Without Eggs?
An egg-based custard is definitely the traditional way with tiramisu, but you can make a perfectly delicious tiramisu without them!
In fact, a few years ago I set out to make a very easy and less time-intensive version of tiramisu and turned it into a tiramisu trifle. I scrapped the custard and instead simply folded whipped cream into the sweetened mascarpone cheese for a lighter, mousse-like texture that could be easily layered. You could certainly use that filling recipe instead of the custard here.
What Type of Alcohol is Used in Tiramisu?
Most recipes use Marsala wine in tiramisu, however, I have always loved Kahlua since it pairs so well with the espresso that’s already in the recipe. Use any of these or your favorite liquor:
Rum (dark rum would be best!)
Coffee liquor (i.e. Kahlua)
Almond liquor (i.e. Amaretto)
If you are looking for an alcohol-free option I would suggest omitting the Kahlua entirely from the coffee mixture and replacing it with coffee in the mascarpone mixture.
Making Ahead and Storing
Tiramisu is one of the BEST desserts for making in advance. It allows all of the layers to marry together and for a light and airy dessert.
Storing: Keep this homemade tiramisu in the dish you assembled it in and cover tightly with plastic wrap for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Make-Ahead: For the freshest flavor, make this classic Italian dessert 1-2 days in advance of when you plan to serve it and dust with cocoa powder just before serving.
I’m all in favor of grabbing a spoon and scooping this delicious tiramisu straight from the pan, but if you are planning to share this tiramisu with others, here are a few different ways to dish it out!
Shave dark, milk, or white chocolate over the tops before serving.
You can use cream cheese in place of mascarpone but it will change the taste and texture of the filling. The best way to substitute would be to mix 8 ounces of softened cream cheese with ¼ cup of whipping cream.
Does tiramisu have alcohol in it?
Most tiramisu recipes contain alcohol. You can follow my suggestions listed above for replacing the alcohol in this recipe with additional coffee.
Extra Egg Whites?
Don’t throw out those extra egg whites! Save them to make one of these delicious egg white-based recipes.
Stir coffee, espresso, and 2½ tablespoons Kahlua in a wide bowl or baking dish until espresso dissolves; set aside.
In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add ⅓ cup of the heavy cream to yolks and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape bowl.
Set the bowl with yolks over a medium saucepan containing 1 inch of gently simmering water; cook, constantly scraping along bottom and sides of bowl with heatproof rubber spatula, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 160 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 4 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir vigorously to cool slightly, then set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.
Whisk in remaining 4 tablespoons Kahlua until combined. Transfer bowl to standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, add mascarpone, and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.
In now-empty mixer bowl, beat the remaining cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until the cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.
Working one at a time, drop half of ladyfingers into coffee mixture, roll, remove and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.
Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Place 2 tablespoons cocoa in fine-mesh strainer and dust cocoa over mascarpone.
Repeat dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1½ tablespoons cocoa. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours. Cut into pieces and serve chilled. Leftovers can be stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.