How to Make Tiramisu

In October, we asked people what they make for dinner when they’re home alone, and in November, we shared cozy pastas. Well, this December, we’re doing DESSERTS! First up is this incredible homemade tiramisu. How amazing would this be to bust out for guests? Here’s how to make it…

Homemade Tiramisu
By Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen

Like many people who lived through the Great Depression, my grandmother learned a frugality that forever shaped her way of life. She tucked every used piece of foil and waxed paper into a kitchen drawer, every paper shopping bag into a box in the garage. When she boiled chicken for soup, she pulled every strand of meat from the bones, saving some for the soup and some for chicken salad. She always fried the liver for her lunch.

For years, I never understood why I would find a meringue shell (a tart shell made from egg whites) sitting above the dinner plates in the corner cupboard, but as soon as I started cooking, I learned why: a meringue shell was my grandmother’s answer to leftover egg whites, a byproduct of two of her favorite desserts, lemon curd and tiramisu. So even during less lean times, when she found herself, in the case of tiramisu, splurging on Italian mascarpone, half a dozen eggs and heavy whipping cream, she found a way to turn one dessert into two: tiramisu first, angel pie second.

A wonderful cook and an even better host, my grandmother always managed to entertain the masses with seeming ease. Every time I find myself preparing for a family gathering, I think of the foods she made—spanakopita, moussaka, yogurt cake—all of which she could make in advance, all of which could feed a crowd. I suppose decades of entertaining had taught her a trick or two.

Her tiramisu, whose virtues for entertaining are countless, fits right into this category. In a season when oven space is at a premium, a no-bake dessert—one that only gets better after a day or two in the fridge—makes perfect sense. Moreover, it feeds a crowd—20 comfortably—and is also a crowd pleaser: children love the layers of cake (ladyfingers) and vanilla-flavored cream; adults adore the subtle flavors of coffee and booze. A delicate layer of shaved chocolate makes this simple dessert elegant enough for any special occasion.

And of course, as noted, tiramisu has the potential to leave the resourceful host with not one but two treats to calm a houseful of hungry guests. I have not yet mastered the art of the meringue shell, but with my grandmother’s copy of Fannie Farmer in hand, perhaps this year will be different. Angel pie, here I come.

Recipe: Tiramisu
Yield = 9×13-inch pan; serves 20 comfortably

You’ll need:
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1 1/4 cups sugar (superfine is ideal)
3 pkgs. soft lady fingers (see notes below)
1 1/4 cups mascarpone
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 to 4 tsp. of brandy or rum
2 tsp. instant espresso powder (see notes below)
2/3 cup hot water

A bar of chocolate (semi-sweet or your favorite bar of dark chocolate) for shaving/garnishing

Notes: This tiramisu recipe calls for soft lady fingers (versus hard), which are often found in the bakery sections of grocery stores. Some grocery stores stock them in the freezer, so be sure to ask someone if you can’t find them. Typically, packages contain 12 whole lady fingers split in half, so 24 total halves. You need three of these packages for this recipe. Also, if you want to be really picky about ingredients, here are two more suggestions: superfine sugar and imported Italian mascarpone (which is typically sold in small tubs—you will need two of these tubs, which will leave you with some leftover). Finally, instead of purchasing a jar of instant espresso that might sit around for an entire year after opening, just go to your favorite coffee shop and order and a few shots of espresso or a cup of strong coffee. You need about 2/3 cups liquid total. Obviously, if you have an espresso machine, brew a few shots and add enough hot water to bring the total volume to 2/3 cup.

With a stand mixer or hand-held mixer, beat cream until stiff. Transfer to a small bowl and stick in the fridge. Wipe mixing bowl and beaters clean with a paper towel or dish towel. (No need to fully wash.)

In the same bowl, beat egg yolks until thick, about 2 minutes on medium-high to high speed. Add sugar and beat until thick and pale, another 2 minutes at the same speed.

Fill a wide-mouthed pot with water about half or two-thirds full. Bring to a boil. Set mixing bowl filled with egg yolk-sugar mixture over top. Reduce heat to medium-high or medium or so that the water is just gently simmering (or less than simmering) below the bottom of the bowl. Stir the egg yolk-sugar mixture with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon for five minutes. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Prepare brandy-espresso brushing mixture: If you are using instant espresso, stir the 2/3 cup boiling (or hot) water into the espresso powder. Stir in brandy or rum to taste. (Note: If serving to children, 2 teaspoons is recommended; if not, add booze to taste.) If using hot coffee or espresso, brew enough to yield 2/3 cup. Stir in alcohol to taste.

Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish (glass, Pyrex or ceramic (versus metal) is ideal) with one layer of lady finger halves, cut side facing up. Brush each with the espresso-alcohol mixture. Be generous with the saturation.

Using a whisk or spatula, stir the mascarpone and vanilla into the slightly cooled egg yolk-sugar mixture. Try to whisk out any lumps, but don’t worry if a few remain. Fold in whipped cream until blended.

Pour half of the cream mixture over the first layer of lady fingers. Even cream out with a spatula (an offset spatula is ideal for this). Top with another layer of lady fingers. (You will likely have a few lady fingers leftover.) Brush each with the espresso-alcohol mixture again being generous with the saturation. Top with the remaining cream, spreading it out to form an even layer.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave chocolate over the top of the entire dish. Cover dish with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 4 hours before serving. Can be prepared 2 to 3 days in advance. If necessary, shave more chocolate over top before serving.

Delicious! Thank you, Ali!

P.S. More best recipes, including creme caramel and caramel apple pie. Plus, 11 Nutella recipes.

(Photos and recipe by Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra’s Kitchen. Thanks to Shoko for helping with this series.)

  1. It’s very Wonderful

  2. This is my very most favorite dessert. While I’ve never made it myself, I had Italian neighbors who made it and it was probably the BEST tiramisu I’ve ever eaten.

  3. Delicious!
    I noticed all these foods your grandmother used to cook, spanakopita, moussaka, are you related to Greece?
    Kisses from Athens, Greece

  4. ohhh, this looks amazing! i’m always for the look-out for a great tiramisu, nobody has ever beaten our italian family friend’s one. maybe i should give it a try myself!
    xo, cheyenne

  5. D2 says...

    This looks ah-mazing. Cannot wait to make this. YUMMY! Cannot wait for more dessert recipes!

  6. I just posted my italian grandma’s tiramisú recipe on my blog too! Tiramisú is seriously all about the quality of the ingredients. I use even fewer things and it just always, always works out:)
    ps. i also prefer to use cocoa powder, shredded chocolate looks a little strange sometimes. AND, use the egg whites!!!!!!!! Whip them and add them to the mix, it makes a fluffier, lighter cream!
    (and you don’t have to worry about the angel pie:))

  7. I absolutely adore tiramisu! I make a great one, but this looks fabulous, too! And AWESOME idea to use the KA bowl as the bowl for the double boiler. How did I never think of that?

  8. My advise for real italian tiramisu is to use amaretto liquor instead of rum or brandy, also drop pure dark cocoa ( no sugar included) with a strainer on top.
    Sophie from France

  9. This is my absolute FAV dessert in the whole world! Thanks for this post. Cheers to you!

  10. This post reminds me of when I was studying abroad in Austria a few years ago, and in the inn where I stayed, there was a restaurant and for Thanksgiving dinner, the chef and his wife taught me and my classmates how to make tiramisu. It was so much fun to learn, and when we realized we were out of cold espresso for the big batch we were making, the chef’s wife just shrugged her shoulders and poured in more rum to make up the difference. Made me laugh so hard. I think the tiramisu made us buzzed by the end, but damn it tasted wonderful.

  11. Can’t wait to try this. Thanks Jo .

  12. Beautiful – craving some now. Have always been scared of making it and that it would not live up to my grandmother’s (Italian, natch)masterpiece. Will try!

    Can we have some tips on presenting it that beautifully? It always looks impressive in the pan, but really sloppy when served up! Help!

  13. Wow, it seems a perfect Italian tiramisu.
    Good is also the version suggested by Arianna.
    Ciao from Italy

  14. yum! i would love to be the type of host who could magically whip up some tiramasu for her friends (like it aint no thang). my claim to fame has always been brownies….from the box.

    time to get on this! thanks for sharing.

  15. What a sweet story about her grandmother. Look forward to trying this recipe out for a potluck. Always a crowd pleaser!

  16. Delicious! I’d love to make this for our holiday party! How did Alexandra plate (scoop) it so perfectly??

  17. I love tiramisu, thanks for this post! <3

  18. Wow, this looks totally amazing. I’ve had some incredible tiramisus and I’ve had some bland ones (both in Rome, funnily enough), but this looks like it’ll fit into the former category. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Another option — some people don’t actually like the taste of mascarpone cheese, or sometimes it’s hard to find at certain grocery stores. You can use this recipe below as a substitute!

    1 oz. pkg cream cheese
    1/4 c. sour cream
    1 T whipping cream
    (a pinch of sugar if you want added sweetness!)


  20. I don’t think tiramisu will ever not be one of my favorite desserts. This looks incredible.

  21. I have this variation (perfect for spring-summer): use orange juice instead of coffee and put strawberries on top instead of chocolate. Try it! :)
    Cheers from Italy

  22. My favorite!

  23. yum 100 times over – great for holidays

  24. We must be having similar cravings right now!! I’ve recently posted about making a tiramisu but without chocolate or coffee!! For a cold dessert, I still crave them all winter long! Yum yum!! xx Meg

  25. I love tiramisu and this looks divine! Can’t wait to whip this up for the family this year.