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What is Tiramisu | A Special Italian Coffee Based Dessert

Updated on August 19, 2014

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Short Explanation of What Tiramisu is in the Italian Culture

Coffee and dessert are two things that traditionally go together for a long time ago. Most people recognize that scent of morning glory but are helpless when it comes to what a coffee dessert is. It is not by any means just a coffee accompaniment, like the so called "coffee cake" which most of the times doesn't have any kind of coffee flavor in it! Coffee dessert means any kind of sweet that uses coffee (any kind in its liquid form, coffee granules or even coffee beans) either as a major flavorful substance or as one of its mixing ingredients. The Italian origin Tiramisu ("pick-me-up") is definitely a coffee dessert that a lot of folks around the world are familiar with.

Nowadays, many varieties of desserts have a coffee flavor taste firstly because it pairs perfectly with chocolate (the number one candy preference of people worldwide) and secondly due to the fact that a lot of people admire coffee (number two drinkable item after water). Coffee can add superb flavor to a full range of different sweets including brownies, pies, ice creams etc. Italian espresso marked a new era in coffee making and Tiramisu (the best known coffee dessert that makes use of it) showed the innovative look of pastry chefs to such a superb coffee.

This special Tiramisu recipe is given to me by an Italian family who lives in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1980s as a present. I practiced it a lot of times during those times under the strict supervision of pastry chef Mr. Gianni who showed me all those little secrets that almost nobody tells you about. The only change that I made to the original recipe is the pasteurization of the raw eggs because salmonella food poisoning is a major health issue today.

Many recipes that I came across claim that are the best, authentic, traditional and some other fancy words. My Tiramisu is not traditional-authentic only in the sense that I don't use any Sicilian Marsala wine (sweet aperitif) in the liquor section of the recipe. The rest of it though shows the professional way of making a super tasting coffee dessert. Your guests will notice the difference right away and the next time you will invite them for dinner that includes Tiramisu as a dessert, they might want to finish the main course dinner the soonest possible!

Bon Appetito!

Italian Tiramisu served

Special Italian Tiramisu
Special Italian Tiramisu | Source

Cook Time

Prep time: 45 min
Ready in: 45 min
Yields: Serves 16-20 people


  • 40 pieces ladyfingers (savoardi)
  • 2 cups real espresso coffee (let it cool before using)
  • 3 oz. / 90 gr. dark chocolate, grated thin
  • 4 large eggs (separated)
  • 1 lb. / 500 gr. Mascarpone cheese
  • 1.5 cup single cream
  • 1.5 cup caster sugar
  • 3 drops of lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 Tablespoons dark rum
  • 3 Tablespoons Romana Sambuca
  • 3 Tablespoons Amaretto
  • 2 Tablespoons Tia Maria or Kahlua
  • 2 Tablespoons Benedictine or brandy
  • 1 Tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • Unsweetened cacao (for garnishing)

Finding the right dish for your Tiramisu

Pyrex Bakeware 4.8 Quart Oblong Baking Dish, Clear
Pyrex Bakeware 4.8 Quart Oblong Baking Dish, Clear
This is the correct size dish for the ingredient quantities given in the above Special Tiramisu recipe. Very useful also for a lot of other tasks in the kitchen.
  1. Prepare a double boiler device with boiling water or anything else that can be used as such. (You will need it to pasteurized yolks & egg whites, for salmonella reasons).
  2. Put the gelatin in a cup and soak it with the Amaretto liqueur. Let it stay for at least 5 minutes to get spongy.
  3. In a stand mixer, whisk Mascarpone for a few minutes until is fluffy. Add the cream and continue whisking until a thick mass is formed. Stop the mixer.
  4. Using the double boiler's top part, mix the yolks with the vanilla extract, Tia Maria, Benedictine, 4 tablespoons of espresso coffee and 8 tablespoons of water.
  5. Beat them with an electric hand mixer for 1 minute. Check the temperature with a thermometer in order to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius). Remove from the double boiler.
  6. Add to the gelatin 5 tablespoons of the double boiler's hot water.Mix well with a chop stick and then pour it into the warm yolks' mixture. Beat the yolks again until the gelatin is completely incorporated.
  7. Place the yolks' bowl in another larger one with cold water and some ice cubes. Add 1 cup of the sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes until sugar is dissolved and the mixture becomes creamy with a pale yellow color.
  8. Whisk the yolks into the Mascarpone mixture until fully incorporated. Empty the mixture of the stand mixer's bowl to another large bowl. Prepare the double boiler and the stand mixer for a meringue. (Clean and dry thoroughly).
  9. Put the egg whites with the salt and the lemon juice in the top device of the double boiler. Beat them with a hand mixer to froth and then add the remaining half cup of sugar.
  10. Whisk for 1-2 minutes. Check the temperature with a thermometer in order to reach 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius). Remove from the double boiler.
  11. Transfer the meringue into the stand mixer's bowl. Start whipping it in medium speed. Stop the mixer when soft peaks are formed. Using a long metal spoon, fold gently the meringue into the Mascarpone cream. (Soft movements, bottom to top technique).
  12. Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of the Mascarpone cream into a 15x10x2 inches dish and spread all over. Mix the cold espresso with rum and Sambuca in a shallow bowl.
  13. Dip quickly the sugar side of the ladyfingers into the espresso mixture, turn them upside-down and lay them side by side to cover the base of the dish. (The sugar side must be up).
  14. Sprinkle the ladyfingers with the half quantity of the grated dark chocolate. Cover with the half quantity of the Mascarpone cream.
  15. Repeat once more the procedure with the soaking and layering the ladyfingers on top of the Mascarpone cream and sprinkle them with the rest of the dark chocolate. Top with the rest of the Mascarpone cream.
  16. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours. Before serving, sprinkle lightly with cocoa powder (use a strainer to avoid lumps).

Baine-Marie - A French Utensil in your kitchen

T-fal Specialty Nonstick Double Boiler 3 Quart Oven Safe 350F Cookware, Pots and Pans, Dishwasher Safe Silver/Black
T-fal Specialty Nonstick Double Boiler 3 Quart Oven Safe 350F Cookware, Pots and Pans, Dishwasher Safe Silver/Black
Very important equipment not only for this Tiramisu recipe (pasteurization of yolks-whites) but also for custards and melting chocolate.

Tiramisu & The Raw Eggs Issue

A few things you must know about Salmonella

The original Tiramisu recipe includes raw eggs as major ingredients. During those old days nobody worried about Salmonella and other types of food poisoning bacteria. Eggs were fresh and usually could be found at the backyard of every house instead of the today's mass producing farms.

Some restaurants and cafes introduced a decade ago the eggless Tiramisu by substituting eggs with whipped double cream. The result wasn't the same even though the help of original Italian liqueurs usage was more than obvious on the effort to resemble a good Tiramisu.

The new chef generation came up with a new way of killing food bacteria especially the ones related to poisoning. Cooking eggs to 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit was a great solution. The use of double boiler showed also another way of producing all those recipes that were on the doubt list of every food entrepreneur.

This Special Tiramisu recipe uses eggs but shows you exactly the steps you can take to pasteurized them correctly for the full safety of anyone who will try this delicious dessert. Ready-made pasteurized eggs are not suggested for this specific recipe since the volume of the egg whites in their meringue form is an essential element of the overall texture of Tiramisu.

The Italian Stars!

Italian Tiramisu accompanied by cappuccino
Italian Tiramisu accompanied by cappuccino | Source

Professional Tiramisu Tips

The little things that make the big difference

Having the Special Tiramisu recipe is not a guarantee of sure success. We can divide the abstract recipe accomplishment meaning into 4 basic solid categories:
(1) Choose the best ingredients.
(2) Follow the given step-by-step instructions.
(3) Check for minor details that will enhance taste.
(4) Give a nice garnish.

The number 3 category maybe is the most difficult to find help because most of the professionals keep those little secrets for themselves. In some other cases those given tips are known to experts as a, b, c and never thought that they could deserve to be given out.

The following tips are my choice and are what they help me a lot to understand some of the mistakes I did in my early trials.

Tip #1: DO NOT replace Mascarpone with Cream cheese or Espresso with some other kind of coffee. Both ingredients are essential as Tiramisu will not taste the same.

Tip #2: If there are any touches of egg yolks in the whites during the separation then the meringue will not form.

Tip #3: If the utensils needed for making the meringue are not clean and dry then you will end up with a watery mixture.

Tip #4: Gelatin is the ingredient that will "hold" Tiramisu from falling down and being watery.

Tip #5: Follow the procedure described for soaking the ladyfingers otherwise you will end up with a soft and mushy item in your dessert.

Tip #6: Tiramisu must stay in the refrigerator between 12 and 18 hours to setup and mature. The aromatics of the liqueurs and coffee will tight up perfectly by that period of time.

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Tiramisu in a serving dish

Start serving special Tiramisu
Start serving special Tiramisu | Source

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