Tiramisu is the all-time Italian favourite chilled dessert found on most Italian restaurant menus as one of the staple desserts, traditionally served from a large round glass bowl so the layers are visible from the side. It consists of layers of coffee-infused sponge biscuits and Tiramisu cream finished off with a generous dusting of cocoa powder.
The Tiramisu cream is not fresh cream, but a softly whipped Italian cream cheese called Mascarpone, further enhanced with separated eggs and a small amount of sugar.
Somehow the combination of the coffee-infused biscuits and Tiramisu cream work together like magic and creates the most amazing dessert.
I love the meaning behind the name, Tiramisu which can either means “to pick me up” or “to cheer me up” in Italian dialect, referring to the coffee and liqueur’s presence in the dessert.
What exactly is in Tiramisu?
There are five main ingredients:
Savoiardi biscuits: These are light sponge biscuits that are also known as Lady Fingers or Sponge Fingers. Made with eggs and flour (and no butter!), they absorb the coffee liqueur well to create soft pillows of biscuit layers between each dollop of Tiramisu cream. Finding store-bought gluten-free Savoiardi biscuits can be tricky but making them gluten-free is surprisingly easy. You don’t need any special binders like xanthan gum for these biscuits as the eggs do the job. In this recipe, rather than piping finger length logs on a baking tray, the batter is spread out to bake like a thin cake. Once baked and cooled, round biscuit shapes are cut out according to the diameter of the coffee cup or glass being used to serve each portion by either using a small knife to cut around the glass base and top or use an assortment of different sized round biscuit cutters.
Mascarpone: an Italian-style cream cheese that has a consistency of sour cream or whipped cream cheese. Far from tasting sour, mascarpone tastes like rich cream, even for the reduced-fat varieties, which is a bonus if you are trying to reduce the calories in this dessert.
Coffee: The recipe asks for 300ml of strong coffee, which is equivalent to six espressos (50ml each) on my Nespresso coffee machine. This sounds like a large amount of coffee for a dessert but actually, each Tiramisu cup serving is the equivalent to nearly one espresso. Maybe don’t drink a coffee on the side with your Tiramisu or you’ll be up all night digesting the excess caffeine! If you don’t have a coffee machine, then mix a strong amount of instant coffee powder and taste its strength according to your liking. Using decaf is fine if you prefer no caffeine in this dessert.
Coffee liqueur: Kahlúa is my first choice as a coffee liqueur, then next is Tia Maria, but you could also substitute them for Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur or Amaretto, an almond liqueur, or Marsala. Any nutty or coffee liqueur works even Baileys Irish Cream, despite it being made with whisky, the barley grain is distilled making it gluten-free and safe for celiacs according to the company. If you prefer to leave out the alcohol, substitute it with either two teaspoons of coffee, vanilla or almond essence for that extra kick in flavour.
Eggs: Use the freshest and if possible, the best organic eggs you can find, as they are used raw in this recipe. Nowadays, raw eggs in cooking have become more acceptable because of the quality and safety in egg production. However, I would advise not serving raw eggs to expectant mothers, those in frail health or very young children.
For the gluten-free Savoiradi biscuits:
- 3 eggs, separated
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 90g caster sugar
- 75g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
- 30g potato starch
- ¾ tablespoon milk
For the Tiramisu cream:
- 2 eggs, separated
- 120g caster sugar
- 500g mascarpone, full-fat or reduced-fat
- 300ml strong coffee, chilled (equivalent to approx. 6 espressos)
- 2 tablespoons Kahlua or another brand of coffee liqueur (or 2 teaspoons of coffee, vanilla or almond extract)
- 2 tablespoons sifted cocoa powder (for dusting)
- Handheld or benchtop electric mixer with a whisk and beater attachment
- 7 (150-200ml) glass coffee cups or normal drinking glasses
- Round cookie cutters that fit your chosen cups
- Preparation time: 40 minutes
- Baking time for biscuits: 12 minutes
- Chilling time: Minimum 1 hour
1. First prepare the Savoiradi biscuits: Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy.
7. Spread the mixture into the lined baking tin.
9. Allow to cool completely before cutting out round shapes to fit at the base and middle of your chosen glass or cup. Once 21 cutouts (3 per cup) have been made, set aside and start preparing the tiramisu cream.
11. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold this into the egg yolk mixture.
13. In a shallow bowl, pour the coffee mixture in it and one by one, briefly dip the biscuits in the mixture, flipping them over to soak thoroughly and absorb the coffee. Don’t leave the biscuits too long in the coffee mixture or they will become too soft and fall apart while transferring them to the cups.
14. Start stacking the soaked biscuit in the cups, followed by approximately one large serving spoon of tiramisu cream.
15. Repeat with two layers of biscuit and tiramisu cream, finishing off the final layer with just the tiramisu cream.
17. Chill for at least one hour before serving.
- Makes 7 portions (using 150-200ml glasses or cups)
- Keeps for 2 days chilled
- Unsuitable to freeze, although any leftover Savoiradi biscuits can be frozen for future Tiramisus
Looking for some additional Italian-inspired recipes?