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Classic Tiramisu

Tiramisu is the Italian creation which will save your ass when the 3:00 slump hits you at your desk, stove, steering wheel or washing machine.  Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” and with the coffee and sugar called for in the recipe, it will!  I first made this dessert in 1991.  I had decided to have an Italian Thanksgiving as I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey and the traditional “fixin’s”.  Our guests were family plus one of Jimmy’s students from MIT, Laura Duenes, and her boyfriend, Forest McKennie.  When Laura decided to pull up stakes and move to Fort Lauderdale, Jimmy immediately offered her a plum job.  She knew all of us…my entire family.  We loved her and she loved us.  Laura was young, smart, beautiful… the quintessential cheeky, sassy Chicana.   While she flew all over the country standing up to banks, my little sister, Pamela, kind of ran the office… answering the phones, filing, etc.  Nothing made them happier than when they were both in the office together.  One afternoon Jimmy returned to the office from a meeting.  Walking in, he found the office surprisingly quiet.  Turning a corner he found Laura’s and Pamela’s eyes riveted to the television set and his desk had been somewhat reorganized.  They were both doing their nails; his desk was covered with cuticle sticks, base coat, polish, top coat, nail files and all manner of hand creams.  As Jimmy exclaimed, “What’s going on here?   This is a business, ya know!” both girls, without moving a muscle, answered, “SHHHHH! We’re watching our story.  It’s General Hospital.  It’ll be over in a minute.”  Can you imagine saying that to your boss, never mind giving yourself a manicure at work!  Knowing he was outnumbered, Jimmy just shook his head and muttered, “Girls!”.  Laura was family.  We had a superb Thanksgiving that year.  I found the menu and have to say, it was pretty great.

The wine flowed and laughter rang out all afternoon.   The tiramisu was a huge hit, smooth, rich and cool on a hot south Florida day.  Laura and Forest eventually married and accepted positions in D.C., then south Africa and back to D.C..  Those were some good days and every single time I make tiramisu I think of that girl.

Tiramisu is a glorious make-ahead treat.  Granted, there are several steps in making it but, boy, is it worth it!  It can be prepared in a 9X13 inch dish, individual pots or wine glasses.  Some folks make their own ladyfingers but I find store-bought are fine.  Because the bags of cookies in my store are 7 ounces, I try to make a somewhat double layer of ladyfingers on the bottom of the dish.  One bag isn’t enough for this recipe and the extra cookies give the dish added structure.  There’s quite a bit of liquid in the recipe and the cookies soak it up in a most delicious way.  Tiramisu should be served as cold as you can get it, so feel free to chill your dishes if you’re inclined.  The set, chilled texture is not even as firm as Jello although it is not runny either.  If you prepare this dessert in one large dish it’s best to serve it up in the kitchen.  And be assertive with your serving spoon and spatula.  The tiramisu will lose its shape, fall over and slide around making serving a bit of a challenge but it’s not meant to be pretty.  It’s meant to be spectacular!

Classic Tiramisu

  • Servings: 14-16
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 14 ounces ladyfingers
  • 1 cup espresso
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons rum, dark or golden, divided
  • 4 tablespoons Gran Marnier
  • 1 pound mascarpone cheese
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • unsweetened Dutch processed cocoa, to cover top of dish
  1. Set a 9X13 inch baking dish aside.
  2. In a large shallow bowl mix the espresso, 2 tablespoons of rum and Gran Marnier.
  3. Working quickly, dip each ladyfinger, one at a time, into the espresso mixture, moistening each side then placing on the bottom of the baking dish.  Continue until the bottom of the dish is completely covered.  I make a second layer of cookies, completely optional, with about 1″ in between each ladyfinger.  Reserve enough cookies for a final layer in between the mascarpone mixture.  Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl place the remaining rum and mascarpone and beat until smooth.  Set aside.
  5. In a small double-boiler over medium-low heat, beat the egg yolks with 3 tablespoons of sugar until light and foamy, about 4 minutes.
  6. Pour the hot yolks into the mascarpone mixture, mix well to combine and set aside.
  7. In a separate bowl, whip the cream with the  vanilla extract until soft peaks are formed  when the beaters are lifted.
  8. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in.  Fold in the remaining cream adding 1/3 at a time.  Set aside.
  9. In a separate bowl and using a hand mixer with clean beaters, whip the egg whites until foamy.  Slowly add the remaining sugar and continue beating the egg whites until the peaks hold their shape.  Do not over beat.
  10. Add the egg whites to the mascarpone mixture and gently fold in until there are no streaks of egg white.
  11. Pour half of the mascarpone mixture over the ladyfingers in the baking dish.
  12. Lightly dip the remaining ladyfingers, one at a time, in the espresso mixture and layer evenly over the poured mascarpone.  Break the cookies to cover any holes.
  13. Pour the remaining mascarpone mixture over the cookies, smooth the top and refrigerate uncovered overnight.
  14. Prior to serving, cover the top of the tiramisu with a thick dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder.
  15. Serve immediately.

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