How-To & Diy

How to Make Tiramisu Without a Recipe

December 16, 2013

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Tiramisu: A classic that you can adapt.

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Tiramisu is a classic. A dessert with certain proportions, certain subtleties, it's a classic that's rarely messed with for good reason. But once you have the basics together, a little variation here and there using what's on hand or what's in season is not a bad idea.

If you have eggs, sugar, and cocoa in your pantry, you're already halfway there. You'll need a couple of packets of long ladyfinger or Pavesini cookies -- why these particular cookies? They turn sponge-cake springy when dipped in just the right amount of liquid. Then you need some mascarpone -- or, try it the way my Tuscan mother-in-law likes to make it using ricotta (she uses half and half, it makes a somewhat less dense, lighter tasting cream). And then you need some sort of tempting liquid, usually a watered-down liqueur like rum, sweet wine like marsala or vin santo, strong coffee, or a combination. To top it all off, you'll want a bit of chocolate factor with either bittersweet cocoa powder or grated or chopped chocolate. 

More: Another regional Italian classic? Polenta Cookies.

And those variations I mentioned? How about a matcha tiramisu, where strong, powdered Japanese green tea is used for both the sage-hued cookie-dipping liquid and also takes the place of the cocoa powder? Or a hazelnut tiramisu, where a splash of frangelico is used for dipping the cookies and chopped nuts decorate the top? In the summer, try a strawberry tiramisu -- simply marinate the fruit in a splash of liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier goes nicely) and a sprinkle of sugar, then use the liquid to soak the cookies and the fruit to top the tiramisu at the last moment (so it doesn't split the cream) before serving.

Kept simple, it's an adaptable classic. Here's how to do it.

How to Make Tiramisu Without a Recipe

1. In a shallow bowl, pour your liquid of choice (rum and coffee is a winning combination here). Dip ladyfingers on one side only into the liquid then place them side by side in a single layer to cover entirely the base of your chosen container. A rectangular Pyrex dish is the usual but the very first tiramisu were actually round -- a springform cake pan works nicely for this. You'll probably need to break or cut the cookies to the right length to get into all the nooks and crannies. You can brush extra coffee or rum over the biscuits to ensure they absorb enough liquid without getting soggy.

2. Separate three eggs and whisk together the yolks, two tubs of mascarpone (or try it with ricotta), and about 3/4 cup of fine sugar. A splash of rum, marsala, or sweet wine does not go astray here if you're making a boozy tiramisu. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl to stiff peaks and fold them gently into the mascarpone to make a smooth, slightly sloppy, surprisingly airy cream. Place a thick layer roughly the same height as the cookies of mascarpone cream over the biscuits and smooth over.

3. Then add another layer of the dipped ladyfingers. Continue layering until you finish with a layer of mascarpone cream. Chill overnight so the flavors have time to mingle and settle and the cookies have time to absorb the liquid and become appropriately spongey.

4. Before serving, top with heavy-handed layer of sifted bittersweet cocoa powder or your best dark chocolate, finely grated or chopped. Buon appetito!

Tell us: how would you riff on the classic tiramisu?

We're looking for contributors! Email [email protected] and tell us the dish you make in your sleep, without a recipe.

Photos by Emiko Davies

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The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Pat E. December 31, 2013
I LOVE no recipes! Just put together a beauty with light raspberry syrup dipping sauce and shaved bittersweet chocolate between the layers. It's beautiful in a crystal bowl with raspberry sauce dripping bewteen the standing ladyfingers. It's "aging" until midnight when it will be topped with more shaved chocoate and fresh raspberries. I'll try to remember to take a picture.
Ruthlessmess December 30, 2013
Hey, what size are the tubs of mascarpone you used?
Emiko December 30, 2013
They're 8.8 oz (250 grams) each.
Ruthlessmess December 31, 2013
Brenda H. December 18, 2013
Instead of using raw eggs, could you use a pasturised egg product that you get in the dairy section?
Emiko December 22, 2013
I have no experience using this product personally, but the raw eggs, whipped separately until fluffy, are a fundamental part of any tiramisu and I thoroughly recommend trying it for best results! That said, some of the comments below have some suggestions, such as pasteurising the egg as you would make zabaione (or zabaglione).
Nicole H. December 18, 2013
Do you have a favorite brand or recipe of ladyfingers?
Emiko December 18, 2013
I usually go for Italian made lady fingers whatever the brand. Unfortunately I've only tried to make them myself once and it was not my best moment!
Sun G. December 18, 2013
You can do your own mascarpone: 16 oz cream cheese, 1/3C sour cream and 1/4 C heavy cream...whip altogether well.
Emiko December 18, 2013
Or just cream and lemon juice/citric acid - simple and how traditional mascarpone is made :)
djgibboni December 16, 2013
I've done a tiramisù with Nutella. Add a generous amount to the egg yolk-mascarpone mixture. Use Frangelico with the coffee to dip the ladyfingers to enhance the hazelnut. Grate lots of chocolate between the layers, too.
Emiko December 16, 2013
Ana December 16, 2013
Raw eggs? Is there a way to safely make a tiramisu at all?
cookinginvictoria December 16, 2013
You can make tiramisu without raw eggs but it won't be traditional. I am hoping that Emiko will chime in with some ideas. I have made a Tiramisu without raw eggs, using a zabaglione-type custard, in which the eggs are cooked.

Love so many of the ideas here -- especially a strawberry or matcha tiramisu! Thanks for a great post, Emiko.
Emiko December 16, 2013
Yes! Raw eggs. I think that these days using raw eggs is very safe - I like to make sure I have really fresh, organic, free range farm eggs (or my neighbours' eggs!). It also just tastes better and has better texture. Otherwise, do as cookinginvictoria has said and cook your eggs in a zabaione - but honestly it's not necessary. Tiramisu without any eggs at all is quite thick and I find very stodgy - the eggs add richness and also lightness (the whites) that you can't replicate in other ways!
Dr.Insomnia December 18, 2013
Ah, raw eggs. They make everything better. If you aren't eating raw eggs, you aren't having one of the the best cocktails ever:
SandyLaFleur December 18, 2013
Funny this column - I have never made tiramisu the same way twice. The raw egg question, I put two egg yolks in a custard and I stir it in the microwave. I made the Zab. pudding with the marsala once, it was so deliciouso, and my arm fell off. It was not the same for a long long time. So, this past weekend I made the custard, two egg yolks 1/4 c. sugar in the blender with one cup of whole milk and 1/4 c. of flour, a sprinkle of salt, blended, poured into a pyrex and microwaved, stirring every 1 -2 minutes for fast custard, then I added a tsp. of vanilla and 2 Tbsp. marsala...and then I added a teensy bit more...and let it cool. I love the new fresh whole milk ricottas available in New England...Maplebrook...or Calabro...from Whole foods...these are great tasting right out of the container...I whisked in powdered sugar like you are making cannoli's and lightened about one cup of ricotta with what was about 1 c. volume of whipped cream...
With one bag of ladyfingers (Roche Bros.) this made a bread loaf pan...about 5 servings. I used a trickle of italian roast coffee and kahlua on the ladyfingers... I decorated the top with whipped cream and cocoa powder. This chilled at least 5 hrs. The leftovers were fantastic the next day.
Laura December 16, 2013
You forgot the espresso! Lady fingers need to be soaked in espresso, or this is not tiramisu'.

Yours truly Venetian,

Emiko December 16, 2013
Ciao Laura, don't worry, I haven't forgotten the espresso - read through the whole article! The point is that this is how you can make a tiramisu that is adaptable. Coffee is the classic, traditional liquid to soak the savoiardi but rum, marsala or similar is also commonly added (though not in the original recipe). Some - like in my case in the photos - put just rum or (in Toscana!) vin santo. And why not? ;)
Jen0315 December 16, 2013
Ricotta sounds like a great idea, but what does it taste like? Does the texture suffer (since it has less fat than mascarapone)?
Emiko December 16, 2013
It's a somewhat lighter, flufflier cream, delicious and surprisingly you don't have the grainy texture of the ricotta when it's mixed with the mascarpone. Try it!
serena.palumbo December 16, 2013
Great recipe!!!! Check out my video to learn about the STORY of the tiramisu'