When I was a bit younger (a lot younger) busy cooking in restaurants in the ‘80s, tiramisu made a sensational debut and became a very popular dessert in chic restaurants not only in the U.S. but around the globe. It is a very simple cold dessert, but this combination of Italian cream cheese (mascarpone), strong coffee (espresso) and liquor flavor was a very fresh idea – so provocative and enchanting to the palate that no one could resist it. I, too, instantly loved it when I first tasted it. Since then tiramisu has become the number one Italian dessert (something like sushi has become for Japanese food in America).
What I really like about this dessert (besides that all pretty women will be impressed if you can make it) is that it is very easy to make: You just mix the ingredients and assemble... no baking. The only problem is that people cannot wait to taste it before it has chilled/set for at least a few hours. It is a great dessert any time of the year – whether in summer or during the winter holidays. These days I often put some shaved dark chocolate on top, to make it ... over the top!
I have tried many different recipes but this one is simple and comes out perfect. Nowadays domestic mascarpone is widely available in supermarkets. However, you should try using imported Italian Mascarpone. It is creamier and more flavorful, and you can taste the difference in the results. If you cannot find lady finger cookies (Amazon has them), you can make your own (even a gluten-free version). You can also use sponge cake (which I often do at work) or simple butter or sugar cookies instead.
1/4 cup (125ml) espresso at room temperature
1-2 tablespoons dark rum, brandy or grappa
3 “very fresh” large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100g) sugar, divided
8 ounces (250g) mascarpone at room temperature
About 20 Italian ladyfingers/Savoiardi (7 ounces/200 g)
1 ounce (30g) bittersweet chocolate, shaved
Unsweetened cocoa powder, for sprinkling between layers and on top
1. In a small bowl combine the espresso with rum or cognac. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk, or by hand, beat the egg whites until they begin to get stiff. Beat in half of the sugar until stiff. Set aside.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until thick and light-colored, about 2 minutes. By hand, beat in the mascarpone with a spatula or whisk, until lump-free.
4. With a large spatula, fold in half of the beaten egg whites gently, then the remaining half, just until fully incorporated.
5. Place a single layer of 12 ladyfingers (two rows of six each, end to end) in a 9-inch (22.5-cm) square baking dish or glass dish. Dip a pastry brush into the coffee mixture and brush/soak the biscuits with the liquid. Spread about half of the mascarpone cream over the biscuits. Sprinkle with about one half of the grated chocolate and cocoa powder.
6. Repeat with a second layer of the biscuits, brush the biscuits with remaining liquid, and cover with the remaining mascarpone cream. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, allowing the cream to firm up slightly and the biscuits to absorb some of the liquid, preferably overnight.
If using individual cups (about 6-ounce), put a heaping soupspoon of the mascarpone cream into each individual glass cup/ramekin. Break a ladyfinger and place onto the cream. Brush or drip espresso mixture onto ladyfinger and top with some shaved chocolate and cocoa powder. Repeat with a second layer of biscuit and remaining liquid, and then cover with remaining mascarpone cream. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until firm – at least 3-4 hours. Use about 2-3 ladyfingers per individual cup.
To serve, divide the tiramisu into rectangular slices and transfer to chilled dessert plates. Right before serving, shake powdered cocoa generously on top and add more shaved chocolate.
Note: I used an 11-inch x 7-inch (2 quarts) Pyrex glass baking dish for the photography. The Italian ladyfingers I used are 4-inches long and 1-inch wide.