tiramisu for you

And on Saturday I made tiramisu.

Yes, this is the mystery dessert supposedly created to sate the hunger of brothel visitors. Tiramisu, in Italian, breaks into tira (as in “tirare,” meaning to pull), mi (me), su (up). A literal pick me up! I’ve read historical accounts that paint this brothel narrative as pure fantasy — but this tale is much juicier than the (admittedly more accurate) story of a pastry chef inventing a dessert based on the region’s everyday flavors and accessible ingredients: espresso, marscarpone cheese, eggs, Marsala wine, and ladyfinger cookies.

I’ve made tiramisu before on this site, in the form of Smitten Kitchen’s Tiramisu Cake, but there’s no competition. You should make this instead. It’s a strictly classic take on the dessert, and far and away the tastier version. Why temper with perfection? You beat egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine over a pot of simmering water to create a zabaglione; you whip up some heavy cream and combine it with the zabaglione and marscarpone cheese; and from there it’s just a matter of assembly.

I broke the recipe eight individual mason jar servings, because I’m all about the cute. Also, we were going to eat this in-between photo shoots and swills of champagne at the house, before heading out to the law prom. I deemed this serving method much easier than hauling out plates and partitioning servings. (Even if halving the ladyfingers and coaxing them flat at the bottom of the jar was a bit of a Process.) And it was delicious: coffee-saturated cookies sandwiched between layers of a gooey egg/wine/cream/cheese concoction. Rich and smooth and capable of turning any event into a party.

Classic Tiramisu
(Adapted from the Pioneer Woman)


  • 5 egg yolks (don’t know how to separate eggs? here’s how!)
  • 1/4 cup plus 4 tbsp sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup Marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pound (16 oz) marscarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 cup very strong coffee
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 packages savoiardi (ladyfinger cookies)
  • cocoa powder, for dusting


In a small saucepan or pot, bring several inches of water to a simmer. Find a mixing bowl that will sit on top of the pot without falling in. (Or use a double boiler, if you have one.)

In the mixing bowl, add egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar. Whisk together by hand until light in color, about three minutes. Place over the simmering water and slowly pour in 1/2 cup Marsala, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and thick, above five minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool, about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, dump the marscarpone cheese into a small bowl and stir it around to soften it up. (Mine hadn’t reached room temperature yet, so I stuck it in the microwave for a couple seconds. But do as I say, not as I do: this probably isn’t the World’s Greatest Idea.)

In a large bowl, combine the heavy cream and remaining four tablespoons sugar. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. To this mixture, add the marscarpone and the zabaglione (the egg-Marsala custard). Using a rubber spatula, gently fold them together. You want all three things incorporated together, but no heavy beating. Tread softly.

Get out a 9 x 13 pan OR, if you prefer eight individual servings, eight little jam jars/glasses. Add vanilla to the cup of coffee. Open the package of ladyfingers. (My ladyfingers were quite soft — nearly soggy — so I crisped them up in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. An optional step.)

Line the bottom of the pan with ladyfingers. Soak each cookie with about 1 tablespoon of coffee. Then apply 1/3 of the cream mixture and spread it around evenly. (If you’re doing individual jars, use a generous spoonful. You want about an inch of cream.) Dust with cocoa powder, and repeat. Cookie, coffee, cream, cocoa. If you use a pan, this will make three layers. For eight jam jars, I managed about four layers in each. Some had only three. Either way, it’ll be delicious. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Cover and refrigerate for a few hours before serving. I like to bring it back to room temperature before serving, to soften up the cream. But that’s a personal question for you to explore on your own time. Enjoy!


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