RECIPE: Purist and Proper Tiramisu

by - August 19, 2009

"So, is there anything I can bring?" I always ask when invited to an event or a friends home and nine times out of ten I already know the answer: "tiramisu!"

This ol' Italian classic is one of my most requested dishes. Birthdays, BBQs, weddings, dinners, bar mitzvahs... Well, not bar mitzvahs as I've never been asked to one, but you get the drift.

I've always wondered why this desssert is such a hit, but look at the ingredients - coffee, sugar, booze, marscapone and chocolate! No wonder Tiramisu translates as "pick me up"- you'll be on the ceiling on a sugar high if you eat enough of it!

Historically, I've always been a bit of a purist of this recipe. The inclusion of Tia Maria, rum, whipped cream, coconut, instant coffee or custard would have me pursing my lips tighter than the place an otter keeps his wallet. However, at a recent dinner party, someone mentioned that orange may be a good ingredient to try. I'm not sure if I'm going with zest, orange flower water or orange juice yet but I shall report back my findings!

This purist version makes a nice big dish for 6-8 people or if you're feeling fancy, you can make individual ramekins as in the pic.


2 very fresh egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
500g mascarpone cheese
a dash of milk if needed
400ml cold espresso coffee
4 tbsp marsala wine
32 savoiardi biscuits*
Cocoa powder

In a decent sized bowl, beat the egg, vanilla extract and caster sugar together. Fold in the marscapone and if you need to loosen the mixture a bit (not too much!) add a splash or two of milk. The mixture should be thick but easy to spread with a little assistance.

In another bowl, combine the coffee, marsala. Dip each of the biscuits in the coffee for a second or two and line the base of a dish or individual ramekin. I like to make the base layer wetter than the upper layer for a bit of texture. Cover with half of the marscapone mixture, then repeat the coffee and biscuit layer but this time make sure the coffee mixture does not saturate the biscuit fully. Top with the remaining marscapone then dust with cocoa powder.

It is always better made the day before and refrigerated and whilst you will sacrifice some of the richness, eggs can be omitted if serving to pregnant ladies or if you can't get fresher than fresh fresh fresh eggs. Did I mention they should be fresh?

*Some supermarket own-brands tend to make these a bit flimsy, the branded Italian versions hold themselves better and are a bit bigger. I really fancy making the savoiardi biscuits from scratch. Anyone tried them or got a good tied and tested recipe?

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