Tiramisu, the Uplifting Dessert

Tiramisu (or Tiramisù, as written in Italian) is arguably the world’s most popular Italian dessert after gelato. Featured by many Italian restaurants in North America, Tiramisu is for the Italians more of a homemade party cake and an unpretentious dessert found in pizzerie and trattorie.

Even though Tiramisu is a modern creation and many claim its paternity, its origins are actually unknown. The consensus is that Tiramisu as we know it became popular in the 1980s, possibly as a variation of the British trifle in which ladyfingers (called ‘savoiardi’ in Italy) and a cream of mascarpone are used instead of sponge cake and custard. Part of the dessert’s success may be due to its odd name. Although it’s the subject of another debate, most concur that it originated in the literal meaning of the Italian words ‘tirami su’: “pull me up” or “pick me up,” possibly referred to the “uplifting” or even “aphrodisiac” effects of coffee and chocolate.

As described in the recipe below, Tiramisu is commonly flavored with rum (or brandy), coffee and cocoa powder. However, around Italy, there are also versions with very different flavors (e.g. amaretto and peaches, or limoncello and strawberries).

All versions of Tiramisu are centered around a mascarpone filling which traditionally contains raw eggs (as in the recipe below). There are also egg-less versions in which the mascarpone is blended with whipping cream and sugar, resulting in a richer, but also heavier dessert. North American versions often contain more sugar than their Italian counterparts.

Like trifle, Tiramisu needs to rest in the fridge for several hours to set and develop flavor. It is common to prepare it the day before and let it rest in the fridge overnight.

Tiramisu, the Uplifting Dessert

Yield: 8-10 portions

Total Time: 45 minutes

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Tiramisu, the Uplifting Dessert


  • 400 g savoiardi

 For the cream

  • 500 g mascarpone cheese (choose a good quality brand - good mascarpone tastes creamy, not cheesy)
  • 5 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 5 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rum (or brandy)

 For the coffee dip

  • 6 shots espresso (or an equivalent amount of strong coffee)
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp rum

 For the finish

  • ½ Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Some shaved dark chocolate (optional)


  1. Whisk together egg yolks and sugar (fig. 1) until the mixture becomes lighter in color.
  2. One tablespoon at a time, incorporate the mascarpone (fig. 2). This operation is considered difficult because mascarpone and egg create an emulsion that can suddenly separate. To help prevent this, use egg yolks at room temperature* and begin by incorporating a "starter mix" made by combining a tablespoon of mascarpone and some beaten egg yolk. If the mascarpone is soft, another great option is to stir the beaten egg yolks into the mascarpone, instead of the other way around.
  3. Add the rum (fig. 3), stir slowly until absorbed.
  4. Add the beaten egg white, mixing gently from the bottom upwards in order to incorporate air (fig. 4). The egg whites will work as a stabilizer and help the mascarpone remain emulsified*.
  5. Set the cream aside (fig. 5).
  6. Prepare the coffee dip by mixing espresso and sugar, then adding milk and rum. Let it completely cool off. Dip each ladyfinger in it for a couple of seconds (fig. 6).
  7. Lay each ladyfinger in the baking pan forming a first layer of cookies (fig. 7).
  8. Add a layer of mascarpone cream, then add one more layer of cookies (fig. 8).
  9. Continue alternating the two ingredients, finishing with a layer of mascarpone (fig. 9).
  10. Using a sifter, generously cover the top with unsweetened cocoa powder (fig. 10).
  11. Then, optionally, add the shaved dark chocolate (fig. 11).
  12. Chill the finished Tiramisu (fig. 12) in the fridge for at least 8 hours, covered with tinfoil.


*Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2nd edition (2004).



22 thoughts on “Tiramisu, the Uplifting Dessert”

  1. Hi Paolo
    Nice post. I've got a question not related to tiramisu'.
    Why is it that, when cooking risotto, you aren't supposed to add all the brodo at once, but only a ladleful at a time?

  2. I'll always answer any 'risotto' questions! For two reasons. 1) Risotto is all about the starchy cream and the cream is formed also thanks to the physical friction between the rice grains that you get by constantly stirring a thick mixture. 2) If you add too much broth, the rice will simply boil at 100 degrees Celsius. When the broth is not enough, instead, the rice reaches higher temperatures and develops more flavor.

  3. I love real tiramisu', unfortunately is very hard to come by on this side of the ocean… Might be the raw eggs scaring people off…

  4. I love tiramisu, but I love it a certain way. My lady fingers must be soaked for a good while in strong coffee! I am so often disappointed because it's not what I expect, but then, what right do I have to claim to the "correct" tiramisu?

  5. Thanks for your comments! Kiri, I also don't mind fully soaked savoiardi, this is actually what ends up happening if you leave the tiramisu in the fridge for a couple of days, the ladyfingers collapse a bit and get really juicy 🙂

      1. I’m sure that that would win any competition! It’s definitely better making the ladyfingers, many Italians, however, would just use bought ones for Tiramisu, as far as I know.

  6. Thanks duespaghetti, I would like to add that when I was a child, my grandmother used to make me a snack of just raw egg and sugar (yolk mixed with sugar, then beaten egg white). Some of my friends were even given a version with an added shot of espresso!

  7. Well, you DEFINITELY know how to make a tiramisu! This is absolutely beautiful and I just want to stick my fork right into that picture and start eating!

  8. It really looks yummy and I too prefer the fully soaked lady fingers.
    Btw. my mom mad raw egg with sugar – "Zuckerei" too.

  9. We are always surprised at how worried North Americans become about the prospect of raw eggs in tiramisu`. I guess it is understandable, but it never occurred to us to be concerned about this in Italy. We do take care to buy high quality eggs, though. We agree with the well-soaked savoiardi!

  10. I love tiramisu and yours looks delicious. I always get a kick out of how many Americans think this is the ultimate Italian dessert and then the look of surprise on their face when I tell them I was already an adult before I had ever even heard of it! I also use raw eggs–but only if I get local, organic ones. As a child, if I was sick and not eating, my mother would make make me a "shake" in the blender, with milk, chocolate syrup and a raw egg.

  11. Hey Paolo, I love tiramisu and just made it for the first time, thanks for the recipe! I really enjoyed making it, turned out delicious 🙂

    One question I have is about the last step where the tiramisu is covered tightly by tinfoil. I noticed that there was quite a bit of condensation on the tinfoil when I took the it off after the tiramisu had chilled in the fridge. This seemed to make the tiramisu a bit too wet on the top. Do you have any thoughts about this?

    1. Thanks for your feedback! I know what you mean by the condensation, it often happens to the one that I make as well and it's not pleasant (the drops of water ruin the velvety cocoa powder on top). I don't have a good remedy, but it happens because some of the water inside the tiramisu evaporates and then condenses when it hits the cold(er) top. A possible way to mitigate the problem could be to leave the tiramisu uncovered for the first 30 minutes or so until it completely cools off (most ingredients are at room temperature or even a bit warm). This should eliminate evaporation, and therefore condensation. I'll try this next time and report back!

      1. The only real way I found to circumvent the effects of condensation is to wait to apply the cocoa powder until shortly before serving, with the tiramisu left uncovered.

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