“No tiramisu for me, because I don’t like coffee.” This was the reply I’d come to expect from my husband, Les, who definitely does not share my love for a freshly brewed morning cup of java. The classic Italian dessert has long been one of my favorites—its not-so-sweet flavor is perfect for my not-so-sweet tooth. But this issue of coffee has been a real problem for my tiramisu goals. I could make it for myself, of course, but then I would have to eat the whole thing (yikes), and I really wanted to find a way to make it enjoyable for both of us.
Tiramisu is traditionally made of delicate biscotti cookies that have been soaked in rum- or liqueur-spiked espresso, layered with a rich and creamy mascarpone custard and dusted with real cocoa powder. It is, essentially, an Italian version of an icebox cake, and with no baking required, everything about it works—except, for my husband, the darn coffee.
A few months ago, I couldn’t help noticing the ads that kept popping up in my Pinterest feed: “brews like coffee, benefits of cacao.”
OK, I thought, a coffee substitute that might give me an occasional break from the caffeine crashes that disrupt my sleep. So, without any specific intended purpose, I ordered some. I wasn’t blown away by the flavor of it on its own, and though it was interesting, I couldn’t see myself actually trading in my beloved dark roast coffee. Until the day it suddenly hit me: this brewed cacao might work in tiramisu!
As with several other recipes I’ve delayed trying, tiramisu has turned out to be remarkably simple. I leaned on the expertise of Ina Garten, the “Barefoot Contessa” whom I admire not only for her seemingly effortless cooking style, but also for her absolute devotion to her husband. She is always preparing special cocktails and favorite foods for Jeffrey, and I can relate. Ina’s recipe for tiramisu seemed simple enough, and it was very easy to cut the ingredients in half for a smaller portion for the two of us. I made several swaps—cacao for espresso, amaretto for rum, and cherry juice and preserves to flavor some of the mascarpone filling. But the technique and ratios of ingredients are the same, and it turned out perfect for our at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.
If you’re considering trying this little “pick me up” (it’s what tiramisu means in Italian), here are a few helpful things I learned along the way.
Tips for Tiramisu Success
Eggs are more easily separated while they are cold, but the yolks should be room temperature when you begin whisking for the recipe. The eggs are not cooked in this mostly-traditional recipe, and if you’re concerned about health risks from this, you can find pasteurized eggs in a well-stocked supermarket. They will allow you to stick to the recipe but with complete safety.
The mascarpone, like the eggs, should be room temperature for this recipe. If it is cold, it will clump rather than blend into the yolk mixture.
Brew extra cacao beverage (or espresso) than recommended in case you need it for dipping ladyfingers. The delicate cookies absorb the liquid very quickly, even when dipped for no more than five seconds, and it’s good to have a little extra on hand. This should be cooled to room temperature.
As with most recipes, it’s helpful to have all your ingredients, tools and dishes ready to go when you begin. Ina’s recipe recommended a 9 x 13” glass dish; I halved the recipe and used a 2.75 quart Pyrex dish that measured 8 1/2 x 7″. The recipe yielded six generous portions of tiramisu. With some fiddling, I think you could split the cookies and make it work in an 8 x 8″.
You probably need an electric mixer, either handheld or stand mixer, for this recipe. It would be difficult to properly whip the eggs and mascarpone by hand.
Finally, this dessert needs several hours in the fridge to set up properly, so plan accordingly.
Barefoot Contessa | Tiramisu | Recipes
3 egg yolks, room temperature (save the whites for your next omelet)
2 Tbsp. caster sugar* (see notes)
1/4 cup amaretto, divided
1 cup brewed dark roast cacao*, cooled
8 oz. mascarpone, room temperature
2 Tbsp. cherry juice
4 Tbsp. premium cherry preserves*
7 oz. (200g) package ladyfingers (biscotti savoiardi)
Double Dutch dark cocoa* for dusting between layers and top of tiramisu
Luxardo premium cocktail cherries, for garnish (optional, but fun if you have them)
Caster sugar is sometimes called “superfine” sugar, and I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it dissolves more readily than regular cane sugar.
The roasted cacao is made very similarly to coffee, and I prepared it in my French press. You can find the product I used online (just search it once on Pinterest and you’ll get ads for the rest of your life), or check with a local chocolatier to see if they have a similar product. Of course, you could also make tiramisu with espresso, as is traditional.
I made a midstream decision to fold cherry preserves into part of the mascarpone mixture, given that Valentine’s Day was already a chocolate-and-cherry kind of day. This brand is delicious, but a similar thick fruit spread would also work.
The Double Dutch dark cocoa powder is a King Arthur Baking product; it’s a 50-50 mix of regular Dutch-processed cocoa and black cocoa, which is very dark and somewhat bitter. It’s a richer color and flavor than most grocery store cocoa powders, but you could certainly substitute Hershey’s dark or any other cocoa.
I have pictures of my adventure, of course! See how it went, and keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable recipe for your files. 🙂
- Prepare brewed cacao according to package instructions (or use espresso as instructed in a conventional tiramisu recipe. Combine brewed cacao with 2 Tbsp. amaretto in a shallow dish and set aside.
- Using the whisk attachment for stand mixer, whip egg yolks at high speed until smooth and slightly thickened. Gradually add caster sugar while eggs are being whisked and continue until sugar is dissolved and the mixture is light, fluffy and lemon-colored.
- Add cherry juice, 2 tablespoons of amaretto and mascarpone. Whip into egg mixture at low speed until the mixture resembles that of soft whipped cream.
- Divide mixture into approximately half. Fold in cherry preserves to one half of mixture.
- Sift cocoa over the bottom of glass baking dish.
- Moving quickly, dip the ladyfingers (one or two at a time) into cacao-amaretto mixture, for no longer than five seconds. Arrange them in a single layer over the cocoa powder.
- Spread the cherry-infused mascarpone mixture evenly over the ladyfingers, to the edges of the dish, and then sift cocoa over the layer.
- Repeat with the remaining ladyfingers, topping the second layer with the remaining mascarpone mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least six hours, or preferably a full 24 hours ahead of serving.
- At serving time, cut tiramisu into squares. Sift additional cocoa over the top of each serving and finish with a Luxardo cherry garnish.
Want to give it a go?
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