This light and airy tiramisu is made with homemade ladyfingers, layers of mascarpone mousse, and a delicious espresso syrup. It’s the perfect 100% from scratch tiramisu recipe, and a great make-ahead dessert!
Tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts, and a treat I enjoyed often while studying in Italy. I find that it’s the perfect dessert to make ahead for a potluck or dinner party, because it serves a crowd and comes together quickly.
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What are the components of this tiramisu recipe?
I will start by saying this is not a fully traditional tiramisu recipe, as it uses whipped cream and gelatin instead of whipped egg whites. Here are the different components:
- Homemade ladyfingers (savoiardi) – soft, fluffy sponge cookies leavened with eggs. This recipe makes them from scratch but you can substitute with store-bought ladyfingers if you’d like.
- Coffee syrup – I like to use 3 shots of espresso for maximum coffee flavor. I also add some dark rum for flavor, but you can substitute with Amaretto, Kahlua, or leave out entirely.
- Mascarpone mousse – The mascarpone mousse is made with a whipped egg yolk and mascarpone base folded with whipped cream and a bit of gelatin for stability
- Cocao powder – For sifting on top
Do you need to use egg whites in the mascarpone cream for tiramisu?
No, you don’t need to use egg whites in the mascarpone cream. A number of tiramisu recipes do use whipped egg whites to add volume and stability to the mascarpone cream mixture, but I have opted to use whipped cream instead to lighten the mascarpone mixture.
I find that whipping cream is quicker, easier, and more approachable than making a meringue. I also feel the need to pasteurize the egg whites using a hot sugar syrup, which adds additional work. I have made tiramisu using whipped egg whites, I find the mascarpone mousse made with whipped cream to still be very light and fluffy in comparison, and it saves a bit of work overall.
How to make homemade ladyfingers (savoiardi)
Ladyfingers are soft, sponge cake cookies leavened with eggs. They are very light and fluffy when made correctly and are perfect for soaking up syrups. Traditionally they do not contain any chemical leavening agents such as baking powder or baking soda.
Making homemade ladyfingers may seem intimidating, but they’re fairly forgiving. The first time I made ladyfingers they came out extremely dry, and still tasted fine once soaked in syrup and layered into my tiramisu. Here’s an overview of making homemade ladyfingers:
- Make a French meringue – whip your egg whites and sugar to stiff peaks. The mixture should be firm and glossy as this is the primary way air is incorporated into the ladyfingers
- Add the egg yolks – add the egg yolks directly into the egg whites while the mixer is running on high speed. After a few seconds, the yolks are incorporated
- Sift in flour – sift in the flour in 3 batches, folding in gently to avoid deflating the egg mixture
- Pipe and cover with powdered sugar – pipe into 5 inch long cookies, and sift powdered sugar on top. The powdered sugar creates a soft and sweet crust over the cookie.
- Bake – bake the ladyfingers one tray at a time. They bake fairly quickly, in just 8 – 10 minutes so be careful not to overbake, as that will dry the cookies out.
Why make homemade ladyfingers?
I started out making tiramisu using storebought ladyfingers, but honestly it’s always a bit of a struggle to find ladyfingers in a store near me. I now make my own ladyfingers so I don’t have to bother finding them in store. I also find that my homemade ladyfingers are more delicate and fresh, and require less time to soak up the coffee syrup.
Tips for making homemade ladyfingers
Here are tips for making light and fluffy ladyfingers that are not too dry:
- When making the meringue, add the egg whites right when small bubbles form and you see soft peaks. Adding too early can weigh down the meringue, while adding too late can deflate the meringue.
- Make sure to whip the meringue to stiff peaks as this is the primary leavener for the cookies
- Fold in the flour gently in multiple batches. This keeps the batter light and airy
- Do not overbake the cookies, as this will dry them out
How to make a coffee syrup for homemade tiramisu
The coffee syrup is perhaps the easiest part of this tiramisu. It’s made with warm espresso, sugar, and rum and you simply mix them all together until the sugar is dissolved.
I recommend using a strong, robust espresso that is concentrated with coffee flavor. In a pinch you can use strong black coffee instead.
For the liqueur, I like using dark rum because it’s pretty accessible and comes in a wide range of prices. I’ve also used Kahlua for that extra coffee flavor, or Amaretto.
Do you have to use alcohol in tiramisu?
No, you can choose to leave out the alcohol if you’d like. I think the alcohol helps balance out the flavors and sweetness, but it is not required.
How long should you soak ladyfingers in the coffee syrup?
I soak each side of the ladyfinger for about 1 – 2 seconds. This time will vary depending on the texture of your ladyfingers, but you do want the syrup to penetrate the cookie and not just run off. You may think you have thoroughly soaked the ladyfinger, but when you cut into it the center of the cookie will still be dry.
How to make mascarpone cream for homemade tiramisu
The mascarpone cream is made with a fluffy egg yolk and sugar mixture, mixed with mascarpone and lightened with whipped cream.
- Make a sugar syrup – heat up water and sugar to 239F to create a sugar syrup. The syrup helps pasteurize the egg yolks. You will need a food or candy thermometer for this step – I like to use this one.
- Whip the egg yolks – whip the egg yolks with the hot sugar syrup until they become thick and fluffy and fall off the whisk in ribbons
- Add the yolks to the mascarpone – combine the yolks and mascarpone until smooth
- Add gelatin – add gelatin to the mascarpone mixture to help stabilize the cream. This helps provide a firmer texture and a cleaner slice
- Fold in whipped cream – fold in whipped cream, being careful not to deflate the air
Can you substitute cream cheese for mascarpone cream?
No, I would not recommend subbing cream cheese for mascarpone cream. Mascarpone is a trademark flavor for tiramisu. Subbing for cream cheese will get you something that tastes more like no bake cheesecake with coffee flavor.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! I always love to see what my readers are baking. You can comment below or tag me on Instagram @halicopteraway.
Tiramisu with homemade ladyfingers
- Hand mixer or stand mixer
- 9 inch baking dish
- Large piping or ziptop bag
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Food thermometer
Ladyfingers (makes 20 – 22)
- 1 cup (120g) all purpose flour
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2/3 cup (120g) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (50g) powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup (75g) warm espresso (about 3 shots)
- 3 tbsp (36g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp dark rum
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (60g) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp (25g) water
- 5 oz (150g) mascarpone
- 1 cup (230ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 1/2 gelatin sheets (or 1 1/2 tsp of powdered gelatin)
- 3 tbsp (25g) cocoa powder
Make the ladyfingers
- Preheat the oven to 400F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
- Using a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until bubbles form and they hold a soft peak
- Gradually add the granulated sugar while the mixer is running. Continue whipping until the egg whites are firm and glossy and hold a stiff peak. Add the egg yolks and whip on high speed until smooth, about 5 seconds
- Sift in the flour in 3 batches, gently folding in each batch with a spatula
- Transfer the batter into a large piping bag and pipe 20 – 22 5 inch long ladyfingers on the baking sheets. Space them at least 1 inch apart. Sift powdered sugar on the tops
- Bake one sheet at a time for 8 – 10 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool
Make the coffee syrup
- In a bowl or baking dish, mix together the warm espresso, sugar, and rum. Make sure the bowl is wide enough for you to tip the ladyfingers in face down
Make the mascarpone mousse
- Combine the sugar and water in small pan over medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and heat until a food thermometer registers 239F. Make sure the thermometer is not touching the bottom of the pan
- While the sugar is heating, beat the egg yolks with a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on low speed
- When the syrup is ready, pour it down the side of the bowl into the yolks and beat at high speed until the mixture cools to room temperature, about 10 minutes. When pouring the syrup, the mixer should still be running
- In a medium bowl, whip the cream until it reaches stiff peaks
- Place the sheet gelatin in a bowl of cold water and let soak for 5 – 10 minutes. If you're using powdered gelatin, mix with 1 tbsp of cold water
- Whisk the mascarpone in a large bowl until smooth. Add a third of the egg yolk mixture and beat until well incorporated. Add the remaining egg yolk mixture and beat until smooth
- If using sheet gelatin, squeeze out the excess water and place the gelatin in a bowl. Microwave the gelatin for a few seconds until melted. Add a little bit of the mascarpone to the melted gelatin and stir until smooth. Add this mixture to the remaining mascarpone and beat until well incorporated
- Fold a third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream
Assemble the tiramisu
- Dip each side of the ladyfinger in the coffee syrup, about 1 – 2 seconds for each side. Lay them down in an even layer in the baking dish
- Spread half of the mascarpone mousse on top of the ladyfingers
- Add a second layer of ladyfingers dipped in coffee syrup on top of the mousse
- Spread the remaining mousse on top and smooth with a spatula. Place in the fridge for at least 4 hour, ideally overnight
- Before serving, sift cocoa powder on top
- When separating the eggs for the ladyfingers, be careful not to mix any of the yolk into the whites. Even a bit of yolk can prevent the whites from whipping up into stiff peaks
- The ladyfinger recipe makes 20 – 22 ladyfingers, and you will need around 16 for the tiramisu