Foolproof Tiramisù

I didn't always love tiramisù. In fact, at the risk of having you shut this window with a wince and a moan, I'll admit that I used to kind of hate it. I found it one-note, sickeningly sweet, sloppy, and sometimes acrid and/or bitter. In other words, kind of crappy. 

Then I had it in Italy.


That's what it's supposed to taste like! Creamy, deep, a lilt of tang, a depth of earthy chocolate and coffee, with a nuanced texture. Yes, I'll eat that any day of the week and praise the mascarpone gods every time.

But like many Italian flavors, it's hard to replicate without patience. I've tried for years, and while my tiramisù was always passable, it was rarely revelatory. I switched up lofting with whipped cream versus egg white, added dimension with soft and toasted bakery ladyfingers versus the hard packaged variety, sweetened with various amounts of sugar. Finally, this weekend, using a Cook's Illustrated recipe as a starting point, I got it.

I was pretty sure I got it when I let Gabe lick the mascarpone mixture off the spoon and my cheese-hating child swooned. I was fairly sure I got it when Keith got very, very quiet eating each bite with his eyes closed. And I was totally sure I got it when Siena begged for another piece at breakfast and declared it the best tiramisù she'd ever had. Well, then! 

It's time to share. 

This recipe works, people, it just works. It's simple, it's not fussy, it's totally Italian in its reliance on superb but not complicated ingredients, and it comes together like a dream in no time flat. The hardest part is resisting the urge to dig in before the allotted saturating time. But you can do it. You're strong. I believe in you.

Buon appetito!

Foolproof Tiramisu


  • 2 1/2 cups espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 8 Tablespoons marsala, 1 amaretto (you can experiment with liquors, some people like the caramelized flavors of dark rum, but I like how the slightly citrus notes in marsala and the floral quality of amaretto work together)
  • 6 large egg yolks (from the best eggs you can find)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds the best mascarpone you can buy, this is where the bulk of your flavor comes from
  • 3/4 cup cold, heavy cream, preferably high-quality local
  • 2 7-ounce packages of lady fingers (about 60 cookies), hard, not the bakery variety
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons cocoa (some people say only Dutch processed, some people say definitely not Dutch processed, just make it high quality and a fresh box so it's full of chocolate flavor and hasn't yet oxidized, and you're good)
  • grated chocolate for the top if you'd like (I curl it by using a vegetable peeler)


  1. Combine espresso and about 5 tablespoons of the liquor in a shallow bowl. 
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, use whisk attachment to beat egg yolks at low speed for just a few moments. Add the sugar and the salt and beat at medium-high speed, scraping down the sides once or twice with a rubber spatula, for about 2 minutes, until the yolks are light yellow. Add the last 4 tablespoons of liquor, beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape again. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until smooth, about 45 seconds, again scraping down when necessary so all ingredients are blended. Use spatula to move mascarpone mixture to a large bowl.
  3. Without cleaning the bowl or whisk, beat cream at medium speed cream for a minute or more until it's frothy. Then kick up the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, about another 1 to 2 minutes. Using that standby rubber spatula, add about a third of the whipped cream to the cheese mixture and fold until smooth. Then add in the rest of the whipped cream, continuing to fold with a light hand to keep the loft while making for a mixture unmarred by streaks of white.
  4. Drop a ladyfinger into the espresso mixture and roll it over before removing it from its luxurious bath. This should take no more a few seconds—any longer and you'll have wet and gloopy tiramisu. Place the ladyfinger in your 13-by-9 inch serving dish. Repeat with ladyfingers until the bottom is covered, breaking the cookies when necessary to create a solid, coffee-soaked surface. 
  5. Spread half the mascarpone mixture in an even layer over the ladyfingers, all the way to the edges. 
  6. Place the cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and tap to release a fall of cocoa over the mascarpone
  7. Repeat the dipping of ladyfingers into a layer on top of the cocoa, the topping and smoothing with the last of the mascarpone, and another dusting of cocoa powder.
  8. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel to neaten it up, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-24 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with grated chocolate if using.
  9. I recommend making this tiramisu the morning of a dinner party. It'll be ready for the evening, and it will still be good in the morning with a cup of coffee. After all, you did all the work, shouldn't you get a luxurious breakfast? I'd say so.