Break it down: tiramisu

Tiramisu is a classic Italian dessert. With its flavours of coffee and chocolate, sweet and bitter, and textures of spongy and creamy, the tiramisu is a luxurious way to end a meal.

Even its name has a happy feel – tira is a form of the verb tirare or ‘to pull’. Mi means ‘me’ and su means ‘up’ which all translates as ‘pull me up’ or ‘cheer me up’. It is also a modern dish with its first use in Italian print in 1980.

It is thought to have originated in northern Italy in the late 1960s with several restaurants claiming ownership of the recipe. Tiramisu is not a technically difficult recipe, but a little attention to detail can improve the eating quality and shelf life of this delicious dessert.


Fresh, strong espresso is perfect for this dish. Let the coffee cool and use it straight away. Good, strong instant coffee can give that hit of flavour and slight bitterness, too. It depends on the style of tiramisu and the tastes of the clientele.


You want to beat the whites into stiff peaks so the eggs need to be fresh. Once separated, any hint of yolk will foil your attempts to make stiff peaks so separate each egg into a small bowl to ensure there is no trace of yolk. An upright bowl mixer is perfect for the task. It is also perfect for blending the yolks with the sugar. Use caster sugar which is finer and will dissolve faster.


This is a fresh cheese made from cream coagulated using acid. Sometimes some whey separates from the cheese and this needs to be drained away. Use the freshest mascarpone possible. Mascarpone oxidises quickly, which taints the flavour, so wrap any unused portion tightly.


Marsala is the classic choice for tiramisu. This is a fortified wine made in Sicily using a method similar to Spanish sherry. You can sub out the marsala for sweet oloroso or Pedro Ximenez but also consider amaretto or triple sec.


Italian savoiardi are dry sponge biscuits, perfect for soaking up the coffee and booze. They are easier to find than French-made boudoirs which are also suitable. Whichever you use, soak them until they are light brown and handle them with care as they become soft and brittle.


The crowning, or dusting, glory. The first and last taste of the tiramisu is the cocoa so a good quality product is essential for a good tiramisu. Some chefs use 90% dark chocolate to finish the dish during service using a microplane to shave off a layer of soft curls onto the top layer of mascarpone mix.

As seen in autumn 2023

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