What’s the best tiramisu recipe? We went searching for the most authentic Italian tiramisu and found it!
I had my first Tiramisu dessert in Germany in the mid 1980s and I have been on a mission to find the best tiramisu recipe ever since. Naturally, this creamy, fluffy dessert is a staple in practically every Italian restaurant in the world.
However, it is surprising how many different methods there are to prepare it. So what is the “traditional” tiramisu recipe? Where did we find our favorite tiramisu?
Just What is a Traditional Tiramisu?
It’s hard, really, to use the term “traditional” when talking about tiramisu. It hasn’t been around that long; most experts figure the first tiramisu showed up on a menu in Italy in the 1960s and has exploded in popularity since then.
How should it be made? Do you use eggs, no eggs, just the yolk, incorporate the beaten egg whites? Should the mixture be cooked over a double broiler? Alcohol or no alcohol? If so, which do you use? All of these questions over such a seemingly simple dessert; it boggles the mind.
I had tried a few variations by the time we visited Sicily but hadn’t settled on my favorite tiramisu recipe. So when we wandered past the Ristorante Tiramisu in Taormina, Italy on the island of Sicily, I knew where my lunch stop would be. Of course, first we had to spend a few hours climbing around the ruins of an ancient Greek (yes Greek, not Roman) amphitheater.
The Ancient Amphitheater of Taormina
Well, it’s impossible to have something that old that wasn’t also used by the Romans, so naturally this is the case with the amphitheater. The outer wall, constructed of brick, and most of the stage side wings were reconstructed at some point in the past 2000 years. But archaeological evidence points to a previous Greek theater on the site.
Today, the theater has been gently renovated and reconstructed to maintain as much antiquity as possible while still allowing the site to be used for concerts and other performances. Walking through the threshold, I could immediately see why this site has been so popular for such a long time. The views of the Mediterranean Sea far down below at the bottom of the cliff and Mount Etna quietly puffing away in the distance are both utterly remarkable.
Tiramisu – A Restaurant And A Recipe
After climbing up and down the seats of the amphitheater and exploring the tunnels and passageways, it was time for some good eats. We were excited to try a restaurant we passed on the way, aptly called Ristorante Tiramisu. The call of homemade tiramisu was a strong one, and we were hoping to indulge. We weren’t disappointed.
How We Found An Authentic Tiramisu Recipe
We were given a choice of sitting inside the restaurant or in an inner courtyard garden. And, despite some earlier rain showers, the green and flowery garden was much more pleasant looking. I noticed a small counter all set up for food preparation in one corner and kept wondering what was gong to happen, and when.
Who doesn’t like a live cooking show? Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer, so I asked the waiter, “What are we cooking?”
He laughed, “We aren’t cooking anything. My mama is making tiramisu, no cooking needed!” Shortly after that, out she came with one bowl of eggs and another bowl overflowing with mascarpone. She went right to work cracking the eggs and separating them into different bowls, then whipping like a mad woman.
It was fascinating to see how quickly the egg whites fluffed up; and, before we knew it, she was dipping and layering tray after tray of the delectable tiramisu cake. She left us in a cloud of cocoa dust, wheeling a cart stacked with enough trays of tiramisu to feed an army.
I asked our waiter if that was the weekly preparation. “What? No! Tiramisu must be eaten fresh. That is for the dinner tonight.” The tiramisu was perfect. I collected my notes and vowed to give it a try as soon as we returned home.
I’ve been making it the same way ever since with only a few modifications. First of all, the idea of whipping egg whites by hand is not for me. I have a Kitchenaid for that.
Second of all, I’ve tried a few different liqueurs and have settled on Amaretto as my favorite flavor enhancer. But I’ve stuck with the uncooked version just as Mama Leone in Taormina made it, all those years ago.
Some kitchen essentials for making the perfect tiramisu recipe include:
Authentic Italian Tiramisu Recipe
We found the recipe for our authentic Italian Tiramisu while eating lunch in a fantastic little ristorante in Taormina, Italy. The owner's nona was whipping up a batch for the evening meal right there in the garden. The only thing we've changed is using Amaretto instead of Marsala wine.
We chose top follow the original recipe we found there in Sicily. This is made using uncooked egg yokes and whites. Check the notes for tips on how to make Tiramisu with cooked yolks and whipping cream as a substitute for the egg whites.
Unfortunately, those changes won't be as a light and fluffy (and authentic) as the original tiramisu. But if the idea of uncooked egg bothers you then definitely switch it out.
Feel free to leave out the amaretto and use decaf espresso if serving to children.
- 4 eggs, separated
- 4 tbsp granulated sugar
- 16 oz mascarpone
- 20-30 Savoiardi (Lady Fingers)
- 1 cup espresso, cooled
- 4 tbsp Amaretto, divided
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder, for dusting
- Separate the eggs, placing yolks in one large mixing bowl and the whites in another large bowl.
- Beat the egg yolks with 4 tbsp sugar on medium speed until light yellow and creamy and doubled in volume, about 8 minutes.
- Add the mascarpone and 2 tbsp of amaretto and continue beating on low until combined and smooth. Store in refrigerator during next step.
- Beat the egg whites on medium to high until medium-stiff peaks form.
- Fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture. Fold gently until fully incorporated, making sure to keep the mixture light and fluffy.
- Combine the espresso and remaining 2 tbsp amaretto in a bowl large enough to dip the lady finger cookies.
- Make the first layer of savoiardi (lady fingers) in the bottom of a 14 x 9 glass dish (6 cup, rectangular pyrex works perfectly for this) by carefully dipping the lady finger cookies one at a time into the coffee mixture for about 5 seconds each. Hold the cookie flat and dip into the liquid so that only half of the cookie is submerged. If the savoiardi has a sugar coated side, dip that side into the coffee. Continue adding the lady fingers until the bottom of the pan is covered.
- Carefully spoon half the egg-mascarpone filling on top of the bottom layer of soaked cookies and smooth it out evenly across the pan.
- Add the second layer of lightly soaked savoiardi cookies using the same method as above.
- Spoon in the remaining filling and smooth it out evenly across the second layer of cookies.
- Dust evenly across the top layer with cocoa powder.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
- Dust lightly with more cocoa powder before serving.
- If you prefer to use cooked egg in your tiramisu, perform step 2 over a double boiler with simmering water below. Substitute 1 cup heavy cream for the egg whites and beat the cream to stiff peaks.
- To make alcohol free tiramisu, just omit the amaretto.
- Play around with the flavor by substituting the amaretto with other flavored liqueurs, plum brandy, or spiced rum.
- You can substitute grated semi-sweet chocolate for the cocoa powder.
If you should find yourself in Taormina, eating at Ristorante Tiramisu, and you you need a place to spend the night, why not try out one of these excellent options…
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