Tiramisu Trio

Tiramisu sounds fancy, doesn’t it? It’s something you only order at the nice Italian restaurant that you take your grandmother to on her birthday. It’s an elegant-looking finish to any dinner.

Well, I’m going to tell you how to whoop its ass and impress everyone at your next dinner party. Here are three variations on Tiramisu that use the same main element and just need different liquors/liqueurs and toppings.

Traditional Tiramisu is layers of espresso-flavored ladyfinger cookies and a rich custard-sauce called a zabaglione (zsa-by-yon). The consistency and flavor of this sauce is what makes or breaks this dessert – so pay attention to the 101 below!


Matcha Tiramisu is made of sweet green tea syrup-soaked ladyfingers and zabaglione with green tea powder sprinkled on top.

tiramisu matcha

Fresh Fruit Tiramisu has layers of orange liqueur-soaked ladyfingers and zabaglione with seasonal berries or stone fruit in between.

tiramisu berry

What unites these three desserts is the zabaglione cream filling. Here’s how I learned to make it when I worked in Italian restaurants:

  1. Start off by whisking 5 egg yolks with 5 tablespoons of white sugar.
  2. Whisk in 1/4 cup Marsala wine until well combined.
  3. Now break out the double boiler. Don’t have one? No problem – neither do I.  I simply grab a deep stainless steel bowl and place it atop a small pot filled with some near boiling (but never fully boiling!) water.
  4. DO NOT WALK AWAY FOR A SECOND. Beat this mixture furiously, constantly. As you incorporate more and more air and combine it with heat, an emulsion is created.  This results in a stable mayonnaise-like mousse texture.  You do have to be careful with the heat.  Too much and the eggs can scramble. Gross.
  5. Keep beating vigorously and the mixture will gradually begin to increase in volume and its color will go from sun yellow to more of a pale butter yellow.


    This is about halfway through the process.

  6. When it has roughly doubled in bulk, remove it from the heat and beat for a couple more minutes on a countertop to cool it off.  You can speed this up by placing the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water.  Allow to cool and set aside.
  7. Beat your egg whites with a standup or hand held mixer with whisk attachment.  Keep beating and after about 5 minutes you will have soft peaks with your volume up by almost 5 times.
  8. Add 5 Tablespoons of sugar and keep beating until you reach stiff peaks. Set aside.
  9. Gently fold 500 grams of mascarpone into the cooled zabaglione. Fold half of the egg whites into the mixture, then fold the other half in. Be as gentle as possible so as not to deflate the custard.

Now it’s just a matter of soaking the 45-50 ladyfinger cookies in the right liquid for your dessert. Stiff espresso/strong coffee with a few Tablespoons of sugar (and an optional oz or two of rum or amaretto) works for the traditional. Strong green tea with a few spoonfuls of sugar is best for the matcha. Use orange liqueur for the fresh fruit version. Only soak for about 2-3 seconds on each side or you will have sad, soggy cake layers!

Take a round or square 8-9″ baking dish and cover the bottom in ladyfingers. Spoon on some of that cream! (Add fruit if needed.) Then more ladyfingers, more cream, and your topping! Fruit gets fruit, matcha gets green tea powder on top, and traditional gets unsweetened cocoa powder.

I’ll be bringing one of these variations to a dinner party Saturday night. Which one depends on the main course being served (and I’m still waiting to hear news on that at this point). I’ll post the results later!



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