• Traditional Italian tiramisu. (Guardian Faber)Source: Guardian Faber

This is Mum’s signature tiramisu, with the perfect ratio of cream to biscuits, and just enough coffee to make the biscuits soft but never stodgy. Her mascarpone cream, however heretical, is quite remarkable. 




Skill level

Average: 3.7 (43 votes)

Tiramisu is easily the most exported Italian dessert. Many don’t know that it was first devised in Treviso, at the restaurant Le Becchiere. A recent dispute between Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia has put a question mark on its actual authorship, stating that there are actually four original versions: two Venetian (from the Treviso area), and two from the neighbouring region, and that all are legit.

Whatever the answer, a few crucial points should be borne in mind when attempting tiramisu at home. Good mascarpone is the first. Fresh handmade artisan mascarpone does make a difference, but it’s also hard to find, so any mascarpone is better than none. In case you can’t find it at all, you can easily make it at home (see Note). Substituting it with ricotta, cream cheese or similar, on the other hand, is not appropriate.

Another crucial point is the presence or absence of liqueur: purists say no booze, but it’s ultimately up to you. If you like a drop of brandy in your coffee, go ahead. Biscuits: ladyfingers, nothing else. Finally, a word on the coffee: for tiramisu, Italian-style percolated (Moka pot) coffee is best. A concentrated cafetière brew works, too, while filter or instant coffee won’t stand up to the task.

The recipe I’m sharing is for Mum’s signature tiramisu — a version that has always met with everybody’s approval. With time and practice (she pulls it off pretty much any time pudding is required), she seems to have found a way to achieve the perfect ratio of cream to biscuits, with just enough coffee to make the biscuits soft but never stodgy. Her mascarpone cream, however heretical, is quite remarkable, too: whipped egg whites make it light, while a small dose of fresh whipped cream cuts through the egg flavour and gives freshness and a subtle milky note.


  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 60 g (heaped ¼  cup) caster sugar
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) fresh mascarpone
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) whipping cream
  • 360 ml (1½ cups) strong brewed coffee, at room temperature
  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) savoiardi (ladyfingers)
  • 10 g (2 tbsp) unsweetened dark cocoa powder

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Refrigeration time: overnight

In a large bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until creamy and pale yellow. Add the mascarpone and fold through until combined — a few lumps here and there are okay. In a separate bowl, whip the cream and then stir it into the mascarpone mixture. In a third bowl — ideally stainless steel or glass — whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add them to the mascarpone cream and fold through with gentle circular movements from the bottom to the top.

Take a square or rectangular high-sided glass dish about 30 × 23cm (11 × 9 inches) (or alternatively 1 large or 2 medium trifle bowls). Pour the coffee into a bowl. Dip the savoiardi in the coffee, moving quickly so that they don’t soak up too much liquid and become mushy. Use them to line the dish, then cover them with one-third of the mascarpone cream, spreading it evenly and encouraging it to run down all sides and corners. Repeat with 2 more layers of biscuits alternated with mascarpone cream, finishing with a layer of cream. 

Refrigerate the tiramisu for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight. Serve chilled, with a light dusting of cocoa powder on top.


• To make homemade mascarpone, bring 2 litres (8⅓ cups) of double cream to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent it from scalding on the pan. Just before it boils, remove it from the heat and add 60 ml (¼ cup) freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice. 

Allow the cream to cool and thicken for about 2 hours. After this, place a sieve over a bowl and line it with 3–4 layers of cheesecloth or muslin. Pour in the cream, then place everything in the fridge to drain for about 8 hours. Eventually, you should have a smooth, thick cream — that’s your mascarpone. Keep refrigerated and use within 1 week.


Recipe from Veneto: Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen by Valeria Necchio, Guardian Faber, hb, $39.99.