Inside Columbia


Learn to Make a Terrific Tiramisu

By Inside Columbia
Brook Harlan makes tiramisu

Photos by L.G. Patterson

Brook Harlan shows his tiramisu

There is nothing quite like a tiramisu for a nice kick, or “pick me up,” which is the actual translation of tiramisu, at the end of a meal. You get a nice jolt from the coffee while enjoying the creaminess of the mascarpone, all held together by ladyfingers.

Without the ladyfingers, there would be no way to hold the coffee/espresso, and rum if you desire. Each component on its own has a unique flavor and texture, but it is not until they have used their strengths to bring the whole dish together that you create a symphony of flavors.


On their own, ladyfingers can be the most underwhelming biscuit (especially the store-bought ones). They are crumbly, don’t have much flavor and will dry out your mouth. But this is where the hidden strength of ladyfingers lies. They are a blank slate of a dry meringue biscuit that can soak up and hold just about any flavor. Without the ladyfingers, the espresso would just be flavoring the cream or sitting at the bottom of the dish. You can easily get a pack of the dry biscuits in the mail or at a specialty shop, but if you can whisk an egg white to a stiff peak, you can make a ladyfinger. They are traditionally long, skinny, airy biscuits with a resemblance to fingers (hence the name), but making them on your own allows you to change the shape depending on what vessel you want to make the dish. If you want to make individual portions, you can make the shape to fit your desired container.


Slightly sweetened espresso or strong coffee contrasted with whipped cream and the slight tang from mascarpone is what gives tiramisu its signature flavor. You can heighten the kick by adding some coffee liqueur, rum, Marsala wine or amaretto. The ratio of sugar, liqueur and espresso is merely a suggestion. The taste will be the best way to figure out exactly where you want your ratio to be. The soaking step is very important. Soak the ladyfingers, flipping every 30 to 90 seconds until they have a slight bend as you pick them up from the ends or until the biscuits start to crumble with a slight drag of your finger across the biscuit. This will allow enough moisture so the biscuits don’t dry out the rest of the dish, but also prevent the ladyfingers from soaking up so much moisture that they make the dish soggy.


This is another component that you can find in most stores, but you also can make yourself. Don’t look in the regular cheese section of the store as it more than likely will be at the cheese counter closer to the deli instead of by the individually wrapped slices. Mascarpone is cream curdled with acid (lemon juice or tartaric acid), cooled and then strained to allow the whey to drain. This results in a thick spreadable cream that makes cream cheese look runny. The mixture is the final step of the dish before allowing it to sit for four to 24 hours to “set.” Egg yolks and sugar are whisked until fluffy, then the mascarpone cheese is added and whisked just until smooth. The cream is whisked separately, and the two are folded together, keeping as much volume as possible.

Once you have the three components, you are ready to assemble the dish.



  • 4 eggs (separate yolks and whites, saving yolks for later)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar as needed for dusting


  • Combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt, then set aside. Separate whites and yolks, reserving the yolks for later, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Whisk the whites until they start to thicken, slowly adding sugar while whisking, and continue whisking until stiff peaks form. Add vanilla and sift about ⅓ of the flour/cornstarch/baking powder mixture into the whites at a time and fold in until incorporated, being careful to knock as little air out as possible. 
  • Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, and pipe 1-inch by 3 or 4-inch “fingers,” or whatever your desired shape is, onto parchment paper or a non-stick baking sheet. Dust lightly with powdered sugar and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes until fingers have puffed and turned golden brown.
  • Remove from oven, cool slightly, transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature.


You can cool your finished ladyfingers to room temperature and store in an airtight container for one to two days, or in an airtight container in the freezer for four to six weeks.


Yields 8 to 12 ounces


  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 small lemon or half of a large lemon


  • Over low heat, bring cream to a simmer (be careful not to boil over) in a saucepan. Simmer for about three minutes, then add the juice of one lemon, and simmer for another three minutes on very low heat. 
  • Remove from heat and allow to cool in the pan for about 30 minutes. 
  • Place a large coffee filter in a strainer and set the strainer over a bowl. Use a spatula to scrape all of the curdled cream onto the filter. 
  • Place in the refrigerator for one to two days to allow the whey to strain. Remove and place into an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for seven to 10 days.
Components of tiramisu

Cream Topping


  • 4 egg yolks (left from ladyfingers)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups mascarpone
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream


  • Whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extract until stiff peaks form. Whisk in mascarpone until smooth.
  • Separately, whisk the cream until soft peaks form (the tip curls slightly when you remove the whisk and hold it vertically).
  • Fold the cream into the yolk/ mascarpone mixture and set to the side.

Coffee Soak and Assembly


  • 4 shots espresso or 1 cup of really strong coffee
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 to 4 ounces dark rum, coffee/rum liqueur or other liqueur as desired


  • Dissolve the sugar in the espresso/coffee and pour into a shallow long pan to cool slightly. Mix in the rum or coffee liqueur.
  • Make a game plan for assembling your ladyfingers. Typically, the bottom layer will go one way in the pan, and the top layer will go the opposite. You can break or cut them as needed to fit into your pan(s).
  • Once your game plan is ready, start soaking your ladyfingers in the coffee mixture and assembling your tiramisu. A thin layer of the cream mixture on the bottom, then a layer of soaked ladyfingers, another thin layer of cream, then another cross-stacked layer of soaked ladyfingers.
  • Top with a final layer of cream and refrigerate for four to 24 hours.
  • Remove from the refrigerator and dust lightly with cocoa powder. You can cut and plate portions (similar to cutting brownies, but much more fragile), then grate some chocolate onto the top. Serve and enjoy!

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