Tiramisu is one of the most popular Italian cakes. It is made of biscuits (usually savoiardi) dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of egg yolks and mascarpone, and flavored with liquor and cocoa. The recipe has been adapted into many varieties of puddings, cakes and other desserts. Tiramisu is a layered dessert, consisting of alternating layers of coffee-soaked Savoiardi biscuits and sweet mixture of mascarpone cheese and Zabaglione. Cocoa powder is sifted on top (and sometimes between layers) as both a garnish and a bitter counterpoint to the sweetened cheese mixture.
To prepare the biscuit layer, Savoiardi (light, finger-sized sponge cakes, commonly known as ladyfingers in the United States) are soaked in espresso or strong coffee, often with an addition of a flavorful liquor such as sweet marsala wine or dark rum.
For the Mascarpone cheese layer, Zabaglione custard is first prepared: egg yolks are mixed with sugar and liquor (typically Marsala wine, but rum is frequently substituted) and mixed over simmering water until thickened and light in color. Mascarpone cheese is then beaten into the custard, and whipped cream is often added to lighten the mixture. This mixture is spread over the coffee-soaked biscuits, often topped with a dusting of cocoa powder, and more layers are added.Countless variations for tiramisu exist. Some cooks use other cakes or sweet, yeasted breads, such as panettone, in place of ladyfingers.Other cheese mixtures are used as well, some containing raw eggs, and others containing no eggs at all. Other liquors are frequently substituted for the traditional Marsala wine in both the coffee and the cheese mixture, including dark rum, Madeira, port, brandy and cognac.