Dessert, Eat, Entertaining, Recipes

Tackling Tiramisu


There are a few dishes I’ve been intimidated by in the kitchen, resulting in me simply ordering them at restaurants and admiring their perfection, feeding my doubts that I could ever come close. Roasting a whole turkey was one of them but my 5-step turkey turned out to be much easier than I had built it up in my head. Maybe it was the time to cook (I typically go for few ingredients and short cooking time recipes), the cleaning of the raw meat, or the sheer size of a bird that seemed daunting. Tiramisu is a sweet,  bold, creamy, and rich dessert that I have come to love over the past few years. But the layers of lady fingers, aromatic coffee, and perfectly smooth and airy creamy layers seemed so refined and rehearsed with years of pastry chef expertise restaurants and bakeries, I wondered if I should mess with a good thing in my own kitchen at the risk of a sub-bar sweet Italian staple.

Furthermore, I had so many questions about the regal end-of-meal masterpiece. Do you have to make homemade lady fingers to make a good one? If not, what department can I find them in at the grocery store? What’s in the creamy layer? Do you dip or pour coffee onto the layers? How long does it take? Is it coffee, cocoa, or espresso powder on top? It seemed easy to take a wrong turn. 

Just before New Years, I was invited to a cozy winter dinner at a friend’s apartment two weeks later. I volunteered dessert and decided to tackle my tiramisu fears as a new year’s resolution. I spent those weeks searching for the right recipe to try – they ranged from simple to complex. Since it was a new year after all, and healthy food is on everyone’s minds, I chose this lighter tiramisu recipe for my first shot. I wasn’t crazy about the recipe having cream cheese versus the traditional mascarpone, and I’m pretty sure the photo that accompanies the recipe is not the same one (my cream mixture was less fluffy and more dense so the layers were less defined). Nevertheless, it was a healthier option and only called for 11 simple ingredients, so I went for it.

I found the lady fingers in the refrigerator near the deli after asking an employee (still confused about placement), I had to beef up my at-home alcohol selection from wine/beer to include brandy since it called for a tablespoon, and it was easier to find instant coffee vs. espresso, so I made that substitution.

Here’s a little snapshot of the process, recipe is below. It was easy and fun to layer the ladyfingers, dipping some in the coffee, and spooning the coffee/brandy mixture on top of them. I prefer more coffee, so I soaked the bottom layer, but drizzed coffee in the middle layer. The most difficult part (but really not difficult) was using two different mixing bowls, one for the whipping cream, and one for the cream cheese mixture before combining them. Luckily, I won a hand mixer from my blogger friend Anna at Cookie Madness in a Pillsbury giveaway once so I could mix almost simultaneously. (Anna, maybe I should try my next recipe with Folgers!)

light tiramisu recipe
A few steps to making my first light tiramisu recipe.

I let the layered dessert sit in the refrigerator overnight to soak up the flavors and for the cream mixture to set. We served it room temperature after our dinner the next evening. It was a hit – I even went back for seconds, with is often a rarity when I make a new recipe. I would definitely make this again for a lighter option, but next time, I’ll go for the gusto, maybe trying to bake lady fingers from scratch, using mascarpone, and finding a cocoa sifter to get a smooth coating on top for sharper looking layers and to enhance the taste. I may even try to make individual servings in small martini glasses or ramekins.

Since making this, I’ve discovered this ladyfinger recipe from Delicious Days, whose author swears by this tiramisu recipe only  and this Smitten Kitchen tiramisu cake recipe that is on my to-make list.

Anyone have a favorite tiramisu recipe I should try on round two of tiramisu?

Recipe modified from


  • 2/3 cup(s) hot water
  • 2 tablespoon(s) brandy
  • 1 tablespoon(s) instant coffee
  • 1 tablespoon(s) sugar
  • 1/4 cup(s) sugar
  • 1/4 cup(s) whipping cream
  • 1 box(es) (8-ounce) reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), softened
  • 1/4 cup(s) low-fat (1 percent) milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • 4 ounce(s) sponge-type ladyfingers (30 halves)
  • 1 tablespoon(s) cocoa powder


  1. In small bowl, stir together hot water, brandy, espresso powder, and 1 tablespoon sugar until sugar dissolves.
  2. In medium bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat cream until soft peaks form when beaters are lifted.
  3. In large bowl, with mixer on medium-high speed, beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Continue beating; add milk and vanilla in slow, steady stream. Beat until well mixed and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  4. With spatula, gently fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture.
  5. In 8- by 8-inch baking dish, arrange half of ladyfingers, flat sides up, in single layer. Dip ladyfingers or pour half of brandy mixture evenly over; let stand until absorbed.
  6. Spread half of cream cheese mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Top with remaining ladyfingers, flat sides up. Spoon remaining brandy mixture over ladyfingers, allowing liquid to be absorbed before each addition. Spread evenly with remaining cream cheese mixture.
  7. Sift cocoa powder evenly on top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Garnish with chocolate curls, if desired.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *