The Italians are geniuses. They found a way to stuff all of my favorite things into a single dessert: alcohol, coffee, chocolate, and even cheese. That dessert is tiramisu.
My only issue with tiramisu is it generally uses Brandy which isn’t something I have laying around. Bourbon, however, I do normally have and tend to like more anyway. So I figured I’d try a version of tiramisu with bourbon instead of brandy. It had a much stronger flavor, but was still very tasty.
The hardest part of this recipe, if you ask me, is actually finding ladyfingers. At least in DC, they are incredibly hard to find. I went to three different grocery stores before finally throwing in the towel and just deciding to make them myself.
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift cake flour, then measure and add sugar and pinch of salt. Then sift everything again on some wax paper so you can easily transport the flour.
2) Add eggs and 1/2 Cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk until sugar is mostly dissolved. Then beat egg mixture on medium high for 5 minutes until you have a very light and fluffy meringue. The batter should form a ribbon that rests on top of the other batter when it drips.
3) Gently fold the cake flour into this mixture. Fold the flour in 1/3 at a time until it’s well mixed. Think of the batter as a foam and you want to keep as many bubbles as possible.
4) Once your flour is incorporated, gently fold in your room temperature melted butter.
5) Add the batter to a pastry bag and pipe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Coat heavily with powdered sugar.
6) Bake the ladyfingers at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
7) For tiramisu, mix your cofee (cold) and brandy in a bowl.
8) For filling, add mascarpone (or cream cheese in a pinch) and heavy cream. Mix on high until it forms stiff peaks. Then add in vanilla and slowly stir in powdered sugar.
9) Dip a ladyfinger in the bourbon-coffee mixture for a few seconds. Layer dipped ladyfingers in the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish.
10) Next, spread on a layer of the filling. You should use about half of it. Then dust on a general layer of cocoa powder and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
11) Do another layer of soaked ladyfingers, followed by the rest of the mascarpone filling, and another good dusting of cocoa powder and cinnamon.
12) Let chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving.
After some research, I decided to go with Julia Child’s Ladyfingers Genoise. If you plan on making these, I’d recommend watching that video. She makes it pretty easy to follow.
Making the ladyfingers
This batter is called a Genoise batter, which is actually a bit tricky. The problem is that when the batter is finished it’s in a pretty fragile state, so you want to bake it as soon as possible. More on that later.
First thing to do is get all your ingredients ready and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. For your cake flour, sift it (very important for this recipe), then measure it and add 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1/8 Teaspoon of salt to it, and then re-sift the mixture onto some wax paper which will make it easy to transfer into your batter later.
Then add your eggs and your 1/2 Cup + 1 Tbsp. of sugar into a mixing bowl. Whisk together the eggs and sugar just to make sure the sugar is mostly dissolved. Then, with either a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat the eggs on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes until they form a light and fluffy meringue. The key is that when you lift the whisk, it should form a ribbon of batter and that ribbon should rest on top of the rest of your batter.
I think I actually could have beaten mine for another minute. Once your egg mixture is nice and light and fluffy, you need to fold in your cake flour. At this point your batter is in its most stable form, a meringue. From here on out, time is working against you, but that doesn’t mean RUSH. Just work gently but quickly.
FOLD your flour into your batter using a flat spatula, 1/3 of your flour at a time. Do this by pushing your spatula all the way to the bottom of the bowl, turning the bowl, and gently lifting and folding. Think of the batter like a foam and you want to keep as much of the air bubbles intact as possible. Stirring would just pop them all! Again, if you haven’t folded something like this before, check out this video. At about minute six she does some serious flour folding.
Once all your flour is folded in, gently fold in your melted butter. It’s very important that your butter isn’t too hot or it will just melt your batter. It should be a bit over room temperature. Once your butter is folded in, your batter will be at its most fragile state.
At this point, we need to make the ladyfingers! If you have a pastry bag, more power to ya. I use a gallon-sized plastic bag and just cut off the corner.
Gently pipe these onto baking sheets that have been lined with parchment paper. Work quickly and try to make them as uniform as possible. One tip is to draw lines 3 inches apart on the backside of your parchment paper before you start. That way you’ll have guides for when you are piping.
After you pipe them, dust the ladyfingers with a serious coating of powdered sugar. This will help them stay in place! I got better at piping as I went a long.
Bake these guys at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through if necessary. They should be a nice golden brown color. I’m really proud of the middle row of ladyfingers in the below photo. Most of those turned out pretty nicely. The top and bottom rows are a bit rough.
Honestly, I wasn’t too worried about the shape because I’m dipping them in coffee and bourbon and then layering them between layers of filling. So whateva.
Tiramisu is actually one of the easiest things to make once you get the ladyfinger situation worked out. Just combine your coffee and bourbon (or brandy) in a bowl. The only important part to remember is that your coffee is cool or at least room temp before starting.
For the filling, add your mascarpone (or cream cheese in a pinch) and heavy cream and mix on high until it forms stiff peaks and holds its shape. Then add in your vanilla and slowly add in your powdered sugar. The final mixture should be pretty stiff.
I’ve done this by hand before with a whisk and it’s definitely possible. It takes some elbow grease though and about 10 or 15 minutes. If you have a mixer, use it.
To make the dish, dip a ladyfinger in your bourbon-coffee mixture (make sure the liquid is room temperature) for a few seconds. Let the ladyfinger soak up some of the mixture. Then layer them in the bottom of your baking dish. Squeeze in as many as you can.
Then do a layer of your mascarpone filling mixture. Use about half of it. Then give the filling a generous dusting of cocoa powder and cinnamon. I probably sifted on about 1/2 Tablespoon of cinnamon and 3-4 Tablespoons of cocoa powder.
After that, do another layer of your soaked ladyfingers, followed by the rest of your mascarpone filling mixture. Finally, give the top another good dusting of cocoa powder and cinnamon. The white filling should be completely covered.
This is what I mean by a good dusting:
Set this all in the fridge to cool for at least 4 hours and then serve it up! I think it’s best the next day after all the flavors meld together a bit.
Tiramisu is so good. You’ve got to try this if you’ve never made it. If the ladyfinger situation is stressful, I’ve used store-bought pound cake in a pinch also. You won’t really be able to dip the pound cake in the bourbon-coffee mixture though. Just cut slices of it about 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick, make a layer, then pour over a bit of your coffee mixture. That works also!
I’m telling you. Tiramisu is good stuff.