Tiramisù is an Italian word meaning “pick me up” or “lift me up”. It is also a popular coffee-flavored Italian dessert which does just what its name means. Tiramisu was always a dessert that intimidated me because of the richness and complexity of its flavor profile, but this recipe for tiramisu from the popular food blog “Cooking with Nonna” is actually very simple and worth a try.

Traditionally tiramisu is made of ladyfingers (savoiardi, in Italian) which are dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese, and flavored with cocoa powder. The origins of this popular dessert are often disputed among the Italian regions of Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, as well as a few others. Most accounts of the origin of tiramisu, however, date its invention back to the region of Veneto in the 1960s at a restaurant called “Le Becchherie” in Treviso (although even the details of this account vary).

While recipes differ, mascarpone cheese is always a staple of tiramisu. Mascarpone is an Italian cheese made from cream which is coagulated by the addition of acidic substances, such as lemon juice, vinegar or citric acid. It is a milk-white cheese which is easy to spread and can sometimes be used as a substitute for butter or Parmesan cheese. Predating tiramisu, mascarpone originated in Milan between the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

What sets this recipe apart from many other tiramisu recipes is the addition of espresso (rather than regular coffee) and vermouth, which is an aromatized, fortified Italian wine first produced in the mid to late 18th century in Turin, Italy. Traditionally it was used for medicinal purposes but its true claim to fame is use as an aperitif with the fashionable cafes in Turin. In the late 19th century it became popular with bartenders and has remained a key ingredient in many classic cocktails to date. It is sometimes used as an alternative to white wine in cooking. There are two types: dry and sweet. For this recipe you will want a sweet vermouth (Italian and French companies produce the majority of vermouth, although companies in both the United States and the United Kingdom have begun production).

The espresso, which is coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans, is generally thicker, has a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids and the flavors and chemicals are very concentrated (it also has more caffeine than regular coffee). This provides a stronger coffee flavor profile to the recipe. While this is obviously a more ‘high-class’ recipe for the dessert, there is no need to stress yourself out over purchasing organic eggs, instead of the regular ones you probably already have in your fridge, and if you find espresso too intense for your taste buds, go with regular (but strong-brewed) coffee. Either way, this is going to be one delicious dessert!

Learn MORE / Get RECIPE at Cooking with Nonna

To help with slow website load, we have put all photos for this article here: View photo gallery.