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Classic Tiramisu with Marsala and Mascarpone


I love tiramisu in all forms, but the classic combination of ladyfingers, chocolate, coffee, and custard is my favorite. This recipe deviates from the original by adding masala to the custard, and by soaking the ladyfingers in espresso and marsala rather than just strong coffee. Furthermore, I add Mascarpone cheese and whipped cream to the custard to create more body with a light mousse-like texture.

These additions are considered “classic” today, but they are not part of the original tiramisu recipes. Hence, I needed to revise my blog post to “with Masala and Mascarpone.”

Did you know that Tiramisu means “pick me up” because of the caffeine from the espresso or coffee mixture?

Tiramisu Variations?

You can add all sorts of variations to Tiramisu. The most popular transformation is a fresh berry tiramisu. For that, I would suggest using rum instead of masala wine, and adding lemon zest and juice to the ladyfingers. Also nix the cocoa powder – or keep it, up to you!

The Components of Classic Tiramisu


Lady Fingers (also called Savoiardi cookies) are dried cookies made from a chiffon-style cake batter. Sometimes you can find soft ladyfingers, but often at the store they will be slightly hard and dried out. This makes them excellent for soaking up liquid in trifles and other layered desserts.

Ladyfingers can be bought, so feel free to purchase from your local grocery store instead of making them.

I like to make my own ladyfingers. I make a sheet cake out of it instead of the individual cookies. I’ll often keep a half or quarter sheet in my freezer for last minute dessert ideas. This also helps to dry out the cookies so that they easily soak up the masala/espresso liquid without falling apart.

One option to make this even more chocolate-y is to add cocoa powder to the ladyfinger recipe. See notes in recipe for specific instruction. I still consider this classic tiramisu because you’re not adding any additional flavors – just increasing one of them!

Marsala Mascarpone Custard

Made by whipping egg yolks and sugar over a double broiler until they thicken enough to leave a trail behind the whisk. Then whipped even further with a stand mixer until light yellow in color and fluffy. Add in softened mascarpone cheese, whipped cream, a touch of bloomed gelatin, and flavor with vanilla and sweet marsala wine.

Marsala is a sweet wine from Italy. You’ll typically find it in the oil and vinegar section of your grocery store. These are cheap, cooking-only versions of the wine. If you’re interested, a wine store will have a better quality version, but it will also be more expensive. You don’t cook out the alcohol, or manipulate the wine in this recipe. So I believe it’s worth the splurge to see the difference in taste by purchasing a better tasting/higher quality wine. Especially if you are a tiramisu or sweet wine enthusiast!

Mascarpone cheese is a specialty soft spreadable cheese, like cream cheese, with a touch of sweetness to it. You might find some recipes that offer alternatives to mascarpone, but don’t let them fool you. You can typically find this in your grocery store’s cheese section.

Classic Tiramisu

Cocoa Powder and Espresso

These are the very-important in-between layers additions. Lightly soak the ladyfingers in espresso (or a 50-50 mix of espresso and good marsala), this adds a robust and slightly bitter-sweet element to the dessert. You can substitute strong black coffee for espresso if you prefer.

The cocoa powder adds more depth of flavor, but not necessarily sweetness. If you like your desserts sweet, mix it with a teaspoon or two of powdered sugar. Classic tiramisu is not known for being overly sweet.

Classic Tiramisu Layers


Classic Tiramisu with Marsala and Mascarpone

This recipe for Tiramisu consists of soaking ladyfingers in espresso and sweet marsala wine, and layering a marsala custard and cocoa powder between them. You can create any shape you like using individual cookies, or you can cut your own shapes if you make your own lady fingers with biscuit cutters. 

  • Author: thesommchef
  • Yield: 1620 Individual Servings 1x
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Italian


Units Scale

For the Marsala Mascarpone Filling (makes 1qt): 

  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin (~3g)
  • 2/3 cup sweet Marsala Wine (150mL)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 ounces white sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 oz Mascarpone Cheese, room temperature

For Assembly

  • Ladyfingers – 2 Packages, or 1x my recipe for homemade ladyfingers
  • 1.5 cups Espresso or Strong Black Coffee
  • 1 cup Marsala Wine
  • Unsweeted Cocoa Powder for Dusting between the layers


Mascarpone Filling: 

  1. Bloom gelatin in a very small sauce pot or microwave safe bowl by sprinkling over 1/8 cup of the sweet Marsala wine. Set aside. 
  2. Whip the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. If using the bowl of your stand mixer to do this, place whipped cream into a new bowl, scraping as much whipped cream out as possible, and set aside in fridge. You can now re-use this mixer bowl for your egg yolks in the next step without washing if desired. 
  3. In the bowl for a stand mixer (metal or glass), add the egg yolks, sugar, and the rest of the marsala wine. Set over a pot of simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bowl) to create a double broiler.
  4. Whisk together until the mixture has thickened to the point where the whisk leaves a trail (or ribbon) behind it for a second or two. This will take about 5-8 minutes. The mixture will be hot to the touch, but not burn your finger. 
  5. Remove the egg yolk mixture from heat and continue whisking with whisk attachment on stand mixer until the yolks have come down to room temperature and continued to thicken. About 5-8 more minutes. Place in fridge and continue to chill for 20 minutes.*
  6. Add the softened mascarpone cheese to the egg yolk mixture. Once all mixed in, fold in the whipped cream gently. When halfway mixed, remove 1/2 cup of the mixture to a small bowl. 
  7. Heat the gelatin mixture gently over the stove or in the microwave in 5 second intervals, stirring with a whisk until gelatin is fully dissolved. Once fully dissolved, whisk in with the reserved 1/2 cup of the filling mixture. When fully combined, fold into the rest of the filling and continue to fold the filling until it’s a cohesive color and texture. Now you’re ready to use for the tiramisu assembly. 

Assembly of Classic Tiramisu

You have two options for coating your ladyfinger layer – if using a large single round from a cake pan, or large rectangle, I suggest pouring a small amount in the bottom of your serving plate/dish and setting the cake on top, then use a pastry brush to brush more espresso and marsala on top. Alternatively, you can take individual ladyfinger cookies and dip them briefly in the mixture and then set in your serving dish.

Serving Dish Ideas: Individual Cups (as photographed above), 9″ Cake Pan, 13×9 Casserole Dish, Trifle Dish, Ramekins, Large Souffle Dish, etc. 

  1. Mix the espresso, or coffee, with the marsala wine into a wide bowl or cup and dip according to the method that best suits your serving method. For the photographed individual cups, I chose to dip both top and bottom of my squares into the coffee/marsala mixture. If you prefer to brush the liquid over, use that method. 
  2. Spread your mascarpone mixture on top of the soaked ladyfinger layer. 
  3. Dust with cocoa powder. 
  4. Top with a second layer of ladyfingers. If only using two ladyfinger layers, feel free to more liberally pour some or all of the remaining espresso/marsala mixture over this layer to liberally saturate. 
  5. Again top with marsala mascarpone filling and then dust with cocoa powder. 
  6. Cover your cake and let sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or better yet, overnight. The cake will keep well for 3-5 days if covered in the fridge. 


*If the egg yolk mixture is too warm, it will soften the whipped cream and the mascarpone too much resulting in a very liquidy filling. I prefer to make sure the egg yolk mixture is well chilled before adding in the whipped cream and mascarpone. 

Keywords: Dessert, Italian, Tiramisu, Cocoa Powder, Chocolate, Coffee, Espresso, Make ahead Desserts, Make ahead

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Hi! I'm Sydney,

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I left a marketing career in Hollywood to go to the Culinary Institute of America. After a few years of working in restaurants, I am now a private chef and sommelier in the 30a area.


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