A Valentine's Day Gift for You

Several years back I happened upon a recipe for a quick and easy version of the classic Italian recipe tiramisu. The recipe called for Kahlua, coffee liqueur, as many standard tiramisu recipes do. The only problem was I could not find said coffee liqueur anywhere. My parents happened to have a bottle of Cognac lingering in the back of the pantry, leftover from another recipe. I decided to substitute the Cognac for the Kahlua, not knowing if it would taste good or not (I'm usually a stickler for sticking to a recipe the first time of trying it). Well, the tiramisu was a BIG hit and it soon became my dad's favorite dessert. I've made it for him for Father's Day, his birthday, Valentine's Day and sometimes for no occasion at all.

I once suggested that perhaps I should try using Kahlua sometime, as the recipe originally called for. His response--an emphatic "No!" and a reminder to not mess with something that's not broken. Along the way I've tweaked the tiramisu to my liking, so much so that now it only vaguely resembles the original recipe. I ended up writing up my own version, including all the little changes I've made so that I wouldn't forget how to make it over time. So, in honor of Valentine's Day I thought I'd share that recipe with you. If you haven't got dessert nailed down for this evening, this is a great last minute thing to make. It involves no baking, basically it's mixing and layering, like a trifle, and it can set up in the fridge while you enjoy dinner. Just keep in mind I'm not a chef, so the serving size calculations might be a tad off. If you happen to try out the recipe, drop me a comment below and let me know how it turns out! Happy Valentine's Day!

My Quick & Easy Tiramisu

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 3 tbsps Cognac (or Kahlua)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 4 tbsps instant espresso powder
  • 4 tbsps powdered sugar, plus 1/4 cup
  • 16oz Mascarpone cheese, at room temp.
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • Cocoa Powder or Chocolate Bar (optional garnish)
  • 24 to 36 ladyfingers (See Note Below)

Instructions:

Whisk the Cognac, water, espresso powder and 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar in a small bowl, or measuring cup until smooth. Place the lady fingers in single layer in a shallow dish (I use a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish for this step). Drizzle some of the espresso mixture over the lady fingers. The lady fingers will absorb the liquid, so be careful not to use so much that they fall completely apart.

*Note: There are two types of ladyfingers, French and Italian. The Italian style ladyfingers (I prefer the Alessi brand) are crisp and crunchy, while the French style ladyfingers are soft and spongy. You can use either type for this recipe. If using Italian ladyfingers, you will need to use more of the espresso mixture in the step above. The Italian style ladyfingers are also longer than the French style and may need to be broken in half to fit in your serving dish. I used the French-style ladyfingers in the tiramisu shown here.

Next, combine another 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar, a few tablespoons of the espresso mixture and the mascarpone in a large bowl. Using a hand-held mixer, blend until smooth. Do not over mix, as the texture can become too grainy. The stronger the coffee flavor you desire, the more of the espresso mixture you can add to the mascarpone. Just don't add so much espresso mixture that the cheese mixture becomes too runny. I find it best to add the espresso mixture to the mascarpone a couple tablespoons at a time. Once the espresso mixture, powdered sugar and mascarpone are combined, set the mixture aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar using the same hand-held mixer (don't worry about cleaning the beaters) until you have soft peaks. Reserve approximately 1/3 of the whipped cream to top the finished tiramisu. Gently fold the rest of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture, one heaping spoonful at a time. If you try to add all of the whipped cream to the mascarpone mixture at one time, it will be harder to incorporate the two and could deflate your cream.

To assemble the tiramisu for individual servings: Place two of the moistened ladyfingers in the bottom of your serving dish (you can use ramekins, mini-martini glasses (shown above), individual sized trifle dishes, or even wine glasses). If you like an extra kick to your tiramisu, add an extra drizzle of the espresso mixture the the bottom of your serving dish at this point. Top the ladyfingers with a spoonful of the espresso cream mixture. Use the back of the spoon to spread the filling over the ladyfingers, pressing down gently so that the espresso cream fills in any crevices around the ladyfingers. Top the espresso cream mixture with another two ladyfingers and then another layer of espresso cream. Continue layering the ladyfingers and espresso cream mixture until you reach the top of your serving dish. Your topmost layer should be an espresso cream layer. Use an off-set spatula, or the back of a knife, to smooth the top layer of cream so that it is flush with the top of your serving dish. Cover the serving dish with plastic wrap. You want the plastic wrap to touch the cream mixture so that a skin will not develop on the top layer of espresso cream. Place the tiramisu and your reserved whipped cream (for your topping) in the refrigerator and chill for at least one hour, up to overnight. The longer it sits, the better it will taste. The tiramisu can also be made in an 8x8 serving dish following the same layering instructions above.

Just before serving, whisk the whipped cream with a hand-held whisk to counteract any deflation that might have occurred while the cream was in the fridge. Remove the plastic wrap from the tiramisu. For individual servings, top the tiramisu with a dollop of whipped cream and then dust with chocolate shavings or cocoa powder. For a single pan serving, spoon out the whipped cream onto the top of the tiramisu and spread it over the whole dish using a spatula, or the back of the spoon. Top with chocolate shavings, or cocoa powder. I have also used a heart-shaped piece of Dove Dark chocolate as my garnish instead of the chocolate shavings or cocoa powder. In the image above, I garnished with a chocolate-covered espresso bean in addition to the chocolate shavings.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings