Aunt Delia’s Tiramisu

Tiramisu made with Lady Finger Cookies and Mascarpone Cheese.

The one great thing about having an Italian family is when you want to know how to make something, there is always someone with experience to lend their support. Turns out my Aunt Delia was the one to turn to for her expertise in the old Italian favorite, Tiramisu. She had an old New York Times recipe from the nineties written by James Villas that served as a starting point. The technical support she provided from her office at Grandma’s Culinary Headquarters in the Bronx was vital to this first time Tiramisu maker.

The Ingredients and a Dish

Savoiardi Lady Fingers are an essential ingredient to authentic Tiramisu.

Fist of all, the ingredients can be tricky to find. Living all the way in Hawaii, which does not have a Little Italy, it was a bit of an adventure tracking down Savoiardi Lady Fingers, Galbani Mascarpone Cheese and Marsala Wine. I finally found the specialty ingredients in a R. Field Wine Company, a specialty shop located in Foodland, a major supermarket chain in Honolulu. I substituted the espresso for the delicious Hawaii Isles Kona Coffee Company’s Kona Vanilla Macadamia Nut and used  Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder for the finish. To round out the shopping list, I bought some run of the mill granulated white sugar, some eggs, and heavy whipping cream.

Next up, I had to figure out what I was going to actually use to put the Tiramisu in. The photograph in the New York Times had a beautiful and large glass bowl which Aunt Delia explained was known as a “trifle” bowl. The closest thing in my cupboard was a Pyrex baking dish. I was a little worried this wouldn’t work out, but I was able to fit 2 layers of Lady Fingers covered with a generous portion of the  glorious Mascarpone cheese mixture. An added benefit of the Pyrex baking dish was its fitted plastic top, which kept the Tiramisu covered while it was chilling in the refrigerator.

Raw Eggs?

Separate the yolk and the white in different bowls before beating.

While shopping for the ingredients at Foodland, it suddenly hit me. I was buying eggs for something that does not get cooked. Is okay to eat raw eggs?  Have I been eating raw eggs every time I eat Tiramisu?  It was time to call Aunt Delia. The answer was yes, it’s okay, but there’s a trick.  First you need to separate the yolks and the whites into two bowls.  I let my wife assist me with this as I do not have the most graceful hands. Then you beat the egg yolks with sugar. (Later I found out that this mixture of yolk, sugar, and wine is a dessert in its own right called Zabaglione.) probably should have added the Marsala wine at this point, but we will get to that later. I recommend using a spatula when you get to the Mascarpone. I started with a whisk but the cheese kept getting caught in the wires. I beat the egg whites with some sugar in another bowl and in a third bowl I whipped up the heavy cream. I needed to do a lot of whipping to get the cream to peak. Finally I gently “folded” the egg whites and the cream into the yolk and cheese mixture.  It started to smell like heaven in my small apartment.

Lady Fingers and Kona Coffee

Dip the lady fingers into the coffee for 3 seconds on each side.

This was the fun part. I made some really strong Hawaiian Kona coffee, put a few tablespoons of Marsala wine in it, and then dipped the Lady Fingers in for 3 quick seconds on each side. (From what I hear, the Marsala wine supposed to go in the cheese mixture instead of the coffee but this worked fine too) I had to act quickly to transfer the delicate coffee-soaked cookies into the Pyrex dish for my first layer. To make it perfect, I broke a few of the Lady Fingers in half so that there was a nice even layer on the baking dish. Then, I covered the first layer of cookies with the cheese, cream, and egg mixture.  I just repeated the same thing for the second layer.

Chill and Sprinkle

Sprinkle the cocoa powder through a sifter to get it extra fine.

I covered the Pyrex dish with the plastic lid and chilled the Tiramisu overnight.  The next afternoon I sifted some of the Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder over the top.  It looked liked it was a real Tiramisu. There was only one thing left to do.

Lift Me Up

Tiramisu literally means “lift me up” in Italian. Can you see why?

The authentic New York Times recipe with Aunt Delia’s tips and the Kona Coffee from Hawaii lived up to its namesake. (Tiramisu literally means ‘lift me up” in Italian.)  It was rich, sweet, and creamy. The coffee and the Marsala wine transformed the Lady Fingers into a moist cake that held the mixture together. Later that day, I had a dinner party and my friends almost fought over the last piece.  My wife finally won that one. The Tiramisu didn’t even last 24 hours, but it will not be soon forgotten.





Aunt Delia’s Tiramisu

  • Prep time:
  • Cook time:
  • Total time:
  • Yield: 8
  • Difficulty: medium


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of white sugar
  • 1 container (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons marsala wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cup espresso or kona macadamia vanilla coffee
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 20-24 lady finger cookies


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