I promise you this, hand on heart. This gluten free, dairy free tiramisu is as delicious as that photo looks. Made the traditional way using raw eggs, this classic dessert will both revitalise and nourish. And if you tolerate the aforementioned allergens, fear not! I have a wholefood version with spelt and mascarpone, over here.
Italian brothel cake, the ultimate pick-me-up
For such a classic dish, this dessert has a relatively murky history. Believed to have come to life in the Italian town of Treviso, near Venice, it encompasses the flavours of the region – strong espresso, mascarpone, eggs and Marsala. Italians say that tiramisu is a strong aphrodisiac with a saucy history among the brothels of Treviso, where it was used to reinvigorate exhausted clients after their patronisation.
Incidentally, the name tiramisu means energy booster, translating more directly to ‘pick me up’ or ‘lift me up’. Whatever its origins, with its combined coffee, sugar, alcohol and protein hit, this luscious dessert certainly lives up to its name. In fact, as far as folklore goes, it was this quality that saw tiramisu fed to the sick, as well as mothers, for postpartum nourishment. Please don’t quote me as recommending it for the latter! Although I do encourage new mums to dose up on egg yolks. This is a well-known traditional practice which favours brain development, thanks in part, to the impressive amount of choline they contain. In some parts of rural China, up to ten yolks per day are encouraged.
My ongoing obsession with Tiramisu
I’ve been obsessed with this dessert since a spiritual awakening of sorts, which took place at an Italian restaurant in downtown Manhattan for my 28th birthday. I was living in New York at the time and up until that moment, had never been particularly keen on tiramisu. During this meal, the lights went on.
Since then, I’ve eaten it so regularly, that I fancy myself as a bit of a connoisseur. It’s the only dessert we ordered for 3 weeks straight, on our recent trip to Italy. (Just as an FYI, gelato falls into the ‘snack’ category. I’m not being as outrageous as pitting the two against each other!) All told, we probably averaged one serving of Tiramisu per day. In the noble pursuit of knowledge, of course.
Now, anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I’m an eternal (possibly naive) optimist. I don’t grumble about much. I’m the annoying, glass-half-full type. But I do have a rather exhaustive list of pet hates, when it comes to the way this dessert is prepared. In any case, I love tiramisu so much, that I’ll happily consume the subpar versions. But I’m noticing. And trying to silence my inner food snob.
I don’t like the biscuit/cake layer too wet, or too dry. And it has to be real cake, not those cardboard-dry savoiardi biscuits! The cream layer mustn’t be too heavy, or worse still, overly fluffy and light. The coffee can’t be too weak and real, dark chocolate always trumps powdered. You get the idea..
My number one pet peeve? That there are raw vegan chefs (and hey, I used to be one!) calling their dense, coffee-flavoured, nut-based cheesecakes, ‘tiramisu’. Hands off this classic! It’s a stretch that’s on par with this.
My take on gluten free, dairy free tiramisu
If it’s not critically important for you to remove gluten – please don’t! There’s no way around the universal truth that gluten makes for a better sponge (or anything, for that matter). I’ve made this recipe with Jude Blereau’s genoise (subbing coconut oil or ghee for the butter, if you must). And paired with that, you’d be hard-pressed to discern the missing mascarpone. A perfectly authentic classic. And admittedly, a tad nicer than this one. The only tip I would add is to mill and sift the rapadura. Makes a huge difference as some brands are very coarse.
Now, with gluten free baking, you generally have to navigate between achieving the perfect fluffy result and sticking with relatively accessible ingredients. When striving for the former, there are solid reasons to include several types of starch. They all lend different properties to the finished product. Naturally, this requires you to have quite a few unusual products on hand. So, I’ve provided two options for the flour component and I aim to keep tweaking both. Or hopefully, find something perfectly in the middle. So please do check back here again soon.
Aside from the sponge, every element in this recipe is flexible. This is made according to my my taste, but I’ve included options so that you can tweak to your heart’s content.
This is the perfect dessert for entertaining as it needs to be made in advance, anyway. Even several days prior is fine, as the flavour improves with age.
This gluten free, dairy free tiramisu recipe uses the lovely Jude Blereau's genoise method, found here.
- 4 eggs
- 75g rapadura sugar, milled and sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- Option 1 (all sifted): 50g superfine rice flour + 30g potato starch + 30g tapioca starch + 10g arrowroot powder
- Option 2 (all sifted): 50g superfine rice flour + 70g arrowroot powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 30g coconut oil, melted and cooled
- ¾ cup ground coffee, steeped in 1 cup of boiling water (see notes)
- ¼ cup Marsala
- 1 tsp vanilla essence (optional - I just really like vanilla!)
- 1 1/2 cups mild, unsweetened coconut yoghurt (see notes)
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 whole eggs (see notes)
- 6 egg yolks
- 100g milled and sifted rapadura sugar (see notes)
- This element should be made at least a few hours in advance. You can also make it the day before and store it at room temperature overnight. Using the above ingredients, follow Jude Blereau's recipe with the following changes: mill and sift the rapadura sugar, before beating it with the eggs. Sift the baking powder and all flours together, when prepping the ingredients. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until the middle gently bounces back when touched.
- Prepare all your ingredients first. Then organise a medium sized dish (approx. dimensions 20cm x 30cm x 5cm), or individual serving glasses to layer the tiramisu into.
- Measure out the coconut yoghurt and vanilla essence in a small bowl. Stir vigorously to combine, then set aside to come to room temperature.
- Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before starting this step. In a large mixing bowl (or processor with whipping attachment), beat the egg yolks, whole eggs and milled, sifted rapadura sugar until it lightens, doubles in volume and forms ribbons that sit on the surface for at least 10 seconds. This will take a while (usually 10+ minutes) and is the exact same process you will have used for the sponge.
- Using a spatula, gently fold the coconut yoghurt into the egg mixture until it is just combined, then set aside. The coconut element is heavier and will sink below the surface, so ensure that it is not sitting on the bottom of the bowl.
- Strain the coffee into a medium mixing bowl. Add the Marsala and vanilla essence, stirring to combine. Ensure it is no longer hot before beginning the next step.
- Place the cake on a large chopping board and remove the outer crust of the cake, by slicing around the edge. Then, working your way from left to right, slice the cake into 2cm wide 'fingers'. And finally, one big transverse slice across the lot of them, chopping them in half.
- Pick up one of the fingers from the middle of the cake (you may need to adjust the length of it, according to the container size) and momentarily dip each of the two longer ‘cut’ sides into the coffee mixture, one after the other, then place it back onto your chopping board, (top side up, like all the other fingers). Slice it in half lengthways again (with the knife parallel to the two cut sides). You’ll hopefully find that the middle is still just-slightly dry, rather than being drenched all the way through (if not, adjust your method).
- Lay the two halves, dry side down, into your dish and repeat this process until you’ve used up the first half of the cake – and hopefully filled the base of your dish. Don’t worry too much if it isn’t perfect. The cream layer compensates for errors of judgement!
- Pour just under half the cream mixture over the cake base and tilt the dish gently from side to side to help level it out. Place the dish into the fridge (20 minutes) or freezer (10 minutes) to set. This prevents the second layer of cake from drowning in the cream. That sounds incredibly romantic, but will result in a very messy tiramisu. (Ok, it still tastes the same, if you’re in a mad hurry!)
- Remove the dish from the fridge and proceed with the second layer, following the exact same process as with the first. Pour the remaining cream over the top, then cover your dish and allow the tiramisu to set in the fridge. Ideal setting time is 12-24 hours, but definitely 6 as an absolute minimum.
- Serve chilled, after grating a nice thick layer of good quality dark chocolate over the top. Use a microplane if you have one. (If you don’t, get one! They make parmesan, chocolate and other garnishes into powdery snow.)
Coffee: Although I'm a retired coffee drinker (and always detested strong, black coffee), this recipe needs the strong flavour to balance it. Please, just try it once and if it's too much, you can reduce it by 2-3 tablespoons. Be sure to give it a full 12 hours to settle as the flavour will mellow with time.
Rapadura sugar: Feel free to play with this amount. It wont affect the recipe in any way. If you're trying to wow non-wholefoodie types, you may like to use 120g sugar. If you've been on a fairly low carb, wholefood diet for a while, you can take it back to 90, or even less. Again, I'd try the amount listed here first and then adjust.
Eggs & texture: You can play with the ratio of egg yolks to whole eggs. Lowering the yolks in proportion to the whites will result in a lighter, fluffier texture and vice versa.
Coconut yoghurt: aim to use an unsweetened brand that is higher in fat (absolute min. 20g per 100g, which generally means less fillers) and with a mild flavour. If it's a particularly tangy, tart variety, you may want to use a bit less as it may hijack the flavour. With a mild variety, feel free to add even more yoghurt (e.g. 1.75 cups). This will create an identical texture to traditional dairy cream. If you can't source coconut yoghurt, you can sub 1-1.25 cup of whipped coconut cream for this ingredient. (I don't like the flavour quite as much, but the texture is great).