Ah, the classic. I've never made this before, so I was pleased that it came out so nicely.
Tiramisu is that famous Italian dessert, which I think of as a very specific kind of trifle. It means "pick me up" in Italian. (Tirare meaning "to pull" and mi meaning... "me" and su meaning "up." Actually, knowing the word tirare can prove to be very useful in Italy. Knowing it means you won't be the dumb foreign tourist, trying to push open a door that is labeled tirare. If you're curious, the word for "push" is spingere.)
Firstly, the egg and cheese custard. The recipe I'm using calls for cooking the egg yolks, but I've seen raw yolk recipes, too. Not really a fan of the raw egg deal (plus, it makes transportation an iffy thing), so I happen to prefer the cooked one. You mix them with some sugar and milk, and cook them over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning and sticking, until it comes to a boil. (Watch the boil! This is the kind of liquid that splatters goop everywhere when it starts to boil.)
While the egg custard cools, prep the whipped cream. Not every tiramisu has whipped cream, but I think this adds a nice height and extra mouth feel to the layers. Just pour some cold heavy whipping cream into a bowl and have at it with your hand mixer.
Mmm. Nothing like fresh whipped cream. Accept no substitutes. Nothing that comes out of a spray can or a tub for me.
Once the egg custard is cool, stir in your mascarpone cheese. It's an Italian soft cheese, which is similar to cream cheese, but milder and creamier (it doesn't have that tangy cream cheese taste).
Now, ladyfingers are key. I'm all for 100% homemade, but honestly, I am not about to make my own ladyfingers. You are welcome to do it for your tiramisu. But, if you're like me, just buy a couple of packs from the bakery section of the grocery store. I say that they are key, because you must make sure they're fresh if you're buying them. Give them a poke inside their packaging. They should be pillowy and soft.
Don't be afraid to poke your baked goods!
The softness of the ladyfingers means they practically deteriorate if you straight-up dunk them in the coffee. (I would've preferred to use expresso or coffee liquor, but I didn't have any on hand. A very strong coffee can do in a pinch. I also add a little bit of cocoa powder and a bit of vanilla extract to give some extra oomph to the coffee.) Therefore, put down your layer of ladyfingers, and then drizzle coffee onto them until they are soaked through.
Build up your layers. Ladyfingers, coffee, mascarpone custard, whipped cream. Rinse and repeat. Cake decorators -- your skills come in handy here, because spreading on the layers is much like icing a cake. When you get to the top, dust with some cocoa powder.
Voila! I would've preferred to use a nicer glass pan, but the loaf pan was a good small size for my intents. And it stacks into a nice, tall tiramisu.