Tiramisu is a classic and beloved Italian dessert that features layers of custard and coffee-soaked sponge. This post will show you how to make homemade vegan tiramisu that’s delectably creamy and entirely dairy-free. This version uses tender, melt-in-your mouth vanilla cake as a sponge, which is easier to make from scratch than ladyfingers!
I’ll never forget the first time I saw tiramisu.
I was at an Italian restaurant in my grandmother’s neighborhood, probably six or seven years old at the time. My grandmother—my Yaya—ordered it for dessert. I asked about what she was having.
“Tir-a-mis-u!” she replied joyously.
My grandmother went on to tell me that tiramisu was made with layers of cake soaked in coffee and liquer, cream, and cocoa powder.
I was too young at the time for the sounds of coffee/liqueur-soaked sponge to be especially appealing. But I didn’t forget her enthusiasm.
Years later, tiramisu became one of my favorite desserts.
Then I became vegan, and since then, I’ve struggled to create a recipe that could rival any of the traditional versions that I remember.
Last year, I partnered with Modern General Dreamy Coffee Company on a homemade vegan tiramisu, using the brand’s signature coffee concentrate. After maybe twenty-five or more tries, I finally developed a vegan tiramisu recipe that I loved.
I always think of tiramisu as being a festive, wintery dessert. As the holiday season started this year, I re-tested my tiramisu, hoping that it would be as good as it was the first time.
It was. It is! And today, I’ll share the details of how to make it.
Since tiramisu is a slightly more involved dessert, this post is divided into sections:
My grandmother’s explanation of the dessert was pretty spot on. But here are a few more details.
Tiramisu consists of sponge that is layered with mascarpone and whipped cream. The sponge is soaked in coffee or espresso, often with the addition of coffee liqueur or rum.
The top of the tiramisu is dusted with cocoa powder and sometimes chocolate shavings, too.
Those are the basics. But the details are where it gets interesting.
The tiramisu sponge is usually soaked savoiardi. Savoiardi, also known as lady fingers, are long, finger-shaped biscuits. They’re usually made with whipped egg whites.
Savoiardi are tender when they’re freshly baked, but they crisp up quickly. Store-bought versions are usually quite crispy.
Some tiramisu recipes, however, call for layers of sponge cake. As you’ll see below, my vegan tiramisu calls for rectangular slices of a simple, vanilla-scented vegan cake.
Most tiramisu recipes that I’ve seen call for espresso and some sort of spirit for soaking the sponge.
I’ve seen recipes made with any of the following: coffee liqueur, rum, brandy, amaretto, and marsala wine.
I choose to use a coffee liqueur in my vegan tiramisu. There’s one made by a local-to-me spirits company, Forthave, but any coffee liqueur would work in its place. So would rum, amaretto, or brandy.
If you’d like to make a non-alcoholic version, you can simply omit the addition of liqueur.
As for the coffee part, tiramisu made with espresso has a predictably bolder flavor than coffee-based versions. But having enough espresso on hand to soak all of the cake means pulling a lot of espresso shots!
Instead, my vegan tiramisu calls for cold brew concentrate. The concentrate has very bold flavor, so it easily imparts a lot of intensity to the soaked layers of cake.
I’ve seen different variations of the mascarpone + cream layer that creates pillowy softness in tiramisu.
In all cases, mascarpone creates some density, while cream adds lightness.
For me, the challenge was to make a version that featured a cream solid enough to hold its own, yet still silky and light.
Cashews and tofu to the rescue.
Both tofu and cashews have been cornerstone ingredients in my cooking and baking since I first adopted a plant-based diet.
It’s only in the last couple years, however, that I’ve realized how powerful they are as a duo.
The combination of (extra firm) tofu + cashews is what creates a perfect texture—not too crumbly, not too creamy—for my 10-minute vegan ricotta cheese.
Last year, I learned that I could create a perfect vegan whipped cream using silken tofu + cashews. This was great news to me, since I had been looking for a dairy-free whipped cream alternative to the many coconut-based versions out there.
When you combine soaked, blended raw cashews with tofu, you get a mixture of rich, luscious creaminess and some firmness of texture.
Added bonuses, at least from my perspective as a dietitian, is that cashews and tofu are both nutritious ingredients to work with.
Cashews are a source of healthful poly- and monounsaturated fats—the good fats that are associated with cardiovascular health.
Tofu is a great source of plant-protein, along with phytoestrogens that may benefit bone health and be associated with lower rates of certain cancers. It’s also rich in healthful fatty acids.
Culinary utility and good nutrition! What’s not to love?
In this vegan tiramisu recipe, tofu and cashews join forces to create the rich layers of cream that would normally be created by mascarpone and whipped cream. They do this beautifully, adding some nutrition along the way.
I don’t have anything against ladyfinger cookies. But my opinion is that cake is an even better—and easier!—option for vegan tiramisu.
Ladyfinger cookies rely heavily on beaten egg whites. Yes, you could spend quite a bit of time cajoling aquafaba into stiff peaks and then piping ladyfingers yourself.
All of this takes considerable time, though. I love involved baking projects, but over the course of my many tiramisu trials, I found that vegan ladyfingers were a serious hassle.
Then I decided to try a version with cake instead.
It’s sort of funny that it wasn’t my first instinct to use vegan cake as my sponge here, since cake is my favorite dessert by far.
Here are the advantages of using cake instead of ladyfingers for the vegan tiramisu recipe:
There are two tricks to working with cake in this recipe. The first is to cut the cake into long, rectangular pieces, so that they’re similar in shape to ladyfingers.
Yet cake pieces will have the advantage, since they’re made from a single sheet/layer of cake, of having no gaps between them. This makes it easy to spread your cream layer evenly over the cake.
The other trick-of-the-trade here is to let the cut cake slices sit out for a day or so.
Why? Because the time in open air will dry the cake slices out a bit. It makes them similar in texture to ladyfinger cookies, and it also makes them more able to absorb the coffee liquid without becoming soggy.
That’s the back story. Now it’s time for the fun part: assembly!
Here’s how to make perfectly layered, decadent and rich, mocha-scented vegan tiramisu.
First things first: ideally, preparation of the vegan tiramisu will take place in stages over 2-3 days.
The process can be condensed and done in 2 or even a single day instead. But the recipe works out best if you’re willing to take your time and work through the steps progressively.
An added bonus of slow assembly? Ease. Each step will feel manageable, even if you’re busy or tired or have other things to cook. Progressive dessert making is always more enjoyable for me than rushing through the process.
That’s how to think about your time commitment. And here’s what you’ll need to do.
The cake itself is simple. Basically, it’s a variation (with different proportions) of my beloved vegan vanilla cake, a go-to for birthdays. No aquafaba, stand mixer, fancy decoration, or piping bag is required!
Once the cake layers have been baked and cooled, you’ll slice them into long, rectangular pieces.
I do this by cutting each square cake in half, then slicing each half into 8 rectangular pieces. You’ll have 16 pieces total for each of your two square cake layers.
Once these rectangles are cut, I recommend allowing them to sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about a day. This will dry the cake slices out, making them more effective for tiramisu.
If you’re in a rush and need to skip this step, don’t worry about it.
While your cake slices sit out and get a little dry, you can make your tofu cashew cream.
Making the cream is simple: it involves blending soaked, raw cashews and silken tofu in a powerful blender till smooth. I add vanilla and maple syrup for some sweetness.
This cream will thicken up when it sits in the fridge overnight. And that’s definitely what I recommend for the tiramisu. The goal is for the cream layers to be silky and scoopable, but not runny.
If you simply don’t have the time to allow the cream to thicken overnight, then a minimum of 2-4 hours will also work.
Steps 4 and beyond should happen on the second day of your vegan tiramisu adventure.
The first of these steps is fun: dunking your cake slices in a mixture of coffee and liqueur!
The sponge layers in classic tiramisu have been steeped with coffee or espresso. You achieve this by dipping them in a coffee mixture, then transferring them to the dish where your tiramisu will be built.
The trick to this step is to dunk your dried out cake fingers quickly. You don’t want to submerge the cake in the coffee mixture for too long, lest they become downright soggy. The goal is for them to be submerged for a moment, then transferred to your square pan.
With dunking will also come the process of layering. In other words, it’s time to build your tiramisu.
You’ll arrange a layer of coffee-soaked cake pieces in your pan. Next, you’ll spread them with half of your thickened cashew tofu cream.
Repeat this process with another layer of cake and cream, and you’ll almost be at the finish of making your tiramisu.
“Decorate” is probably a little misleading, since the decoration here is ridiculously simple. Simply smooth over the top cream layer of your tiramisu, then sift some cocoa powder over the top.
The final step in vegan tiramisu creation is to chill the whole tiramisu overnight in the fridge.
At this point, you may be more than ready to taste your tiramisu. Yet trust me when I say that the last refrigeration step is worthwhile. It will allow all the flavors to mingle and the layers to set.
When it’s time to slice, scoop, and serve the tiramisu on day 3, your effort will be rewarded with a creamy, elegant, coffee-scented and wholly delightful creation.
With a complex dessert like tiramisu, I don’t recommend taking too many liberties with ingredients. However, there are a few substitutions that will easily work.
To make the tiramisu gluten-free, you can use a gluten-free, all-purpose baking blend. King Arthur’s Measure for Measure flour is my favorite.
If you need to replace the cashews, you can use soaked macadamia nuts or pine nuts instead.
At this time, I don’t have a nut or soy-free version. However, if I develop one, I’ll be sure to update this post accordingly.
Once your tiramisu is ready to eat, the leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 more days. Be sure to cover the tiramisu with foil or saran wrap to protect the top and keep the cake from drying.
Technically yes, you can. And I have.
Here’s what I’ll say: this is a slightly wet dessert to begin with. So you may find that the defrosted tiramisu becomes a little soggy as it sits in the fridge.
Is this a terrible thing? Honestly, not really. Tiramisu can be very structured, but it can also be softer and more like a pudding that you scoop into a serving bowl. It’s actually quite nice this way, and the flavor is as heavenly as ever.
So, feel free to freeze your tiramisu for up to 8 weeks.
Looking to add some cheer to your holiday season? Or to brighten up the winter months?
Here are some of the vegan dessert recipes that I associate with winter cheer.
It gives my heart joy to be posting one of my favorite desserts on the eve of Christmas eve. This week was not the pre-holiday week of festivity that I hoped for, and the holiday itself will be different from what I planned.
Yet I’m remembering that, a year ago at this time, I was about to get an unexpected positive Covid test and spend a full twelve days in isolation. This year I’m run down and pitifully tired, maybe a bit sad, but I’m not by myself. And that’s everything.
Hope you warm your bellies and spirits with a good treat or two this holiday—and if you have the enthusiasm to make vegan tiramisu, I can’t wait to hear how it goes!