Serves 4

This most popular of Italian desserts feels as if it's been around for hundreds of years. But in fact it is relatively new, created allegedly by the owner of El Toula restaurant in Treviso. Tiramisu means "pick me up" which is exactly what it is as it's laced with strong coffee and alcohol. You can use a coffee liqueur, if you have some knocking around, or maybe amaretto.

This most popular of Italian desserts feels as if it's been around for hundreds of years. But in fact it is relatively new, created allegedly by the owner of El Toula restaurant in Treviso. Tiramisu means "pick me up" which is exactly what it is as it's laced with strong coffee and alcohol. You can use a coffee liqueur, if you have some knocking around, or maybe amaretto.

1 x 25cm vanilla sponge cake or 8 trifle sponges or even 16-20 sponge fingers
20g good quality cocoa powder or grated chocolate

for the coffee syrup

80ml water
50g caster sugar
1tsp instant coffee
2tsp ground coffee
3tbsp Tia Maria or another coffee liqueur

for the mascarpone cream

100g caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
600g mascarpone cheese, left at room temperature for about 1 hour
2 drops good-quality vanilla essence

Put all the ingredients for the coffee syrup in a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the syrup to infuse for 10 minutes. Then strain it through a fine meshed sieve and put it to one side.

For the mascarpone cream: in a food mixer with a whisk, or by hand, whisk the egg yolks with half the caster sugar for 2-3 minutes until they are fluffy. Put in the mascarpone and vanilla essence, and mix on a slow speed (or by hand) until the mixture is smooth.

Remove the mixture from the machine. Wash and dry the bowl and the whisk attachment thoroughly before whisking the egg whites and the remaining caster sugar in the machine for 2-3 minutes until they are stiff. Then on a slow speed if you're using a machine, slowly fold in the mascarpone mix.

Cut the sponge with a sharp bread knife horizontally or vertically into roughly 1/2cm-thick pieces. Dip one piece of sponge in the coffee syrup and place in the bottom of a serving dish, or glass and trim it to fit if necessary. Spread a third of the mascarpone mixture on top. Make another layer of sponge with the remaining pieces or fingers. Cover with the rest of the mascarpone, piping the top layer if you want it to look smart. Refrigerate the tiramisu for 3-4 hours. Serve dusted with cocoa or grated chocolate.

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