Tiramisu, a favorite on restaurant dessert menus, is a sturdy perennial that stubbornly resists changing culinary fashions. The lively mascarpone-based custard, with its complements of espresso and chocolate, sends a zing to your palate. The canonical version of tiramisu builds on ladyfinger cookies, but several substitutions can stand in for the foundation of this layered treat.
Sponge and Other Cakes
Ladyfingers, finger-shaped pieces of sponge cake, absorb espresso without completely disintegrating. To substitute for the commercially produced cookies, purchase a whole plain sponge cake or an angel food or pound cake. Cut it into 4-inch oblongs and dry them in a 250-degree oven before assembling the tiramisu.
The Italian Pantry
If you’re partial to Italian baked goods, your pantry might hold a few additional substitutes. Biscotti — hard, twice-baked cookies — can stand-in for ladyfingers, though they must be soaked in espresso rather than dipped. Panettone, a rich, cake-like holiday bread, can be cut into fingers and dried in a gentle oven to replace the ladyfingers. Margherite and amaretti, two mild-flavored Italian cookies, make less conventional but still acceptable alternatives.
Stretch the Limits
Unless you’re preparing dessert for your Italian grandmother, the ultimate measure of a substitution’s success is whether you enjoy the end result. Be creative, and run with what you’ve got. The Internet is filled with blog posts by desperate or inspired bakers who’ve used substitutes as wildly varied as vanilla wafers, Twinkies, chocolate wafers, graham crackers and even glazed or cake doughnuts. As long as the substitute’s flavors complement chocolate and coffee, the end result should be palatable.