Prior to going vegan in 2015, tiramisu was my favorite dessert — and quite possibly my favorite food, period. I’m a coffee lover and a former junkie when it comes to dairy-laden desserts (cheesecake, flan, and tres leches cake were a few of my other faves). Mascarpone cheese and heavy whipping cream are major players in tiramisu, so I’m sure you can understand why we got along.
Perhaps you’ll also understand, then, why the prospect of a dairy-free rendition seemed a little silly to me for quite some time after going vegan. It took me just shy of five years to even attempt it, and now I’m kicking myself for not having tried sooner because: A) it tastes just as good, if not better than traditional tiramisu, and B) it actually requires a pretty simple list of ingredients.
You won’t have to purchase a single vegan dairy alternative; homemade cashew cream and coconut cream are our mascarpone and heavy whipping cream alternatives in this recipe. Before you roll your eyes and assume that it just “won’t be the same” without the dairy — trust me. You’ll be blown away by how delicious and decadent this tiramisu is.
I can assure you it’ll be well worth the time and effort. I made this tiramisu for Valentine’s Day, and within three days my boyfriend and I had demolished the entire thing! Try it!
Ingredients for Vegan Tiramisu
Vanilla Cake Ingredients
Traditionally, tiramisu is made not with cake but with ladyfingers: small sponge cake biscuits. It’s difficult to achieve the same texture as ladyfingers without using eggs, so in this recipe we substitute in layers of vanilla cake.
I’ve included a recipe for homemade vanilla cake, but if you’d like to make this step a little easier, you can also use a boxed mix for white or yellow cake. Many brands you can find at your grocery store are “accidentally vegan.” Simply prepare them with your favorite egg replacer!
Coffee Liqueur (and other boozy options)
In traditional tiramisu, ladyfingers are dipped in a coffee soak or marsala wine and layered with a cream made of mascarpone and eggs. In this recipe, we’ll simply drizzle the cake layers with our liquid of choice.
There are many options here. My personal favorite is coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua). You can also use amaretto (almond liqueur), Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur), or marsala wine. If you like things really boozy, you can also substitute in some dark rum for all or part of the alcohol.
If you would like to make an alcohol-free version of this dessert, simply use some strong brewed coffee or espresso that you have chilled or cooled to room temperature. Or, feel free to use a mixture of coffee and liqueur.
Whatever you choose will also be added to the whipped coconut cream and the cashew custard for extra flavor.
Cashew Custard & Spiked Coconut Cream
- Coconut cream: This will serve as our substitute for heavy whipping cream. Make sure you don’t buy “cream of coconut,” which is a sweetened product often used in drinks like piña coladas. If you can’t find coconut cream, regular canned full-fat coconut milk will work, but grab an extra can or two because there will be less cream in each can. Please don’t purchase lite coconut milk! It will not firm up enough to use in this recipe.
- Raw cashews: We’ll blend these and use them in place of mascarpone in the sweetened tiramisu custard. Soak them 4+ hours or overnight, especially if you aren’t using a high-powered blender, as we want them to blend as smooth as possible.
- Agave or maple syrup: You can use any of your favorite sweeteners in the custard. If you use a granulated sweetener you may just need to add a bit of extra water to get things moving in the blender.
- Powdered sugar: This is needed to thicken and sweeten the coconut cream.
- Chilled coffee or espresso: We’ll use this to soak the cake layers.
- Cocoa powder or chocolate shavings: Optional (but definitely recommended) to garnish the tiramisu.
How to Make Vegan Tiramisu
This dessert isn’t difficult to make, but it is a little time-consuming because you’ll be making three separate components from scratch: a vanilla cake (in place of the traditional lady fingers), a “custard” made of sweetened cashew cream, and a spiked whipped coconut cream. Ideally you’ll assemble this at least a day in advance, as both the flavor and texture improve once it’s been chilled.
- Prepare the cake: Follow the directions provided for homemade vanilla cake, or take a shortcut by preparing a boxed cake mix. If you can plan far enough ahead, I recommend making the cake the night before and leaving it out to get slightly stale before assembling the tiramisu. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it will help the cake absorb the soak a little better.
- Prepare the coconut whipped cream: Chill your cans of coconut cream ahead of time. The cream will harden so you can easily scoop it off the top. (You can save the remaining coconut water to add to smoothies or drink.) Whip the coconut cream together with powdered sugar and coffee liqueur (or other liquid of choice; see Ingredient section for options). Pop the whipped cream in the fridge to firm back up while you prepare the cashew custard.
- Prepare the cashew custard: Blend your soaked raw cashews with coffee liqueur and your favorite liquid sweetener. (You can use a granulated sweetener too, but you may need to add a few tablespoons of water to get the mixture smooth.) This is easiest to accomplish in a high-powered blender with a tamper, but you can also use a food processor; just make sure to scrape down the sides often so everything is evenly blended. Once you’ve blended the cashews as smooth as possible, you’ll fold in half of the coconut whipped cream prepared in the previous step.
- Soak the cake layers: When you’re ready to assemble the tiramisu, arrange one layer of cake in a square pan. Using a pastry brush (or just a spoon), drizzle the cake with a mixture of chilled coffee/espresso and coffee liqueur.
- Layer the cake with custard: Spread half of the custard mixture over the first layer of cake, then top with the second layer. Repeat the soaking step above, and spread the rest of the custard on top.
- Top with coconut cream: Use the remaining half of the whipped coconut cream to top the tiramisu.
- Garnish: Dust the top of the tiramisu with cocoa powder, or with chocolate shavings.
- Chill and serve: This is a dessert best served the next day, but you’ll want to chill it for at least 4 hours. The flavors blend and the moisture redistributes in the cake, improving the texture.
Vegan Vanilla Cake
- 1 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 cup plain unsweetened plant milk
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted vegan butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Coconut Whipped Cream
- 2 13.5 oz cans coconut cream, chilled
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup powdered sugar depending on how sweet you like it
- 1-3 tablespoons coffee liqueur see notes for substitutions
Sweetened Cashew Cream
- 1 1/2 cups raw cashews soaked 4+ hours or overnight
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup or sweetener of choice
- 1-2 tablespoons coffee liqueur see notes for substitutions
- water as needed
- 1/2 recipe coconut whipped cream see above
- 1 cup strong coffee or espresso chilled
- 1-3 tablespoons coffee liqueur optional
- cocoa powder for dusting
- chocolate shavings optional, to garnish
Vegan Vanilla Cake
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease and flour two square 8×8” baking pans. You can line the pans with circles of parchment for easier removal. (If you only have one square pan, you can bake one cake and cut it into two layers when cooled.)
- Combine vinegar and milk and set aside to curdle.
- Whisk dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, combine all wet ingredients. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and stir until smooth.
- Divide cake batter between the two prepared baking pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when gently pressed. (If you’re using only one cake pan, this may take up to 40-45 minutes.)
- Remove and cool for 10 minutes in pans, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
- If you have time to make the cake the night before, you can leave it out overnight to get slightly stale. It will be able to absorb more of the coffee soak this way, but it’s optional.
Spiked Coconut Whipped Cream
- Scoop the solid coconut cream from the tops of the cans. (Save the coconut water to drink or add to smoothies.) If you can only find full-fat coconut milk (rather than cream), you will need an extra can. Lite coconut milk will not work in this recipe; it won't firm up enough.
- Sift in the powdered sugar and add the coffee liqueur/coffee 1 tablespoon at a time, to taste. Beat (with a mixer or vigorously by hand) until fluffy. Refrigerate.
Sweetened Cashew Cream
- Add soaked cashews to your blender or food processor, along with sweetener and 1-2 tablespoons coffee liqueur or coffee/espresso. Add in 2-3 tablespoons water and process, scraping down the sides of your container often. If your blender has a tamper, it will be helpful to use here.
- Add additional water, a tablespoon at a time, until cashew cream is as smooth as possible. Avoid adding too much liquid, as it will spill out of the tiramisu if it’s too loose. It should be roughly the texture of hummus (just slightly wetter is okay).
- Gently fold in half of the coconut whipped cream prepared in the previous step. Reserve remaining whipped cream to use as a topping.
- Line the bottom of an 8×8” or 9×9” square baking pan with one layer of cake. Use a fork to prick the cake all over, to allow the coffee to sink in better.
- Combine 1 cup chilled coffee/espresso with your 1-3 tablespoons coffee liqueur or other alcohol, if using.
- Using a pastry brush or a spoon, saturate the cake with some of your chilled coffee mixture. I like mine to be extra moist, so I use around 1 cup of soak for the entire tiramisu. If you prefer to keep the dessert more cake-like, feel free to use less.
- Spread half of the cashew-coconut custard evenly across your soaked cake layer. Repeat with an additional layer of soaked cake and the remainder of the cashew mixture. Top with the reserved coconut whipped cream.
- Dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle with optional chocolate shavings. This is best served chilled for several hours. It’s even better if you can make it a day in advance; the cake will absorb more flavor and the coconut cream will firm up slightly when chilled, so it will be easier to cut and serve.
- Coffee liqueur alternatives: Amaretto, marsala wine, dark rum can be used instead. Each of these has a distinct flavor, so you may need to adjust the measurements. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting as you go.
- Alcohol-free: Simply use cooled espresso or strong coffee.
- Cake shortcut: You can use a boxed vanilla cake mix to speed things up if you prefer. Many of these are "accidentally" vegan, including a lot of the flavors from Duncan Hines — just double-check the ingredients! Simply prepare according to package directions using your favorite vegan egg replacer.
- Cashew-free: You can use blanched slivered almonds, soaked overnight; or, soak whole raw almonds overnight and remove the skins by hand. Almonds don’t blend as easily as cashews so the texture may be a little gritty/less smooth.
- Nut-free: You can try substituting about 16 ounces of a store-bought vegan cream cheese (like the one by Tofutti or Daiya). However, I haven’t tried this recipe with this substitution, so I can’t vouch for it entirely!