Zabaglione is a surprisingly easy dessert that looks elegant and tastes heavenly. Clouds of sweet foam, whisked together from three simple ingredients, make a silky light-as-air topping for fresh fruit or a delicate dessert served on its own in a fancy glass. It would make a special Mother's Day dessert or a decadent addition to brunch, too. (Skip to recipe.)
Zabaglione, also zabaione (or sabayon in French), sounds so fancy schmancy (pronounced 'zab-eye-oni'), but it's actually a very lovely and simple Italian dessert. Basically you just whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and sweet wine over a pot of simmering water until it becomes a bowl of warm, billowy light foam. You can eat it as-is, in a fancy stemmed glass, or spoon it over fresh berries - a sophisticated version of berries and whipped cream all dressed up for a party.
This simple Italian whipped custard dessert is a real showstopper. Learn to make it (without a recipe) and you can impress friends, or a special date, or family, or your mom, any time you have the opportunity. It can be your culinary secret weapon.
Imagine clouds of zabaglione over a bowl of berries as part of a special breakfast-in-bed, or served with a fancy brunch. Or just whip up a single portion for yourself when you're home alone one night and want to feel special.
Have You Got 10 Minutes? Let's Whip up a Quick Zabaglione
The ratio for making zabaglione is 1:1:1 - that is 1 large egg yolk to 1 tablespoon sugar to 1 tablespoon marsala. Count on 1 egg yolk per person, so you can adjust the recipe to the amount of people you are serving.
First, get your beautiful bowl of fresh berries macerating in just a touch of honey and lemon juice, and a grinding of black pepper - yes, pepper! It makes the sweet flavour of the berries just pop.
Now we'll quickly whisk together the lovely golden yolks with some sugar (I use natural evaporated cane juice here).
Then whisk in some sweet marsala wine until it's all frothy. Marsala is traditional, but if you don't have marsala you can use any other kind of sweet wine, like vin santo, madeira, or even sherry. Or you can steer clear of sweet wine altogether and make your zabaglione with champagne (like in the stemmed glass above) or even just an ordinary white wine. It's all good.
Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and just whisk away. Consider it a moment of zen therapy. If you don't want to hand-whisk, you can use an electric whisk or a portable hand mixer. Either way, in 5 to 8 minutes you'll have a bowlful of glorious billowy custard foam.
You'll know it's done when it's tripled in volume and drops off the whisk in thick fluffy ribbons that hold their shape for several seconds before dissolving back into the rest of the zabaglione.
A few egg yolks + a couple spoonfuls of sugar + a good glug of wine = one bowl of heaven.
Just pop the berries into fancy glasses, and spoon your beautiful, fluffy, angel cloud of a zabaglione over top.
A glass of that is a royal treat for any special person - or just for yourself.
Be generous - those berries love to swim in the good stuff.
Just a Few Things to Watch Out For
- Make sure you combine the egg yolks and sugar just before whisking them - if they lay in the bowl together too long before, the sugar will effectively 'cook' whatever bits of the egg it touches, and you'll have lumpy little bits of yolk that won't dissolve with whipping.
- The water in your double boiler pot should be just simmering, with small bubbles breaking the surface. If it's too hot it will also cook the custard as you whip it, resulting in small curdles. The heat of the simmering water will be enough to gently cook the egg yolks in the custard so they're no longer raw, but done to the degree of cooking of a soft boiled egg yolk - just dispersed in the foam.
- The bottom of the bowl should not be touching the simmering water or, again, you run the risk of cooking and curdling the custard.
- Whisk the zabaglione for about another minute after removing it from the double boiler, as it cools, to help stabilize the foam.
- The zabaglione should be served shortly after whipping, as it will start to deflate if left to sit longer. To stabilize it for making ahead, you can whip about ¼ cup of cream to soft peaks and fold that into the zabaglione - it will hold in the fridge for 4 to 5 hours, but its lovely egginess and traditional flavour will be diluted.
Did I just hear the angels singing?
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Kitchen Frau Notes: Marsala is the traditional liquor used for a zabaglione, but if you don't have marsala, substitute any other sweet wine - or try champagne or white wine. Your zabaglione will be a little less sweet, but that is not a bad thing; it will still be light and very tasty.
Zabaglione is delicious (and classic) over any kind of berries, but try it over other fruits, too. It's lovely over sliced fresh peaches or quartered fresh figs, and really fantastic over grilled pineapple. Experiment with different fruits to see which ones you like it best on. It's also heavenly spooned over a slice of cake or served with crunchy cookies to dip into it or eat with it. Experiment with different alcohols, too. I've heard whispers of it being made with cognac or orange flavoured liqueurs - so I imagine anything boozy will do.
gluten free, dairy free
for the berries:
- 3 cups (1 lb/450gms) mixed fresh berries (or just strawberries)
- 1 teaspoon runny honey
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black pepper (or ⅛ teaspoon if finely ground), optional
for the zabaglione:
- 4 large egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons (¼ cup/50gms) organic evaporated cane sugar
- 4 tablespoons (¼ cup/60ml) marsala - or other sweet wine like vin santo, madeira, or sherry (or champagne; not sweetened but very nice) *for a non-alcoholic version, use freshly squeezed orange juice plus a few drops of pure vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
Rinse and drain the berries. Lay them on paper towels to absorb any excess moisture. Quarter or halve the strawberries if they are large. Put the berries into a bowl and drizzle with the honey and lemon juice and sprinkle with the pepper. Toss gently to combine and leave the berries to macerate while you prepare the zabaglione.
Set a small pot with about 1 inch of water onto the stove to come to a simmer.
Use a mixing bowl that will sit about halfway down into the pot with the bottom of the bowl about an inch above the simmering water, not touching it. The bowl should preferably be made of copper, glass, or stainless steel, so that it conducts the heat evenly without overcooking and curdling the egg yolks. (Do not use a plastic bowl.)
Put the egg yolks, sugar, marsala, and salt into the bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk by hand (or a handheld electric beater) until they are foamy. Then place the bowl into the pot above the simmering water and whisk constantly until the zabaglione is light and fluffy, tripled in volume, and warm to the touch. This will take a minimum of 5 minutes, and up to 8 or 9 minutes. Ensure that the water continues to cook at a low simmer. You'll know the zabaglione is done when you lift the whisk and the mixture stays in visible ribbons for a few seconds after it falls back to the bowl.
Remove the bowl from the simmering water, and set the bowl onto a folded towel on the counter. Whisk the zabaglione for another minute or two as it cools down. This helps stabilize it further so it stays foamy a bit longer. Serve the zabaglione while still warm or at room temperature shortly after making it, spooning it over the berries in individual dishes. Top with a few fresh thyme leaves, a sprinkling of nutmeg, or a scattering of toasted sliced almonds if desired. It is especially nice if served with a crispy cookie on the side, too.
Zabaglione can also be spooned over a slice of cake, or served by itself in a fancy stemmed dessert glass with a couple crunchy Italian almond cookies alongside.
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