A magical, boozy dessert

Sabayon requires minimal cooking and is easy to prepare

Zabaglione (za-ba-lee-ohn) is a seemingly magical dessert that originated in Italy in the 15th century. Egg yolks are whipped with wine and sugar to create what is essentially a boozy custard sauce. Originally made with Marsala, the French quickly adopted their own version of the recipe using Sauternes, a lusciously sweet white wine from Bordeaux. Sabayon, as it's known in French cuisine, often includes gently whipped cream that's folded into the custard. By the late 1800s, savory iterations of sabayon also began popping up and the recipe has since secured a place in the French system of classic sauces.

Whether you call it sabayon or zabaglione, the sauce can be made with almost any type of alcohol. Sparkling wine or moscato have become classic choices, but anything goes from late-harvest riesling to dry sauvignon blanc or even beer. Some recipes use half wine and half spirits or liqueur such as cognac or Grand Marnier. It can also be made alcohol-free by substituting ginger ale or sparkling cider for the wine.

As with many seemingly simple recipes, success in preparing a perfect sabayon comes down to a few key techniques. Temperature is the most important factor, therefore it's helpful to use a candy thermometer or whisk with a built-in thermometer when preparing these types of custard sauces. The yolks, sugar and wine should be gently heated in a double boiler to 165 degrees, at which point the bowl with the yolk mixture should be immediately placed in an ice bath (a larger bowl filled with ice water) to quickly chill the custard and prevent it from cooking further. The custard will break if the temperature exceeds 175 degrees.

When preparing the double boiler make sure the simmering water in the lower pot doesn't touch the bottom of the upper pot as this can cause the egg yolks to scramble. The mixture should be whisked continuously but not too rapidly so it doesn't become excessively foamy, which will prevent it from cooking evenly. Continue whisking once the bowl has been transferred to the ice bath, until the custard is cool to the touch.

Whip the cream in a separate bowl, then stir in about a third of the whipped cream into the chilled custard to loosen it. Fold in the remaining cream and serve chilled in a goblet-type glass topped with summer berries. It's easy to get addicted to this delicate yet satisfying dessert and all of its delicious possibilities, such as a boozy bourbon sabayon over fresh Calhoun peaches with a brown butter sugar cookie or sweet riesling sabayon with strawberries. A delightful accompaniment to ripe summer fruit, this elegant yet simple dish requires minimal cooking and it's quick to prepare, making it an ideal choice for al fresco dinner parties.

Classic sabayon

6 egg yolks (use the freshest available)
½ cup sugar (to taste, depending on the sweetness of the wine)
¾ cup wine (or use ½ cup wine and ¼ cup liqueur or spirits)
A tiny pinch of salt
1 cup whipping cream, chilled
Fresh fruit and simple cookies, to serve

Prepare an ice bath in a bowl large enough to hold the top bowl of a double boiler.

Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a non-reactive bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water, whisking continuously. Pour in the wine very slowly and keep whisking until the mixture is light and foamy, doubled in volume and has reached a temperature of 165 degrees. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl while whisking so that the eggs don't cook on the edges of the bowl. Immediately transfer the bowl with the egg mixture to the ice bath and continue to whisk until cool.

Whip the cream to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Stir in about of the whipped cream into the custard mixture to loosen it, then fold in the remaining cream. Serve chilled with fruit, cookies or pound cake.

Savory lemon herb sabayon

4 egg yolks
A pinch of salt
Zest of one lemon
A small pinch of cayenne
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh herbs, minced such as parsley, tarragon or dill

Combine the egg yolks, salt, lemon zest and cayenne in the top bowl of a double boiler set over simmering water. Whisking continuously, add the wine and lemon juice and cook until the mixture is thick and has reached 165 degrees. Whisk in the chopped herbs. The sauce is best served immediately but can be held at room temperature for 30 minutes. Serve over seared scallops, flaky fish or grilled vegetables.

Ashley Meyer

Ashley Meyer has been cooking as long as she has been walking. The daughter of beloved former Illinois Times food columnist, Julianne Glatz, Ashley offers a fresh, inspired take on her mother’s culinary legacy. Ashley studied winemaking at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand and recently achieved the...

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for almost 50 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Your support will help cover the costs of editorial content published each week. Without local news organizations, we would be less informed about the issues that affect our community..

Click here to show your support for community journalism.

Got something to say?

Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (0)
Add a Comment