Zabaione, spelled Zabaglione by some Italians and all English speakers, is a classic sweet that you don’t encounter much any more on restaurant menus, let alone on home tables. That’s a shame, because it’s truly delicious and supremely versatile, equally suited to serve on its own as a sweet ending to an important meal or a warm and substantial beverage drunk as a quick pick-me-up or as a sauce for fresh fruit or cake. In the old days, it was thought to have restorative properties and was a favorite sweet treat for kids. The base recipe calls for only three ingredients that, at least in our house, are always on hand—eggs, sugar and Marsala wine—and can be whipped up (and, in this case, I use the term literally) in just a few minutes.
Zabaglione belongs to the family of custard-like sauces that use egg yolks to thicken a liquid, such as crema pasticciera (virtually identical except for the use of Marsala instead of milk), hollandaise sauce and mayonnaise. All of these require some patience in adding the liquid to the egg yolks and, for the warm ones like zabione, care not to overheat and curdle the mixture. In this rendition, you whisk the egg, sugar and wine constantly until it becomes more of a mousse than a custard. You need a rather strong arm if you’re going to whisk by hand, but an electric whisk makes things almost effortless.
Serves 4-6 persons as a dessert or snack
- 6 egg yolks
- 6 spoonfuls of granulated sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) of Marsala or other fortified or sweet wine (see Notes)
Begin by placing the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl. (Copper is best but stainless will do fine.) Place the bowl over a saucepan that have will have filled about halfway up with water, making a kind of double-boiler.
Now whisk the yolks together until they are completely amalgamated and the mixture has taken on a glossy, appearance and texture of a loose mayonnaise:
Now, turn on the flame, moderately high. Keep whisking as you add the Marsala, bit by bit, into the egg and sugar mixture.
Keep on whisking the mixture as the water in the saucepan comes to a boil. The heat of the steam rising from the water will begin to warm the mixture, and it will begin to thicken. As it thickens, it will begin to froth and grow in volume:
Keep on whisking while the mixture continues to heat up; it will thicken even more and gain even more volume. Your zabaione will be done when ribbons form as you whisk it. (NB: They disappeared too quickly to capture them in the photo!)
Now take the zabaione off heat and continue to whisk as it cools down a bit. You can cool things down faster if you place the bowl inside a large bowl filled halfway with ice.
Serve the zabaione still warm or at room temperature, preferably in a champagne or cocktail glass as pictured, accompanied if you like with an elegant cookie or rolled wafer, or topped with some berries or other fresh fruit. A sprinkling of nutmeg or powdered chocolate wouldn’t be amiss, either.
The other way to make zabaione—which I would dare say is the more traditional one—is to switch from whisk to a wooden spoon or spatula when you put the mixture on the heat. The result will be more like a custard than a foam, and you will need to be especially careful not to let the mixture boil or it will likely curdle. (If you have any fears, take the bowl off the heat, stirring vigorously, and add a few drops of Marsala to cool things off.) Made this way, the flavor of your zabaione will be very intense perhaps too intense to eat on its own. The custard form of zabaione is often used as an ingredient in a dessert recipe, a sauce for fresh fruit or cake, or mixed with whipped cream to soften its flavor a bit, in which case it is called crema zabaione. And, of course, zabaione makes a wonderful gelato, but I’ll leave that recipe for another post.
Although by far the most common in Italy, Marsala is not the only wine used to make zabaione. In fact, they say the original was made with Moscato d’Asti, a sweet Piedmontese wine made with muscat grapes. But any fortified or sweet wine (eg, Port or Madeira) that strikes your fancy will work, as would a spirit like rum. Some chefs even make a savory kind of zabaione with dry white wine as a kind of substitute for hollandaise to dress asparagus and other vegetables.
You will have noticed that this recipe calls for nearly raw eggs, so do be sure to use only the freshest, preferably local sourced, eggs. Even then, I doubt the the gentle cooking here is enough to kill any nasty pathogens, so you may want skip this dish if you have any concerns. (I haven’t tried using pasteurized egg liquids, but they might well work.)
Zabaione is generally considered a Piedmontese recipe, and according to the venerable Il cucchiaio d’argento it was invented by a Spanish lay brother and future saint, Pascal de Baylón, who also lent the dish its name. De Baylón apparently thought to add some sweet Cypriot wine when having some trouble whipping together his eggs and sugar. Others have it that that the original recipe (or at least the word) came from what it now Croatia, where it was called zavajun, which means “to beat”.
The common spelling of this dish in English, “zabaglione”, is rare in Italian language texts. The Zanichelli dictionary cites it as an erroneous variant, other dictionaries don’t even include that spelling as a variant at all. (The original, now archaic, Piedmontese spelling was apparently zabajone.) I have no idea how the ‘gl’ spelling became standard in the Anglophone world, but perhaps some reader can enlighten us…?
- 6 egg yolks
- 6 spoonfuls of granulated sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) of Marsala or other fortified or sweet wine (see Notes)
- Begin by placing the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan that have will have filled about halfway up with water, making a kind of double-boiler.
- Whisk the yolks together until they are completely amalgamated and the mixture has taken on a glossy, appearance and texture of a loose mayonnaise.
- Turn on the flame, moderately high. Keep whisking as you add the Marsala, bit by bit, into the egg and sugar mixture.
- Keep on whisking the mixture as the water in the saucepan comes to a boil. The heat of the steam rising from the water will begin to warm the mixture, and it will begin to thicken. As it thickens, it will begin to froth and grow in volume.
- Keep on whisking while the mixture continues to heat up; it will thicken even more and gain even more volume. Your zabaione will be done when ribbons form as you whisk it.
- Take the zabaione off heat and continue to whisk as it cools down a bit. You can cool things down faster if you place the bowl inside a large bowl filled halfway with ice.
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It’s Linda here! I run a small blog about Italian cuisine myself. I find your work truly remarkable…just wanted to tell you I put a link to this recipe in my last article because I needed a zabaione recipe for my torta di nocciole and I loved your version. I really hope you don’t mind.
Thanks so much, Linda, for your lovely comment. And I’m delighted you chose to link to our recipe. Happy cooking! Frank
Frank, Wikipedia says that traditionally the dessert uses raw eggs and isn’t cooked, but I can’t find a single recipe that backs this up. Has a double-boiler always been used? I eat raw eggs all the time so that doesn’t bother me, I just want to know how this is traditionally made.
Like you, I’ve never seen a recipe where heat wasn’t applied. And while I don’t know it for an absolute fact—the origins of this dish are quite murky—I can’t see making zabaione without heat. Eggs emulsify with fat in their raw state, but not with liquor, so it wouldn’t attain that typical creamy texture.
Although the legend surrounding the history of zabaglione and then Friar Pasquale Baylon (now a Saint) is a fascinating one, it has unfortunately been proven a myth. For all the delicious details see http://homebars.barinacraft.com/post/155160680638/zabaglione-dessert-custard-or-drink
Thanks, it’s quite a long (but fascinating) story! I guess the bottom line is, no one really knows for sure how zabaione got its name…
Ooh Frank, love the idea of using moscato d’Asti. i haven’t made zabaglione in awhile. I used to be intimidated by it, but the only way to conquer such fears is to dive right in, no? Love it with fruit. BTW, Michael Chiarello has a recipe in one of his books for zabaglione, made with honey, that (allegedly) stays stable for a couple of days. I have yet to try it.
Absolutely right, Domenica! And you know, the mousse version is almost impossible to curdle. It just needs a bit more elbow grease than the custardy variety.
And thanks for the tip about the honey. I’ll try it too and we can compare results!
I love egg custards or desserts just like this one, but don’t think I’ve ever had one made with Marsala — sounds amazing!
I hope you can get your header back soon.
Thanks so much, Nancy. The header’s back. I have to say, WP was responsive and quick in getting things back in order. Kudos to them!
Queste foto sono un vero attentato alla linea ma come dicevano i nostri antenati “semel in anno licet insanire” ! Una coppa di zabaione la mangerei anche subito ! Buon fine settimana Frank !
Hi Frank! I’m Stelios from http://www.your-dreams-coming-true.com food blog. I receive your recipes regularly. You’ve done a very good job with this dessert. It’s been ages since I’ve heard of it. Quite popular in Italy during the 70’s but a most delicious one. Bravo you’ve done some good research. I may use our sweet wine from the island of Samos what do you think? Have you ever had it? If not try it. God Bless
Many thanks for your kind words, Stelios! I’m not familiar with Samos wine, but I have to think that it would work very well. Given that it’s a sweet wine, I would perhaps cut down on the amount of added sugar a bit.
Thank you for your reply Frank. Since you are such an international man, it might be a good idea for you to taste this wine and let me know. It is very appreciated by most foreigners who visit Greece. I am sure it exists in the U.S.
Frank, mi levo il cappello innanzi a te. You’ve done it again. You continue to present recipes with utter authenticity as well as with solid historical background. (I had no idea that the spelling “zabaglione” wasn’t authentic!) How do you suppose arose the tradition of including wine from the extreme South in this recipe from the extreme North?
Leonardo, your guess is as good as mine. Of course, as mentioned the original wine used was the local moscato, but I suppose it was just the popularity of Marsala, both nationally and internationally, that led to the change. There are many examples, unfortunately, of that kind of cultural ‘flattening’ arising from modern communications and transportation technology.
… although, there are rare instances where cross-pollination yields something wonderful. While California Marsala is putrid, the authentic Marsala (Lombardo, Florio, Pellegrino) is arguably the greatest sweet wine in the world. To give another example, I never make pesto with pine nuts — they’re expensive and relatively uninteresting. I use either freshly-shelled pistachios (in this case the California ones are very good) or cashews. The former are more interesting, but the latter lend a fabulous creaminess.
Well, I suppose you’re right. Pesto with pistachios–I like the sound of that!
Ah, thank you for reminding me how much I love this treat. Now I want to make it!
Actually, I hadn’t made it myself for years before doing this post. One taste again and I wondered why… !
Frank – One of my favorites, with strawberries. I always wondered about making it ahead of time for a dinner party and warming it again. Is it possible, or would it separate?
This mousse-like version definitely can’t be made ahead. I had some extra from the shoot that I saved in the fridge over night. It had lost all its volume and turned into a dark and rather unattractive (but still tasty) liquid by the next day.
The custard version probably keeps better, but I can’t say I’ve ever tested it. If you do, let us know!
Love your opening photo. I agree with Adri…I think you don’t see this delicious dessert because people are so afraid of the eggs. I can’t remember the last time I saw it served at a restaurant. I make zabaione as part of my recipe for tiramisu.
Thanks, Karen! Yes, I’m sure you’re both right. Between the cholesterol and the salmonella, I suppose it’s kind of scary if you’re of a certain mind… But it’s so good!
I love tit, one of my faves. People are, I think, afraid of making it – it’s those egg yolks and the heat, but as you know a little patience and attention and one is home free. And everyone always loves it. Served hot or cold, plain or with fruit, it is a classic and elegant dessert.
Couldn’t agree more, Adri! A little tricky at first, I guess, like making hollandaise sauce, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a snap to make!
Precious recipe! In Romania, we often used to eat zabaglione only with crepes but now, I can see (and believe) that, a simple desert made just from a glass of foam is more than enough!
Thank you so much for sharing the Angelinas’ old culinary teachings!
You’re welcome, Mala! Thanks so much for your comment and readership!
I am a great fan of this desert and have made it on a few occasions! I especially like it done with Champagne!
Champagne sounds really nice, Ragnar! I haven’t tried it that way but I’m sure it’s exquisite.
I especially like zabaione over berries or pound cake (or both). Once when I made it I was out of marsala and used amaretto instead. Very tasty.
Amaretto sounds nice, Sally! I’ll have to give it a try some time.