This old fashioned Italian dessert – a more adult version of innocent custard – should be on every cook’s repertoire.
By Emiko Davies
Zabaione is a retro Italian custard, and must be one of the easiest recipes in the world: it can be literally whipped up in just a few minutes. It has a gorgeously rich, creamy and silky texture that makes it a more decadent alternative to pouring custard or softly whipped cream for your favourite desserts. Spice things up by adding a boozy zabaione on a warm pear crumble or perhaps with a simple chocolate tart. Serve it in small glasses with strawberries or almond biscotti for an elegant end to a meal. It even makes a wonderful base for ice-cream; the possibilities are endless.
The actual origins of this dish are often debated. The dish is sometimes known by its French name, sabayon, but it is certainly an Italian recipe. Various areas of northern and central Italy have commonly used this recipe for centuries. There are versions of zabaione in the famous Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera of 1570 where Muscat and cinnamon mixed with egg yolks were flavoured with chicken broth (Renaissance tastes favoured mixing sweet and savoury). A century later in Latini’s 1694 cookbook the zabaione contained pistachio.
The following is the Tuscan version, made with the sweet local dessert wine, vin santo. If you can’t get this, Marsala or moscato can also be used. Some even like to add a splash of rum or brandy. For a non-alcoholic version, substitute the vin santo with a shot of hot, fresh espresso. You’ll soon see why this delicious zabaione has a reputation for giving you a boost of energy!
- 3 egg yolks
- 30 grams of fine white sugar
- 150 ml of vin santo (Tuscan dessert wine)
- 1 tsp of cinnamon, optional
- 1 shot of rum or brandy, optional
- Whisk the yolks and sugar together in a heat-proof bowl until the mixture becomes pale and creamy. Add the vin santo and, if using, the shot of rum or brandy.
- Continue whisking with the bowl over a double broiler or bain marie for a few minutes (do not allow the water to touch the bottom of the pan so try to use a saucepan that is smaller than the bowl), until the mixture thickens. Take it off the heat just when you think it is almost ready – like many egg dishes, this is a delicate dish and will continue to cook a little even after you take it off the heat. If you like, some cinnamon can be added.
- Serve warm on its own, with biscotti or use it instead of cream or custard with your favourite desserts.
Emiko Davies is a food writer, photographer and illustrator who Amanda Hesser calls the "Renaissance Woman for the Internet Era". She lived in Florence, Italy, for seven years where she nurtured her love of regional Italian cuisine and now calls Australia's food capital, Melbourne, her home.