What Is Zabaione?

Dan Harkins

Originating in Italy about a millennia ago, zabaione is a creamy, whipped dessert that is also known as sabayon or sambayon in other European and South American countries. The combination of egg yolks, sugar, a touch of flour and a sweet wine like Moscato or Marsala is brought to life with a vigorous whisking in a bath of boiling water. The result is a custard commonly served with fresh fruit or aged figs.

Zabaione is sometimes served in wine glasses.
Zabaione is sometimes served in wine glasses.

The process for making zabaione is fairly straightforward. In a metal bowl, egg yolks are combined with a little over 1 oz. (35 grams) of sugar for each yolk, then whisked until white and fluffy. Then, for each egg yolk, about 3 tbsp. (44 ml) of a sweet wine and a tiny pinch of flour is whisked in during a short immersion in boiling water. When the mixture sticks firmly to the beater or whisk, it is ready to serve. It should have a foamy texture, like airy pudding. Chefs will taste it when they thinks it is ready, then add more sugar, or booze, if desired.

Marsala wine is often used to make zabaione.
Marsala wine is often used to make zabaione.

A range of zabaione variations exists. Often, chefs will use the whites and yolks of eggs. On other occasions, they will replace the eggs with whipped cream or add a little lemon juice for an acidic element. The alcohol is often left out when children will partake. What all of these recipes have in common is the whipping, which envelops sugary air bubbles into the eggs or cream until a puffed-and-creamy consistency is achieved. This food can be served in a bowl with berries, or in a wine glass with strawberries on top.

A close cousin of zabaione is the ponche de crema in Venezuela, which adds milk to make it more like a drink. America's version of this is called eggnog, which involves adding milk and other, stronger alcohols like whiskey during the whipping proceedings. These zabaione-like drinks are most often served during the holidays.

A twist on zabaione is a creamy, soup-like savory dish that forgoes sugar for salt. This can turn a dessert into an appetizer or part of an entree. These dishes also can include the drippings from a meat pan to tie the dishes together.

Perhaps the most creative way to play with the zabaione recipe is by altering the alcohol. Dozens of sweet wines are possible, including those made from fruits other than grapes. Using a harder liquor like rum or whiskey would not be unprecedented, either.

Zabaione custard is often accompanied by fresh fruit.
Zabaione custard is often accompanied by fresh fruit.

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