My first experience with Marsala Zabaglione left me open–mouthed in awe. Here’s the story… My Gorgeous Man and I were in our early twenties when we went to a restaurant that stated in their dress code: “… a destination restaurant where one simply cannot be over-dressed.“ Oh my!
Well, we discovered that besides wearing our fanciest duds, “destination dining” was completely different from our usual dining experience… (“Yes, we’ll have large fries with that!”)
This new adventure included many unfamiliar and foreign things. Things like: Valet Parking. I know now that Valet Parking is a luxurious “perk” of gourmet dining, but I hated Valet Parking that night...
The large dent on the passenger door of our car made it impossible to open it from the outside only. So I leaned heavily into the door and pushed on the door from the inside, as the Valet at the same time, was pulling the handle with all his strength from the outside. After much sweating and struggling from both of us, the car door eventually burst open, causing the Valet to fall backwards to the ground. To cover this embarrassing situation, My Gorgeous Man said to the sweaty, dirty Valet as he handed over our car keys, “Be sure to take special care of this little beauty.” Aaaack!
I am mercifully going to skip the experience with the attendant in the Ladies Room. Just let me say one thing, BRING CASH if you plan to pee. This is very important.
Moving on to dessert…
Our dessert waiter, impeccably attired in a black suit, crisp white shirt and black bow-tie arrived at our table; bowed slightly then said in a silky-smooth voice that reminded me of Chocolate Mousse, “May I recommend the house speciality… (expensive pause)… Marsala Zabaglione?” Let me clue you in ~ the longer the pause, the more expensive the dessert…
“Yes, that sounds lovely,“ we agreed.
He nodded satisfied, then added, “And of course you will both have Espresso?” It was a question but it sounded more like a statement, so we dutifully nodded affirmatively, “Of course.”
After he left we asked each other, “What did we just order? Zah-baa something or other??“ Whatever. I just hoped it wouldn’t be too expensive.
After a time, our dessert waiter returned to our table with a cart filled with an assortment of items. A portable flame burner, a rounded copper pan, a balloon whisk and two goblets. On the side, was a bowl heaped with eggs, a small container of sugar and a bottle of sweet Marsala wine. THIS was our dessert??
We watched quietly as our waiter cracked and separated the eggs, added some sugar and began whisking vigorously. He held the copper pan over the flames, then pulled the pan away from the heat, then returned it over the glowing burner; whisking all the while. Next he poured a steady stream of Marsala over the fluffy egg mixture, then whisked some more. Right before our eyes, those three simple ingredients began to form into beautiful, fluffy yellow clouds.
With all the drama of a magician about to conclude the performance of a mystifying illusion; the dessert waiter ever so slowly tipped the copper pan filled with golden-airy custard toward the crystal goblets. But suddenly he paused, then froze mid-air as our mouths dropped with the tension of the moment. He allowed himself a small satisfied smile; then with the precision borne from long practice, poured the perfect amount of Marsala Zabaglione into each goblet.
Another waiter brought small cups of hot espresso and placed them next to the freshly made, warm dessert. With an almost imperceptible nod of their heads toward us, they vanished taking the cart with them.
We looked at each other and smiled a bit nervously. The moment had come. We each picked up our dessert spoon. Oh my! The flavor and texture was like nothing we had ever eaten before. The sweet Marsala wine had transformed the eggs and sugar into a true gourmet delicacy... rich and flavorful... creamy and airy all at the same time. Magical.
We sighed blissfully… well, until we were presented with the bill for dinner. It took us months (and months) to pay our credit card off… but the memory of that first Marsala Zabaglione makes us smile even after all these years.
Now, it’s your turn to make this simple, but ever-so-elegant, gluten and dairy-free dessert. It’s lovely served warm but some folks prefer to make it ahead of time and serve it chilled. Either way, Marsala Zabaglione is a perfect Christmas Holiday or winter dessert.
Classic Italian Zabaglione is made with sugar, but I have found that agave nectar produces an extremely luscious and creamy custard.
5 egg yolks
3 tablespoons light agave nectar (or 1/4 cup sugar, if you prefer)
1/3 cup sweet Marsala wine
1. In a large metal mixing bowl whisk vigorously (or you can use your portable electric mixer) the egg yolks and light agave nectar until thick and pale, about three minutes.
2. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
Note: Be sure the water is simmering (gently bubbling) not boiling. Boiling water is too hot and the mixture will turn into scrambled eggs.
3. Gradually beat in the wine. Continue whisking or beating until foamy and tripled in volume, about 3 minutes. Spoon the warm Zabaglione into goblets. Garnish as desire (I like freshly grated nutmeg) and enjoy.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Zabaglione but were Afraid to Ask
Question: How do you pronounce Zabaglione?
- Answer: The “g” is silent. So it goes like this: Zah-bal-le-o–n-nay. Tip ~ Say it really fast and everyone will think you are an expert!
Question: Are there other names for Zabaglione?
- Answer: Yes. Zabajone, Sambayon or Sabayon. The well-known French version is called Sabayon.
Question: Can I use other wines than a sweet Marsala?
- Answer: Yes. You can use any sweet wine you desire, but sweet Marsala is especially wonderful.
Question: Can I make a non-alcoholic Zabaglione?
- Answer: You could… (I am saying this with a bit of reservation). A non-alcoholic Zabaglione is definitely not a classic Italian or French dessert; however, you could try using a Sparkling Apple Juice. The flavor would be quite different, but still pleasant. After you make it, taste and see if it needs a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Spoon into goblets and sprinkle with a dusting of cinnamon or nutmeg.
- Another thought for a non-alcoholic Zabalione is to flavor it with espresso; top with grated chocolate.
Question: Would Zabaglione be good over fresh berries or layered with sherbet or ice cream?
- Answer: Definitely!
Question: Can I serve Zabaglione cold and fold in some whipped cream? I’m serving a lot of people and want to “stretch it out.”
- Answer: Of course! But, if you or any of your guests are dairy intolerant, do not do this. You might want to serve some gluten-free cookies on the side.
Question: Who and when was Zabaglione created?
- Answer: No one knows for sure. Some say it was created by monks in the 9th century when they had an excess of sweet wine.
- Others say Zabaglione was created when a few women got together and discussed how they might cause their husbands to become “more vigorous” after a heavy meal. (It is a closely guarded secret of “Romance Experts” that this is the perfect “love dessert.“)
- And some books note that Zabaglione was created for folks that were feeling poorly and needed to be comforted, coddled and loved to good health.
Well, that pretty well sums it up! Zabaglione, Zabajone, Sambayon or Sabayon (however you want to say it) is a FABULOUS dessert that has an ancient history. It is still loved today because it‘s delicious, romantic, restorative to the body and mind; plus it’s incredibly easy to prepare. It’s also an ideal dessert to serve for the Christmas Holidays – rich, yet light and the ingredients are almost always on hand. Enjoy!
Big HUGS to you! Lynn