If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (2024)

Though I won’t hear a word said against Christmas pudding, this “warm, wine-scented froth”, as Marcella Hazan beautifully describes zabaglione, is surely the ultimate festive dessert: rich yet light, easy to knock up at the last minute and, crucially, boozy enough to put everyone in a good mood. As Angela Hartnett warns, “don’t eat zabaglione and drive – it’s very potent!”

Some of us might remember it from a time when it was a staple of the dessert trolley in Italian restaurants lit by chianti candlelight. But, according to Katie Caldesi, zabaglione is an ancient Venetian speciality, with its roots in the warming eggnogs common throughout medieval Europe, “simply flavoured in France and Italy, highly spiced in England”, if Harold McGee is to be believed. Indeed, food writer Giuliano Bugialli claims that zabaglione was “originally served as a tonic, stirred into morning coffee”, which sounds a good way to start the day at this time of year. Alternatively, serve it as a dessert-cum-digestif after dinner – preferably once the kids are safely in bed. A glorious cloud of pure pleasure that you can whip up in less than 10 minutes. Really, why wouldn’t you?

The eggs

Hazan observes in her monumental book, The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, that this may well be the only dessert using whisked egg yolks: “I don’t know of another,” she says. To whip up successfully, the protein-rich yolks need to be mixed with water – here in the form of wine, though you can, I’m assured, substitute coffee, hot chocolate or fruit juice, if you prefer. Then it is heated to set the foam (or, as McGee puts it rather more technically, to encourage the egg proteins to “unfold and bond with each other into a reinforcing matrix”). Caldesi also whisks in a whole egg, which makes her zabaglione gloriously light and foamy – if you’re after a particularly ethereal result, follow her lead, but the richer, yolk-only versions prove the firm favourite among my testers.

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (1)

The oft-quoted ratio of egg to sugar and wine is 1:1:1, using the eggshell as a measure (note: a yolk measures about a tablespoon, and a tablespoon is much easier to clean than an egg shell). But of the recipes I try, only Skye McAlpine’s lovely book, A Table in Venice, conforms: most others go a lot heavier on the alcohol, with Hazan calling for four times as much booze as yolk. The overwhelming feedback from my testers is that many of the recipes are just too sweet, so I’m going to reduce the sugar slightly as well as upping the alcohol, because I feel wine should be the predominant flavour.

The sugar

Caldesi also mentions that honey can be used instead of sugar, if preferred, which I think I’m going to like, but don’t – hot honey has a very strong flavour that we all find rather overpowering. If you’re a fan, however, do feel free to use it instead.

That said, sugar is one of the principle flavours in this dish, and it seems a shame to use boring old white caster, so I’m going for the warmer, more caramelised notes of the soft, brown variety, balanced with a tiny pinch of salt, as suggested by Michael Ruhlman in his book Egg.

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (2)

The alcohol

One of the great boons of zabaglione is that you can chuck in almost any alcohol you like: dry marsala or sweet white wine are the most commonly used, but Hazan suggests substituting red wine: “ideally… barolo; it would be quite as ideal if it were barbaresco, but you could substitute other reds with full flavour, such as a Tuscan all-sangiovese, a good valpolicella, or even a California zinfandel or a cotes-du-rhône”. (Or, in fact, should you not be a millionaire, anything fairly rich and fruity.)

And it works surprisingly well, giving the zabaglione a more savoury, tannic quality that is both intriguing, and rather less fun and frothy than its white wine counterparts, so I’m going to stick with Marsala and, in deference to Hartnett’s Nonna, who would “empty the drinks cabinet” in the process of making the festive zabaglione, sling in a slug of brandy, too. This last is entirely optional (whisky, rum or similar would also work well), but remember, Christmas comes but once a year, and you’ve got the next 11 months to recover.

The method

McAlpine describes her method as “slightly unconventional”, though in fact quite a few recipes whisk the yolks and sugar together off the heat before any Cook can take place, and with good reason – particularly daring chefs may be happy to make zabaglione directly in the pan, but I’d recommend a bain marie because, to quote McGee, “the mix thickens at such a low temperature that direct heat can quickly overcook it”.

Hazan suggests her red-wine version is best served cold. The danger of this is that the mixture separates (though if it does, it can usually be whisked back together), but we all agree that we prefer zabaglione warm in any case: chilling it dulls the flavour. If you would like to serve it cold, however (and I have some sympathy with Anna Del Conte’s complaint that “zabaglione is lovely, but I do find it very tiresome to have to get up from the table and retire to the kitchen to make it”), I’d recommend whisking in some whipped cream, as she suggests in Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes, to help stabilise the mixture.

Either way, zabaglione is very good served over fruit, on a bed of crushed amaretti, or as a hot shot of pure festive joy.

Perfect zabaglione

Prep 2 min
Cook 8 min
Serves 4

4 egg yolks
3 tbsp soft brown sugar
4 tbsp marsala or dessert wine
1 tbsp brandy (optional)
1 pinch salt
Nutmeg, to serve (optional)

Find a heatproof bowl that will sit over, but not touch, a pan of simmering water, and put that water on to boil.

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (4)

Put the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl and whisk until thick and creamy. Gradually beat in the alcohol and salt, then set the bowl over the pan and continue to whisk, scraping the base of the bowl as you go, until the whisk leaves an impression in the mixture and, when lifted up, drops a fairly solid ribbon trail on the surface of the mixture.

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (5)

Remove the bowl from the pan and put on a cool surface. Keep whisking for another couple of minutes, then divide between bowls and serve (I like a grating of nutmeg on top).

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (6)

Zabaglione or sabayon: do you have fond memories of this classic Italian dessert, or do you have another last-minute festive favourite up your sleeve? And if you are a zabaglione fan, what do you do with all the excess egg whites?

Fiona Beckett’s wine match
Christmas is the ideal occasion to drink vintage port which needs consuming within a couple of days of opening the bottle (there’s your excuse!). It also needs decanting, but remember to keep the bottle upright before you start and pour steadily in a single movement so that the sediment doesn’t fall back into the bottle. Sainsbury’s has a smooth, velvety 2003 in their Taste the Difference range on offer at £18 (20%).”

If the Italians did eggnog – how to make the perfect zabaglione recipe | Felicity Cloake (2024)

FAQs

What's the difference between eggnog and zabaglione? ›

Zabaione is more of a creamy dessert, with the main ingredients of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala, whereas Eggnog is a drink, that is made with milk, eggs, sugar and nutmeg and or other spices, it can be made with or with alcohol such as Rum, Brandy or Bourbon.

What are the ingredients in zabaglione? ›

Zabaglione is a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It is usually served warm, though it can be served cold, as a sauce, or even frozen.

How do you make zabaglione thicker? ›

Keep whisking. That's right, keep whisking. It is necessary to bring the temperature down a bit, which will help the zabaglione thicken further. I understand you might be tired at this point, but who can't use a little more arm-toning?

What is the Italian dessert made of beaten egg yolks and Marsala called? ›

One of Italy's great gifts to the rest of the world, zabaglione, is an ethereal dessert made by whisking together egg yolks, wine - traditionally marsala but champagne or wine is often used for a savoury version - and sugar.

What is the old name for eggnog? ›

"While culinary historians debate its exact lineage, most agree eggnog originated from the early medieval" British drink called posset, which was made with hot milk that was curdled with wine or ale and flavored with spices. In the Middle Ages, posset was used as a cold and flu remedy.

What does zabaglione mean in English? ›

noun. , Italian Cooking. a foamy, custardlike mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine, usually served hot or chilled as a dessert.

Why is my zabaglione not thickening? ›

A perfect zabaglione (sabayon) will be smooth, fluffy and rich hold the whisk trail for few seconds. The flavour is delicate and aromatic with liqueur, wine or fruit juice. Reasons: not cooked enough, cooked too quickly so egg doesn't thicken; egg overcooked and about to curdle; too much liquid flavouring.

Why is my zabaglione grainy? ›

However, don't allow it to get too hot during cooking or it will become grainy. If it begins to bubble or feel too warm, remove the pan briefly from the heat and continue beating until the mixture cools. Then return the pan to the heat and continue cooking.

What is a substitute for Marsala wine in zabaglione? ›

Add your alcohol of choice: marsala is traditional, but sweet wine also works; add a slug of brandy, too, if you fancy. Remove the bowl from the pan and put on a cool surface. Keep whisking for another couple of minutes, then divide between bowls and serve (I like a grating of nutmeg on top). Serve over fruit.

What is the difference between sabayon and zabaglione? ›

"Sabayon" is a French transliteration of the Italian "zabaglione," originally made with one tablespoon sugar and two tablespoons Marsala per egg yolk; French versions typically use white wine instead of the sweeter Marsala, and increase the liquid by 50% for a softer, lighter cream."

What is the flavor of zabaglione? ›

According to The New York Times, zabaglione is a thick but smooth emulsion that balances the rich froth of egg-based custard with the flavor of wine. Also called zabaione, or sabayon in English, zabaglione is essentially a foamy custard that lets Marsala wine shine.

What is the flavor of zabaione? ›

Zabaione, sometimes also called zabaglione, is a sweet creamy Italian dessert. The sweet, aromatic wine mousse by ZabaLab is made with fresh eggs from their own free-range hens, sugar from Italy and the best vintage marsala. This cream in the glass jar is guaranteed to taste just like it was freshly made.

What is the most eaten dessert in Italy? ›

Perhaps the most iconic Italian dessert, tiramisu appears on menus at restaurants not only throughout Italy but also all over the world.

Can you reheat zabaglione? ›

Zabaione is very delicate, and it will stay in the refrigerator for just a few days after it has been prepared. In order to enjoy it at its best, transfer it to a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap so that a crust does not form on the surface. Once removed from the refrigerator, reheat a few minutes in a bain-marie.

Is zabaglione French or Italian? ›

Zabaione (Italian: [dzabaˈjoːne]) or zabaglione (UK: /ˌzæbəlˈjoʊni/, US: /ˌzɑːb-/, Italian: [dzabaʎˈʎoːne]) is an Italian dessert, or sometimes a beverage, made with egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet wine (usually Moscato d'Asti or Marsala wine).

What's the difference between zabaglione and sabayon? ›

"Sabayon" is a French transliteration of the Italian "zabaglione," originally made with one tablespoon sugar and two tablespoons Marsala per egg yolk; French versions typically use white wine instead of the sweeter Marsala, and increase the liquid by 50% for a softer, lighter cream."

What is the difference between zabaione and zabaglione? ›

The finished product can then be served hot or cold, on its own or as a sauce over fruit, pastry or ice cream. Zabaione is the original Italian spelling of zabaglione, which some cooks still use. Sambayon is the Argentin-ean name for the dish. You will most often come across zabaglione or sabayon.

What is zabaglione also known as? ›

Zabaglione, also known as zabaione or zabajone, is an Italian dessert made from egg yolks, sugar, and a sweet or fortified wine such as Marsala, Moscato, or Porto. This divinely delicious custard is created over a water bath in about 10 minutes.

What are other names for zabaglione? ›

In France, it is called sabayon, while its Italian name is zabaione or zabaglione (or zabajone, an archaic spelling). The dessert is popular in Argentina and Uruguay, where it is known as sambayón (from the Piedmontese sambajon) and is a popular ice cream flavour. In Colombia, the name is sabajón.

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