Summer Berries and Sabayon

Summer Berries and Sabayon-1

Making Summer Berries with Sabayon is about as easy as dessert gets.  The only thing easier would be to eat the berries with nothing, or just whipped cream.  But then you wouldn’t get the texture of sabayon, one of the cooking world’s great miracles–cooked eggs that have been prevented from forming curds.  Sabayon is foamy, yet substantive.   It can stand on its own as a dessert and offers a great medium for sweet or fortified wine, which is why it’s often made with Marsala.  Plus, if you’re feeling Italian, rather than French, you can say you just whipped up a batch of zabaglione (s/zaa-bal-YOH-nee), which to my ear sounds like something Willy Wonka eats for breakfast on holidays.

Beating the egg mixture over a pot of simmering water bath is pretty much foolproof.  The temperature of the bowl can only go so high.  If you don’t falter while beating and remove the bowl from over the simmering water if it feels too hot (you should be able to grip the edge of bowl with your fingers), then everything should be hunky-dory.  The mixture will offer increased resistance as it thickens and you should be able to make a clear streak in the bottom of the bowl (meaning the mixture is too thick to immediately fill it in) when the sabayon is finished.  The whole process takes about 10 – 12 minutes, beating by hand.  You can shave a few minutes if you place the bowl directly over a low gas flame, as Jody is inclined to do, but you have to pay very close attention and be prepared to pick up the pace of whipping and remove the bowl instantly at the first sign of the eggs congealing (restaurant cooks sometimes keep a large bowl of ice water nearby to cool the bottom of the pan, just in case).  The flame has to be hot enough to cook the eggs, but not so hot that you scramble them, which I did the first time I tried making this dessert as a senior in high school.   Take my advice, unless you’re making this–or hollandaise or béarnaise regularly from scratch over a naked flame–go with the double-boiler method.

Needless to say we did not eat all of this at once.  We ate some it during the photo shoot, for research purposes.  We consumed the rest the following day for breakfast, with a bit of yogurt added in.  Like Willy Wonka.  Enjoy.  Ken

Summer Berries and Sabayon-2

Summer Berries and Sabayon



  • 3 cups assorted berries, if using strawberries, remove the stems and cut into pieces the size of the other berries
  • ½ cup cane sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons cassis, framboise, sweet liqueur or sweet fruit-flavored grappa
  • Zest of half a lemon and its juice as needed
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons sweet white wine (e.g. Muscat Beaume de Venise, Vin Santo, Marsala, sweet sherry)
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Toss the berries with 2 tablespoons sugar, the cassis or other sweet liqueur and lemon zest.
  2. Beat the egg yolks, the remaining sugar and wine together in a medium metal bowl until smooth.  Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water.*  The bottom of the bowl should not touch the surface of the water.  Whisk until the mixture is thick, foamy, and pale yellow in color, 10-12 minutes.  The sabayon is done when a whisk run over the bottom of the bowl leaves a path.  Use circular strokes to lift the custard up and incorporate lots of air. Don’t get discouraged–10 minutes seems like a long time.  If there is the slightest hint that the eggs are scrambling rather than just foaming, remove from the heat and keep beating to cool them down a bit, and then return to the heat.  Check often to be sure the water is simmering, not boiling.  When the sabayon is done, taste and beat in a pinch of salt and/or the lemon juice if it needs it.  You will have to determine this by taste as every wine is different.  Some will need a little salt and lemon, and some will not.
  3. Distribute the berries with their juices among 6- 8 dessert bowls.  Spoon the sabayon over the fruit.  Serve immediately.

*I am intrepid and have a gas burner so I  set the bowl directly on the burner at the lowest heat.  This doesn’t work on an electric stove.  If you want to try this, be prepared to move the bowl on and off the burner to keep the eggs from scrambling.


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Jody Notes

Sabayon, zabaione, zabaglione, semifreddo–French or Italian, it’s all the same stuff.  The first three describe a whipped custard served warm or at room temperature; semifreddo is a frozen whipped custard.    

When I was a sous chef at Hamersley’s Bistro and I wrote Sunday night menus, I often put a Marsala 5-spice semifreddo on the menu.  I could whip it up in less than an hour and have it semi-frozen and ready by service.  I loved watching a couple of perfectly round compact egg yolks magically transform into an airy foam multiple times their original volume.   For a non-pastry chef, I felt accomplished.

This is a dessert you can make ahead and refrigerate.  You can stabilize it even further with a little whipped cream, and you always have the option of freezing it  if you like.  But for me, eating it warm over berries, right after it’s been made, is the best.   


35 thoughts

  1. These pictures are as beautiful and clear as ever, and this dessert is stunning. So perfect for summer. Wonder if it would taste much like creme brulee if I bruleed the top?

    • Thank you, Chaya. Yup, you can brûlée to you heart’s content–it’s really good. In fact, this recipe was triggered by a brûléed version we had for dessert at the Paris restaurant Lou Tiap. Just make sure that you do it quickly, with a very hot source–torch or broiler–and use shallow dishes if you use the broiler. Ken

  2. I’m excited by this because of the possible ramifications – I’ve always wanted to make semi freddo and now can’t believe I have not. Do you need a hand whisk? Not because I don’t want to but it seems as if this is a key component. Lovely photos and always the right amount of information, wit and erudition. And a lovely, contemplative photo of the girl, slightly Vermeer…ish. Lovely – my favourite word, obviously.

    • Thank you, Sophie. Our daughter Roxanne took “Vermeer…ish” as a compliment. I can’t imagine why an electric hand mixer wouldn’t work. I’m just a little uncertain about the time because we don’t have one. The nice thing about a big hand whisk is that it incorporates A LOT of air quickly, assuming you wield it with brio. :-) Ken

  3. My mother always made sabayon growing up. it’s funny, for a french woman, she was not a big drinker, but she seemed to relish putting alcohol into food. She always had brandied fruit macerating in her rumtopf pot, always made savarins with rum syrup, and then there was sabayon. I always choked on these desserts, never having loved the taste of even mild alcohol. But now, I’ve made up for lost time, and these are some of my favorites. Semifreddo is my favorite dessert because it’s fabulous and so versatile, but i can also make it ahead of time for company. And it’s a year round dessert to me, if tho it’s frozen, based on the accessory ingredients. Anyway, your sabayon is gorgeous!!! Beautiful pictures as always! And I agree with Sophie on your daughter’s lovely face!

    • Thank you, Mimi. It’s funny how things come in and out of fashion. I’m always surprised when I run into friends of my son who’ve never heard of sabayon (or zabaglione, etc.). They inevitably like it, but haven’t heard of it before. Also, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a semifreddo on a dessert menu, and recently I’ve also noted the increasing rarity of tiramisu, which was once all the rage, and even panna cotta, which I think can be exquisite. Ken

    • I have a friend whose blog rejects my comments about half the time. I have no idea why–and obviously some people are getting through, both and there. Chalk it up to WordPress gremlins. I’m happy you took the time to comment! Ken

  4. Mmmmm–lovely photos for the “explication.” Like Jody, I have often made this directly over the flame using my kitchen aid bowl with its handy handle. Very handy. You can dance the bowl on and off the burner if it starts cooking too fast. I had all but forgotten this dessert–a very festive one, and I love the idea of stirring in some yogurt for breakfast. Another winner, guys.

  5. I’m in Quebec and signed on with my phone just to see what you guys made this week. You did not disappoint! These photos are seriously beautiful. Love the Roxanne photo. I have been eating so much good food and now am turning for you for inspiration to recreate it! I have a thing for custard and berries so this will go into my mix for desserts. So beautiful!

    • Thanks, Amanda. Roxanne was not thrilled to discover me looming over her with a camera when she stepped in for Jody. But, hey, if you step into the frame when we’re blogging, you have to live with the consequences. Let me know how it goes if you make it. Ken

  6. This is such a beautiful dessert. Comprehensive directions and photographs! I have never made anything like this before, and I am going to give it a go. Thank you for your never-ending inspiration!

    • The directions are more of “heads-up” when you’re cooking it than anything else. This is one of those techniques that once you see in the flesh you never forget. It’s that simple. Thanks for the kind words. Ken

    • I know about the alchemy thing, but it’s so simple once you learn. To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of whipped cream on desserts, especially ones with fresh fruit, but I LOVE sabayon. And I’m happy to eat even when there isn’t any fruit around, which will probably be my downfall one day. Ken

    • Old school Dad! I like it. If you’re making béarnaise you shouldn’t have any trouble with this. And yes, I can pretty much guarantee that he’ll like this… a lot. Thanks for commenting. Ken

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