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
- 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
- Toss the berries with 2 tablespoons sugar, the cassis or other sweet liqueur and lemon zest.
- 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.
- 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.
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.