A cool dessert is in order on warm summer evenings, so I decided to experiment with zabaglione, an Italian custard served with fruits and white wine. (If you’re French, I gather it’s called sabayon, although that may be slightly different?). The Evening Standard had a recipe that looked simple enough (I’ve cut this version in half and made a couple of practical adjustments):
4 tbsp sugar
2 under-ripe peaches, peeled and cut into eighths
3 egg yolks
Put 50ml of the Marsala and a quarter of the sugar into a frying pan and bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peaches and cook for 5-10 minutes, shaking occasionally to prevent them catching on the bottom of the pan, until the peaches are soft and the Marsala is syrupy. Divide the peaches among six serving glasses and set aside.
Put a saucepan of water on to boil. Meanwhile, put the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for five minutes until light and creamy. Turn the water down to barely a simmer and place the mixing bowl containing the egg yolk and sugar mixture on top. Continue to whisk, adding the Marsala in a slow, steady stream. Whisk for a further 10-15 minutes, until the zabaglione has doubled in volume and is the palest of yellows.
Divide the zabaglione between the peach glasses; serve hot or cold.
The first part, softening the peaches and reducing the Marsala to syrup, works really well and gives a nice, rich blend of flavors.
The custard has turned out to be a bit more tricky.
- Doing it by hand, with 15-20 minutes of vigorous whisking involved, the job is simply tiring. As studies have shown with rescuers performing manual chest compressions, strength and enthusiasm flags after about five minutes. The result is a limp custard.
- Switching to a mixer, I get a nice froth, but no body. The volume doubles nicely and the heat fives it some firmness, but the result seems to get a bit too light., almost a foam.
- If I turn to perform another task for a few minutes, interrupting the beating, then the froth collapses to something that is more like loose scrambled eggs, especially if I refrigerate to save it for dessert later.
Whipping also seems to drive off the alcohol – there is a much less pronounced Marsala flavor leaving just sugar and egg. I tried adding the wine later in the process, but this seems to complicate the texture. On the other hand, with hand whisking, the custard seems too sharp: I’d be tempted to add a little vanilla to take the bite of the wine.
I generally give three passes at any recipe to try to get the technique right and to learn how to blend and balance the ingredients. In this case, successive passes did not improve on the results. Until I can try some professional-quality Zabaglione on a future trip south, I’m afraid I can’t recommend this recipe (but I’d love to get some alternatives of how to improve the recipe).