With its ethereal texture and fancy French name, you might assume that sabayon is complicated to make. But this airy, frothy custard (which is also known as zabaglione in Italian) is actually super-easy, says pastry chef Alexander Zecena of New York’s White Street (and formerly of Spago, Alinea and Le Bernardin). It’s also delicious with all that gorgeous summer fruit crowding your local farmers’ market. Here, seven reasons to make sabayon right now, plus Zeneca’s best tips for success.
1. You probably have the ingredients on hand.
“Sabayon is as simple as eggs, sugar and whatever liquid you want,” says Zecena, who uses a combination of whole eggs and egg yolks because he likes the extra richness. (This simple recipe is a good starting point.)
2. You can spike it with any booze.
Classic sabayon is made with wine—usually a dry white in France—but Zecena says any booze will do. When he was at Spago, they made a margarita-inspired version with Patrón and Cointreau. You can also make it non-alcoholic with coffee, espresso or fruit juice. Zeneca says you could even use Coca-Cola.
3. You don’t need special equipment.
Use a double boiler if you have one, but it’s just as good to place a metal bowl over a pot filled about halfway with simmering water. Zecena offers this pro tip: Make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the hot water, so the sabayon can cook slowly and gently. A whisk and a heatproof rubber spatula are the only other tools required.
4. The technique can be simplified even further.
Most recipes have you cook the sugar and eggs first and add the alcohol at the end, but Zecena prefers to add everything to the bowl at the same time. Near-constant whisking is important, says Zecena, but the real secret is keeping the bowl clean. Any sabayon that sticks to the sides of the bowl will cook faster and dry out. But if you periodically wipe the bowl clean with a rubber spatula, you won’t have a problem. To test for doneness, lift the whisk up and watch how the sabayon falls—if it creates beautiful ribbons, it’s ready.
5. You can flavor sabayon with almost anything.
Being able to add so many different flavors is one of sabayon’s great advantages, says Zecena, who typically adds crème fraîche. You can use cream, yogurt, goat’s milk or any kind of dairy, but be extra careful with the flame to prevent curdling. “As long as you keep it low and slow, you’ll be fine,” says Zecena. In France, it’s common to see sabayon infused with rose or lavender. You can also use vanilla, almond or another extract or incorporate spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.
6. It’s delicious with any fruit—or no fruit at all.
Think about pairing a framboise sabayon with fresh raspberries, or try a strawberry liqueur and sliced strawberries. And don’t worry if the market fails you. “I think sabayon on its own can be a beautiful thing,” says Zecena.
7. You can make sabayon ahead of time.
Sabayon may seem delicate, but Zecena has a simple technique that allows you to make it a full day ahead. Place plastic wrap directly on the sabayon’s surface to prevent a skin from forming, then refrigerate. When your guests arrive, pull the sabayon from the fridge, and it will be the perfect texture by the time you’re ready to serve dessert.