How to Make Zabaglione: The Magical Italian Dessert You Never Knew You Needed

Dessert doesn't get any easier than zabaglione, a light and boozy custard that's perfect for summer fruit.

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If you’ve never heard of zabaglione, you’re missing out. Seriously! This light and slightly boozy custard is super simple to make, and it’s a perfect complement for summer fruit. It’s the ultimate no-bake dessert. All you need is a pot of boiling water and a whisk to pull it off, and it’s ready in less than ten minutes.

What Is Zabaglione?

Zabaglione is the Italian version of sabayon, a custardy dessert sauce made with egg yolks, sugar and wine. While it’s traditionally made with marsala, you can change up the wine depending on what fruit you have on hand. ( It’s a great way to use up leftover Champagne!) Choose sparkling wines for light fruits like fresh strawberries, or a dry white like sauvignon blanc to pair with summer melons. You can even use liquors like rum, which would pair well with pineapple or something like limoncello to go along with cherries.

Don’t worry; you can still make zabaglione if you’re avoiding alcohol or serving dessert for children. Use a non-alcoholic sparkling cider with a drop of lemon juice to balance out the sweetness.

Sabayon vs. Zabaglione: What’s the Difference?

These two desserts are essentially the same, with one critical difference. Sabayon is made with any alcohol—usually wines or sparkling wines, but it’s fun to make it with liquors and liqueurs, too. Zabaglione, on the other hand, is a traditional Italian version of sabayon that’s always made with marsala.

How to Make Zabaglione

It’s easy to whip up zabaglione without a recipe. You can serve it with any fruit, and the recipe can be customized for whatever wine or liquor you have on hand.

The traditional ratio is to use a half eggshell of white sugar and wine for every egg yolk, which equates to about four teaspoons each. So, if you’re making six servings, you’ll want to use three egg yolks and 1/4 cup each sugar and wine. Feel free to adjust the sugar up or down, depending on flavor preference.

From there, grab a heat-proof bowl (we like these Pyrex bowls) and beat the sugar and egg yolks together until they turn a pale yellow color. Add the wine and a pinch of kosher salt and place the bowl over a saucepan with barely simmering water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk continuously until the custard becomes stiff and is two to three times its original size. The mixture should be about 160°F and coat the back of a spoon.

Remove the zabaglione from the heat and serve it immediately. Pile your favorite fruit into a glass or bowl and top it with the warm zabaglione, perhaps garnishing the dish with a few pieces of mint or shaved chocolate.

Tips to Making the Perfect Zabaglione

This dessert is simple, but there are a few tricks to make it even easier.

  • Whisk in a figure-eight motion. This movement not only helps your arm from falling off, but it also creates more bubbles inside the custard, leading to a lighter, frothier mixture. If you’re not in the mood for a workout, use a hand mixer with a whisk attachment instead.
  • Don’t stop whisking once you start. Letting the mixture sit on the bottom of the bowl can lead to scrambled eggs, which is not exactly the light, luscious texture we’re going for. If you have to take a break, remove the bowl from the saucepan first.
  • Make it just before serving. There is no good way to save zabaglione, so you’ll want to make it just before serving. If you do end up with leftovers, place the bowl over an ice bath and whisk until the zabaglione is cooled. You can fold the leftovers with whipped cream or room-temperature mascarpone and transfer it to the freezer for an ice cream-like treat.

The Best Fruit for Zabaglione

Any fresh fruit is a good target for zabaglione. Combining raspberries, blueberries and blackberries for a mixed berry effect is an excellent choice, as are sliced strawberries. Any stone fruit works well with zabaglione, too, from peaches and nectarines to cherries and apricots. If you’re using tart fruits like blood oranges or Meyer lemons, macerate the fruit with sugar before adding the custard to amp up the sweet vibes.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.