Zabaglione: First learn to say it, then learn to cook it!

First things first: how in the world do you pronounce Zabaglione?

Remember, the "g" is silent. The easiest way for me to remember is to think of the word "baloney" with a "zah" in front of it.

The Italians add more pizzazz to the pronunciation, as you can readily imagine, but this is essentially all you need to remember.

This is a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar, and Marsala wine. It is usually served warm, though it can be served cold, or as a sauce, or even frozen.

In the 16th century, where this dessert got its beginning, Italy was governed by a series of city states.

One of those was Florence, and while not the largest by far, it was not without its glory.

It is here the Medici family held forth. And, it is in the Court of the Medici where the origins of this famous dessert have been traced.

The Medici Bank was one of the most prosperous and most respected institutions in Europe.

There are some estimates that the Medici family was the wealthiest family in Europe for a period of time.

From this base, they acquired political power initially in Florence and later in wider Italy and Europe.

For those of you, like me, who find accounting a more dismal subject than economics, you have the Medici to thank. An irreversible contribution to the profession of accounting was the introduction of the general ledger system through the development of the double-entry bookkeeping system for tracking credits and debits.

This system was first used by accountants working for the Medici family in Florence.



6 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

3/4 cup marsala wine

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

Ground cinnamon or freshly grated nutmeg

Vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Strawberries, raspberries, lady fingers or biscotti


Place egg yolks, and sugar in a large, round-bottomed stainless steel bowl.

(Some years ago I was given a wooden handled, unlined copper zabaglione pan. I really like this -- I spotted one recently for just under $100. But it is totally unnecessary for this preparation. The reason for the copper is to increase the volume of the egg yolks. You'll do just fine with stainless steel following these directions.)

Add grated lemon peel and a pinch of cinnamon and a drop of vanilla extract to the yolk mixture.

Pour in the Marsala wine. You can use sweet Vermouth as a substitute for the Marsala.

Half-fill a pot with water, bring the water to a simmer and reduce the heat to low.

Set the pan or bowl containing the custard mixture over the water. The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.

Whisk the custard mixture, making sure that the water does not boil. This ensures that a gentle, even heat thickens the mixture without curdling it. Whisking traps air in the yolks for a light, fluffy mixture.

Continue whisking for about 10 minutes, until the mixture triples in volume, froths up and becomes pale.

When it reaches the desired consistency, take the container of custard out of the pot.

Slightly thickened, the custard can be used as a sauce.

Longer cooking will thicken the custard further, giving it the texture of mousse.

Continue whisking for a minute or two to prevent the custard from sticking to its container.

Serve the custard while still warm, or, if you want to serve it cool, set it aside for about 15 minutes.

Whisk heavy cream until it forms soft peaks.

Add the whipped cream to the cooled custard and use a whisk to gently fold them together.

Reserve some of the whipped cream to serve on top.

Ladle the zabaglione into individual serving pieces. If you have brandy snifters, martini glasses or other interesting stemware, it is very attractive to line them with lady fingers or almond biscotti, fill with zabaglione and top with very fresh raspberries.

Serve with a spoonful of the hand whipped sweetened cream.

Serves 6.

Judge Kirkendall is a retired probate judge. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools and can be reached at

Published: Thu, Mar 10, 2011