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(Marsala or Wine Egg Custard)

Zabaglione, also called zabaione, zavajon or zavagion,  is claimed to have been invented in various times and placings, including in the court of the Medici in 16th Century in Florence and, alternatively, the Piedmont. This dessert is classified as a "caudle" rather than a custard or a mousse. A "caudle" is a sauce used as a custard to fill pies or tarts. The original pre-sixteenth century version was a drink made of wine or ale thickened with egg yolks.

It is a simple Italian dessert made of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine. The warm froth can be served either as a dessert by itself or as a sauce over cake, fruit, ice cream or pastry. In France it's called sabayon or sabayon sauce. Variations include the addition of whipped egg whites to lighten the dish, as well as a frozen version. 

The only trick to making zabaglione is to know when to stop cooking it. The consistency should be that of a light, fluffy custard. If cooked too long, the egg yolks will solidify into lumps. At the first sign of anything resembling sticking to the bottom of the pan, remove from the heat and serve.

Zabaglione is usually served with sugar cookies, bitter almond cookies, French pastries and even strawberries. If you are not a purist and cannot find marsala wine, you may substitute some other sweet wine or liqueur or even rum for some of the recipes. You can use a hand beater for this recipe, but an electric beater is preferable because the yolks and sugar must be extremely well beaten.

The Sainted Sweet of Piedmont

Zabaglione is a featherweight foamy dessert from Piedmont. It is created with egg yolks, which are lightly sweetened and flavored with wine — in Piedmont, a red wine like Barolo is used, but elsewhere, Marsala is the wine of choice — and then whipped with frenzy into a delicious emulsion that's served with cookies or fruit.

Of the various legends about this fabulous treat's creation, I prefer to believe one that credits a Franciscan monk of Torino named Pasquale Baylon. After enduring many women's confessional complaints of matrimonial neglect, he is said to have created this confection to give husbands enhanced physical vigor. I'm not sure how he earned canonization otherwise, but San Baylon has been the patron saint of Torino's pastry chefs since 1722. His marital-aid dessert is known as sanbayon or zabaione (Piedmontese dialect for the sainted monk's name), spelled zabaglione in proper Italian.

In addition to restoring vitality, zabaglione has the great virtues of requiring neither hours nor a shelf full of ingredients to prepare. I learned to cook it from master chef Cesare Giaccone, of Da Cesare restaurant in Albaretto della Torre, who makes the best version I've ever tasted. He gave two important rules. First: "Always use an odd number of yolks." (All other recipes that I've seen call for four or six.) Second: "Work over a hot flame and forget about the bain marie." This goes against everything I've read about zabaglione preparation, which stresses the importance of the water-bath technique to avoid curdling. Cesare's proportions are simple: for each egg yolk, a spoonful of sugar and a splash of Moscato d'Asti (a less effervescent relative of Asti Spumante, it's a delicately floral wine, without the cloying taste of Marsala).

Well, it sounds easy enough, but watching Cesare in action, whisking in a round-bottomed copper pot directly over a hot flame, is to witness pure culinary ballet. If you try his recipe at home, make it first for yourself (or maybe one lucky friend). Moving eggs on and off heat takes some practice, but when you get it right, even just three yolks will yield an unbelievably large reward.

Da Cesare, via San Bernardo 9, Albaretto della Torre; tel. 39-0173-520-141, fax 39-0173-520-147.

March 19, 1998

— Faith Heller Willinger 



La Storia

Tra le vecchie specialità della cucina piemontese, cucina che non ha nulla da invidiare e nulla da temere dalle analoghe consorelle delle altre regioni italiane, vi è lo zabaglione ('L Sanbajon).

Fra' Pasquale de Baylon (1540-1592), del Terzo Ordine dei Francescani, approdato a Torino per il suo apostolato presso la Parrocchia di San Tommaso, consigliava alle sue penitenti (specialmente a quelle che si lamentavano della poca vivacità del consorte) una sua ricetta che, sintetizzata in 1+2+2+1, avrebbe dato vigore e forza al soggetto.

Santificato nel 1680 da Papa Alessandro VIII entrò rapidamente nella leggenda, tanto che le donne torinesi tra di loro si scambiavano e consigliavano la sua ricetta per beneficiare del miracolo del Santo Pasquale de Baylon, il cui nome, in dialetto torinese, fu subito abbreviato in San Bajon (o=u).

Nacque così a Torino 'L Sanbajon, in seguito italianizzato in Zabaione o Zabaglione.
Questa ricetta varcò i confini sabaudi e venne, col tempo, conosciuta in tutto il mondo.

'L Sanbajon è citato nel Dizionario Piemontese -Italiano del Cav. Vittorio Felice di Sant'Albino (edito a Torino nel 1859 con i tipi della Unione Tipografica-Editrice) e venne già presentato nella edizione del Cuoco Piemontese (stampato a Torino nel 1766) che fu il grande successo editoriale di quell'epoca.

San Pasquale de Baylon è, dal 1722, il Santo Protettore di tutti i Cuochi del mondo; la sua festa è il 17 maggio ed è venerato in Torino nella chiesa di San Tommaso in Via Pietro Micca.

Un suo ritratto è collocato nel coro della Chiesa del Monte dei Cappuccini a Torino.

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Wednesday, January 20, 1999. Last Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Copyright © 1998, USA