pass the custard…

Besides eating, another interest of mine is food history.

I find it very fascinating learning the origins of what we eat. One of the things that truly intrigues me is how food finds its way from one culture to another, and sometimes even across several cultures.

An example of this is the zabaglione. Pronounced “zah-bahl-YOH-nay”, it is an Italian dessert that is closely related to the custard. Baron’s The New Food Lover’s Companion Guide defines custard as “a puddinglike dessert made from a sweetened mixture of milk and eggs.”

Food historians generally agree that custard dates to Middle Ages, while the zabaglione is said to been invented sometime in the 16th century.

The French version of this is called sabayon, while in South America they know it as sambayón and sabajón. Though they all sound pretty much alike, there are some subtle differences that sets each one apart from the others.  Ingredients such as vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg are often added to enhance the flavor.

A commonality among them is the preparation method using a bain marie (water bath) in the oven or on the stove. By employing this technique, a creamy and velvety texture is achieved.

A true zabaglione contains egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and Marsala wine. If that sounds extremely rich to you, well, it is! The entire mixture is “cooked” over a double boiler until it thickens. Indirect heat, coupled with constant and vigilant stirring prevents it from turning to scrambled eggs. The zabaglione may be served warm, but I like mine cold.

After chilling for a few hours, it is topped with whipped cream before serving. Fresh berries can also be served along with the zabaglione to complement the dessert. You can also use liqueurs in place of the Marsala to suit your taste.

As you probably have figured, this is one of my favorite desserts. If it’s on the menu, I will almost always order it. The only other dessert that would take it’s place is the crème brûlée: which is pretty much a zabaglione which is topped with a hard caramel coating. More on the crème brûlée on a future post…

The zabaglione below was made the traditional way. Sometimes not messing with a classic is a good thing…

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Zabaglione

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