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Creamy indulgence of zabaglione

Don't panic. We're making an emulsified, raw egg yolk sauce today, and I know what you're thinking: "Ach, the whisking!" "Oy, the salmonella!" "Oh, the humanity!"

Fear not, old chum, for this luscious concoction will transcend your expectations and alleviate your fears. I give you: Zabaglione.

Why you need to learn this

Zabaglione (zah-bahl-YO-nay), also sometimes spelled zabaione (or "sabayon" as the French call it), is a delicious and versatile sauce that's relatively easy to make. And if that's not reason enough, it's also a great instructor on the nature of eggs. Watch as the dark, bulbous yolk is transformed into a pale, silken sauce via the rapid incorporation of air and liquid through whisking.

The steps you take

Zabaglione is a relatively obscure sauce of Italian origin, originally intended to pour over pudding, of all things. Pudding's fine, but you could also just eat zabaglione warm or cold all by itself or drizzle it over pound cake or ice cream. My favorite is spooning it over fresh fruit or berries, then browning it under the broiler.

Now, before we go any further, let's address those concerns you were moaning about earlier. The salmonella ... the whisking ...

Zabaglione is based on emulsified raw egg yolks, similar to Hollandaise and mayonnaise, but sweetened with sugar and made with wine instead of butter or oil. The raw yolks are the source of your salmonella fears. Hence, consider using pasteurized eggs to eliminate that threat.

Now, about all that infernal whisking. Because zabaglione requires the incorporation of lots of air into the emulsion, you're going to be whisking like the fate of the universe depended on it. You may be whisking for 15 minutes or more. If you've led a relatively whisking-free life up until now, here's my advice: First of all, if you'd just as soon spend that 15 minutes wrestling an anaconda as whisking your arm off, just use an electric hand mixer or egg beater. Sure, at the next meeting of the Egg Whiskers Club we'll all make fun of you, but don't you pay us no nevermind.

If you're game to give it a go, though, consider this: There are two basic ways to hold a whisk, like a pen or like a club. Both work equally well and, better yet, make use of different muscles. That way, when you get tired with one grip — and trust me, you'll get tired — switch to the other.

One more thing: If you've made Hollandaise or mayonnaise at home, you'll know that those sauces are easily broken and that a Hollandaise can quickly turn into rat nasty scrambled eggs. Happily, zabaglione is rather more foolproof than its cousins because all the sugar and alcohol help to stabilize the emulsion and prevent the yolks from curdling.

We're going to use about 1 ounce of sugar and 1 ounce of liquid per yolk. Different recipes give different ratios. Regular Prep Schooners will know that there are lots of right ways to make a given dish. Feel free to explore and experiment.

One last thing: Zabaglione is made in a bain-marie, which is pretty much a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler, simply heat a couple inches of water to a simmer in a medium to large sauce pan. By setting a stainless steel or glass bowl on top of the sauce pan, you've created a bain-marie. The idea is that the steam from the simmering water heats the bowl, which in turn slowly and gently heats what's in the bowl.

Ready?

1. In a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler, whisk 6 egg yolks with 1 cup of sugar. Whisk like there's no tomorrow until the mixture becomes as pale as Marilyn Monroe's platinum tresses, and doubles (at least) in volume so that it's thick enough to form a ribbon when you drizzle it over itself. This will take several minutes at least, several more if your whisking is not particularly vigorous.

2. When the yolk mixture is pale and ribbon-y, place the bowl over the steam and add about 3 to 6 ounces of some winelike liquid. Marsala is traditional and delicious, but you could also add wine, Champagne, Madeira or some wine flavored with a splash of liquor. Continue whisking like a maniac (or use the hand mixer like a sensible 21st-century slacker) until the mixture is thick, foamy, light and warm, about 150 degrees. This may take up to 15 minutes.

3. Season with salt as necessary.

4. Traditionally, the zabaglione is served immediately, but you also can pour it into cups and chill to eat later.

Want more Prep School?
James P. DeWan's columns have been gathered into an e-book, "Prep School: How to Improve Your Kitchen Skills and Cooking Techniques." It is among dozens of e-books in the Tribune's growing collection. Most books list for $4.99. All are available for purchase at chicagotribune.com/ebooks, where they are free to digitalPLUS members.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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