While the greatest of the sauternes--such as Chateau D’Yquem, which runs in the hundreds of dollars per bottle--are meant only for drinking, one of my favorite dessert accompaniments is a sabayon, an egg yolk foam custard, flavored with sauternes. A dollop turns any fruit-roasted, poached, or fresh-into a five-star dessert. If you prefer, you can substitute a Muscat wine, a sweet Riesling, Champagne, or Marsala, each of which will add its own unique flavor to the custard. Most decent liquor stores carry a sauternes that costs no more than $20, and this is the appropriate choice for the following recipe.
If you are interested in serving a nondairy dessert, you can omit the cream and serve the sauce as a classic zabaglione (whipped egg yolk foam). I do, however, love the added touch of the cream: it mellows the sauce and gives it body and sensuality.
Storage: This sabayon will keep, refrigerated, for 1 day.
Bain-marie is the French cooking term for a metal bowl or container that can sit over or in simmering water to keep the contents of the container or bowl hot—basically, a makeshift double boiler. Fill a pot large enough to hold a medium-sized mixing bowl on top with 1 inch of water and set over low heat. When the water is simmering, set the bowl on top of the pot. If you are using a bain-marie for a sabayon, simmer the water over medium-high heat.
Sauternes, one of the greatest dessert wines of the world, begins in paradox and ends in poetry. Grown in a small subregion of bordeaux, the grapes are for the most part the same as those used in dry white bordeaux wine-mostly semillon, a touch of sauvignon blanc, with the addition of a small amount of muscadelle. What makes these white wine grapes produce a sauternes and not a dry white wine is rot. The grapes overripen on the vine, shriveling up like raisins. With the help of a noble mold that develops on the outside of the grapes, causing enzymatic reactions in the fruit, the flavor of these white wine grapes undergoes a divine transformation. While the process might sound a bit unappealing, the results are anything but. Drinking sauternes is truly one of the great pleasures offered by food and wine; it has a honeyed, apricot, vanilla, caramel flavor that is unmistakable and irresistible.
Egg Yolk Foams and Sabayons:
The raw ingredients of a cooked sabayon, before the addition of whipped cream, are egg yolks, wine (some sabayons are made with another liquid flavoring element, not alcohol), salt, and sugar. These ingredients are whisked over a double boiler until they are transformed into an ethereal, creamy, light, flavorful custard. This transformation is a very interesting process.
This mixture of egg yolks, wine, salt, and sugar is whisked and heated simultaneously, causing most of the egg yolk proteins to unwind and bump into each other. The water (wine), sugar, and fat dilute and coat the proteins, slowing the process in which unwound proteins form elaborate scaffolding like structures. With the help of continued and vigorous whisking over heat, the unwound protein strands link together around water and air molecules, sealing them into their structure and forming an egg gel. This gel becomes a thick and aerated custard as the air sealed in the scaffolding-like structure expands through exposure to more heat.
Traditional Italian zabaglione (the abovementioned custard without cream) is served right away because, like a souffle, this custard will deflate after it rests for a few minutes. The air, trapped in the egg gel, which expanded when it was heated, deflates as it cools.
Wine has a few key roles in the sabayon. Most important, the alcohol carries flavor. It also contributes water, which dilutes the proteins. If you use an alcoholic beverage with too high an alcohol content (anything over 20 percent), your sabayon will curdle and collapse very early in the whisking process. An alcoholic beverage such as Grand Marnier has much less water to dilute the proteins and the mixture coagulates too quickly at a lower temperature, leaving less time for whisking and aeration. So if you would like to make a sabayon with a liqueur instead of wine, dilute the liqueur with an equal amount of water.
Sometimes a sabayon with the right amount of alcohol will collapse and turn into a dense yellow mass in your bowl. This happens when the sabayon is cooked for too long. Too much heat and agitation can cause the protein scaffolding to collapse, releasing the air and water trapped inside.
Total Timeunder 15 minutes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturelight, sweet, winey
Type of Dishdessert
- 6 egg yolks
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ cup sauternes (see Notes)
- Pinch of salt
- ¾ cup cream, lightly whipped (optional)
- Bain-Marie (see Notes)
- Whisk, preferably a balloon whisk
Cook the sabayon (see the Note on Egg Yolk Foams and Sabayons, below):
In the bowl of a bain-marie, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in the sweet wine and salt and place the bowl over the simmering water. Whisk briskly until the mixture has thickened, tripled in volume, and holds the lines of a whisk, 5 to 10 minutes. As you whisk your sabayon you will smell the alcohol in the sauternes evaporating.
Finish the sabayon:
Remove the sabayon from the heat and cool slightly. If you would like it finished with cream, allow the sauce to cool completely and fold in the lightly whipped cream.
If you would like to serve it in the classic Italian style (zabaglione made tableside), then serve it immediately.
2006 Kate Zuckerman