When I was at pastry school, we made countless sabayons. We would stand in our ill-fitting chef’s whites, sleeves falling into our bowls, trying in vain to bring volume to the soup of egg yolk and sugar in front of us through elbow grease alone. I hated it. We used to do this as a way of leavening genoise sponges, and I used to think, for god’s sake: why not just use self-raising flour instead? They were always a means to an end; a pain in the neck (or arm) for scant reward.
I had no idea they could be an end in themselves, and a delightful one at that. I didn’t know then that this same technique, this same recipe almost, could be used to make the most ethereally light of sauces, sweet and boozy.
A sabayon is a whisked pudding made with egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine. In Italian it is called zabaione or zabaglione, often served with little crisp biscuits, amaretti or savoiardi. Sabayon can be served alone, or spooned over fresh fruit. If you’ve ever made a custard, then the process will be familiar to you: the only difference is that in place of the milk or cream you find in a custard, you’re using a small amount of marsala wine. Whisking a couple of tablespoons of this wine into the mixture transforms it into a luscious, swooping, spoonable surf, the colour of light sponge. Gentle heat is key so cook this over a bain marie – a heatsafe bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water. It’s a lovely bit of kitchen magic, rewarding faith and persistence, and a lot of repetitive movement: as you whisk the sauce goes from liquid and sticky to soft and billowing.
But popping this dish under the grill and brûléeing takes sabayon to new levels. I wish I had those old-fashioned gratin dishes for this – the type that bistros use to serve crème brûlée, or oeufs en mornay – but I don’t. So I simply use an oven-safe dish: one per person, although you can make the whole thing in one big dish, multiplying the recipe and serving to a bunch of people – just be aware that the sabayon loses its volume over time, so it’s not a great make-ahead recipe, or one to come back to later on.
Here, the foamy, boozy sabayon is spooned in waves onto little raspberries standing proudly upright. Then a spoonful of sugar is sprinkled evenly across the surface of the pudding before being flashed under the grill until it caramelises and then, as it cools slightly, forms a glassy shell on the pud, crying out to be smacked and shattered with a spoon. It is impossible, I think, for someone to be given a brûléed pudding and first of all not want to smack it with a spoon, and secondly not be delighted when they do.
Most soft fruit would work well here: any berries, pitted cherries, or roasted apricots, plums or peaches – anything that is spoon-tender – allthough the sharpness of the rasps are a particularly lovely counterpoint to the sweet sauce. Similarly, as we begin to approach Autumn, it would be silly not to make the most of the blackberries which already line the hedgerows.
Brûléed raspberry sabayon
Makes: Pudding for 4
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 2 minutes
For the sabayon
3 egg yolks
3 tablespoons marsala wine
50g caster sugar
For the gratin
2 tablespoons caster sugar
- Preheat your grill to a medium-high heat.
- Over a bain marie, whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until they are frothy.
- Slowly add the marsala wine, while whisking vigorously. It should increase in volume and become paler in colour: whisk constantly until the mixture thickens, and leaves a thick trail of mixture when you lift your whisk from the bowl.
- Place the raspberries in a snug layer on the base of each dish.
- Spoon the sabayon onto the raspberries, dividing it evenly between the dishes. Sprinkle the dishes with a teaspoon of caster sugar each.
Place the dishes on a baking tray, and put the baking tray about six inches below the grill. Grill for about two minutes until lightly browned – keep a close eye, as the sugar can burn quickly!