Whip up Italian custard to enhance fresh raspberries

07/01/2014 1:39 PM

07/01/2014 1:40 PM

Raspberries are one of the few fruits that never improve when cooked. Nobody ever said, “These fresh raspberries are delicious, but you know what would be really great? A coulis.” Even raspberry jam is a goopy, saccharine disappointment compared to a tender, juicy fresh fuchsia berry.

This seeming miracle of nature poses a problem for home cooks: If you can’t improve raspberries by putting them in a tart or cobbler or upside-down cake, how are you supposed to serve them at a dinner party?

When you have guests over, you can’t just dump some fresh raspberries in a bowl and call it dessert, unless you’re Alice Waters. You can beat some heavy cream, sure — raspberries with whipped cream are never not good — but a 4-year-old could whip cream. Suppose you want to wow your friends — what then?

I humbly propose serving your berries with zabaglione, the boozy Italian custard sauce. Zabaglione enhances raspberries without overwhelming them, and it also tends to elicit awed questions like, “How did you make this?” The answer is, in fact, pretty easily — but zabaglione, like all custards, has an aura of being difficult to make and therefore tends to augment your domestic god(dess) cred.

What differentiates zabaglione from most custards is that it contains no milk or cream. Instead, it consists only of egg yolks, sugar and some type of alcohol, traditionally marsala. Marsala is fine dessert wine, but it’s a bit rich in the summertime. This time of year, I like to make zabaglione with prosecco or another sparkling wine instead of the heavier fortified dessert stuff. Prosecco has a lighter, more floral flavor, and its bubbly texture will actually give the zabaglione some extra lift. (The trick is to add it at the end, after the eggs and sugar have cooked.) Plus, it’s just festive.

The most important thing to consider when making zabaglione is what equipment to use. You will first have to constantly whisk or beat the eggs and sugar in a double boiler — i.e., in a metal bowl set over a pan of boiling water. Then, after adding the prosecco, you’ll have to constantly whisk or beat the eggs and sugar off the heat until it cools down to room temperature.

If you have a stand mixer, I recommend doing the first step by hand with a whisk and doing the second step mechanically. If you have a handheld mixer, you can use it for both steps. I do not recommend doing both steps by hand unless you have forearms like Yo-Yo Ma — beating a custard for 15 minutes straight requires some serious elbow grease.

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