Even though I’ve never been a staunch Valentine’s Day enthusiast—believing instead in exhibiting my adoration for those I care for every day of the year—I have still always relished sharing the love with others by preparing the most heavenly little desserts for two, going all the way back to my days as a pastry chef. Though sinfully rich, miniature heart-shaped cakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and delightful, intricate confections and pastries are not an everyday thing in my repertoire anymore, I still enjoy when special occasions let me use my creativity and help make the celebration that much more special.
In more recent years, I’ve ventured toward a much more fitness-forward approach to cooking: eliminating refined ingredients, scaling back on sweeteners, and increasing the healthfulness of the foods I prepare for myself, my family, and my clients. These adjustments and adaptations don’t always assimilate well with the delectable desserts I used to prepare (try as I might, there are some items that simply cannot be replicated without refined flours and sugars), but the more I experiment, the more I realize just what is possible.
With Valentine’s day just around the corner, I thought this would be a great time to share my incredibly sinful, light-as-air zabaglione custard, sweetened only with Inositol, making it a sharable treat as wholesome as it is delicious.
Inositol is a fairly new obsession of mine in the realm of sugar-substitution, and I keep finding new ways to incorporate it into my food. It seems to work best as a replacement where the chemical response of sugar caramelization isn’t much of a factor. Items like mousses, custards, cheesecakes, and puddings are a perfect match for this sweetener replacement. I have found it does work in baked goods, like cakes, cookies, and pastries, though it fares best when substituted for just a portion of the sugars, so the volume and caramelization factors still have a chance to work their magic.
Zabaglione is a classic Italian dessert that relies on the chemistry of emulsion plus heat to create a light, airy custard-like dessert, similar to a sweet version of Hollandaise sauce. It is flavored primarily with Marsala wine, which gives it a distinct taste, and assists in the emulsification process, with its acidity. The same ingredients and principles also form the basis of tiramisu filling, another Italian favorite. Zabaglione, however, is usually thinner in consistency and can be served cold as well as warm. But, the concept of tiramisu was actually what led me to concoct this lightened version of zabaglione custard.
Because zabaglione is comprised of a lot of air, it tends to deflate if it sits for too long. I had a request for zabaglione over the holidays and needed to make it in advance, so I brainstormed how to make it work. Knowing that tiramisu filling is, essentially, zabaglione combined with mascarpone cheese, I used that as my template for a mousse-type dessert that would allow for the distinctive flavor of zabaglione, paired with the extended life and sturdier structure that allows tiramisu to be cut into slices.
And a new favorite was born.
With fewer ingredients than you can count on one hand, and hands-on work of under 10 minutes, you can prepare this rich, delightful dessert for two, or ten, and barely work up a sweat. It can be prepared up to two days in advance and makes a perfect ending to a special meal—or just because. Serve alone or with fresh fruit, a drizzle of chocolate, or any other addition you please.
Zabaglione Custard for Two
Makes 2 large servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
4 egg yolks (save whites to add a protein boost to your favorite foods)
1½ tablespoons inositol powder (alternately, use 1 tablespoon of another sweetener, such as honey or coconut sugar)
1½ tablespoons good quality Marsala wine
⅔ cup heavy cream, whipped
Berries or other garnish, if desired
- Fill a medium-sized pot about halfway with water and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, place egg yolks, marsala, and inositol in a bowl just big enough to fit inside/on top of the pot, not touching the water. Whisk egg mixture until thoroughly combined.
- Turn down the heat under the water and keep at a simmer. Place bowl atop the simmering pot and whisk constantly until mixture becomes thick and fluffy and coats the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes. (Be mindful; if the egg mixture gets too hot, it can turn towards scrambled eggs, so remove from heat occasionally if it seems to be going there. It’s not the end of the world if it does. Just pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve to eliminate any scrambled parts)
- When thick and fluffy, fit bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice. Whisk occasionally over ice until chilled.
- Meanwhile, whip cream to soft peaks. Fold cream into chilled zabaglione custard. Spoon into custard cups, serving dishes, or wine glasses. Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.
Image by Briana Goodall.