Tunisian sabayon is a delicious specialty from the North African country. It is often served as a dessert and accompanied by fresh fruits or pastries.
Although it looks like Italian sabayon in its preparation and ingredients, the Tunisian version is a custard in which the oil replaces the alcohol of the original version. Also, Tunisian sabayon is flavored with orange blossom water, and it is served iced, garnished with crushed pistachios or almonds.
Sabayon (from Italian zabaione) is a recipe of Italian origin. The word appears in 1803 in the original French form of sabaillon. It is believed that the soldiers brought it back to France during the Italian and Swiss expedition of 1799-1800. A number of stories, some probably legendary, give the Sabayon an older origin.
The history of sabayon
It is believed that Catherine de Medici introduced sabayon to the court of France in 1533.
Other sources attribute its paternity to Turin. According to these sources, Franciscan Brother Paschal of Baylon (1540-1592), canonized in 1690 under the pontificate of Alexander VIII, would have invented the original sabayon recipe. An incredible legend tells that this Spanish churchman, also a very good cook, was visiting a parish in Turin on a pilgrimage to Europe and recommended a recipe with eggs and wine to the women who were complaining about the lack of sexual stamina of their spouse. This recipe, nicknamed San-Bayon in the local dialect, would eventually take the name of sabajone.
Saint Pascal Baylon, who is celebrated on May 17th, has been the protector of all the cooks in the world since 1722. You now know who to pray to the next time you try to make French macarons!
Another source explains that zabajone was born in the province of Reggio Emilia. Even if the specialty is regional, the recipe would have spread quickly. The famous military commander (condottiere) of the early sixteenth century, Giovanni Baglioni, was nicknamed Zvan Bajoun by the people. As he arrived near Reggio Emilia (between Bologna and Modena) at the head of his troops, they camped there.
As the condottiere had nothing to offer his soldiers, he sent emissaries in search of food. Unfortunately, the only things they found were than eggs, honey, white wine and aromatic herbs. The soldiers were able to eat, carry out the battle and rout their enemies. This is how the frothy mixture “Zvan Bajoun” was born, which later became zabajone.
The first written record of a recipe for zabaglione dates from the second half of the fifteenth century in the Cuoco Napoletano, a manuscript and collection of recipes written by an anonymous master chef of Naples.
The word zabaglione could also come from the Neapolitan word zapillare, meaning “to foam”.
The history of Tunisian sabayon is much more recent. It seems that the Italian sabayon was imported into Tunisia by a newly opened glacier “Chez Salem” (now called “Le Petit Salem”) in 1936 at La Marsa, the chic suburb north-east of Tunis. We owe the ice cream adaptation of the famous Italian dessert to Salem Hafi, and his Tunisian Jewish friend Bébert.
Sabayon is the translation of the Italian word zabaione which itself comes from an ancient Latin word sabaium which meant beer.
In Italy, the famous dessert is at the origin of popular liqueurs Vov (created in 1845) and Zabov (created in 1946).
Italian sabayon is originally obtained by incorporating a liquid, usually white wine, into egg yolks. This incorporation is done by whisking the egg yolks on a high heat in a bain-marie, until obtaining a frothy and fragrant preparation which increases in volume. Italian sabayon is served hot or warm. This Italian custard can be served by itself, but also as a sauce to accompany a pastry, as well as with garnishes or fruits.
To cook a sabayon, you can use dry white wine (Chardonnay, Champagne) or fruity wine (Marsala, Sauternes, Muscat). The white wine is occasionally replaced by sweeter or digestive wine such as port, or by liquor such as rum, kirch, grappa, Grand Marnier, or Cointreau.
Sabayon must be prepared just before serving. Depending on the proportion of sabayon compared to other ingredients, it can be considered a sauce or a custard in its own right.
There are different versions of sweet and even savory sabayons. For example, sweet sabayon with sweet wine is often prepared to accompany diced fruits. The savory sabayon with lemon, meanwhile, is more intended to accompany scallops.
Sweet sabayon is also often used as a base for mousse or other desserts.
Eggnog is a type of sabayon with milk, cream, spice and liqueur that is prepared like the Italian recipe. Custard preparations are often used as a dessert or beverage base. As examples, let’s mention suspiro limeño from Peru, coquito, this popular alcoholic drink from Puerto Rico prepared for Christmas, or the English trifle.
Tunisian sabayon is one of the recipes that have rocked my childhood in France. Even though my Tunisian mother rarely made it, I loved it and regularly ate it at family celebrations. Sabayon is also often served for dessert in Tunisian restaurants, served with bouscoutou (a kind of sponge cake), harissa hloua (or aricha), a delicious almond and semolina cake, or just red berries.
Tunisian sabayon can be prepared fairly quickly. However, it is necessary to wait at least 8 good hours so that it has time to firm up in the freezer before you can taste it. Yes, the wait is a real torture!
- 6 eggs
- ⅔ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
- ½ cup oil
- 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
- Pistachios or almonds, crushed
Separate the eggs.
Whisk the yolks with 5 tablespoons of sugar and the vanilla extract, until the mixture becomes pale and frothy.
Add the oil slowly, and continue whisking to obtain a smooth and homogeneous mixture.
Add the orange blossom water and mix.
Separately, beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar until stiff.
Fold one third of the egg whites into the yolks gently, then gradually combine the remaining egg whites by folding without stirring.
Pour the mixture into individual ramekins or into a large pan and place in the freezer for at least 8 hours.
Decorate with pistachios or crushed almonds.
Serve by itself, or with red berries, harissa hloua or bouscoutou (sponge cake).