Baking for Bookworms: Zabaglione from Renata Adler’s Speedboat


There’s not a whole lot of food mentioned by name in Adler’s book (review to come!), but the zabaglione was both intriguing and simple, so I decided to give it a try. It’s interesting that food isn’t mentioned specifically in the “novel” because everything else is remarked upon in great detail. But Jen, the protagonist, is much more interested in what she observes (especially other people) than in the sensory experience of day to day activities. Food is only mentioned as part of an interesting anecdote or episode.

It’s not often though, that dessert goes missing:

“Matthew, the man I had arrived with, was drinking brandies. I was drinking gin. Suddenly, my zabaglione vanished, cream, cup, strawberry, and all. I had a distinct, an eidetic memory of seeing it there before me. It was gone. I looked for it. Matt looked for it. It was nowhere. Somebody’s handbag was on the floor beside my chair. I felt that a whole zabaglione could not have fallen, tidily, into a stranger’s handbag. I couldn’t search in a stranger’s handbag anyway. We stopped thinking about it.”                                                      32

Whether you think there was no dessert to begin with, or whether you formulate your own theory for how it disappeared (waiter’s prank?), there’s no question that the dessert makes an impression. And when you taste it for yourself, you can see whether it was worth looking for at all.


Zabaglione recipe slightly adapted from Mario Batali’s.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons marsala wine
  • pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)
  • berries for serving

Whisk all ingredients together over a double boiler (a glass or metal bowl over a saucepan works fine, just make sure the water doesn’t touch) over medium low heat.

Stir fairly constantly for about 10 minutes or until the mixture develops a pudding like consistency.

I like to strain mine to make sure there are no cooked egg bits in it, but that’s optional.

Serve in small cups with fresh berries (or you can do what I did, which was to take some frozen berries and thaw them and put them in).


It has a very delicate, airy consistency, almost foamy. It’s quite wine-y tasting. If you were in the mood to experiment you could try a different wine and see what happens. It’s very good with the fruit, but it is a fairly strange dessert.

What’s the strangest tasting dessert you’ve ever tried? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments.

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