For May Day – or any day – a slightly sweet, very smooth pudding

May 1st, 2011

Lily of the Valley, Muguet for May Day!

In the village square this morning – and in front of the busy bakery – stalls selling muguet were doing a steady business.  An endearing custom, one buys a nosegay of this fragile, very short-season flower to present to someone dear to you.  This year there was a panic among the muguet growers – mostly based around Nantes in Brittany – to preserve the buds during an unusually warm and early  growing season.  Many were in blossom two weeks before May Day.  Somehow, there are enough to go around, whether local or brought in from the north.

Spring is about lightening up – for the waistline as well as for the mood of the season.  But a little something sweet after the asparagus and trout or chicken and fennel somehow feels deliciously indulgent.  Simple puddings have become my (pre-berry season sorbet) standby desserts.  Small glasses, verrines as many refer to them, are up dates of classics come-around again…. and why not?  To top off a Sunday dinner on this chilly spring evening, I whipped up a satin-smooth sabayon and layered it with prunes (or call them dried plums?) soaked in nut wine and topped with toasted walnuts.

The old standard, sabayon, does take a little practice  – attention to the details will reward you.  Set a pan over (not ON the boiling water) a saucepan of hot water as you did for Mousseline sauce – in fact the two are so similar.

Ingredients:    2 large egg yolks

4 Tablespoons of sugar

6 Tablespoons of sweet wine, such as Monbazillac or a sweet Bordeaux

nutmeg to grate before serving

8 semi-dried prunes, pitted and soaked in 1/2 cup of nut wine

oven-toasted walnuts, halves and pieces

Begin by soaking the prunes early in the day.  Make the sabayon ahead of time or – if you want it warm, 20 minutes before serving – and pour into individual glasses putting the prunes in first. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar over the heat, and as it begins to thicken, add the sweet wine a spoonful or two at a time (not all at once) and continue whisking as it thickens and small bubbles form. Grate in a little nutmeg and immediately pour it over the prunes and top with toasted walnut halves.  Don’t let it wait (it will set up and be about as supple as fresh concrete if done an hour ahead of time), but pour it while warm.  As an Italian friend counseled:  sabayon should be rich, but should never taste of cooked eggs.

This was adapted from  Alice B. Toklas’ Hot Sabayon Sauce, page 176 in my old battered copy of The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Anchor books 1960.  What was I saying about “old standards”…?

May Day delights - from dawn to sundown