Rhubarb-Verbena Sabayon, The Pastry Chef Conference

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Shuna Lydon & Sherry Yard, both on team #1.

A number of months ago I received an email from an old pastry chef of mine, Stephen Durfee, who is now an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, Greystone campus in Napa Valley. He was letting me know I would soon receive an invitation to The Fifth Annual Worlds of Flavor Baking & Pastry Arts Invitational Retreat.

But I thought I would have to respectfully decline, because I am not currently working for a specific establishment. The only name on my chef's jacket is my own. I could not be more grateful that Stephen talked me out of my no.

For 3 1/2 days at the end of April I breathed, thought, emoted, questioned, hypothesized, puzzled over, laughed about, informed, taught, learned, listened, typed, photographed, argued and dreamt pastry and dessert making. {I also "live-blogged" it. Find the blow-by-blow by clicking on this link.}

Notes from the Ideation Session before we went into the kitchen to start creating.


The dessert ideas and chef teams that were formed our team's Ideation Session.

From 8:30 am until near 8 pm every day our 70 plus pastry chef and industry representatives' gaggle went from demonstration, to lecture, to lunch, and then at night many of us went out to dine and commiserate. On the last day and a half we were broken up into 5 teams on the basis of various themes and asked to create 4 desserts each.

Team #1, my own, was themed "Health and Agriculture." In the one hour Ideation Session Sherry Yard and I threw out a lot of excited ideas, were reigned in, we all picked partners and then walked into the palatial kitchens that make up CIA's kitchen classroom. For the 'fruit dessert' my cohort/teammate was Master Bread Baker Mark Furstenberg from Washington DC.

The idea was we would showcase one ingredient, rhubarb. Although rhubarb is not a fruit, it's what's most in season right this minute, and I wanted to show off a special method I have of cooking/treating it, so as to preserve its original integrity, its rhubarb-ness. I like to hot-sugar poach the stalk in such a way as to keep it's crunchy, sour nature. {For a full explanation and recipe, order the Spring 2006 issue of Edible San Francisco, where I went into great detail about osmotic reciprocity and why rhubarb always turns into mushy, stringy baby food when it's introduced to heat.}

Verbena from the Julia Child Gardens at CIA, infused cream and rhubarb juice.

Mark made a slightly savory biscotti of cornmeal and toasted almonds, and besides the rhubarb I wanted something to mediate the textures and flavors of the rhubarb and cornmeal cookie. Plated dessert making is about balance. Pastry chefs are always thinking about texture, flavor, presentation, sweetness, acid, production, size, plating speed, accessibility, temperature, and the food you ate before eating our courses. The best desserts are the ones not made on autopilot. Don't get me wrong, I like my lemon bars, chocolate eclairs and creme brulee, but I want the pastry chef to be paying attention to all the ingredients to produce the best possible taste sensation.

Because of rhubarb's high acid content, it likes to be married with fat. I ate at Gary Danko recently and was not surprised to see rhubarb paired with foie gras. Rhubarb likes butter, cream, creme fraiche, and eggs. But the actual flavor of rhubarb is fairly subtle. If I want a diner to really taste it, I try and make pairings that are of complementary, not competitive flavors.

To this end, I made a light and aromatic, herbaceous sabayon. Instead of wine or alcohol, though, I juiced rhubarb raw through an extractor. If you have time for all these steps I can guarantee you an elegant and voluptuous, seasonal dessert.

David Winsberg of Happy Quail Farms said that he'll have rhubarb through 'til August, but Sabayon is a perfect foil for most fresh fruits, especially berries and stone fruit.


Large Egg Yolks 4-6 each
Sugar 1/4 cup
Honey 3 Tablespoons + (2 Tablespoons: later)
Sea or Kosher Salt Pinch

Rhubarb Juice 3/4 Cup

*Verbena, fresh The leaves from 3 stalks
Heavy Cream, not ultra pasteurized 2 Cups (I use Clover Organic.)

*Knoll Farms has some of the best Verbena available in the Bay Area.

1. Infuse cream and lightly crushed Verbena leaves and stems in a non-reactive pot by heating with low flame until hot. Shut off heat and let steep for at least one hour, preferably more. Do not allow mixture to boil. You can sprinkle in a little sugar to help with infusion.
2. After cream has steeped, turn flame to medium until hot to the touch and strain through a fine meshed sieve. Chill cream in ice batch until very cold. (This step may be done 1-2 days before making Sabayon.)
3. Combine first four ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk yolks to break apart before adding sugar and salt.
4. Set bowl over a pot of boiling water. Bottom of bowl should not touch water. The steam is what's cooking the Sabayon.
5. Whisk thoroughly and rapidly, without pause, and, using your other hand, pour rhubarb juice into yolks a little at a time, letting custard thicken a little before adding more. When all liquid has been added, whisk until mixture holds a visible "trail" and has become quite thick.
6. Place bowl on stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and set speed to medium. Add extra 2 Tablespoons of honey now. If it looks like honey spun to attach itself to the side of the bowl, stop mixer and scrape down Sabayon with a spatula to combine.
7. Increasing speed incrementally, whisk until custard is light and voluminous.
8. Whisk Verbena infused cream until soft peaks form.
9. When Sabayon is ready, transfer into a larger bowl.
10. Using the most pliable spatula in your kitchen, fold whipped cream into Sabayon in three distinctive additions. Fold intentionally, from the inside of the bowl to the outermost edge. Each stroke counts. If you over mix these two ingredients your Sabayon will deflate to the point of liquidization.

Rhubarb-Verbena Sabayon with Crunchy Poached Rhubarb, Corn-Almond Biscotti and Marshall Farms Star Thistle Honey. Pastry Chef Authors: Shuna Lydon & Mark Furstenberg.


Sabayon keeps, refrigerated, for 1 day, but it is best the day it is made.