If you a) are tired of the summer heat, b) want something sweet and refreshing, and c) don’t want to turn on your oven (I think that covers everyone), frozen desserts are the answer. But if you d) don’t have an ice cream maker, let me introduce you to semifreddo. Semifreddo means “half-cold” in Italian. It’s traditionally lighter and airier than ice cream due to folded-in whipped cream, which is good news for us, because that means we can eat more of it…right?The first time I ever heard of semifreddo was when I saw Giada make it on TV a few years ago. It seemed intimidating at the time, so I pushed it to the back burner. Last summer, Bon Appétit ran a recipe with a pretty picture of a pastel tricolored semifreddo. This summer, the wait was finally up as I made and ate my first semifreddo.
I managed, however, to have a good bit of epic fail time making it. First, I ground the pistachios into obliteration, falsely thinking that it would lend more flavor, and paid for it by spending a good 15 minutes trying the strain the thick paste. Oops. There was also Bon Appétit’s audacious suggestion that the eggs would take 3 minutes to come up to 170° F. Haha. Perhaps, I thought, they tested using a handheld electric mixer to beat the eggs while they were cooking, but it was all elbow grease and a whisk for me, as there’s no outlet by my stove. So I whisked and whisked and whisked and whisked for almost 15 minutes, and finally! the mixture came up to temperature…and then quickly went over. Nice. Being, uh, lazy, I didn’t feel like undergoing another arm workout and decided to run with it. Of course, I completely missed the step that called for whipping the cooked eggs to thicken and cool them. That’s why, when I attempted to fold in the (warm) egg mixture into the (cold) pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures, it wasn’t quite a fold, more like a desperate whisk to get everything combined. Let’s just say that my forgetting to take pictures of the unappetizing mess is a good thing for everyone.
Lest this all seem like a whiny rant, I actually did like the semifreddo. The pistachio mixture was my by far my favorite–creamy, nutty, and light. The strawberry and vanilla were icy, though I think adding corn syrup would make it smoother. It wasn’t quite as light as I would have liked it, but that’s my fault. The flavor combination was enough to win me over.
Pistachio, Strawberry, and Vanilla Semifredd0
adapted from Bon Appétit, June 2011
See above for everything I did wrong–a long list. I didn’t make any major changes, but added weight measurements, corn syrup (which I think should help with the texture of the vanilla and strawberry layers), and the tip for vanilla sugar.
One note of caution: dirty dishes galore. That’s what happens when you are essentially making three different flavors. If you don’t have the time to spare, you can triple any one of the layers (I recommend the pistachio) for a single-flavored semifreddo.
Serves about 10
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces / 120 grams) shelled unsalted pistachios
4 tablespoons ( 1 3/4 ounces / 50 grams) sugar, divided; plus 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams)
1 cup (125 ml) whole milk, divided
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
4 teaspoons light corn syrup, divided
1 cup (about 4 ounces) fresh strawberries, hulled, halved
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/3 cups (188 ml) chilled heavy whipping cream
Line a metal loaf pan (approximately 9 x 5 x 3-inches, which is what I used; if you want a taller semifreddo, use a smaller loaf pan) with 2 layers of plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.
Pistachio Base: In a food processor, grind pistachios and 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar until finely chopped. Transfer pistachio mixture to a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup (62 ml) milk and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. (While it’s stepping, prep vanilla and strawberry mixture.) Set a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl and strain–the mixture will be thick and paste-like, but try to squeeze as much as you can out–discarding (or nibbling on) solids. Stir in almond extract, and set pistachio mixture aside.
Vanilla Base: In a small saucepan, bring remaining 1/2 cup milk, scraped vanilla bean and seeds, and 2 teaspoons corn syrup to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes. Set a strainer over another medium bowl and strain. Set vanilla mixture aside.
Strawberry Base: In a food processor, purée strawberries and 2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar until smooth. Set a fine-mesh strainer over another medium bowl; strain, pressing on solids to extract as much juice as possible. Discard solids. Whisk in corn syrup and vanilla extract and set strawberry mixture aside.
In a medium metal bowl, whisk eggs, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Rig up a double boiler: set bowl over a medium saucepan of simmering water; do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water. Beat egg mixture at high speed until it triples in volume and an instant-read thermometer inserted into mixture registers 170°F, about 10 minutes. Remove bowl from over water and continue beating until thick and cool, about 3 minutes. (I totally missed this. See headnotes.) Add one-third of egg mixture to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures, and fold in gently to blend.
Beat cream in a large bowl until soft peaks form. Add one-third of cream to each of the pistachio, strawberry, and vanilla mixtures; fold each just to blend. Cover vanilla and strawberry mixtures separately, and chill in the fridge. Pour pistachio mixture into pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Cover and freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently pour strawberry mixture over pistachio layer and smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 45 minutes. Gently fold vanilla mixture to blend (the whipped cream might have separated out of it a little); pour over strawberry mixture and smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.
Uncover semifreddo. Using plastic wrap as an aid, lift from mold. Invert onto a chilled platter and peel off plastic. Slice crosswise and serve.
*Tip- Don’t throw out the vanilla bean! Rinse it well, let it dry, and then bury it in a small airtight container of sugar (about 1 cup or so) to make vanilla sugar, which you can use in the place of regular granulated sugar in recipes for an extra vanilla boost. I never throw out vanilla beans, and instead use it to grow my stash of aromatic vanilla sugar. It keeps indefinitely; just add more sugar and vanilla beans.