Hazelnut semifreddo

As a flavored, frozen whipped cream, semifreddo is mousse’s frosty Italian first cousin.  I got hooked on semifreddo at Rome’s gelateria San Crispino, where I tasted a semifreddo studded with crispy meringue bits.  It was a revelation:  simultaneously luscious and ethereal, smooth and crunchy.  Since then, I sample any and every semifreddo crossing my path, and I make my own.  Though it requires at least 8 to 12 hours in the freezer before slicing, it retains a nice texture for two or three days, so it’s perfect to prepare well in advance.   The base contains nothing more than egg white, heavy cream and sugar, making semifreddo infinitely adaptable to seasonal flavors or ingredients already on hand.

Hazelnut-chocolate semifreddo

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/8 cup powdered sugar (or superfine sugar)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 ounces dark chocolate, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup good-quality mini chocolate chips (like Guittard mini chips)
  • equipment:  8″ by 4.5″ loaf pan, plastic wrap or parchment

Line loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment.  Place chopped hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast for 8-10 minutes (or until lightly browned and fragrant) at 325 degrees, stirring frequently.  Set aside to cool completely.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip egg whites to stiff peaks; transfer from mixer bowl to  a large bowl.  Place heavy cream in mixer bowl; whip for 45 seconds to 1 minute, then sprinkle sugar and vanilla atop slightly thickened cream.  Continue whipping until the cream holds soft peaks.  Add grated dark chocolate and whip very briefly to combine.  Fold whipped egg whites into the whipped cream.  Spread half of the egg and cream mixture into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top.  Sprinkle half of the chopped nuts and all of the mini chips atop the first layer, then add the remaining whipped egg and cream, filling the loaf pan.  Scatter remaining nuts atop, pressing lightly to adhere.  Cover the loaf pan tightly with plastic wrap.  Freeze for at least 8 hours.  Invert the loaf pan to unmold.  Serve sliced while still firmly frozen.

Tasty variations include cinnamon, swirls of lemon curd, fresh berry coulis, candied ginger, crumbled amaretti cookies…..the sky’s the limit.

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