Chocolate is most people’s guilty pleasure, but my guilty pleasure is ice cream. And not just any ice cream, but luscious Italian gelato, preferably eaten in Italy at one of my favorite gelateria, Perche No!, in Firenze, or in Israel at Gelateria Siciliana on Ibn Givrol in Tel Aviv.
I also enjoy making my own ice cream and sorbet at home, which I have blogged in several posts here.
The final course for the dinner party last week was a recipe for semifreddo that intrigued me from the moment I saw it on the Food52 website. Semifreddo literally means “half-frozen” and is a frozen dessert that has a mousse-like texture from equal parts of ice cream custard and whipped double (heavy) cream.
I didn’t deviate from the recipe at all and even made the salted-honey hazelnuts, but in the rush of trying to serve the dessert, I forgot to plate them. It was actually better in the end because it would have been too much of a taste contrast with the mini almond-orange financiers I served on the side. The dessert was a huge hit, which made me very happy since Mimi was afraid that some of the guests might not like the taste of saffron. I used a very high quality saffron that I had been keeping for a special occasion.
Sarah, from Foodbridge, brought a large bag filled with Surinam Cherries, also known as Pitanga in Brazil. They were a perfect decoration for the top of the semifreddo and were also quite delicious. I had never had them before but they remind me of cherries, which as my faithful readers know is one of my favorite fruits.
Mimi suggested that we serve an alternative to the semifreddo, so I decided to make mini financiers which I baked in a silcone chocolate mold that can withstand up to 220C (425F). Financiers are a light teacake, similar to sponge cake, and are usually made of almond flour, a beurre noisette (brown butter), egg whites, icing sugar and flour. Financiers are often baked in rectangular-shaped molds which are suppose to resemble a bars of gold. You can find these molds in cooking shops, such as 4Chef, in Tel Aviv.
The dessert was a huge hit and I will definitely make this again. I made the semifreddo a couple of days in advance and made the financiers the day before, but you could easily make these several days before and freeze them.
The dessert was served with Mimi’s delicious homemade liqueurs. On offer were lemoncello, geranium, apricot, strawberry and coffee. I love all of them, but my personal favorite is apricot.
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon high quality saffron threads
1 tablespoon sweet vermouth
1 cup double (heavy) cream
1/2 cup dried, unsweetened cherries
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom, toasted
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup filtered water
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons honey
Bring a small saucepan or double boiler with water to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Have an ice water bath big enough for the base of the double boiler or mixing bowl on standby.
In a medium glass bowl or the pan of a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and saffron threads. Place the bowl or pan over the simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and doubled in volume.
Remove from heat and submerge in the ice water bath, continuing to stir to bring down the temperature. If the mixture gets too cold and is sticking to the bottom of the pan, it will release easily if you run hot water on the outside of the bowl.
Beat the heavy cream in a mixer until soft peaks form. Set aside.
Place the egg yolk mixture and the sweet vermouth in the bowl of mixer with a whip attachment, and whip until the mixture becomes thick and pale in color.
Add a third of the whipped cream to the egg mixture and stir together gently. Fold in the remaining whipped cream into the egg mixture. When this is done, you can spoon the mixture into 6 individual ramekins, or place it in a plastic cellophane lined loaf pan, or decorative silicone mold of your choice. Cover the ramekins or other container with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. To serve, run a butter knife under hot water and cut around the edge of the ramekin to invert the semifreddo onto individual plates. Serve with the cherry-cardamom syrup and salted honey-hazelnuts (recipes to follow).
Combine all of the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the syrup is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 180C (350F) degrees.
Place the hazelnuts in a small mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil and sea salt. Add honey and toss once more to coat. Transfer the nuts to a silpat-lined baking sheet and bake, stirring at least once, until the nuts are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
Once the hazelnuts have cooled, roughly chop the nuts and serve alongside the semifreddo.
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted, for buttering 21 financier molds
140g (1 cup) almond flour or finely ground blanched almonds
210g (1-2/3 cups) icing (confectioner's) sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Zest of one large orange
Pinch of salt
5 large egg whites
185 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Preheat the oven to 220C (425F).
With a pastry brush, butter the financier molds with the 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Arrange them side-by-side, but not touching, on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet with the buttered molds in the freezer to re-solidify the butter and make the financiers easier to unmold.
In a large bowl, combine the almonds, sugar, flour, orange zest and salt. Mix to blend. Add the egg whites and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the 3/4 cup of butter and mix until blended. The mixture will be fairly thin and pourable.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling them almost to the rim. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven. Bake until the financiers just being to rise, about 7 minutes. Reduce the heat to 200C (400F). Bake until the financiers are a light, delicate brown and begin to firm up, about another 7 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the financiers rest in the oven until firm, about another 7 minutes.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the financiers cool in the molds for 10 minutes. Unmold.
(Note: If you are using metal Financier molds, then wash them immediately with a stiff brush in hot water without detergent so that they retain their seasoning.) The financiers may be stored in an airtight container for several days.