Recipe: strawberry semifreddo
Easter always sneaks up on me because we don’t celebrate it. My heathen ritual is to buy a bag of Whopper mini eggs when they go on sale the following Monday and then promptly forget about it for another year. But I happen to have a lovely dessert that is good enough for spring holidays, weekend projects, special dinners, or basically any time you can get your hands on sweet sweet strawberries. California and Mexico strawberries have been in our stores lately, but I held off until they were the right color and smelled like candy.
here’s what i made
That’s a strawberry semifreddo – creamy, half-frozen, soft, fruity, slightly tangy, like a frozen mousse. I’ve had the recipe for many years, but never made it until yesterday. Back in the day, I took a terrific 10-week pastry skills course in Boulder as my reward for defending my dissertation. It was fast-paced and fun, but there wasn’t enough time to make all of the recipes. We were split into teams of two and each pair tackled a different pastry (or two) each week. At the end of every class, we divvied up our finished masterpieces and took them home. Except I never took the strawberry semifreddo home because it was summer and I had a 45-minute drive back to the house. But it sure looked good. Seeing the strawberries in the market the other day, I realized I wanted to finally make that semifreddo.
grand marnier, sugar, lemon, strawberries
wash, hull, and halve the strawberries
strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, grand marnier
toss it all together and macerate
I adapted the recipe from my class, which was adapted from Sherry Yard’s recipe. Her version has a pâte sucrée base, but I didn’t want to deal with baking anything, so I went with a vanilla cookie crumb base like you might find on a cheesecake. You can use graham cracker crumbs if you like. I thought vanilla cookies (scavenged from vanilla sandwich cookies) would be fun. You can leave the creme filling in, if you like, but I scrape it off. Or you can use lemon cookies or vanilla wafers.
sugar, butter, cookies (nor pictured: salt)
scraping off the vanilla bean creme
pile the cookies into the food processor
Of course, you don’t have to have a crust at all. If you prefer to skip that part (and reduce the work by about 1/3), then go right ahead. There are lots of options here. Going crustless means you have less to worry about when it comes to unmolding your frozen semifreddo. [Huh, that translates into frozen half-cold, but you get my gist.] With a crust, you’re basically going to need something with a removable bottom or a ring mold of sorts. Or perhaps the presentation doesn’t matter because you’re feeding a hungry pack of wolves – in which case, any old baking dish will do. I wound up using one 6-inch (1.75 inches tall), four 3-inch (1.75 inches tall), and three 2-inch (3 inches tall) ring molds. For the shorter ring molds, make sure your crust isn’t too high, maybe no more than a half inch deep.
melted butter, sugar, cookie crumbs (not pictured: salt)
it should resemble wet sand
press into the bottom of your pan or ring molds
With the crusts done, you can start making the custard. If you’ve made custard-based ice cream, then this is a snap. If you haven’t made custard before, it’s quite easy as long as you remember to follow a few golden rules. The first is that you cannot add ALL of the hot milk to the egg yolks at once or you will cook the yolks and ruin the custard. We use a technique called tempering where a little bit of the hot milk is whisked into the yolks (yolks and sugar in this case) to bring the temperature up without shocking the yolk proteins into cooking. This keeps everything nice and creamy. That’s what we want. Then we add more hot milk in a steady stream while continuously whisking it into the egg mixture. Now put all of that back into the pan over medium heat and stir the custard (getting at the corners of the pan, too) constantly until it thickens. What you’re doing during this stage is heating the mixture slowly until it thickens. If you put it on high heat or you don’t stir, then the egg will cook. It’s all about cooking the egg slowly rather than quickly so you wind up with a nice creamy, thick custard instead of grossness.
eggs, milk, salt, sugar
whisk the eggs, salt, and sugar together
tempering the yolks
straining the cooked custard
Once the custard is done, set the bowl in an ice bath and stir it occasionally to help it cool down. Meanwhile, your strawberries should be nicely macerated with some beautiful red juice collecting at the bottom of the bowl. Pour the strawberries, juice, and any residual sugar into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Actually, I puréed until mostly smooth – I do like a few chunks of strawberry. Stir the purée into your custard, cover with plastic wrap, and continue to let it cool in the ice bath or refrigerator.
stir the strawberry purée into the custard
The last component of the semifreddo is the fluffy part. That’s not a technical term, it’s just my term for it. I researched a bunch of semifreddo recipes and they run the gamut from the simplest versions: strawberry purée folded with whipped cream to more complex recipes like this one which folds both whipped egg whites and whipped mascarpone cheese-cream into the custard. If the raw egg whites pose a problem for you, you can probably omit them and just fold in the whipped mascarpone cheese-cream into it (maybe up the amount a tad to make up for lost volume).
mascarpone cheese, sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, cream
add a pinch of cream of tartar to the foamy egg whites (it’s in there, just hard to see)
beat to medium peaks
Fight the urge to over beat the egg whites and the mascarpone-cream mixture. I did over beat my egg whites, and it just makes it harder to fold into the custard. If you whip the cream and mascarpone for too long, you’ll get butter. So don’t do that. Fold the whites into the custard first. And just like we tempered the egg yolks with hot milk, you’ll temper or sacrifice the egg whites with the custard. If you add the whites all at once, they’ll deflate because the custard is too thick. So fold a quarter of the whites into the custard to lighten the custard up and then fold the rest into the custard. Then fold the mascarpone-cream mixture into the custard. Now you’re ready to fill your molds or pans. You don’t have to get fancy or anything, but I lined my molds with thinly sliced strawberries for some extra pretty.
add cream to mascarpone cheese
whip to soft peaks
sacrifice a quarter of the egg whites into the custard
fold the mascarpone-cream mixture into the partially mixed custard
fill your vessels with semifreddo and freeze
I had underestimated how much volume I needed in my ring molds and wound up with almost 2 cups of extra semifreddo. Rather than go through the headache of making more cookie crust, I just poured it into a bread pan and froze it. It worked nicely. When the semifreddo had frozen through, it was easy enough to unmold them by placing plastic wrap over the tops (so as not to leave finger prints), warming the molds with my hands for a few seconds, and gently pushing the semifreddos out the bottoms of the molds. Even, steady pressure is the key. And don’t let them drop out and fall or the crust might break.
Aside from being a visually pleasing dessert, the strawberry semifreddo tastes like strawberries and cream in soft frozen form. I think the mascarpone adds a nice extra dimension to the flavors. There’s no doubt that the quality of the semifreddo rests almost entirely on the quality of your strawberries. Ripe, in-season strawberries are your best bet. You can make them up to 2 weeks ahead (just store in the freezer wrapped tight in plastic wrap). I garnished mine with strawberries dipped in caramelized sugar and some extra spun sugar. Happy Spring!
the 2-inch (3 inches high)
3-inch (1.75 inches high)
the sixer (1.75 inches high)
i took this one to the neighbors
from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
2 pts. (24 oz.) strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and halved
2 tbsps granulated sugar
2 tbsps Grand Marnier
1 tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed
2 cups (6-8 oz.) vanilla cookie crumbs or graham cracker crumbs
6 tbsps (3 oz.) granulated sugar
6 tbsps (3 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
pinch of salt
8 oz. whole milk
4 large egg yolks
7 tbsps (3.5 oz) granulated sugar
pinch of salt
2 large egg whites
pinch of cream of tartar
2 tbsps granulated sugar
4 oz. mascarpone cheese
8 oz. heavy cream
Make the strawberry purée: Toss the strawberries, 2 tablespoons of sugar, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice together in a large bowl. Set aside and let macerate at room temperature for at least 20 minutes. Pour the contents of the bowl into a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Set aside.
Form the crust: This part is optional. If you don’t want a crust with your semifreddo, skip to the next section. Combine the cookie crumbs, 6 tablespoons of sugar (reduce as desired), melted butter, and salt in a large bowl. Mix together until uniform in texture. Press crust crumbs into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan or ring mold(s) to 1/2-inch depth. Adjust the crust depth accordingly if you are using ring molds smaller than 9-inch diameter. Even the surface with a wide-bottom glass. Set aside.
Make the custard: Heat the milk in a medium saucepan until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Whisk the egg yolks, 7 tablespoons of sugar, and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl. Temper the yolks by adding 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the mixture while continuously whisking to avoid cooking the yolks. Whisk in the rest of the hot milk. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring constantly (get the corners of the pan, too). When the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (nappe consistency), remove from heat. Stir in the strawberry purée. Set the strawberry custard over an ice bath and stir occasionally until cooled. Cover with plastic wrap to avoid forming a skin.
Fluffy stuff: Whip the egg whites on high speed until foamy (about 30 seconds). Add the cream of tartar and continue to whip until the whites reach the soft peaks stage. Add the sugar and whip to medium peaks. Transfer the whipped whites to another bowl unless you have 2 bowls for your mixer. In the same bowl that you used to whip the egg whites (or a new bowl), combine the mascarpone and cream. Whip on medium speed for no more than 30 seconds until soft peaks. Refrigerate the cream mixture.
Assembly: Fold a quarter of the whipped egg whites into the strawberry custard base. Use big strokes, scooping along the bottom of the bowl and then bringing custard up and over the whites. Continue until mostly blended. Fold in the remaining egg whites trying not to deflate too much of the volume (some deflation is fine). When the whites are partially mixed into the custard, fold the mascarpone-cream mixture into the custard until blended. Pour the semifreddo mixture into your pan or molds and freeze until solid (a few hours or more). If you have leftover semifreddo, pour it into a vessel and freeze. Unmold the semifreddo before serving – you can use a blowtorch (CAREFULLY) if needed, but I found the warmth of my hands was enough to get the semifreddo to release. Wrap in plastic and store in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Serves 12 (makes 8 cups of semifreddo filling).
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