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Saturday, July 2, 2011

What's Even Better Than Icecream?

In a word, semifreddo. On first blush, an odd sounding name for a dessert, but try it once and the word will forever after provoke blissful eye rolls. Semifreddo means "half-cold" in Italian, and tastes like the richest, smoothest icecream you could ever imagine. I've made some pretty tasty homemade icecream, but I'm never entirely happy with the texture. It's either too soft, well on it's way to melting when I scoop it into the bowls, or, if I try to firm it up in the freezer after it's done in the icecream maker, it can be rock hard. Semifreddo is the perfect texture, firm without being hard, and silky smooth as it melts in your mouth. Even better, it maintains this perfect texture even if you make it ahead of time and need to keep it in the freezer for several days.

Semifreddo is simple in that there are very few ingredients involved, but tricky in that you need to be doing two or sometimes three things nearly simultaneously. The recipe I used is a combo of two recipes I found online, scaled to match the ingredients I had on hand. You definitely want to have all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go:

Eight egg yolks, heavy cream, Nutella, and sugar/water. It's good to remember, as a rule of thumb, that the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the more important the quality of those ingredients. The main ingredients, the cream and the eggs, came from my local farmer's market. The cream is so rich it's yellow, and has a layer at the top of the bottle so thick you could spread it like butter. How can you really go bad when you start with something like that?

First, you warm the Nutella just slightly, to make it easier to incorporate later. If you're not a Luddite and you own a microwave, use that. If you're like me, you can warm it very carefully on the stovetop. Watch and stir it as you warm, don't turn your back on it and get involved in something else, like washing the dinner dishes, or it will burn. I'm not saying I did that, just sending out a friendly heads up. Melting the Nutella is the first, easiest step, and if you do that wrong, it doesn't bode well. Because the instructions in the next step read:
Whip cream to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, whip yolks on medium high speed, while you heat the sugar and water to 240 degrees.
Now sure, you can whip the cream first, then worry about the yolks and the sugar syrup, but my kitchen was so hot I worried about the whipping cream sitting there too long. I could have enlisted my husband or children, but I thrive on a challenge. So I figured out how to do all three steps at once:

I set my handy digital thermometer to the target of 240 degrees, stuck the probe in the pot, and turned on the heat under the sugar/water. Then across the aisle of the kitchen, I poured the whipping cream into the Kitchenaid, and let that whirl away at high speed. That left my actual hands free to whip the yolks in their bowl, keeping a careful eye on the cream lest it overmix, and an ear open for the beeping alert that my sugar syrup had reached the critical temperature. I flipped off the cream when it reached soft peak stage, and when the sugar syrup was ready, poured that into the egg yolks in a thin stream, beating all the while. The next instruction reads:

"Beat until cool."
This is where I thought, "Wow, really? I just poured boiling sugar syrup into the bowl!" But I carried on in faith, and the bowl did eventually feel cool to the touch. I folded the melted Nutella into the yolk/syrup mixture, then folded both into the cream, poured it all into a loaf pan, covered it, and placed in the freezer overnight. Easy as pie. (Confession, pie, or specifically pie crust, is something I've yet to master, so for me, this was actually much, much easier than pie, but pie is hard for me, so if you're a pie master, this may be harder than pie for you.)

You may have noted this recipe used eight egg yolks. What, you may wonder, are you supposed to do with all the leftover egg whites? Homemade angel food cake, of course. A match made in heaven:
I made this semifreddo angel food cake combo twice in the last two weeks for various family and guests, to rave reviews each time. I look forward to spending the rest of my summer experimenting with all the variations and flavors the internet has to offer. Strawberry mascarpone and coconut lime are next on my list...

Recipe for Nutella Semifreddo

4 oz Nutella
1 pint heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1 1/3 C (254 gr) sugar
6 Tb (80ml) water

Melt Nutella in small saucepan, set aside.

Place sugar and water in med saucepan, place on medium high heat, and heat to 240 degrees. While sugar syrup is heating, whip cream to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, whip yolks on medium-high speed.

When sugar syrup is ready, pour into the yolks in a thin stream, as you continue beating the yolks at high speed. Beat until cool.

Fold Nutella into the yolks, then fold yolk/Nutella mixture into the cream. Pour into a large loaf pan and freeze overnight.

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