Sweet success with semifreddo

The finished semifreddo. —Sophia McCarron

When mistakes hit you, sometimes there’s a moment of realization, a mental “Oh.” I had that moment when reading through this recipe for Hazelnut Semifreddo, a whipped ice cream dish, only to discover that it had to chill for four hours. For context, I was expected at a dinner party at 7, and it was 5 pm. I dashed the hazelnuts into the oven and set it to broil. Having never actually toasted hazelnuts, I hoped that they would just hold off on catching fire.

I poured the heavy cream into the standing mixer and began whipping it, and turned back to the oven to discover that broil was a little aggressive, and the nuts were black on top. They weren’t smoking, though, so I deemed them acceptable, peeled off their skins, and put them in the food processor.

Making this semifreddo was an odyssey of discovery. Aside from learning that hazelnuts should not go into a broiling oven, I also learned how to make butter. Sadly, that’s what my heavy cream turned into after I whipped it too long. It was supposed to have “soft, glossy peaks” but instead it was a lumpy mess. I gave it a look similar to the look I’ve given every finished math test in my high school career — “Eh. This will do” — and into the fridge it went.

At this point, it may seem that this semifreddo was fit more for the trash than human consumption. I can’t argue against that. What I can say is that it seems as though this recipe is impervious to even the most egregious mistakes. I combined the meringue, whipped heavy cream, and nuts, brought it to dinner, and stuck it in the fridge while we ate. In the end, no one noticed and none of it made it home.

Recipe from “Rome at Home: The Spirit of la Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen” by Suzanne Dunaway.

Semifreddo di Nocciola

“Half Frozen” Hazelnut Ice Cream
Serves 4

1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup toasted hazelnuts, pecans, or almonds
2 Tbsp. softened butter
3 egg whites
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp. almond or apricot oil (found at health food stores or supermarkets) to grease the mold

Beat the 1 cup cream with the vanilla until it holds soft, glossy peaks. Refrigerate. Grind the nuts very fine in a food processor with the butter, and place in a large bowl.

Place the egg whites, ½ cup sugar, and salt in a bowl over a pan of hot water over low heat (or a double broiler), and beat with a handheld mixer until double in volume, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the meringue from the heat and continue beating until glossy and thick; cool 10 to 15 minutes.

Fold a third of the egg-white mixture into the nuts to lighten them, then fold in the rest of the egg whites and the chilled cream.

Oil individual molds the size of ramekins, or one large metal 1½-quart mold, with a bit of almond or apricot oil. Spoon the semifreddo into the mold, cover with foil or plastic wrap, and freeze, no stirring needed, for 4 hours or more.