Do you Semifreddo?
Do you even know what it means?
Welcome to issue #21 of Susanality, a free weekly newsletter. Thanks for being here! If you’re loving this newsletter, please consider a paid subscription. Having your support would mean a lot to me, as I continue to work hard to bring you fresh content on a weekly basis with additional posts and recipes going out to paid subscribers at least twice a month. Thanks again!
I’ve always been a big fan of semifreddo. Back in my pastry chef days at Coco Pazzo, it was always on the menu because it was easy to make, easy to serve, and easy to like. The flavors varied, but it usually followed the same basic formula: make a creamy, eggy, crème anglaise base—which is the base for most ice creams—add whatever flavorings or mix-ins being used, and then lighten the whole thing with a glossy Swiss meringue, giving it a fluffy, mousse-y texture before it’s even frozen. This one is deeply flavored with bittersweet chocolate, malted milk powder, and salty, crunchy, caramelized almonds. It is so good.
In case you don’t speak Italian or aren’t familiar with the term, “semifreddo” translates to “half-cold.” It isn’t ice-cold or rock-hard when you serve it, but rather semi-frozen, as the name implies. Folding in the fluffy egg whites (which are cooked to a safe temperature before whipping, in case you were wondering) takes the place of churning in an ice cream maker to achieve a similar texture. You need to incorporate air one way or the other for a frozen dessert to have the right consistency. Semifreddo, even when it softens, won’t melt into a liquid puddle the way ice cream would because of that moussey-ness I mentioned earlier.
The reason I’m highlighting a recipe from Open Kitchen today is that it’s one of the best recipes in my book, and I haven’t noticed any of you making it! I hope I didn’t intimidate you with the headnote for this particular recipe—with my warnings that there are a few special techniques involved and also a few dirty dishes. It’s a very easy, rinse-y cleanup, and the whole process is pretty quick. The payoff is BEYOND worth it, I promise you, and even if you don’t do each step perfectly, the final result will still be excellent. And by excellent, I mean it’s something to swoon over. The woman who assisted me with the recipe development for my book, way back in 2018, suggested I call it “Pearl’s Kryptonite,” since she was so weakened by it.
For my Sunday post this week (for paid subscribers only), I’ll be walking you through the three main techniques in video tutorials: candied nuts, crème anglaise, and Swiss meringue. I’m also more than happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments section, or you can simply reply to this email and ask away. These are all pretty straightforward techniques, but it helps to know what things should look like if you’ve never tried them before. Videos really help!
One note about ingredients: Malted milk powder is integral to the craveable flavor of this recipe. Most big (and sometimes even small) supermarkets carry it, but it helps to know what to look for and where to look for it. The main brand is Carnation, which you can also order online, and what you’re looking for is unsweetened, unflavored malt milk powder. The chocolate-flavored ones will have sugar as the first ingredient, and that’s not what you want. It’s usually shelved with the other canned milk products like evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, which seem to be most often in the coffee aisle, not the baking aisle, where it would seem to make the most sense! There are other brands available online too. The recipe will still work without it, but it adds a lot!
This is the perfect summer dessert, whether you’re serving guests or you just want to keep it in the freezer for you and your family, however small that may be. It keeps really well for up to a couple of weeks if tightly wrapped, so you can pull it out and slice off a bit for an after dinner (or mid-afternoon) treat. Or make it for a dinner party well in advance, slice it and serve. Your friends will think you are a magician!
I am about to go on vacation for a few weeks, so I’ll be off next week. The week after that, you can expect a newsletter and delicious recipe from my lovely summer intern, Alaina Chou (@crumbsandnibbles). I’ll see you back here on August 13th!
And, make sure to subscribe below to receive video tutorials for the three main techniques in this recipe, delivered straight to your inbox on Sunday morning:
PS - I wanted to remind you that all of the recipes in my newsletters live permanently here. You can also scroll through public recipes on my site or keep up with me on Instagram. Or better yet, you can support me by ordering my book, Open Kitchen.
Chocolate Malt Semifreddo with Salted Candied Almonds
Click here for a printable version
Serves 6 to 8
This recipe is not only indescribably delicious but also a master class in basic pastry techniques. Soon you’ll be an expert at making caramel, crème anglaise, and Swiss meringue. They all come together to form one perfect dessert that can be stashed in your freezer for up to a week or two before you want to serve it!
For the salted candied almonds:
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, plus more to grease parchment
½ cup whole raw almonds, very roughly chopped
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
For the semifreddo:
1½ cups whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
6 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate (70%)
½ cup unsweetened malted milk powder, such as Carnation
4 large egg yolks
7 tablespoons sugar
3 large egg whites
Large pinch of salt
To make the candied almonds: Butter a piece of parchment paper, foil, or a silicone baking mat and lay it on the counter.
In a medium (10-inch) skillet, combine the butter, almonds, sugar, and vanilla. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the almonds are toasted-looking and the sugar is liquefied and has turned a deep amber color, 5 to 7 minutes. Pour out onto the parchment and, using a metal offset spatula, press them down to a single layer, but don't spread them out too much. Immediately sprinkle with the flaky salt and let cool. When cooled, chop into smaller pieces (leave half of the almonds a little chunkier and store in an airtight container; these will be for the top).
To make the semifreddo: Line a standard (8½ x 4½ x 2½-inch) loaf pan with a large piece of plastic wrap. Leave enough excess so it can be completely folded over once it's filled.
Combine the milk and vanilla pod and seeds in a small saucepan and heat slowly over low heat. Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Set a fine-mesh strainer on top of the bowl with the chocolate. Set aside near the stove.
Have the malted milk powder ready. Combine the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk until liquified. When the milk is steaming and bubbling around the edges, slowly whisk it into the eggs and return the mixture to the saucepan. If you’re brave and impatient like I am, you’ll cook it over medium heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, 4 to 8 minutes. (It will take longer if you want to cook it more gently over low heat.) If the mixture starts to curdle, briefly remove it from the heat. You’ll know it’s almost done when the foam starts to subside and the mixture begins to thicken. At this point, turn the heat down to low to avoid scrambling the eggs, and cook until shiny and smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. The consistency should be similar to heavy cream (rather than a thick pastry cream). Whisk in the malted milk powder and immediately pour it into the strainer over the bowl of chocolate, leaving any curdy bits in the pan. Push it through the strainer using a rubber spatula. Stir the two mixtures together briefly, let sit for 5 minutes, and stir again until smooth and the chocolate is completely melted. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice. Stir occasionally until cold, then remove from the ice.
Heat a large saucepan with a few inches of water in it until simmering. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a metal bowl if you are using a hand mixer), combine the egg whites with the remaining 5 tablespoons sugar and the salt, and set it over the simmering water. Whisk constantly, hand-holding the whisk attachment until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes, then attach the whisk attachment to the mixer and beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy. Be careful not to overbeat, as you’ll want the meringue to be smooth and silky so that it folds easily into the chocolate.
Fold the meringue into the chocolate mixture: Using a rubber spatula, stir ⅓ of the meringue into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold the rest in until no streaks remain, taking care not to deflate the mixture.
Use the rubber spatula to nudge about half the chocolate mixture into the pan. Sprinkle with the more finely chopped half of the candied almonds. Top with remaining chocolate mixture. Fold the plastic over to wrap completely. Find a flat, level surface in the freezer and freeze overnight.
When ready to serve, tap the semifreddo out of the pan, unwrap, and place upside down on a serving platter. Scrape the sides to smooth the wrinkles, and top with the remaining almonds. Slice and serve immediately.