[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] Editor’s Note: We’re very excited to welcome writer, photographer, and cook Michael Harlan Turkell back to the virtual pages of Serious Eats. In this series, Michael will share some of his favorite recipes that use the broiler, one of the most powerful […]
4. Add clams to the pan, nestling them between the tomatoes. Pour in the vermouth and add the butter in the center of the pan. Broil for 2 minutes, and then flip the clams, baste with the liquid and return to the broiler until all […]
Growing up in Kentucky, I didn’t have any opportunities to sample homemade semifreddo, and by the time I went to culinary school it seemed to have fallen out of fashion—or at least it was absent from the menus at the sort of restaurants I could afford to visit.
This gave it a somewhat legendary status in my mind, a mysterious dessert that I had never seen or tasted in the wild, something I avoided making at all cost for fear of doing it wrong. But at my second-ever job as a pastry chef, I was without an ice cream machine and miserable at the idea of a summer without a menu of frozen treats. So I conquered my fear of the unknown, read my way through a thousand cookbooks, and learned to make semifreddo.
It was glorious; like a cross between ice cream and mousse. The first bite was airy and soft, then creamy and rich as it melted, bringing out its full flavor. The first one I ever made, and the one I kept on my menu for a summer, was sweetened with locust honey (exceedingly common in Kentucky), and it’s been my favorite semifreddo ever since. (I am, predictably, a sucker for nostalgia.)
What is Semifreddo?
Semifreddo means “half-cold,” or “half-frozen,” in Italian, a reference to the velvety softness that makes it seem like so much more than a frozen block of mousse. That texture has less to do with its literal temperature than its composition: a rich foam of eggs and cream with enough sugar to banish any trace of iciness, but not so much that it requires an ice cream machine to churn.
As with ice cream, which can be made with egg yolks, whole eggs, or no eggs at all, semifreddo can take many forms. Many recipes are based on meringue (whipped egg whites) or pâte à bombe (foamed egg yolks), and some use both. Historically, that’s because whole eggs are difficult if not impossible to foam by hand; splitting up the yolks and whites makes each element easier to whip to its maximum potential.
Making the Case for Whole Eggs
Maximum aeration may be crucial for some applications, but that lightness isn’t necessarily ideal for semifreddo. Sure, it needs some sense of airy loft, but one that’s balanced by creaminess, too, and that’s a feature more closely associated with density. The best semifreddos find a sweet spot between the two: light but creamy.
Knowing that the yolks and whites didn’t need to be whipped to the utmost degree for my semifreddo, I had the freedom to streamline that multi-bowl process by whipping whole eggs instead. And, as I learned with homemade ladyfingers, foaming whole eggs is a cinch with a stand mixer.
Even so, whole eggs straight from the fridge can resist aeration even on the most powerful stand mixer, so the trick is to warm them to about 165°F over a water bath with a bit of sugar (or, in this case, honey) for insulation. Not only will this temperature cook the egg through, making it safe to eat, but partial coagulation allows whole eggs to whip with ease.
Setting up the Water Bath
I like to set up my water bath with the bowl of a Kitchen Aid Pro in a large pot or Dutch oven filled with an inch or two of water, plus a ring of tinfoil to act as a booster seat to keep the stand mixer bowl from making direct contact with the cooking vessel the water inside it (with stand mixer bowls that have a foot, it may be necessary to use a separate bowl for the water bath, as the foot can complicate conduction and, later, cooling).
This setup prevents the bowl from overheating by keeping it off the bottom of the pan or the water itself. Using a relatively large pot also prevents the bowl from acting as a lid, which would allow for a buildup of steam that could quickly scramble the eggs. But with a nice gap between the bowl and pan, that steam can freely flow, warming the eggs safely and efficiently. Plus, it’s easy to see whether or not the water is simmering, or getting low, so that adjustments can be made accordingly.
Stovetop cooking also allows for a bit of evaporation, driving off some of the natural water from the eggs, further stabilizing the foam and ensuring a creamy semifreddo (sorry, sous vide enthusiasts). Once the egg and honey mixture reaches 165°F, I transfer the bowl to a stand mixer and whip to a thick, pale foam. This is the most important stage, so don’t rush the process. Instead, rely on visual cues; the exact timing will vary depending on the power of a given mixer.
On a Kitchen Aid Pro, this takes about 8 minutes; while some variation is normal, the process can be delayed (or even prevented) if the stand mixer’s bowl-to-beater clearance needs adjustment.
By the time the mixture is properly whipped, it will be cool enough to fold in a bit of stiffly whipped cream. To complement the honey used in the eggs, I like to flavor the whipped cream with a few drops of rose water and vanilla, but any sort of essential oil or extract can be whipped in, as well.
Bringing it All Together
Here, the purpose of using whipped cream isn’t to add aeration per se, but to offset the deflating effects of pouring in liquid cream. For that reason, it’s okay to minimize dirty dishes by whipping the cream in advance and storing it in the fridge until needed (because it’s stiffly whipped, it will sit happily on a small plate). With a quick rinse, the bowl will be ready to re-use for the eggs. But it’s okay to whip the cream to-order as well; the foamed eggs are stable enough to wait for the cream to whip.
I like to work in stages, folding in half the whipped cream at a time, to ensure each addition can be well incorporated without deflating the foam. Still, I’m not too fussy about it. An occasional fleck of cream won’t hurt the semifreddo, but over-mixing (deflation) can make it seem hard and dense. So work gently, with an eye to creating an even mix, but don’t pursue total homogenization at the cost of the semifreddo’s airy structure.
Once mixed, scrape the base into a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, or a few criss-crossed sheets of parchment, to assist with unmoldding the semifreddo later on. Plastic wrap offers a more complete liner, but will wrinkle the surface of the semifreddo; parchment can be trickier and less complete for lining a loaf pan, but it will keep the exterior smooth.
In either case, wrap the loaf up tight and freeze until the semifreddo hits an internal temperature of about 0°F. Contrary to its name, the semifreddo is, in fact, fully frozen; it’s just that the air and sugar in the mixture keep it soft and smooth, giving it a consistency that feels as creamy as if it were half melted.
Freezing may only take six to eight hours in a metal loaf pan, but for planning purposes the most practical option is to freeze it overnight—or longer. To me, it’s far better to embrace the semifreddo’s potential as a make-ahead dessert than desperately rush to make and serve it all in one day. Just make sure you pop a serving plate in the freezer, too; getting it nice and cold will maximize the semifreddo’s life at room temperature.
To unmold, simply uncover the semifreddo, invert onto the chilled platter, and tug on the plastic or parchment to pull it free. Then, leaving the parchment or paper in place to protect the semifreddo, pop it back into the freezer until it’s time for dessert.
How to Serve a Semifreddo
Ultimately, a semifreddo is like a giant sundae in loaf form, which is to say: pile it high with whatever toppings strike your fancy. Using toppings, rather than mix-ins, makes the semifreddo easy to slice; it may look beautiful studded with walnuts in that glossy food mag, but you’d need their stylist on hand to cut it for you. Toppings ensure clean slices, and the dreamy presentation is its own reward.
Because I didn’t want to distract from the honey’s floral aroma, I kept the toppings for this semifreddo rather simple: fresh cherries macerated with just enough sugar to draw out some saucey juice, and a scattering of Marcona almonds for crunch.
It would be just as lovely with a drizzle of dark chocolate and a handful of candied pistachios, but the combination of almonds and stone fruit is one of my favorites with honey. (Another favorite is rooibos caramel, but that’s a recipe for another day.)
Semifreddo is a great party dessert, because it benefits from standing at room temperature for a minute or two before slicing, which means you’re not in a mad rush and your guests have plenty of time to oooh and ahhh over the beautiful platter. Straight from the freezer, semifreddo can be slightly brittle, causing the slices to crumble or break. But when allowed to stand a moment or two at room temperature, it will slice like a dream.
Of course, semifreddo can be scooped like ice cream, but when you’ve got a half dozen friends around the table, slicing is infinitely faster than scooping, so you can get back to the party.
This six-ingredient semifreddo harnesses the power of a stand mixer to whip whole eggs, streamlining the process found in traditional recipes that whip the yolks and whites individually. It’s a no-fuss approach to semifreddo, summer’s best make-ahead dessert. Sweetened with honey alone, it has fresh […]
[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt, Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot] We are well into August, but cookout season isn’t quite over and I’m intent on using these last couple weeks before Labor Day to spend as much time with my grill as possible. We’ve been […]
Finding a way to be alone when working in a busy restaurant environment isn’t an easy task, but I believe it’s always important to carve out some me time. This is usually accomplished by scurrying into the pantry during a lull for a sneaky dry-storage snack, or dipping into the dish pit to scavenge through half-eaten bloomin’ onions.
My favorite midday excursions happened while I was working at a sprawling, multilevel, weightily staffed fine-dining Italian restaurant. Here I was blessed with countless nooks to crawl into and plenty of cooks to cover me on their over-staffed lines. This restaurant had multiple walk-in refrigerators, lined up side by side, each dedicated to a particular category of ingredient. Any chance I could find, I’d get myself into the dairy/cheese/condiment walk-in. Armed with a pocketful of spoons, I maintained focus on my target: La Nicchia Paté di Pomodori Secchi e Capperi, a sun-dried-tomato and caper spread.
In a room filled with burrata, it seems crazy to go for a tomato spread, but believe me, this stuff is epic. The chef regaled me with tales of Italian grandmothers hand-picking tomatoes grown in volcanic soil, then slowly drying them on screens set on sunny rooftops, and finally blending them with capers packed in salt from the Mediterranean Sea.
Okay, so none of that turned out to be true, but this stuff is still undeniably delicious. At the restaurant, this tomato and caper spread was combined with a 20-plus-ingredient mole before just a teaspoon of the mixture was smeared along the rim of a dish of lobster fra diavolo. Don’t be confused—you read that right. This glorious spread that’s perfect just the way it is was combined with a Mexican mole, its complex flavors overwhelmed by dried chilies, spices, and nuts.
Well, now is its chance to enjoy some time in the spotlight, not overshadowed by lobster or eaten in the dark; this spread deserves your full attention. Fleshy plum tomatoes are slowly roasted with thyme and garlic until they’re jammy and concentrated. The sticky tomatoes are then pulsed with briny capers and flooded with extra-virgin olive oil. Although the resulting blend is perfect on crusty bread alone, it can also be tossed with pasta, spread onto pizza, or served alongside grilled or roasted meats.
How to Make Tomato and Caper Spread
Because this is such a simple dish, I like to start with the best ingredients I can find. Make this in the summer, when juicy, flavorful tomatoes are in season. Since tomatoes tend to attack in packs, this recipe is a great way to preserve them for winter. This is also the time to splurge on fancy-pants extra-virgin olive oil; try to buy the best you can.
Step 1: Blanching the Tomatoes
I start by peeling my tomatoes, which not only gives the spread a smoother final texture but also provides more surface area for evaporation, allowing the tomatoes to dry faster. If I’m dealing with just a few tomatoes, I’ll opt for a peeler, or even an open flame to help me quickly peel them, but for any more than a few, blanching is the way to go.
Using a small paring knife or tourné knife, I remove the core from the stem end of each tomato and score the opposite end with an x. Taking the time to do this now will make the tomatoes easier to peel after blanching.
Meanwhile, I bring a large stockpot of water to a boil and set up an ice bath for shocking the tomatoes. Working with four to five tomatoes at a time, using a kitchen spider, I drop them into the boiling water for just a few moments, until the skin begins to separate from the flesh where it’s been scored. If the tomatoes are very ripe, this will happen in just seconds; underripe tomatoes may take up to a minute or more.
Once the skin begins to peel away, I remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. I next peel the skin and split the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
Step 2: Roasting the Tomatoes
I arrange the tomato halves, cut sides up, on wire racks set into rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper. The wire rack allows air to circulate all around each tomato, so they dry evenly. Brushing the wire rack with a touch of olive oil prevents the tomatoes from sticking as they cook. I brush each tomato half with a bit more olive oil before topping it with a slice of garlic and a fresh thyme sprig.
I roast the tomatoes until they’ve shrunk to about a quarter of their original size. I’m not looking to reproduce the leathery and brittle texture of store-bought sun-dried tomatoes, but rather to concentrate the tomatoes’ juices until they’re dense and sticky.
How long the tomatoes take to get there can vary greatly depending on the air circulation of your oven, as well as on the tomatoes themselves. In testing this recipe, I found that underripe grocery store tomatoes cooked down in half the time of ripe, juicy farmers market ones. Keep an eye on your oven, and allow for enough time to properly cook down whatever tomatoes you have.
Step 3: Mixing the Spread
After the tomatoes have roasted, I remove the garlic slices and thyme sprigs, then pulse the roasted tomatoes in a food processor with drained capers and dried basil until all the ingredients are just combined. I prefer to have some texture in the spread, so I only barely pulse them together. This can also be done with a chef’s knife, or even with a mortar and pestle.
To finish off the spread, I stir in a healthy pour of olive oil and season it to taste with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. At first, the spread may taste bitter from all the olive oil, but that harshness will mellow out after a day in the fridge, where the flavors can meld.
It may seem like a lot of work to score, blanch, peel, and then slowly roast tomatoes for hours, just to be left with a couple cups of this stuff. But just think of the grandmothers who are now perilously perched on rooftops, with baskets of Italian tomatoes balanced on their heads. Well, actually, that probably doesn’t happen, so instead, just think of me, risking a public shaming by my chef just to sneak in a couple spoonfuls. Trust me—it’s worth it.
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] For this savory spread, fleshy plum tomatoes are slowly roasted with aromatic garlic and thyme until they grow jammy and sweet with concentrated flavor. The oven-dried tomatoes are pulsed with briny capers, then combined with a generous dose of the best-quality extra-virgin […]
[Photograph: Vicky Wasik] Fat-washing is a simple process that infuses liquor with all the alcohol-soluble flavors in fat. This is a great trick to fancify any not-so-great whiskey into something smooth and rich. As a bonus, the butter becomes flavored with spicy notes of bourbon, […]
Today, we bring you our very first intra-office cooking challenge. The contestants: assistant culinary editor Sohla El-Waylly and pastry wizard Stella Parks. The premise: Each makes delicious food from a mystery box of ingredients chosen by the other. The stakes: The loser gets to eat a glorious meal (and, let’s be real, the winner probably does, too).
To keep things interesting, we decided to lay down a few ground rules:
- They had to buy their ingredients for each other at the farmers market—and make use of them all. An Iron Chef–/most-cooking-shows-on-television-inspired challenge to see where the creative process would take them.
- They could spend no more than $80 each, lest Serious Eats go bankrupt.
- No supplemental shopping at the supermarket: They vowed to make do with whatever they were given, though they were permitted to make use of pantry staples from our (admittedly well-stocked) kitchen.
- Everything had to be done in a day. They’d shop, cook, and eat, all within an eight-hour window; more than any normal person would budget for a weeknight meal, but a fair day’s work for two full-time recipe developers. That meant no overnight doughs or marinades, no dry-aged meat or ripened custard bases; just simple recipes that could be taken from start to finish all in one go.
Here’s what they came up with:
Aperitif: I started us off with rounds of brown-buttered Old Fashioneds—the only acceptable way to end a long day in the kitchen. Fat-washing the bourbon with browned butter infuses it with nutty notes, while giving the butter a spicy kick from the alcohol.
Appetizer: I put together polenta pierogies filled with braised guinea fowl, caramelized onion, and a bloomy soft cheese. Then I sautéed them in the bourbon-infused brown butter and finished them off with crisp raw purslane.
Main course: I roasted the guinea fowl crown after giving it a quick dry brine of salt and baking powder for a better-browned crust. In the last moments of cooking, I pulled out the bourbon brown butter again to baste the guinea fowl.
Side dishes: On the side, I served seared and braised radishes finished with lemon from the pantry, and a country-loaf dressing tossed in concentrated guinea fowl stock that I’d whipped up in the pressure cooker.
Dessert: I put the fresh goat’s milk to work in a riff on fior di latte gelato, which I swirled with a raspberry ripple.
More dessert: Next, I used my whole wheat gingerbread sheet cake as a blueprint for a cake made with goat’s milk, buckwheat honey, and Red Fife flour, along with butter that had been steeped with ashwagandha root as it browned.
And even more dessert: I crushed up slightly bruised strawberries from the market haul, then simmered them with anise hyssop, creating a base for a creamless white chocolate ganache. I sprinkled the plate with hollyhocks and blueberries for a bit of pink ‘n blue mid-’90s plating cheesiness.
In the end, they were both exhausted but well fed, and armed with some new recipes to share. (Don’t worry—they’ve made them a few times since, to iron out the kinks.)
6. Gelato is typically served at about 16°F (-9°C), while most American freezers run at 0°F (-18°C). For the most authentic presentation, soften gelato to 16°F in the refrigerator before serving. In a squat container, like a yogurt tub or a square storage container, this […]