Fashion & Beauty

THE FOOD OF LOVE: Chocolate Semifreddo


Like Romance, Semifreddo takes work. But if you make key components a day or two ahead, you’ll hum with pleasure in the final mixing.


Photo Sheila Phalon.

Photo Sheila Phalon.

Semifreddo means “half-cold” in Italian, but there’s nothing mezzo mezzo about this glorious dessert. It’s a both-and affair, caramel sweet and cocoa bitter, alternately cream-mellow and zest-zingy; and it offers a perfect crunch-yield ratio.  Just like our romance, carissimo.

And like romance, it takes work. But if you make key components a day or two ahead, you’ll hum with pleasure in the final mixing.  A boon to serenity: the dessert must sleep in the freezer overnight, so no last minute kerfuffles. Another boon: This semifreddo offers cake-y satisfactions but is effortlessly gluten-free.

Semifreddo’s distinguishing lightness comes from air.  Most recipes perfuse a custard with billowy whipped cream and voluminous egg whites—a Swiss meringue (egg white and sugar whisked over simmering water) or Italian meringue (you pour hot sugar syrup over egg whites while madly beating them).

Yum. But safe?

I double-checked with baking guru Rose Levy Beranbaum, whose Cake Bible is now in its 50th printing, and she confirmed my suspicion: neither technique cooks the egg whites to 160 degrees, so salmonella may lurk.  She recommended shell-pasteurized eggs (as distinguished from bottled whites) with ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar for each white.

What Rose says works, works. Alas, a tour of my local market produced no such eggs, but an idea hatched as I headed home.  Why not whip up French meringues, bake them until dry, and use them to line the semifreddo mold, adding crispness as well as air?  Thus:


Vive la France Semifreddo 2014 (for Ricardo)

 -3Photo by Nancy Weber.


[Editor’s note, January 5: Inspired by a response from a reader who couldn’t imagine taking 3 days to make a dessert, Nancy challenged herself to make a 22-minute version. (Scroll down to the Comments section below for the method.) By using readymade pudding, whipped cream, and almond butter she got preparation down to 17 minutes.  Result?  Both she and her Ricardo found the quickie surprisingly good, but not as spectacular as the scratch version. She says, “The different textures and flavors in the over-the-top semifreddo create an alchemical excitement. It’s worth the effort. The garnishes are just for the camera, though.  A couple of raspberries or the glistening glazed plum slices are all you need.”]

Several days—or more—before you need it

Make orange sugar by processing the grated zest of 2 washed and dried organic oranges (blood oranges preferred) with 2-1/2 cups organic or natural crystallized sugar (blond)

Make ginger sugar by processing ½ pound crystallized ginger pieces  with 2-1/2 cups sugar.

Refrigerate in glass jar. Add a vanilla bean if you like.  These sugars are also great for oatmeal topping, muffins, glazes, marinades . . . .

Up to three days ahead

1) Raspberry ginger jam: In a small, heavy nonstick pan, stir and simmer 2 TBS ginger sugar and 2 TBS water.  Add 2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen, and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is gone. Transfer to strainer.  Refrigerate (saving strained liquid for another use).

2) Almond praline: In a small, heavy nonstick pan, stir and simmer ½ cup natural sugar and 2 TBS water.  Swirl, stirring only occasionally to prevent burning, until golden. Add ½ cup almonds (blanched or with skins) and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid turns a deep mahogany.  Add 2 tsps unsalted butter, stir, and transfer onto baking sheet lined with Reynolds Non-Stick Foil.  Allow to cool and harden.  Break into chunks and grind to powder in processor.  Reserve in glass jar at room temp.

Shortcuts: With store-bought raspberry preserves and almond brittle, you’ll still craft a fab semifreddo (though nothing smells better than simmering berries and caramelizing nuts). Make just one exotic sugar or combine, but please don’t leave them out: their mouth-brightening flavors make scrumptious kisses.

Equipment for putting it all together

1 or 2 baking pans 17  x 13 or so, lined with Reynolds Non-Stick Foil

Sturdy medium saucepan with double-boiler insert or heatproof bowl that fits inside it

Small, heavy nonstick sauté pan such as Anolon

Handheld electric mixer

Mixing bowls—1 and 2 quarts

Wooden paddles or spoons (check for onion family odors!)

Flexible spatula

spring-loaded ice cream scoop

Assorted storage containers and lids

mesh strainer

deep pan for ice bath

2 heart-shape freezer-safe pans with 2-1/2 cup capacity (or loaf pan)

off-angle spatula



 for the meringues

½ cup confectioners sugar

½ up almond flour

2 TBS unsweetened cocoa

2 TBS mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (Valrhona, Enjoy Life, or Ghiradelli)

2 TBS orange sugar

½ cup fresh egg whites (4 or 5 eggs—reserve yolks, covered, for custard)

½ cup superfine/caster sugar


for the whipped cream

2 cups organic heavy whipping cream

2 split and scraped vanilla beans

2 TBS superfine / caster sugar

2 TBS Irish whiskey


for the ganache swirl and glaze

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup half and half

½ pound bittersweet chocolate chips

2 tsp sweet butter

for the custard

2 cups half & half

2 split vanilla beans

2 liquid ounces egg yolks (see above)

½ cup natural sugar

½ lb chocolate chips plus 2 TBS chips held aside

2 TBS ginger sugar

2 TBS Irish whiskey

Measurements: All quantities in my recipes are expressed as two (2) or one-half (1/2).  This rule abets memory, mood, & accuracy. “Two liquid ounces of egg yolks”  is weird, but it works even if you buy mixed sizes of eggs.



Meringues (1)

Process first 5 ingredients into a powder.

Beat egg whites until frothy; gradually add superfine sugar and  beat until foam becomes soft peaks.

Add chocolate-almond powder all at once and lightly  incorporate with spatula.

Scoop onto foil-lined pan, alternating rows of six and five meringues.  Set aside to dry for 20 minutes. Turn oven to 200.


Whipped cream (1)

Thoroughly wash and dry beaters. Wrap in plastic & refrigerate.

Combine cream, sugar, & vanilla beans in quart bowl; cover & refrigerate.



Bring cream and half & half to a boil. Add chocolate and stir gently. Stir in butter. Transfer to covered container and let sit at room temp.


Meringues (2)

Put on rack in middle of oven and check every ½ hour until crisp all over (may take 2 hours).


Whipped cream (2)

Gradually building up beater speed, whip cream until semi-firm.  Stir in whiskey, cover, & refrigerate.  Wash beaters.



Bring half & half  and vanilla beans  to a simmer, stirring occasionally, over boiling water.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale.

Pour a little of the hot cream into egg mix, stir, and return all to the pot.  Cook over water, stirring always with a wooden spoon, until it starts to thicken and an instant read thermometer says 175.  Add the ½ pound chocolate chips.  Pass through strainer into clean heatproof bowl.  Stir in ginger sugar.  Set carefully into ice bath to cool quickly.  Stir often.  Otherwise keep covered with plastic pressed down onto custard (to prevent skin). After ½ hour, add reserved chocolate chips.

You’ve done the hard part.  Now be patient & let everything cool. Refrigerate custard (but not ganache, which you need pourable)  When meringues are crisp (except for a slightly chewy middle), remove from oven.

Prepare heart molds by lining with foil, carefully pressing it against the sides, without tearing, & leaving a generous overhand.  Clear space in coldest part of freezer.

On countertop array cold custard, cold whipped cream, & room- tem ganache, raspberry jam, praline powder, & meringues.

As if you were making a marble cake, aiming to leave streaks rather than amalgamate, lightly cut and fold whipped cream and custard. Cut in praline and then raspberry. (Piano, piano.)  Using just ½ the ganache, place spoonfuls around the edge of the beautiful mix. Zigzag across the bowl to pull lines of ganache into play. Toss once or twice with spatula.  Heap into molds. Smooth. Cover. Freeze.


Optional garnishes

On a dark, rain-slicked night in 1973, at a sudden roadside café north of Florence, my brother and I had our first, formative slice of semifreddo.  It had no garnish and needed none, for it was a Paul Klee mosaic unto itself, no two bites the same.

Feel free to offer your semifreddo naked.  Valentine’s Day, after all.  Then again, it’s a day of excess, lace and ribbons and velvet and all things red, so feel free to gussy it up.

Either way, take it out of the pan (the foil eases the stress) and transfer to a chilled plate.  Smooth any wrinkles with a hot, dry off-angle spatula.  If you like, glaze it with the saved ganache and refreeze, lightly covered.

If your heart desires, consider adding at service time: ganache dipped strawberries with mint stems; thinly sliced plum (I use a Japanese mandoline,  very carefully) glazed by baking at 200 on a caster sugar-sprinkled sheet pan; curly crisps of apple,  thin slices baked at 200 on foil (no sugar); fresh raspberries; glazed kumquats (roll them around in a sugar syrup in that heavy little sauté plan); caramelized hazelnuts; glazed blood orange; and—if you happen to score a star fruit at Integral Yoga—glazed slices of that precious fruit.

To drink with the ultimate dessert?

My favorite dessert wine from California—and the critics have been hurling gold medals at it: Navarro Winery’s cluster select Late Harvest Reisling, 2011

If you’re inclined toward bubbly, trust me on this: A Portuguese sparkling wine–brand name Sexy, label outrageous magenta—is a refined, sublime, champagne-style wine that will knock your socks off.  I tasted it at the recent Mohegan Sun WineFest: wow! Available online and in 10 states.

Photo by Nancy Weber.


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  • Tobysgirl February 27, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    We don’t drink much cider, Nancy, due to the high sugar content, but we’re both 60-plus and would drink it otherwise. Meat is problematic, as you point out, but we only buy meat from local sources and have no hesitation in eating it very rare.

    Here are two tricks for avoiding food poisoning: Drink a glass of water to which one tablespoon of cider vinegar is added prior to dining out, or take Vitamin C before doing so. I have cider vinegar every morning anyhow, and opti-dose my Vitamin C. A healthy gut can stand a lot of bacteria, but unfortunately many people take antacids, which are incredibly harmful and leave people vulnerable to things which shouldn’t be a problem. Your gut is home to the largest nervous system in your body, your enteric nervous system, which controls your heart and other organ functions. Be kind to your gut! Keep it acidic as it was meant to be!

  • Nancy Weber February 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Toby, we’re on the same page. Or in the same nest. Great eggs remain a relative bargain and provide amazing pleasures and benefits. I don’t understand why people put up with tasteless, pale yolks when the real thing is widely available–& often no more expensive than factory eggs. I admit to agonizing over cider at Greenmarket. I don’t want potassium sorbate but I’m nervous about bringing home raw cider with its robust flavor. So I usually compromise on UV-treated or pasteurized cider to protect the (older) man I live with. On the other hand, I refuse to cook anything to death & we don’t own a microwave (although it’s great for clarifying butter). II won’t buy a steak I’m afraid to cook rare–what’s the point? Cooking & dining out mean a constant internal conversation & a fair amount of bet-hedging. I raised my kids on the story of a dinner party at which we all consumed quantities of delicious rare roast beef. The host–who happened to be my family doctor growing up–called the next morning anxiously to find out how I was: he, his wife, & other guests had all suffered through a bad night of salmonella-toxicity symptoms. I said I was fine. Whew! But how come I escaped–just luck? He commented that everyone else had drunk wine while I (newly divorced) had knocked back a fair amount of Jack Daniels. “The alcohol saved you,” the doctor said. Take note.

  • Tobysgirl February 21, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Nancy, people with compromised immune systems should probably not eat raw or undercooked eggs, drink raw cider, eat rare meat, etc. However, the rest of us should due to the incredible health benefits of food that is not microwaved or cooked to death. I would just like people to think about where the eggs they use come from; most of us have the option to purchase eggs raised humanely and cleanly. Finances are not an excuse; I have been quite poor and not eaten factory-farmed eggs.

  • diane February 7, 2014 at 2:03 pm


    You are too wonderful to find short cuts for women without the time to make your (I am certain) fantastic desert. And, there are no ugly shortcuts, just a bit of help.

    I can’t wait to try this.

    Readers of WVFC we owe Nancy!

  • Nancy Weber February 7, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Dear Toby, I’m sorry you lost your birds. Most people don’t know the joys of easting a truly fresh egg. (I used to date an egg farmer–a phrase I never thought I’d utter–who kept his eggs on the countertop; if they were old enough to need refrigeration, he didn’t want to eat them.) I trust my egg sources, too, & I make runny omelettes & whip up mayo with soft-boiled yolks. I even lick the cookie dough batter spoon. But I can’t put a recipe out there using raw eggs unless I can send responsibly produced eggs along with it. Once, many years ago, before I went to culinary school & took the NYC Department of Health food handlers’ course (big scary power-point images of swarming bacteria of all sorts), I baked a pumpkin custard inside the pumpkin shell for a beloved elderly cousin who’d recently undergone chemotherapy. It cooked for several hours in a slow oven, was delicious, & the rest of us who ate it were fine. My cousin spent the night in the bathroom. Was it the eggs or some contaminant lurking on the pumpkin skin? I’ll never know–& I’ll never feel 100% about eggs or pumpkins again. Take a chance for myself? Yup. But not for others, with so many unknown, uncontrollable factors. xo, Nancy

  • Tobysgirl February 7, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Easy to deal with the egg white “problem.” KNOW WHO YOU ARE BUYING YOUR EGGS FROM! Since I lost my birds, I buy my eggs from a local organic farm. I have eaten raw egg whites and yolks for decades and had nary a problem. I don’t care where you live; if you can afford to make this dessert, you can afford to buy eggs from a responsible farmer.

  • Nancy Weber February 4, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Dear Diane! I like your note so much—and Birkenstocks so little–that I decided to make a Semifreddo Diane that you could whip up for your husband in 20 minutes. OK, maybe 22. Yup, it would mean using some boughten stuff, but I happened to be in Whole Foods as this notion took hold, so no worry about finding quality components. Into my basket went a 22-ounce container of KozyShack chocolate pudding. Then (oh, the forbidden joy of it!) a spritz can of Natural by Nature whipped cream. (But both “light” and “classic”? Not in my book—except that tonight it’s a different book.) “Time me!” I shouted to the unflappable Ricardo, as I raced into the apartment. “I’m making a Semifreddo Presto!” Onto my counter top also went: raspberry jam, chunky almond butter, half & half, and a bag of mini chocolate chips. Meringues already sitting there in cookie jar. On the clock: 9:11 p.m. Hotted 1/2 cup of the 1/2 & 1/2, added 1/2 cup each choc chips & almond butter, stirred, & transferred to a wide-bottom bowl to cool quickly. Now added another 1/2 cup of choc chips, not intended to melt. Threw in 2 capsful of Irish whiskey. Crushed/crumbled meringues into1/2 cup of bits. (Many commercial cookies, even GrapeNuts, would work). Combined 2 cups of pudding & 2 cups of whipped cream in a big bowl, stirring half the cream into the pudding to lighten it, adding 2 capsful of Irish whiskey here as well, & then folding in the rest of the cream, which I’d lightly stirred with the raspberry jam. Oh, almost forgot! I grated the zest of 1/2 an orange over the pudding-cream mix & into the melted chocolate-almond butter mix. 9:28 p.m., and I had enough delicious fluff to fill a heart-shaped pan & a pint container. Preliminary tastes: almost too good. I’ve already told Ricardo that he is absolutely not to tell me it’s better than the original. Stay tuned–I hope we’ll be semifrozen in time for a late dessert. Love, Nancy

    p.s. (next morning) After 3 hours in the freezer, the pint container was scoopable. Darling Ricardo pronounced it “amazing” but “lacking the complexity” of the longcut version. I liked the creaminess but missed ginger and . . . complexity. Just now I unmolded the shortcut heart ;it sliced like a dream. It tastes a little empty to me: misses the weight of real whipped cream. But, Diane, I think you’ve changed my life.

  • Eva Mekler February 4, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Sounds restorative, of romance, or anything else missing in my life. I would love to have this to throw a party for my mouth.

  • diane February 4, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I like romance. I like to cook but work long hours. I love my husband. But, I would no more take three days off from my life to make a desert than I would wear Birkenstocks.

    I am exhausted just from reading the instructions!

    The writing and photographs are lovely but I can not imagine a working woman ever contemplating making anything this complicated.