Instead of throwing a full dinner for Erik's birthday, as I have done in years past, I decided to just do a dessert party this year. Reason being I often get in over my head, and try to clean the entire house, cook for an undetermined number of people, sew a new tablecloth, make several desserts, paint my nails, make myself look presentable, etc. While the most I ever accomplish is cleaning the house and getting a meal on the table, I decided to take it easy on myself this year and just stick to dessert. But if you're only going to do one thing, you have to do it right, right? Initially I had been leaning towards Julia Child's Reine de Saba (made famous--or infamous?--by the scene in Julie and Julia (the movie) when Julie and her hubby dive into it in some sort of chocolate craze). However, upon seeing a recipe for semifreddo, a frozen Italian dessert, I changed my mind at once. Erik and I had semifreddo once before at Babbo, Mario Batali's first NYC restaurant. I am usually a fast eater (bad habit, I know), but this dessert (actually, the whole meal there) was SO GOOD that I needed to slow down and savor every morsel. That was nearly two years ago, and it never occurred to me to make semifreddo, until I saw this recipe just a few weeks ago. Although it's quite different than Batali's take on the dessert, almost akin to a frozen cheesecake, it is pretty darn tasty.
The recipe is somewhat epic, at least my my standards. Although the ingredients are fairly straight-forward (lots of pantry staples), you have to prepare 4 separate parts that come together right at the end. A cookie crumb crust is baked briefly, then cools while you separate eggs, making a chocolaty custard with the yolks, whip the whites, and beat cream and cream cheese together. Those three components are then gently folded together, piled atop the crust, and frozen.
But, what a lovely dessert it makes. Decorated with chocolate drizzles and whipped cream, it was a cake to behold! It's also convenient because you make it ahead of time, freeze it, and then just plate it up and decorate it, if you want, at the last minute. I made my own whipped cream because I had some kicking around in the fridge, but the kind in the aerosol can would make decorating a cinch. I contemplated how nice chocolate covered espresso beans would look atop evenly spaced blobs of whipped cream, but alas the storming weather here kept me inside this weekend (confession: I haven't left the house since Friday night...eek). Alternatively, fresh raspberries would add a punch of color, especially if paired with a raspberry sauce, as suggested by Brown Eyed Baker. While I was deterred by the hefty price tag on raspberries this time of year, I did make a raspberry sauce, which was nice, but actually I didn't think it added much to the cake. What can I say, it's just that good on its own. So without further ado, the recipe:
Serves 12 or so
* 1 3/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers are perfect--you'll use about 2/3 of the box to get enough crumbs)
* 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
* 4 large eggs, separated
* 2 Tablespoons of sugar
* 1/3 cup of sugar
* 3 oz of espresso (I made mine using espresso powder)
* 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
* 1 Tablespoon of Kahlua, coffee or chocolate liquor, or rum
* 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped (this is about 3/4 cup of chocolate chips, if you're using chips)
* 2 oz of heavy or whipping cream
* 16 oz of cream cheese (or Mascarpone, if you can find it. I can't.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Combine the cookie crumbs and the melted butter. Pour mixture into a parchment lined 9-inch springform pan. Spread crumbs evenly over the bottom and use your hands or the bottom of a glass to press them down. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool. Turn off the oven.
3. Combine egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar over a double boiler. Whisk the yolks vigorously (I used my electric whisk) until the yolks are thick and light in color. Add espresso, vanilla, and liquor, and set over simmering water. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and foamy, and will coat the back of a spoon.
4. Remove the yolk mixture from the heat and add chopped chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate has melted and the mixture has cooled.
5. In another bowl, combine the cream cheese and cream until combined and smooth. When chocolate mix is cool, fold the chocolate into the cream cheese mixture, and mix until just combined.
6. Combine the egg whites and the 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl over a double boiler. Whisk occasionally until the mixture reaches 145 degrees F (this takes a while--about 10 minutes perhaps?). VERY IMPORTANT: If you are using the same whisk for both the yolks and the whites, be sure to wash it very carefully so there is no trace of the yolk on the whisk--the egg whites will not whip up if they're contaminated with any yolk!
7. When the whites reach 145 degrees, pull them from the heat and beat them until they form stiff, shiny peaks. Then, continue beating them on lower speed until the bowl is cool to the touch.
8. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate/cream cheese mixture. Then, even more gently, fold in the remainder, mixing in 1/4 at a time. Fold very gently, because the air in the whites gives the final product volume, and you don't want to end up with a flat cake!
9. Line the sides of the springform pan with strips of parchment paper and pour in filling. Shake gently to smooth the top.
10. Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap, and freeze for at least 4 hours.
11. Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving. Release the sides of the pan and lift it up carefully. Transfer to your serving platter, and slide off the base of the pan and the bottom layer of parchment. Peel the parchment paper away from the sides. Decorate as desired with melted chocolate, whipped cream, raspberries, and/or expresso beans. Slice with a warm dry knife and enjoy!
Raspberry Sauce (Adapted from In the Kennedy Kitchen)
* 12 oz bag of frozen raspberries, thawed. (Organic, if you can find them. I think they have more flavor)
* 1/2 cup of sugar
* 1/2 cup of white wine
1. Combine sugar and wine in a small saucepan. Simmer until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.
2. Puree thawed berries in a blender or mini cuisinart. Pour the puree into a seive over a bowl, and using the back of a spoon, or a rubber spatula, press the puree through the seive, straining out the seeds. I have found that you really need to mush the puree around to press the liquid through, and periodically take your spatula and wipe off all the puree that sticks to the underside of the sieve. If you feel like a lot of the puree is still sticking to the seeds, add a few tablespoons of water to the puree, mix it around, and this should help.
3. Combine the sugar/wine syrup and the puree, and refrigerate in a covered container until ready to serve.
Straining raspberry puree on the ellusive "other side of the kitchen."
Equally small, as you can see.