Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo

I finally had a minute to glance through my June issue of Martha Stewart Living. Among the many summer-friendly recipes to be found there, I was interested to see recipes for "no churn" sherbet and sorbet. Touted as making homemade ice cream-like treats possible without an ice cream maker, they caught my eye because I had just finished teaching a class that included another type of frozen dessert that is often advertised as "no churn" ice cream—semifreddo.

Although semifreddo is often compared to ice cream, in its most common form, it's really just frozen mousse.  It is made by lightening a flavor base (chocolate, infused milk/cream, fruit purée/curd, etc.) with whipped cream and more often than not egg yolks and/or whites that have been foamed with sugar or a sugar syrup.  This mousse-y mixture is then spooned or poured into a loaf pan, cake pan, or individual portion-sized molds before being frozen.  Often the mousse is layered with sponge cake...or it can be poured into a crust...  The loaf style is usually sliced in thick slabs—

although, it may be scooped like ice cream.  When layered with sponge cake or poured into a crust it is cut into wedges and comes off very much like an ice cream cake.  Because it is light and airy it is soft enough to eat straight out of the freezer.  However, this same airiness makes it so that a semifreddo begins to soften and melt immediately at room temperature.  In practice this means that when you eat it your dessert will be part frozen mousse and part creamy, mousse-y sauce

...hence, its name...which means "partially frozen." 

I mentioned that semifreddo often includes eggs.  In the days before salmonella contamination of our egg supply became widespread, the eggs were simply whipped with the sugar to a billowy foam, added to the other ingredients and the whole thing was then cooking was necessary.  You will still find recipes that are made this way.  A good example can be found in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Nowadays though, most recipes incorporate some manner of heating the eggs beyond 160° F (the instant kill temperature for salmonella) so that you can be sure that the final mousse is safe for consumption.  Most often this is done via a sabayon:  the egg yolks are beaten with the sugar (along with any liquid flavorings) over a pan of simmering water until a temperature of 160° to 170° F is achieved.  (A Swiss meringue—where just the whites and sugar are heated over simmering water—is also sometimes used.) 

Another method that you will occasionally find makes use of a pastry component called pâte à bombe.  If you have ever made French buttercream, you have made a pâte à bombe.  To make pâte à bombe, a sugar syrup is heated to the firm ball stage (248°F).  While the sugar syrup is coming to temperature, the egg yolks (occasionally a few whites are included) are whipped until they are light, thick and foamy.  The hot sugar syrup is then poured into the whipping egg yolks.  I have no idea what the exact temperature of the egg foam is after the addition of the hot sugar syrup, but I am positive it is in excess of 160°F.  Not only are the eggs safe to consume at this point, the egg foam is extremely stable and makes a fabulous base for buttercreams, mousses...and semifreddos...  I much prefer it to the sabayon method. 

If you would like a more detailed explanation of pâte à bombe...with pictures...check out the post at Joe Pastry.  I only differ from his method in one respect:  he transfers the hot syrup to a glass measure and pours it into the egg foam in stages.  This is a common practice, but I find it cumbersome.  I simply leave the machine running and carefully and slowly drizzle the syrup (directly out of the pan it was cooked in) down the side of the mixing bowl.  If you do it this way, you must be extremely careful not to pour the hot syrup on the moving whisk.  Syrup that comes into contact with the whisk will spray all over the sides of the bowl (thus wasting it)...and, worst case scenario, it might spray out of the bowl and on to you.  This is one of those kitchen tasks that requires your full attention and care so that you will avoid serious burns to yourself and others.  

Like ice creams and mousses, semifreddos can be just about any flavor—chocolate, fruit, nut, caramel, coffee, etc.  Frequently a semifreddo is enhanced with a liqueur. Often, delicious bits—chocolate chips...chunks of fruit...chopped nuts....crumbled amaretti—are folded in....really making it much more like a modern-day Ben & Jerry's concoction than a classic frozen mousse.

Since the class I taught was all about summer foods I decided to flavor my semifreddo with Bing of my favorite early summer fruits.  And since chocolate is delicious with sweet cherries, I incorporated some shards of dark chocolate (copying the method I found in Joanne Chang's Bittersweet Chocolate & Orange Semifreddo).  To get the cherry flavor I made a lightly sweetened Bing cherry compote.  I drained most of the liquid from the compote and added it to the mousse along with half of the cherries (coarsely chopped).  The remaining cherries and liquid became a nice sauce garnish for the finished semifreddo.  

If this seems complicated, the semifreddo itself is not.  Once the compote has been made, the semifreddo goes together quickly and easily.  Simply whip the cream, make the pâte à bombe, fold these two into the chunky cherry compote and layer into the loaf pan with some drizzles of melted chocolate.  Since a semifreddo needs to have time in the freezer (at least eight hours) to set up properly, it can and should be made ahead...making this elegant dessert perfect for summer entertaining.  Although, speaking from experience, you don't have to be giving a dinner party to have a reason to make this semifreddo.  It keeps very well for at least a week...and even in my small household of two, we had no problem finishing it off in that amount of time.     

Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo

Bing Cherry Compote:
1 lb. Bing Cherries (about 3 cups), halved and pitted
6 T. (75 g.) sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice
2 T. brandy or kirsch

Place the cherries in a wide sauté pan set over medium high heat.  When the cherries begin to steam and sizzle quietly, add the sugar and lemon juice and shake to distribute.  

Cook the cherries at a brisk simmer—stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula—until the cherries are tender and beginning to break down a bit (although they should still be holding their shape) and the juices are beginning to thicken—about 5 minutes.  Add the brandy and bring back to a simmer—cooking until the juices have thickened slightly again...perhaps a minute.  

Remove from the heat, scrape into a bowl and chill.

Place a sieve over a bowl and strain the cherries to collect the juices.  Measure out 1/3 cup of the juices (don't worry if you don't have that much).  Transfer half of the cherries from the colander (about 140 to 150 g.) to the food processor and pulse just to coarsely chop.  Add the chopped cherries to the 1/3 c. juice—you should have a scant cup of chunky cherry sauce.  Add the remaining cherries to any remaining liquid in the bowl and reserve separately.  The scant cup of chopped cherries is to be folded into the semifreddo...the other will serve as a garnish/sauce.

The Semifreddo:
2 c. chilled heavy cream
5 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Chunky cherry sauce from above
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Ingredients for a double batch...

Line a 9- by 5- by 3-inch (8 cup capacity) loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang on all sides, and set aside. 

Whip the cream to soft peaks and chill.

Prepare the pâte à bombe: In bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, begin whipping the yolks and the egg on medium-high speed.  Whip until light, lemon-colored and fluffy—about 3 to 4 minutes.

When you begin whipping the eggs, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat until it reaches the firm ball stage (248°F/121°C). As the syrup nears the proper temperature, increase the speed of the mixer to high if the eggs are not yet fluffy and light, decrease it to medium-low if they are ready before the syrup is.

When the syrup reaches the proper temperature, with the mixer running on medium speed, carefully drizzle the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. When all the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and whip until the mixture is cool, thickened and very fluffy.  This will take at least 5 to 6 minutes.

Finish the Semifreddo:  Place the cold cherry sauce in a large bowl and whisk in about a third of the pâte à bombe.  

Add the remaining pâte à bombe to the bowl, followed by the whipped cream.  Fold everything together using a rubber spatula or a whisk.

Spoon/pour about 1/4 of the cherry mixture into the prepared pan. Use a spoon to drizzle about 1/3 of the melted chocolate evenly over the cherry mixture.  

Carefully add another 1/4 of the cherry mixture into the pan. 

Drizzle with another 1/3 of the melted chocolate. Repeat another layer of cherry mixture, the last of the melted chocolate, and finish with the last of the cherry mixture.  Cover the pan with plastic and freeze for at least 8 hours or up to a week.

When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from pan and peel off plastic.  Slice thickly using a thin, sharp knife that has been run under hot water and wiped dry.  Serve with the reserved whole cherry compote and a little whipped cream, if you like.  Serves 8 to 10.

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