Friday, June 11, 2010
Toasted Almond Semifreddo with Balsamic Cherries
Almonds in a variety of forms are a perfect match for the season’s bounty of stone fruit that is blissfully descending upon us as this gorgeous season unfolds. So now is a good time for a delicious pairing of almonds and cherries. I’ve chosen a Toasted Almond Semifreddo and a bright cherry compote to highlight the kind of match that is made for the moment.
Semifreddo is the Italian term for "half cold" and is often used as the description for many kinds of partially frozen desserts. This semifreddo has a deep toasted almond flavor, a very light but creamy and luxurious texture and it’s super easy to make. Because it’s sort of half frozen, this tastes more like an airy cold mousse rather than a rich ice cream.
While the semifreddo is firming up in the freezer, you can put together the cherry compote that consists simply of pitted fresh cherries, a bit of sugar, some orange zest and a bracing splash of balsamic vinegar, which lends just the right depth and spark of acidity.
Do take advantage of the abundance of fresh cherries in season. Their welcome appearance invites the long and gentle days of summer. The vibrant color and delicious juices of these beautiful gems will stain our fingertips for just a few weeks, so let's get going!
- When using a cherry pitter tool, be extra careful to account for all the cherry pits. Even though it does a great job of piercing the fruit, sometimes the pits stay lodged in the center, so check and be sure you can account for all of them!
- When lining the loaf pan, I place a strip of parchment on top of the plastic to help create a smoother surface. If you don’t have parchment, you can use a warm knife or metal spatula to smooth out the creases.
- You will get more loft if your egg whites are at room temperature. Whip the whites to a foamy soft peak first to unfold and stretch out the proteins before adding the sugar. Drizzle the sugar just a few sprinkles at a time to ensure they are stabilizing the foam.
- Whip the cream just until soft peaks form. This means the cream should have a soft lilt that is droopy and barely holds its shape. If you go too far, the mixture will be grainy. The meringue should be beaten to a stiff peak, which means it should stand up when peaked without falling over.
- As always, exercise caution when serving raw egg whites.
- The compote should be served at room temperature to enjoy the full flavor. Add the balsamic vinegar to taste. The flavor of the balsamic can dissipate over time, so taste before serving if the compote sits overnight. If you don’t care for balsamic vinegar, add a good pinch of cinnamon instead during the cooking process.
- The balsamic cherries would be good over ice cream – vanilla, chocolate, caramel come to mind – and would also be good with a cheese course.
- Actually, my favorite fruit with this semifreddo is apricots that have been simmered or roasted with a bit of honey, but I couldn't find nice apricots this week. It would also taste fabulous with peaches warmed in a honey lemon syrup.
Toasted Almond Semifreddo
makes about 6 – 8 servings
3/4 C (about 4 oz) whole almonds, toasted
1/4 C sliced almonds, lightly toasted + extra to garnish (about a total of 1 oz)
1/2 C sugar, divided
pinch of salt
3 egg whites @ room temperature
1 C heavy cream, chilled
1/4 t almond extract
1/8 t vanilla extract
3 C (about 1 lb, 2 oz) fresh cherries, pitted
2 T water
1/4 C sugar, to taste
zest of half of a large orange
1 T – 2 T balsamic vinegar, to taste
Toast the sliced almonds in a single layer in a 350 degree oven for about 6 - 8 minutes. Watch them closely as they will burn quickly. Toast the whole almonds for about 10 - 15 minutes, checking to see if they are toasting evenly and shaking the pan to redistribute them.
Line an 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang on each side. You can also place a strip of parchment paper on top of the plastic to help form smoother sides.
Grind 3/4 cup whole toasted almonds with 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a bowl. Combine the 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds with the finely ground almond mix.
Beat the egg whites until they are opaque and hold soft peaks. Add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar just a little bit at a time, increasing speed to high. Beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks.
Whip the chilled cream with almond and vanilla extracts just until it holds soft peaks.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold meringue into the whipped cream. Fold in nut mixture gently until there are no white streaks. Pour into the prepared 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pan. Smooth the top until it’s level. Cover with the overhanging plastic wrap and place in your freezer until firm, about 8 hours or overnight.
To make the cherry compote, place the pitted cherries with the water and sugar in a saucepan. Add the orange zest and simmer until the juices are rendered and the cherries are fairly tender, tasting for the right amount of sugar. Remove from heat and add the balsamic vinegar. Cool completely.
Run a thin knife or small metal spatula around the edges of the semifreddo to loosen. Lift gently out of the pan using the plastic overhang. Place a serving plate on top of the pan and invert. Carefully pull off the pan, plastic wrap and parchment if you used it. Garnish with toasted almonds.
Slice with a sharp knife. Garnish with balsamic cherries and serve immediately.