semifreddo: noun (plural semifreddi), \sĕ⋅mē⋅frĕd’⋅dō\ : a partially frozen dessert
origin: Italian, from semi- ‘semi-‘ + freddo ‘cold’
I had never had semifreddo before my recent honeymoon in Italy. I had heard of it, and I knew that ‘semifreddo’ translates literally to ‘half-cold’… whatever that meant. How could something be half-cold? After doing a bit of research on the internets, I came to learn that semifreddo is quite similar to ice cream and gelato, except that it is not churned in an ice cream maker. In this case (though I can’t speak for all the semifreddo recipes in existence), the custard base is not cooked either. After enjoying two very delicious and very different semifreddi in Italy, I was giddy with anticipation for this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe for Milk Chocolate Malt Semifreddo with Chocolate Syrup from the Malted Milk Powder chapter of Baked Elements. How fortunate that we had two Italian-inspired recipes shortly after my trip– this one and the Lemon Pecorino Pepper Icebox Cookies from a few weeks ago. It has allowed me to revel just a little longer in the memories of my three-week indulgence of the world’s best food!
Semifreddo with cantucci biscotti and VinSanto wine at Le Logge del Vignola in Montepulciano, Tuscany
Chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo slices at L’Arte del Gelato in Verona– AMAZING! Still dreaming about it…
As you can see, semifreddo offers a great opportunity to get creative with your frozen desserts. They are typically formed into “loaves”, as in this recipe, but they can also be made into cakes, or mini portions using small molds or the wells of a muffin pan, or can be served in individual glassware, or can even be made into paletas. I had all sorts of visions for my semifreddi shapes, but shortness of time and annoying plastic wrap deterred me this week—a project for another time.
Semifreddo cakes and parfaits at L’Arte del Gelato in Verona
Semifreddo is generally made by combining egg yolks, egg whites, and heavy cream, along with sugar and the desired flavorings. Some recipes call for making a zabaglione (Italian custard-like mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and sometimes milk) or whipping egg whites into a meringue. This recipe keeps it relatively simple, only requiring a mixture of egg yolks/sugar/malted milk powder, vanilla-scented whipped cream, and plain whipped egg whites. This does mean that the eggs are uncooked, so make sure their freshness has not been compromised in any way.
Hold it—I did say there was MALT in this recipe, and I’m only getting to that detail in the fourth paragraph?! Before I go any further, let’s talk about the loveliness that is malt. Every time I see a malt recipe on our baking schedule, I am ever so joyful. I adore its nutty, warm flavor and the depth that it lends to baked goods, especially combined with vanilla. Though this is a decidedly American flavor, it works beautifully in this Italian dessert. In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite local restaurant desserts, the Vanilla Malt Ice Cream Pie at B Street & Vine in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of San Mateo, which specializes in great American-Italian fusion dishes (not to be confused with traditional American-Italian cuisine). Come to think of it, I could try to replicate that ice cream pie using this recipe for the filling…
Merely upon reading the recipe, it seemed that abundant malt flavor was essentially assured, given that both malted milk powder and crushed malt balls are among the ingredients, without any strong competing flavors. I think that the quality of both will greatly affect the finished product, especially since it’s an uncooked, and therefore undiluted, mixture. I usually use King Arthur Flour‘s non-diastatic malt powder because it has a stronger malt flavor than malted milk powder, but I got fed up with it last time I had some in my pantry because it hardens before I can ever use half of the bag. I had decided to investigate malt syrup, but I thought it would not be a good swap in this recipe because texture is crucial in a frozen dessert. I ended up just using Carnation brand malted milk powder, as it was the only thing I could find on short notice, which was surprisingly flavorful.
As for the malt balls, this is where I splurged. While I love malt flavor, I think commercial malt ball candy tastes like chalk. I had once found some amazing peanut butter malt balls at Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, an ice cream shop in San Francisco, which have a layer of PB between the malt center and milk chocolate coating (YUM), so I picked up some more of those. I also coincidentally stumbled upon a product labeled “Ultimate Malt Balls” at a random small market in SF while foraging for something unrelated. Look closely– they have four different layers of chocolate enrobing the malt centers! I wish I knew who makes them, but they were sold in re-packaged containers. I used a 50-50 combination of the two varieties, and they were fantastic. I crushed these together in a food processor, leaving some sizable chunks, and sprinkled the bottoms of my loaf pans with about ¼ of them.
Although the recipe is reasonably easy, you have to prepare three different mixtures. First, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and malt powder until it becomes a thick, ribbony, paler mixture (starts out as a bright yellow paste). My one and only beef with malt is that in powder form it starts to harden almost immediately, creating little clumps that don’t dissolve well, even when baked. Therefore, I recommend measuring out your malt powder just before combining with the egg yolks and sugar.
Next, whip the heavy cream with sugar and vanilla to make the most delicious vanilla whipped cream! I used vanilla bean paste for its intense vanilla flavor and pretty black flecks against the light-colored semifreddo base. (Make sure to chill your bowl and whisk for the most successful peaks.) Gently fold this into the egg yolk/malt mixture with a spatula, which should produce a thick and velvety-smooth consistency.
Finally, you will whip the egg whites with salt to stiff peaks, and then gradually fold them into the base. The texture lightened up considerably after each of the three additions. I was worried that the mixture would be grainy due to the malt powder or possibly over-whipped egg whites (always a concern), but it all dissolved and the texture was light and airy by the time all the egg whites had been incorporated. The pre-frozen semifreddo boasted prominent malt flavor, with a texture resembling mousse– only good things could come of this. 🙂
Spoon half of the semifreddo base into your loaf pans, covering the crushed malt balls completely. Put them in the freezer to set just a smidge– I left them in for 20 minutes. (In the meantime, I’d put the bowl in the fridge because of those raw eggs.) Divide the remaining malt balls between the loaves, spreading them into even layers, then divide the rest of the semifreddo base, spreading it over the malt balls again.
I left my loaf pans in the freezer overnight, and I couldn’t wait to see what the texture and firmness would be like. In the morning, I poked the tops of the semifreddi and finally understood what “semifreddo” meant– the custard had firmed up to solid bricks, but they were softer and literally less cold than ice cream. The substantial quantities of air and sugar prevent the semifreddo from ever freezing rock-hard, hence… half-cold!
I was pretty stoked to unmold the semifreddi, and in case you were wondering– no, I do not have a problem with semifreddo for lunch! 😉 Here’s where I ran into some unforeseen trouble; the hardest part of making this was dealing with the plastic wrap! We are instructed in the beginning to line two loaf pans with greased plastic wrap, which sounds simple enough, but in practice is a giant pain in the ass because it won’t stay put. A-ha, a clever solution, I thought: Glad Press n’ Seal wrap, of course! It would stick into the loaf pans and stay there. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself at that point. However… it stuck so HARD to the loaf pans that I almost mangled the semifreddi while trying to get them out! If not for my thin, flexible spatula that pried the Press n’ Seal from the pans, I would be using the word ‘loaf’ very loosely here…
Some of the malt balls on the top (bottom of the pan) got a bit syrupy– something resembling condensed sweetened milk, such that the malt chunks looked like chopped nuts on a sticky bun, but it was not a deterrent or problem in any way.
Because the semifreddo was so melty after the Great Plastic Wrap Struggle of 2014, I decided against using a hot knife to cut it, but the slices were a mess. I put the loaf back in the freezer to firm up for a few hours, then did a second photo shoot after cutting with a hot knife– a world of difference!
Part of this recipe involves making chocolate syrup, but when the group made Bourbon, Vanilla, & Chocolate Milk Shakes & Simple Chocolate Syrup in June, almost everyone ended up with some sort of grainy, unfortunate mixture, so I elected to use Fran’s Dark Chocolate Sauce— guys, this stuff changes lives.
I could not have been more pleased with this dessert! The semifreddo was fluffy, velvety, rich, and SO MALTY. I thought it might be icy or thin compared to ice cream, but the simplicity of this recipe is deceiving– it is utterly luxurious. The texture contrast of the creamy semifreddo and crunchy malt ball bits was the bee’s knees. It’s great on its own, but the chocolate sauce really takes it to another level.
There is so much possibility for variation on this recipe– I’m thinking biscotti or speculoos cookie crumbs mixed in, chocolate shards, or a swirl of peanut butter?? Yesssss.
This is one of my recent favorites from Baked Elements— quite easy, and so delicious. It’s perfect for an elegant dinner party, but it’s also completely accessible for kids. Check out the recipe for Milk Chocolate Malt Semifreddo with Chocolate Syrup at Baked Sunday Mornings, and see how my fellow dessert-lovers fared with this one! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.