Strawberry Sidekick: Rhubarb Semifreddo with Pistachio Crumbles


Imagine, if you will, a fluffy, fruity, sweet-tart frozen dessert that is at once easy-peasy and super elegant. Imagine that you can make it without any special equipment, yet it would impress everyone at your upcoming dinner party. Now imagine that you ran out to the store right before said dinner party to buy a second dessert, because this one was so damn good that you busted out your big-girl spoon and decided to eat the whole thing yourself. I’m not saying I did that (I can neither confirm nor deny any allegations that anyone may or may not have made regarding inappropriate dessert portions), but this scenario squarely falls within the realm of possibilities with this recipe– I’m giving you fair warning. Rhubarb Semifreddo with Pistachio Crumbles is something I’ll be making every spring, thankyouverymuch. I’m becoming more and more convinced that rhubarb is the fruit of the gods (technically a vegetable, but let’s not get too technical). I never cease to be amazed by its transformation from unpalatably sour in its raw form to deeply sweet-and-sour when cooked–roasted in this case. With all this amazing spring and summer fruit at the farmers’ market… I haven’t missed chocolate. (*spoken in hushed tones*) I know lately I’ve been all rhubarb! strawberries! summer fruit!… and yes, here is another one, because Yossy Arefi made it too hard to resist. Her book Sweeter Off the Vine is a drool-worthy ode to the beauty of baking with fruit as your centerpiece, so if that’s your thing, this book is a must-have. (And even if it isn’t your thing usually, this book may help change your mind, as it did mine…) The rhubarb semifreddo is her recipe, which is topped with chopped pistachios in the book, but I’ve been playing with crumbles lately and decided to make a buttery, crunchy, pistachio-laced crumble, which turned out to be a lovely sidekick to the bright, tart semifreddo, along with sliced strawberries.

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Have you made semifreddo before? If not, allow me to demonstrate why you’ll want to start immediately. It’s a frozen treat similar to ice cream (literally ‘half cold’ in Italian), but you do not use an ice cream maker. In fact, you’re not even going to cook a custard mixture like you would for ice cream. And the reward for your lack of work is oh-so-delicious– something like a frozen mousse. I’m not super experienced with semifreddo, but the two recipes I’ve made (this one and Milk Chocolate Malt Semifreddo) are among my favorite frozen desserts ever.

Semifreddo is traditionally formed in a loaf pan and cut into thick slices, but you can actually serve it any way you want: pour it into an ice cream container and scoop it just like ice cream, or even pour it into individual serving containers. I intended to use small molds, so that they would look something like little panne cotte when inverted, but I didn’t have the right sized vessels. Alas, when working with frozen treats, one mustn’t dawdle, so I defaulted to the regular ol’ loaf shape, and it turned out terrific.

While the liquid semifreddo looks similar to an ice cream base, you’ll find that the texture is a little different. It is thicker, more airy, and I would almost say frothy, except that’s not exactly it. It has a quasi-fluffy quality to it because of the whipped eggs– I guess that’s how I’d describe it. When frozen, it has a creamy, yet slightly icy texture like I would liken to frozen mousse. Let’s just say it’s pretty splendid, shall we?

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Rhubarb Semifreddo with Pistachio Crumbles
Adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine by Yossy Arefi
Yields 8-10 serving

For the semifreddo:

  • 340g (scant 3 cups) rhubarb stalks, leaves and ends trimmed
  • 200g (1 cup) sugar, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups (355mL) heavy cream

For the pistachio crumble:

  • 130 grams (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour
  • 125 grams (1 cup) shelled pistachios
  • 125 grams (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 100 grams (about 7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

For serving:

  • 1 pound strawberries, sliced or quartered

Preheat an oven to 375°F and slide a rack into the center position. Line a 9×5″ loaf pan with a large piece of plastic wrap, such that there are at least 3″ overhanging on each side.

Cut the rhubarb stalks into 2″ pieces and transfer them to a baking dish big enough to fit them in one layer. (Cut the pieces to be roughly similar in size and width for even baking– slice any wide pieces lengthwise in half if needed.) Pour ¾ cup sugar and the salt over the fruit pieces and toss everything gently to combine. (Alternatively, you can mix everything in a bowl and then transfer it to the baking dish.) Bake the rhubarb for 15-20 minutes, or until it is soft and juicy, and starting to fall apart. Let the fruit cool for about 5 minutes, then pour/scrape it into a food processor fitted with the metal blade or a blender; blend until smooth. There should be about 2 cups of rhubarb purée, which will be thick and opaque. Chill the purée in fridge while you make the semifreddo mixture. (The roasted rhubarb can be made up to this point a few hours ahead if you wish.)

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Place the eggs and the remaining ¼ cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl if using a hand mixer. Whip them together on high speed until the eggs are light in color and have nearly tripled in volume, approximately 7 minutes. In another bowl and using clean beaters (or a whisk attachment), whip the heavy cream to soft peaks.

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Retrieve the rhubarb purée from the fridge and whisk it into the whipped egg mixture until fully incorporated. (It’s okay if the eggs lose a little volume.) Gently fold in the whipped cream with a rubber spatula so that no white streaks remain. Pour the mixture into the plastic-lined loaf pan, and smooth the surface. Fold the overhanging plastic wrap over the top to cover the entire top, pressing it directly onto the surface. Use an additional piece of plastic if needed. Freeze the semifreddo until it has completely firmed up, at least 6 hours or overnight.

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While it’s freezing, make the pistachio crumbles. Preheat an oven to 325°F and line a rimmed half-sheet pan with parchment paper.

Place the pistachios in a small food processor and pulse until finely chopped with a few bigger pieces remaining. Add the flour, sugar, and salt, and pulse several time until the ingredients are evenly combined. Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl and add the melted butter; gently fold it into the dry ingredients to form crumbly clusters. Turn the clusters out onto the sheet pan and spread them out evenly in one layer. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until they are lightly golden. Let them cool completely on the sheet pan set over a wire cooling rack. They will still be a little soft when they come out of the oven, but will firm up as they cool. Transfer the crumbles to an airtight container until ready to use. (They freeze very well and can be made well ahead.)

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To serve the semifreddo, unwrap the plastic from the top of the loaf pan and invert the frozen loaf onto a platter; remove any remaining plastic. Cut thick slices and serve with a handful of pistachio crumbles and sliced strawberries.

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Leftover semifreddo can be stored in the freezer, wrapped tightly in plastic. (The book recommends up to 5 days, but I didn’t have the heart to throw mine out at that point, and it kept perfectly fine for a few weeks, even though it got a little icier.)

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.

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