I worked the dessert station at Al Vedel for a while, cranking out semifreddo (“half-cold” in Italian), zabaglione and tiramisù to the kitchen’s sound track of Michael Bublé and Frank Sinatra. Those desserts inspired this nutty custard, which is a lot like ice cream or gelato, but made without any special appliances beyond a candy thermometer (super-affordable, and the key to a good consistency).
I love this method, because whipping the egg yolks with hot sugar creates a consistency that’s at once more velvety and more stable. Spiced rum adds a nice little kick (and keeps the texture soft), but can be omitted; likewise, if you don’t have baharat on hand, you can replace it with pumpkin-pie spice or ground cinnamon. And don’t sweat it if you don’t have (or don’t want to make) the candied hazelnuts—just skip them altogether. Like any good frozen dessert, this semifreddo is yours for the adapting.
The hazelnuts are another recipe I picked up from Eddy, and another one that’s exponentially more impressive than you’d expect, based on the minimal effort and skills it takes to make. You do need a candy thermometer to help you get the candy coating right, but the whole process, from start to finish, is pretty seamless. Chocolaty and crisp, these add perfect textural contrast to the semifreddo but are just as easily enjoyed on their own or given as a gift—they’ll disappear before your eyes. Feel free to double the recipe.
- 1 cup hazelnuts, toasted
- 9 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup sugar, divided
- ¼ cup water
- 5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons spiced rum
- ½ teaspoon Morton kosher salt
- 2 cups heavy cream, very cold, divided
- 1½ teaspoons baharat or pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
- 1 recipe chocolate-candied hazelnuts (below), optional
- Chocolate-Candied Hazelnuts
- 1½ cups hazelnuts, toasted
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- Semifreddo: If the hazelnuts still have their papery, dark-brown skins, wrap the nuts in a clean dish towel or hand towel and rub them vigorously to help remove them. No need to be obsessive about this, but it’ll keep them from tasting too bitter. Finely chop the nuts, and set aside.
- In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with an electric mixer and heatproof bowl, whip the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar on high speed until they’re pale, thick and fall in ribbons rather than drips when you lift the beater. Pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set the bowl aside.
- Clip a candy thermometer inside a small saucepan, and add the remaining ½ cup sugar. Pour the water evenly over the sugar to moisten it, then cook over medium heat without stirring until the syrup reaches 235 degrees; it shouldn’t yet have any color. Keep an eye on it, since the temperature can increase in leaps.
- Working very slowly and carefully, with the mixer on medium speed, drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the egg mixture, and whip continuously to combine. Once you’ve added all of it, increase the mixer speed to high, and beat for a couple minutes, until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch and the mixture is glossy.
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a microwave in 30-second intervals; when it’s mostly but not completely melted, stir it by hand until it’s smooth. Add it to the mixing bowl along with the rum and salt, and beat everything until incorporated.
- In a separate bowl, whip 1½ cups cream until it holds stiff peaks when you lift the beater. Stir in the baharat and the finely chopped hazelnuts. Fold about half of this mixture into the chocolate mixture to lighten everything up, then fold in the rest until it’s incorporated. Scrape into a 9- or 10- inch deep dish pie plate or round casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until set, at least 4 hours.
- Let the semifreddo sit at a cool room temperature for at least 10 minutes before eating, so it can soften a bit. Meanwhile, whip the remaining ½ cup cream and dollop small spoonsful over the semifreddo’s surface along with a scattering of the candied hazelnuts, then scoop big, messy scoops into bowls for serving.
- Hazelnuts: Rub the skins off the hazelnuts as in step 1 of the semifreddo recipe, removing as much as you can but not obsessing over it. Cut a large sheet of parchment or foil, about 16 inches long, and set it aside.
- Clip a candy thermometer to the side of a small saucepan. Combine the sugar and water inside and gently stir just to combine, making sure you’re not letting the sugar climb up the sides of the pan, since it can burn. Without stirring it at all, cook over medium heat until it reaches 250 degrees.
- Stir in the cocoa powder and let the mixture reach 275 degrees; it will look like molten lava. Fold in the nuts and keep stirring vigorously, allowing the mixture to reduce until, almost like magic, it becomes a dry, crumbly mix with cocoa clinging to the nuts like a candy shell (it should register around 300 degrees on your thermometer).
- Immediately remove the pan from the heat and spread the nuts in a single layer over the parchment. Using a clean dish towel or paper towel to protect your hands from the heat, gently break apart any large clumps and allow the nuts to cool completely. These (along with the little chocolate crumbs) will stay crisp for about a week in an airtight container.
- Excerpted from SHAYA by Alon Shaya. Copyright © 2018 by Alon Shaya. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.