Wolfgang Puck’s Kitchen: An easy, elegant summertime dessert

By WOLFGANG PUCK, Tribune Content Agency
Wolfgang Puck’s Kitchen

Mention summertime desserts, and the first thing people usually think of is ice cream. You’d have to travel far and wide to find anyone who doesn’t love a scoop or two of their favorite vanilla, chocolate, mint chip or cookies-and-cream, sitting on top of a cone or maybe in a dish topped with hot fudge and whipped cream.

Good ice cream is more popular than ever, with shops popping up everywhere selling gourmet frozen desserts. But premium ice creams can come at steep prices, turning a simple, warm-weather pleasure into what can seem like a major investment.

So why not make ice cream at home? Sure, I love to do that. But for a change of pace, and for those home cooks who might not have an ice-cream machine, I’d like to introduce you to another kind of frozen dessert that doesn’t require any special equipment beyond a stand mixer – something dedicated home bakers already own – or an inexpensive hand-held electric mixer. The dessert is called semifreddo, a traditional Italian-style preparation that’s creamy, cool and delicious like the best ice cream.

Semifreddo literally means “partially frozen,” a reference to the fact that the dessert (which, in fact, is usually served completely frozen, straight from the freezer) has a pleasingly soft, light texture that may make you think it has spent some time thawing on the kitchen counter. That’s because it’s made from two separate, rich yet fluffy mixtures: a combination of sugar syrup, gelatin and beaten eggs, and simple whipped cream folded together to produce a smooth, airy concoction that freezes perfectly.

The version of semifreddo I’m sharing was originally developed about 18 years ago when I opened the Beverly Hills location of my restaurant Spago. The way the mixture is layered with espresso-soaked ladyfingers – light sponge cookies you can find packaged in well-stocked supermarkets – inside a widely available springform pan turns it into something that resembles the traditional Viennese cake called a Malakoff torte, which once frozen and unmolded is cut into serving wedges. But you could just as easily leave out the ladyfingers and freeze the dessert even more simply in a loaf pan, to be unmolded onto a platter and then cut into slices for serving. The semifreddo will keep well in your freezer, covered with plastic wrap, for up to three days.

However you choose to form and present it, I think you’ll find my semifreddo surprisingly easy to make – and so good you’ll want to prepare it again and again whenever you feel like a dessert to help you beat the summer heat.



Serves 8

1 1/2 cups (375 mL) sugar
1 1/4 cups (310 mL) strong brewed espresso
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water
2 ounces (60 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs
1/4 cup (60 mL) light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) heavy cream
18 dry ladyfingers
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa, for sprinkling
Raspberries, for serving
Unsweetened whipped cream, for serving

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (250 mL) of the sugar with 3/4 cup (185 mL) of water and 1/4 cup (60 mL) of the espresso. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside this espresso syrup to cool.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, boil the remaining espresso over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup (60 mL), about 8 minutes. Pour into a medium heatproof bowl. Rinse and dry the saucepan.

In the same saucepan, warm the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until melted. Discard the vanilla bean. Add the hot milk to the reduced espresso. Add the chocolate and whisk until it has melted and blended in.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs at high speed until light yellow and foamy.

In the small saucepan, bring the corn syrup, the remaining sugar and 2 tablespoons of water to a simmer. Cook over medium-high heat until the syrup registers 235 F (113 C) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes.

With the mixer at medium high speed, gradually pour the hot syrup into the eggs. Continue beating until the mixture is very pale and has tripled in volume, about 4 minutes. With a rubber spatula, gently fold in the espresso mixture

In a bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the cream into the egg mixture until no streaks remain.

Spoon about one-fourth of the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan. Dip 6 ladyfingers into the espresso syrup until just soaked through. Arrange the ladyfingers in rows on top. Repeat the process two more times, then top with the remaining mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 6 hours.

Before serving, warm a thin, sharp knife under hot water. Unclasp the ring on the springform pan; then, run the heated blade around the edge of the semifreddo and remove the ring.

With a small, fine-meshed sieve, sift the cocoa over the top of the semifreddo. With the heated blade, cut the semifreddo into wedges and serve on chilled plates, garnished with raspberries and whipped cream.


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