Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Need a make-ahead dessert that’s worthy of a dinner party? Consider this strawberry semifreddo, a frozen dessert (semifreddo means half-cold in Italian) that is light, rich and elegant. It’s strawberry-flavored custard frozen in a block, sliced and served with sweetened strawberries. With each bite, the chilled custard melts into a velvety, smooth sauce that contrasts with the fresh berries beautifully — simple and sophisticated.
Keep in mind that a double-boiler is required to make the semifreddo. If you don’t have one, you can create one by placing a heat-proof bowl in a saucepan so that it is suspended about 2 to 3 inches above the pan’s bottom. This allows simmering water in the pan to heat the bowl, and the ingredients in it, without submerging them in it.
Even when properly frozen, the semifreddo softens quickly. To prevent it from beginning to melt before I get it to the table, I remove it from the freezer earlier in the day, slice it and return the slices, well wrapped, to the freezer. Then, at serving time, I quickly plate the slices and top them with sauce.
(Make in a 9-by-5-inch metal loaf pan or two 3-by-6 ½-inch metal loaf pans)
1 ½ cups strawberries (about 8 ounces)
½ cup superfine granulated sugar, divided
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
2 pints strawberries (about 1½ pounds)
3 to 4 tablespoons superfine granulated sugar
Splash of creme de cassis, optional
Wet the pan with water (this will help the plastic wrap stick to it), and line it with plastic wrap, making sure it hangs at least 2 inches over the pan’s sides. Set the pan aside. Place a bowl and your mixer’s beaters in the freezer (cream whips faster if these are chilled).
Cut the 1 1/2 cups of strawberries into slices about 1/4 of an inch thick. Put them and 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar in a saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until the berries start to break up and a thick, chunky sauce is formed. Remove the pan from the heat, and set it aside.
Fill a pan or bowl large enough to hold the top of your double-boiler with ice water. Fill the bottom of the double-boiler with about an inch and a half of water, and bring it to a simmer. Put the egg yolks, the egg and the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar in the top of the double-boiler, but don’t place it over the simmering water. Whisk for several minutes until the eggs and sugar are well-combined and start to pale in color. Add the cooked strawberries and gently blend them into the mixture.
Put the top of the double-boiler over the bottom, make sure the water maintains a simmer and the top is over but not in it, and whisk until the mixture thickens and briefly makes a ribbon when the whisk is lifted (this takes 3 to 5 minutes on my stove). Remove the top of the double-boiler, and place it in the bowl of ice water until the mixture cools, whisking it every couple of minutes.
Whip the cream until it forms medium peaks, and gently fold it into the cooled strawberry mixture. Scrape into the prepared pan, smooth the top, rap the pan on a counter to remove any air bubbles, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze for at least 7 hours and up to 2 days before serving.
Up to an hour before serving the dessert, make the sauce by quartering the strawberries, gently tossing them with the sugar (to taste) and creme de cassis (if using) and refrigerating them. If you haven’t sliced it earlier in the day (see above), remove the pan of semifreddo from the freezer a few minutes before serving and let it soften slightly. Invert on a cutting board, remove the pan and the plastic wrap, and cut into half-inch slices. If you used 2 pans, place two slices on each plate and top with sauce; use one slice per plate with the larger pan.
Serves 10-12 people.
This is a variation of a Fine Cooking magazine recipe.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.