The word “semifreddo” literally translates to “half-cold” and refers to a variety of chilled or partially frozen Italian desserts, from Bavarian creams to frozen mousses and light custards. The flavor combinations are endless when it comes to semifreddi. Lemon is especially popular, as are other classic Italian flavors such as almond and coffee.
This version is from my second book, “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” and features one of my favorite fruits—the apricot. It is essentially a frozen apricot mousse that gets its punchy flavor from tart dried apricots steeped in fresh orange juice. It’s made light and airy thanks to the careful incorporation of whipped cream.
Be sure to use dried, not fresh, apricots in this recipe, as their firmer texture and concentrated flavor are essential components and help cut the richness of the custard and cream. When sliced, this molded semifreddo is beautifully flecked with golden bits of fruit.
Place the apricots and orange juice in a small saucepan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer the apricots for 10 to 15 minutes, until softened. Remove them from the heat and let stand until cool. Puree the apricots and juice in a food processor or blender until nearly smooth; a few small pieces are desirable.
Combine the half-and-half and vanilla extract in a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat. Bring the mixture just to the boiling point but do not let it boil. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until light and thick. Pour a little of the hot half-and-half mixture into the egg yolks, whisking rapidly to prevent the yolks from cooking. Pour the tempered egg yolks back into the pan with the half-and-half and cook over medium-low heat until the custard is thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the apricot puree.
Transfer the custard to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap right onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for three hours or up to overnight, until thoroughly chilled.
In a large bowl, whip the heavy cream with the confectioners’ sugar until stiff. Gently fold in the chilled apricot custard.
Line an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (21 1/2-by-11 1/2 cm) loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving an overhang of wrap on both sides and each end of the pan. Pour in the apricot mixture and smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with the overhang. Freeze for at least 6 hours, and preferably overnight, until completely frozen.
To serve, remove the semifreddo from the freezer and let it stand 5 minutes to thaw slightly. Unmold it onto a platter or cutting board. Cut the semifreddo into 3/4-inch-thick (2 cm) slices and place them on dessert plates. Scatter a few raspberries over each slice and garnish with mint leaves.
Yield: 10 servings
Note: The semifreddo may be made up to a week in advance and kept frozen until serving time.