I’m so excited to be sharing with you today this chocolate orange semifreddo recipe! This decadent chocolate dessert is like a frozen chocolate mousse: rich but airy, cold and warm. If you don’t have an ice cream machine and want to make a frozen dessert without having to mix it, then this recipe is definitely for you!
Frozen desserts can be classified into two categories: churn-frozen desserts and still-frozen desserts. We previously made churn-frozen desserts such as chocolate ice cream, strawberry sorbet and lemon sherbet. These desserts have to mixed while freezing, to prevent large ice crystals from forming and to get a smooth texture. Today we will be making semifreddo, which is a still-frozen dessert.
What Is A Still-Frozen Dessert?
Still-frozen desserts such as semifreddos, frozen souffles and mousses are frozen desserts that do not need to be churned. The dessert is prepared then poured into a container and frozen without any mixing. The air -which is introduced through churning in churn-frozen desserts- is added before freezing in still-frozen desserts. Depending on what you are making, you can add air to your frozen dessert by using whipped egg whites and/or cream.
The large quantity of air present in a still-frozen dessert acts as an insulation against the heat. When you take your dessert out of the freezer, the heat won’t be able to penetrate as easily to the inside. A semifreddo for example will keep its shape for much longer than ice cream, which contains less air (from the churning). Cook’s Illustrated has an interesting section on the science behind keeping semifreddo in shape.
What Is A Semifreddo?
A semifreddo, which translates to half-frozen in Italian, is composed of a base that is then lightened with whipped cream and/or meringue. It is usually poured into a loaf pan and then sliced once frozen. There are several ways to make a semifreddo.
To make the base, you could start off with a custard for example, like a crème Anglaise. Another common choice is a pâte à bombe, whipped egg yolks that are cooked with a sugar syrup. Or you could make a sabayon, which is what we’ll be doing today.
What Is A Sabayon?
A sabayon (also known as zabaglione), is a light and airy custard traditionally composed of egg yolks, sugar and wine. It can be used in both sweet and savory preparations and can be enjoyed as is, or as part of a more elaborate dessert. You can really adapt the recipe to your needs. You could use whole eggs for convenience and a lighter product. The choice of liquid isn’t restricted to alcoholic beverages: fruit juices -such as orange juice- are a great alternative.
Making the sabayon
To make a sabayon, the eggs, sugar and liquid are constantly whisked together over a double boiler until the mixture becomes thick, airy and reaches the ribbon stage.
How does this happen? When exposed to the heat, the egg proteins which are naturally coiled up will start to unravel. And they will begin to give structure to the mixture by linking together. If this happens too quickly however, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs!
The water present in the mixture (from the wine, juice etc.) as well as the fat (from the egg yolks) and sugar will get in the way of the egg proteins, slowing down the process.
When choosing the liquid for the sabayon, it’s important to consider how much water it contains. Alcoholic beverages with a high alcohol content (over 20%) will need to first be diluted with an equal amount of water1. Not having enough water to dilute the egg proteins will cause the sabayon to curdle at a lower temperature and much faster.
As you keep whisking the sabayon over the heat, the egg proteins will keep bumping into each other. And they will form a network around the water molecules and the air bubbles incorporated from the agitation (whisking).
The heat will cause the trapped air bubbles to enlarge, leading to an appealing foamy custard. A sabayon should be used quickly, before it deflates.
Troubleshooting the sabayon
The sabayon deflated
A sabayon can deflate if it is exposed to high temperatures or cooked for too long. Overwhipping will also cause the egg proteins to bond too tightly. The protein structure -which is keeping the air bubbles and water in- will eventually collapse. This might also happen if the sabayon is prepared and not consumed quickly enough. Solution: 1) Don’t try to speed up the process by cranking up the heat! When heating the sabayon, make sure the water -in the bottom pot of the double boiler- is simmering and not boiling. 2) Stop whipping when the sabayon reaches the right consistency, thick, foamy and has doubled in volume. 3) Use the cooked sabayon as quickly as possible.
If your sabayon is too runny, it might be because you didn’t heat it enough or didn’t whisk it enough. If however you have been heating it for a long time with no success, it could be because your double boiler was too hot to begin with. The eggs coagulated prematurely2. Solution: 1) Make sure the sabayon is cooked over very gentle heat. 2) Use a hand mixer instead of a whisk if you get tired during whisking and have a tendency to stop regularly.
Okay! Time for the fun part! Let’s make the semifreddo so we can eat it, shall we?!
Making Chocolate Orange Semifreddo, Step-by-Step
Prepare the whipped cream
- Whip the cold heavy cream on medium-low speed until soft-medium peaks form. Don’t beat to stiff peaks (peaks that hold up straight) or you’ll have trouble folding the whipped cream into the other ingredients. It’s best to refrigerate the mixing bowl and beaters (or whisk) ahead of time. Or freeze them for 10 minutes. This will make it much easier to whip the cream.
- Grate the top layer of a washed orange over the whipped cream. Don’t grate the pith (the white part) which has a bitter taste.
- Gently fold in and refrigerate.
Melt the chocolate
- Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in a large bowl. All the ingredients will eventually be added to this bowl so make sure it’s not too small. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Reheat if needed in 20 seconds increments, stirring in-between, until the chocolate has fully melted.
- Sift the cocoa powder over the melted chocolate and mix to combine.
- Add a tablespoon of whipped cream (keep the rest of the cream refrigerated) to the melted chocolate and combine fully. Don’t worry if the chocolate looks very thick at this point.
Lightening the chocolate mixture with a little bit of whipped cream will make it easier to incorporate the sabayon (whipped eggs) later on without getting a grainy texture.
Prepare the sabayon
To avoid overcooking the eggs, the sabayon will be heated over a pot of simmering water and not directly on the heat. Start by trying out different pots and bowls to determine which ones you should use, if you don’t already know. The bowl should be larger than the pot so that it sits on it without touching the water that is in the pot.
- Fill a medium sized pot with about 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat.
- In the meantime, whisk together the egg and egg yolk, sugar, orange juice and salt in a large heatproof bowl.
- Place the egg mixture over the pot of simmering water (not touching) and reduce the heat to low (about 4 out of 9). Keep whipping until the mixture lightens in color, doubles in volume and reaches the ribbon stage. This will take about 7 minutes so you might want to use a hand mixer! Just make sure your bowl can handle it and keep the cables away from any source of heat! Ribbon stage: When you lift the beater, the batter falls back into the bowl in a ribbon and doesn’t disappear immediately into the remaining batter. Temperature of the whipped eggs: Some recipes recommend heating the eggs until the temperature reaches 60°C (140°F) to avoid overcooking the eggs. But I only remove my egg mixture from the heat when it reaches a safe internal temperature of 71°C (160°F).
- Remove from the heat and continue beating for about 2 more minutes or until the sabayon has cooled down slightly.
Fold the sabayon and whipped cream into the melted chocolate
- Gently fold the sabayon into the melted chocolate in several additions.
- Once fully combined, gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture in several additions.
Fill the molds with chocolate orange semifreddo
- Spoon (or pipe) the chocolate orange semifreddo into a dome-shaped silicone mold. Using a different mold: You can use any small silicone molds you have if you don’t have a dome-shaped one. Using a silicone mold will make it really easy to unmold the semifreddo. To use a regular mold such as a cupcake mold, line each cavity with plastic wrap first and leave an overhang. Fill the mold then cover with the plastic wrap. The surface of the semifreddo will be a bit wrinkled if using plastic wrap. If that bothers you, you can dust cocoa powder over the semifreddo, drizzle melted chocolate, or decorate with fruits.
And that’s it! Simply freeze the chocolate orange semifreddo, covered, for a few hours and enjoy! I kept the semifreddo out for quite some time while taking pictures but it held its shape incredibly well! Just the perfect frozen dessert to serve guests on a hot summer day!
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1Zuckerman, K. (2006). The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle. Bulfinch Press.
2Gilles, C. (2009). La Cuisine Expliquée. Editions BPI.