What are you serving for dessert for Christmas? I am making this light and luscious semifreddo, cloaked in a heady sauce of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. The semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, melting on the tongue in a teasing airy poof. For a little extra oomph (it’s Christmas after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.
Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs
Each component may be prepared in advance, perfect for entertaining and last minute gift wrapping.
3/4 cup whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon Gran Marnier or Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup Port wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 large dried (or medium fresh) figs, stems removed, halved
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Prepare the semifreddo:
Line a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang. Place the almonds and 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt; pulse to blend. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl. Beat the cream, Amaretto and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.
Prepare the figs:
Bring all of the ingredients, except the figs, to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid and return to the saucepan. Add the figs and toss to coat and submerge. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid. (Figs may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until use. Allow to come to room temperature before serving).
Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.
When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.