Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

An elegant do-ahead dessert, perfect for a party:
Light and Luscious Semifreddo with Orange and Almonds

Are you still unsure of what to make for a party dessert this season? Try making this light and luscious semifreddo, topped with a compote of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine. Semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, and in this preparation, it’s flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is light and luscious, melting on the tongue in an airy poof. For a little extra sweetness (it’s the holidays, after all) a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

The beauty of this recipe is that each component may be prepared at least a day in advance, so all that you need to do is assemble it when you are ready to serve, which is a perfect gift to the cook when entertaining.

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Fig Compote

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
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 orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:
16 dried figs, stems removed, halved if large
3/4 cup Port wine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
1. Line a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.
2. Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.
3. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.
4. In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur, 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:
Combine all of the compote ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the figs are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid; discard the cinnamon stick. (Figs may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

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.

Serve:
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 a little juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Strawberries and Cream

flourless chocolate cake tastefoodStrawberries, Cream, Chocolate…

Or, more precisely, a wedge of luscious silky-rich chocolate cake with billows of  airy cream and sun-kissed strawberries. Parse it as you may, emphasize it as you must, this is one dessert that will please chocoholics and fruity fiends alike.

I made this cake for a crowd last weekend, and it easily served 12 with a few slices to spare. A tiny sliver goes a long way – or maybe not, depending on your inclination. Choose the best quality dark chocolate you can lay your hands on, because it makes all the difference. The gently sugared cream and naturally sweetened strawberries perfectly round out and balance the chocolatey richness, which, naturally,  helps you eat more.

flourless chocolate cake tastefoodThere was, I promise, a bounty of strawberries when I served this cake, but the berry eaters in the group devoured them before I could use the harvest as a photo prop.

Glazed Flourless Chocolate Cake
slightly adapted from a Bon Appetit recipe

Serves 12.

Cake:
12 ounces dark high quality chocolate (70-72%)
3/4 cup unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated
12 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Glaze:
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
4 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped, plus extra for grating

Whipped cream
Strawberries

Heat oven to 350° F (180 C). Butter a 9-inch diameter springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment. Sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder and tap out the excess. Wrap the outside of the pan with foil to prevent leakage.

Combine chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Beat egg yolks and 6 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Transfer eggs to a large bowl; thoroughly clean and dry mixing bowl and whisk attachment.

Fold the melted chocolate into the egg yolks. Stir in the vanilla. In the clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar until medium-firm peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate in 3 additions. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake until top is slightly puffed and cracked and a knife inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. Heat cream and syrup in a small saucepan just until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth.

Gently press down on the top of the cake to even thickness. Remove pan side. Invert cake onto a plate. Remove and discard parchment. Pour the glaze over the center of the cake. Spread the glaze over the top and down the sides of the cake, using a flat icing spatula to smooth the glaze. Sprinkle with grated chocolate. Chill in refrigerator until firm, about 10 minutes. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.

More chocolate? If you insist…
Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Muffins from Brown Eyed Baker
Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from TasteFood
Chocolate Custard Cake from White on Rice Couple
Rich Chocolate Brownies from TasteFood

Plum Compote with Rosemary

Plum Compote with Rosemary

Plum Compote with Rosemary

We can never have enough dessert, can we? I comfort myself with that thought today as I push aside a blog post I planned to finish, in place of this lovely fresh dessert. You see, yesterday our freezer went on strike, or just plain quit, or read the horoscope and discovered that Mercury is in retrograde which is usually accompanied by massive appliance malfunctions, and decided to hop on the bandwagon. Whatever the cause, we woke this morning to a freezer filled with completely thawed food. So, instead of the shiny bright post I planned to write today, I spent the morning cooking meat – lots of defrosted meat – in a simple ragoût that I will use at a later point for pasta sauce and stews. That’s provided we can get the freezer working again so I can freeze it. Otherwise, we will be enjoying some pretty hefty dinners in the next few nights. Which makes this dessert even more welcome in its simplicity and lightness.

In my last post, I featured apricots it their glorious simplicity, lightly adorned with  a sprinkle of sugar. In this post, I do something equally simple with plums. For the past month it’s been raining plums in our garden: Little mirabelles are everywhere, dangling from trees, cascading down our hill, and always underfoot, enjoyed by all of the inhabitants of this garden oasis in which we live. We’ve popped them in our mouths until our stomachs ache. We’ve bestowed brimming baskets as gifts, and we’ve graciously deferred the unreachable gems to our resident squirrels. In the kitchen I’ve made crostatas, tarts and crisps, and when I finally tired of so much plum-ness I scooped as many as I could fit into a stock pot and cooked them down into a compote. Twice. The second batch of compote was inspired by the fragrant rosemary bushes in our garden, which happen to lie beneath many of the plum trees. As I gathered my fruit, the aroma of rosemary wafted through the air, nudging me to pick it too. And, as growing things do, these two ingredients make a fine pair not just in the garden but also in the kitchen, which I discovered when I tossed  a handful of rosemary sprigs in the last batch of bubbling compote.

Plum Compote with Rosemary

This recipe may easily be adjusted in quantity and sweetness. Depending on the flavor and tartness of the plums, more sugar may be needed. Add additional sugar a few spoonfuls at a time, tasting frequently until you find the right balance. If desired, use less sugar for a savory accompaniment to grilled meats.

1 pound plums, pitted, halved if small, quartered if large
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large rosemary sprig

Combine plums, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until plums begin to break down and sugar dissolves. Add rosemary sprigs. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until plums are soft and the compote is thick, stirring occasionally. (Be sure that the rosemary sprig is submerged in the liquid at all times). Remove from heat and cool completely. Discard rosemary. (Compote may be made up to 1 day in advance. Cover and refrigerate until use). Serve cold or at room temperature. To serve, ladle into small bowls or cups. Spoon a dollop of lightly sweetened crème fraîche, Greek yogurt or whipped cream in the center of the compote. Garnish with a pinch of brown sugar and a few rosemary leaves.