Semifreddo al croccantino/ Praline Semifreddo

  • Serves 8
  • 1 ounce whole raw hazelnuts
  • 1 ounce whole raw almonds
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil for greasing, if desired
  • 6 large egg yolks*
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 8 chopped Amaretti di Saronno cookies (See Where to Buy Guide.)
  • 8 Chocolate Designs (page 354 ), for garnish, optional
  • 1 recipe Strawberry Coulis (page 352 ), for garnish, optional

Recipe from The Al Tiramisu Restaurant Cookbook

Semifreddo is a type of Italian semi-frozen dessert with the smooth, creamy texture of frozen mousse. I first made this dessert as chef of the elegant Ristorante Gourmet in Montecatini, where I left a piece of my heart. “Il Gourmet” as everyone calls the place—still going strong today—was like a laboratory of culinary ideas where we worked as a close team and stimulated each other’s imaginations.

Its owner Brunello Sichi and I often traveled around Tuscany visiting wine producers in the Chianti Classico area. It was his enthusiasm that instilled in me a desire to learn more about wine and the art of pairing food and wines in ways that enhance both. For this semifreddo, for example, I suggest Moscato di Noto, a fine, young, perfumed Sicilian dessert wine.

Many varieties of semifreddo have appeared on the Al Tiramisu menu but this is the one that clients always remember. I have nicknamed it the “smile catcher” because when guests taste it they inevitably break out into a huge smile, while making very pleasant “mmmm” sounds.

Note that since this dessert must set in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours, it’s a perfect make-ahead dish. Garnishes are strictly optional.


For the praline

  1. Place hazelnuts, almonds, ¼ cup water, and sugar in a small pan over medium heat and stir well until sugar is absorbed. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered, without stirring, swirling pan until the mixture turns deep golden and caramelizes.
  3. Wearing oven mitts carefully pour the mixture onto a marble slab or a metal tray greased with oil. (Care is required since the caramel mixture is very hot.) Let the mixture cool.
  4. When the praline is completely cool, chop it finely with a knife and place the pieces into a container.

For the semifreddo

  1. In a medium bowl combine the egg yolks and sugar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes or until the mixture is creamy and lemon colored.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar and whipping cream and continue mixing until it becomes tick and mousse-like but not too stiff.
  3. Add vanilla, praline pieces (reserving 8 small pieces for garnish), and crumbled Amaretti cookies.
  4. Transfer the mixture into ramekins or serving cups that are about 3-inches wide and 1 1/3-inches tall. Chill in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours.
  5. Serve chilled.

If desired, garnish by placing a Chocolate Design in the center of the semifreddo.

Also optional: place the Strawberry Coulis into a squeeze bottle with a small tip, and squeezing make 6 round designs on the side of each plate in gradually increasing sizes, starting with a design the size of a dime, and ending up with one the size of a silver dollar.

Italian Cooking Primer

Amaretti are light, airy, and wonderfully chewy almond macaroons from Italy. The centuries-old company Lazzaroni of Saronno sells the cookies in iconic red tins full of pretty paper packets with two amaretti back to back. Amaretti are often crumbled into Italian desserts, in the same way that Americans might use bits of gingersnaps or Oreos.

*Note that consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of food-borne illness.

Sommelier’s Pick

Moscato di Noto (Sicily)