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Dessert In the Pink: Red Currant Semifreddo

Last weekend at the Farmers’ Market Mr. T espied some lovely red currants and insisted that we get some. This is pretty much par for the course, as he is utterly mad for the magical “soft fruits” like currants and gooseberries that we almost never see in this country. Of course, there may be a few reasons for this lack of weird berries here in the U.S….

Red currants, for example, are delightful, but they’re also incredibly delicate, grow on hard-to-harvest racemes, and very close to too tart to eat out of hand. In England, they’re used to make jams, sauces for meat, and sweets like summer puddings and fools. Mr. T suggested pie, but 2 pints of berries does not a pie make, nor did I want to futz with pastry, or baking for that matter, when it was 97°F outside.

I did, though, want the currants to be the main event, not merely a garnish on the side, so I needed something that would carry the berries’ flavor without much interference. Summer pudding would have been lovely, but I had no suitable bread for the case. And then I remembered Mr. T telling me about the summer he and his Auntie had made red currant ice cream, an ice cream so delicious that they both made themselves slightly ill eating it. Now, in a family where the preferred dessert comes in a tumbler on the rocks, this was a big deal.

So, I decided to move in the frozen direction; a semifreddo would be a lovely and refreshing vehicle for the currants’ red, sprightly tartness. While there are various methods for making this frozen (or, technically, “half frozen”) dessert, they all involve softly whipped cream and stiffly beaten egg in some form or other. The air, fat, and sugars conspire to create a soft, toothsome frozen treat that–miracle of miracles–doesn’t even require an ice cream maker.

The below recipe is basically a fruit curd made with egg yolks and beaten till fluffy and cooled, then folded into some whipped cream and frozen. Lots of bowls and whisking involved, but really quite easy. And the result is very special too.

Red Currant Semifreddo
Yield: 6-8 servings

2 pints red currants
1/4 + 1/2 c sugar, divided
1 tbs fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
1 c heavy cream
4 egg yolks
currants & whipped cream to garnish (optional)

Place the whisk beater and bowl of a stand mixer in the refrigerator to chill.

Line a ~Xc mold (loaf pan, usually–easy to slice & serve) with plastic wrap, leaving a generous couple of inches hanging over the sides to ease removal. Put the lined mold into the freezer to chill.

Wash, drain, and stem the currants. Combine them in a small saucepan with 1/4c sugar, the lemon juice, and the salt. Cook over low heat, stirring and mashing the fruit till nicely pulpy (no more whole berries) and the sugar is dissolved, 3-4 minutes.

Put a mesh strainer in a bowl and line with a few layers of moistened cheesecloth. (You can omit the cheesecloth if the strainer is fine enough to catch the currant seeds and skins.) Put the lined strainer in a bowl and pour in the currant mixture, scraping with a spatula to get it aaaaall in.

Stir the currant mixture and press the juice through the cheesecloth. Once most of the liquid has been strained, gather the cheesecloth into a bundle and, twisting, squeeze out the remaining juice. You should have about 3/4c. Discard the solids and set the juice aside.

Remove the chilled mixing bowl and whisk beater from the refrigerator and attach to the stand mixer. Pour the cream into the bowl and beat till soft peaks form, about X min. Scrape the whipped cream into a bowl and return to the refrigerator. Rinse and dry the mixing bowl and whisk beater.

Fill a small saucepan with about 2 inches of water and set on the stove. Bring to a slow simmer. While the water’s coming to temperature, combine remaining sugar, currant juice, and egg yolks in the cleaned mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.

Place the mixing bowl over the pot with the simmering water and whisk energetically till the mixture reaches 170F. This’ll take about 4 minutes. The mixture will be light and thick when ready.

Remove bowl from heat and fit to the stand mixer. Mix with the whisk beater on medium speed til completely cooled, about 6 min. (If you have a water jacket for your mixer, now is the time to use it.) Fold the whipped cream into the currant mixture and pour into chilled, lined mold. Smooth tops and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.

If possible, stick your serving platter and dessert plates into the freezer as well. Prior to serving, remove mold from freezer and, using the overhanging plastic wrap, pull the semifreddo out of the mold and onto your serving platter. If desired, pipe whipped cream borders (less spastically than I did, if you please). You can put it back in the freezer now for a bit if that’s easier. To serve, cut in slices, plate, and garnish with berries, toasted almonds, or cookies.

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