The creamy semifreddo is a popular Christmas dessert in Italy, and nothing pairs better with this gelato-like marvel than a sparkling, slightly sweet Asti spumante.
Welcome to the Italian Wine Pairing Weekend group! Each month, the group chooses a different theme for bloggers to choose their own interpretation of a good wine and food pairing. December's theme is Sparkling Wines and Festive Holiday Dishes. If you want to follow the conversation online, use the hashtag #WinePW.
Asti Spumante is a popular, off-dry sparkling wine with a fine perlage from the Monferrato region of Piemonte, located just east of Alba. Three of the most well-known towns that produce it include Canelli, Mango, and Santo Stefano Belbo. It is made from 100% Moscato grapes, making it an aromatic wine with fresh, fruity notes on the nose and palate. It’s made using the Charmat-Martinotti method, or secondary fermentation in stainless steel autoclaves. Don't confuse it with Moscato d’Asti, also made from 100% Moscato grapes. Moscato d'Asti is a slightly sparkling wine, technically frizzante and not spumante, and undergoes second fermentation in the bottle; the resulting wine is a bit sweeter than Asti Spumante (around 5% alcohol compared to about 8%).
→ Read more about the sparkling wines of Piemonte here: 13 Things You Didn’t Know about Piemonte’s Sparkling Wines
This particular bottle is from Nuovimondi, a brand that’s also available in the US. Nuovimondi is actually made of five cooperatives and two independent producers of Piemonte. They make several different wines from Barolo and Barbera to Gavi and Brachetto and more, and have a consistently high quality for quite a good price.
This Asti Spumante had notes of sage and lemon, ginger and tropical fruit, and even a touch of honey with a very long-lasting effervescence. I appreciated the bubbles; some spumante can have rough, large perlage, but this was very fine.
Hazelnut and Torroncino Semifreddo
I was actually given the idea of a semifreddo by Chef Piergiuseppe Viazzi who works at the Michelin starred restaurant Arianna located in Cavaglietto (NO), Alto Piemonte. When he said a good pairing for Asti Spumante would be a semifreddo, however, I immediately asked for a simpler recipe. You know, in case I chickened out. Just the name “semifreddo” brought to mind expensive kitchen equipment and the dexterity of a chef who, well, works in a Michelin starred restaurant. It's like a chocolate lava cake or soufflé—get it at a restaurant, make something else at home.
What, exactly, is a semifreddo? As its name suggests, it is a semi-frozen dessert. Actually, it is stored in the freezer and would be completely frozen, like ice cream or gelato, were it not for its higher sugar and fat content, as well as lower water content. Yes, a semifreddo is even richer; but it’s the holidays and you’re allowed to indulge. In fact, this is an Italian holiday tradition.
I am never one to back down from a challenge in the kitchen, especially if it’s a dessert, so I decided I would do it. After a few panicked looks at complicated recipes using thermometers and a dozen variations on the semifreddo, I knew I had to watch a video. I always learn how to cook something by watching. So I turned to Chef Laura Ravaioli in this video:
It looked so much easier after watching. Yes, you can make a semifreddo without a thermometer. And the recipe calls for a lot of separate mixing which is why it looks long and complicated, but it’s not.
My only variation on the recipe in the video, suggested by Chef Piergiuseppe, was to add crumbled hazelnut torrone or torroncino, a Piemontese hard or chewy nougat (I used hard) that is also a popular Christmas dessert. It is made with honey, sugar, egg whites, and a variety of roasted nuts. Piemonte, of course, is famous for its hazelnut torrone. I chose a Piemontese company to stay local that is known to be one of the best Italian torrone companies, called Antica Torroneria Piemontese.
Chef Piergiuseppe was right: the semifreddo was perfect with the Asti Spumante. That creamy consistency needed something to cut through the richness and provide a fresh background. The Nuovimondi Asi Spumante matched this show-stopping dessert perfectly.
To be honest, I didn't taste the wine with the semifreddo right away because I ate the semifreddo in two seconds flat. It was like eating a wonderful, fluffy cloud. So I cut a second slice and did some tasting. Asti Spumante is an "off-dry" wine, but many who are used to drinking dry wine would simply call it sweet. However, it was perfect with the semifreddo, contrasting against its even sweeter flavor profile without coming off as acidic, refreshing the palate for the next bite (of the second slice...).
Don’t be afraid: Semifreddo tips
• For the best results when making meringue: Don’t use right-out-of-fridge eggs, which are too cold and will take longer to beat. Make sure the bowl is clean and that no yolk or any fat contaminates the egg white, or it won’t ever form stiff peaks. And finally, don’t stress out about it. The Italian meringue (as opposed to French or Swiss meringues, two other methods) is the most stable of the three because of the high amount of sugar, which keeps the structure of the peaks intact without risking overbeating.
• When making the syrup, you don’t need a thermometer. Just wait until the bubbles have become tiny and compact, almost foamy, which means it’s at 118°-120°C.
• Keep the serving pan in the freezer so the completed mixture gets cold as quickly as possible, keeping its creamy consistency.
• Finally, it’s really the easiest recipe ever: all it takes is a lot of beating. Just be glad there are electric beaters (how did they make this in the past?).
Semifreddo with Hazelnut Torroncino
400 gr (14 oz.) cold whipping cream
2 eggs, out of the fridge for an hour or more for best results (use organic, because they aren’t cooked)
120 gr (4.25 oz.) sugar + tad bit of water
40 gr (1.4 oz.) sugar
150 gr (5.3 oz) broken torroncino
1) Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks and store it in the refrigerator, covered. Line a loaf pan with wax paper and store it in the freezer.
2) Combine 140 gr sugar and just enough water to make the consistency of wet sand (about ¼ cup or less! Too much water will form ice crystals in the freezer) in a small saucepan. Heat, giving it a stir.
3) Separate egg whites from egg yolks. In a clean bowl with very clean beaters, beat the egg whites until they start growing in volume.
4) Check on sugar and water. When tiny, compact bubbles begin to form, it’s ready (or 118-120° C if you have a candy thermometer). Take it off the heat and pour it into the egg whites at a slow, steady stream while beating. Beat until you form peaks for the meringue. (Be patient! For me, this took several minutes)
5) Set the meringue aside. Add 40 gr sugar to the egg yolk and beat until it expands in volume and becomes very pale yellow. No need to clean the beaters before mixing.
6) Fold the yolk into the meringue, then the whipped cream. Do not stir, because you don’t want to lose the delicate air you’ve just spent forever beating into the ingredients. Right before it is fully incorporated, add the chopped torroncino and continue folding just until it is all mixed.
7) Pour into the loaf pan. If you have extra that doesn’t fit, congratulations! You’ve successfully made all your ingredients so fluffy that they don’t fit in one pan. Pour into small muffin tins, if you’d like.
8) Freeze: I waited half a day. Some recipes say it only takes 3 hours (but my freezer is not that powerful).
9) Serve immediately from the freezer. Being semi-frozen, it will melt quickly. It’s perfect with a hot chocolate sauce drizzled over top and any leftover torroncino bits you might have.
This is a great dessert for dinner parties: you can make it ahead of time, and it’s really a showstopper. It’s like gelato, but even creamier and incredibly delicious. You can leave it in the freezer for up to two weeks (after which it will start to pick up freezer smells).
While this is not a sponsored post, I want to extend a special thanks to Antica Torroneria Piemontese and Nuovimondi. I asked where to find their products, and hardly the words were out of my mouth when they were generously provided. Thanks also to Chef Piergiuseppe, whose idea sparked the semifreddo adventure in the first place!
Don't forget to check out all the other pairings with sparkling wines and festive dishes for December's #WinePW:
Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be “Celebrating with Lemon-Poached Scallops with Caviar Limes and Champagne”
A Day in the Life on the Farm is excited to share “An Assortment of Appetizers with a California Champagne”
Curious Cuisiniere has paired “Italian Panettone and Sparkling Wine”
Confessions of a Culinary Diva is preparing to have “Champagne & Caviar Dreams”
Pull That Cork is “Celebrating In Style with Giulio Ferrari for #winePW”
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog is planning “A 3-Course Sparkling Wine Dinner with Iron Horse Classic Vintage Brut”
Grape Experiences is excited for the holidays with “Le Medaillon Brut NV and Normandy Fondue”
Dracaena Wines is ready to talk about “Why We Love Sparkling (And You Should, Too!)”
Wine Pass (that's us!) will be enjoying “Asti Spumante with Hazelnut-Torrone Semifreddo”
FoodWineClick is preparing “Easy Holiday Appetizers & a Sparkler from South Africa”
Cooking Chat is planning “Kale Pesto Crostini Wine Pairing That Sparkles”
Wines of Roero is sharing and Roero Arneis Spumanti DOCG Lobster Risotto Arancini
Austrian Wines USA is thrilled to present Austria’s Sekt with Smoked Char Cucumber Canapes
Rockin’ Red Blog will share “A Sparkling Good Wine and Food Pairing”