Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo with Rhubarb Compote

A dear friend of mine had never tasted (or seen) rhubarb before, so when we saw rhubarb upside down cake with strawberry sauce featured on the dessert menu at COCO500, we excitedly ordered it to share. It was wonderful just like everything else I've had at COCO, but the strawberry sauce, although a classic complement to rhubarb, masked the intense mouth-puckering quality of rhubarb. 

When rhubarb appeared in my CSA, I immediately told my friend that I would make him a dessert showcasing rhubarb in its true form- Suzanne Goin's vanilla semifreddo with rhubarb compote. "Semifreddo"is an Italian dessert that means partially frozen. This version of semifreddo is creamy, light and airy, similar to partially frozen ice cream, as opposed to others that are more like a sponge-cake with slightly frozen cream.  The beaten egg whites make it light, similar to meringue, and the whipped cream folded into the dessert keeps it from freezing completely. The result is a lighter version of vanilla bean ice cream that you can make at home without an ice cream maker. It is the perfect spring/summer dessert!

Friends came over to feast on a light summer dinner of eggplant caponata with cacik (a Turkish yogurt with garlic, cucumber, and mint), pan-fried heirloom tomato bruschetta (inspired by the movie Julia & Julia), buratta, and green leaf lettuce dressed with an olive oil/lemon/parmesan dressing tossed with avocados. And of course, this dessert.
As we laughed and shared stories, my new-to-rhubarb friend asked another dinner guest to guess the dessert based on the following hint, "it's made from a red vegetable that is the stem of a toxic leaf". It drove her crazy trying to guess which red vegetable could possibly be used for dessert!
Between mouthfuls of vanilla bean semifreddo topped with rhubarb compote, my dinner guests excitedly proclaimed how much they loved the dessert and we all practically licked our plates clean.

The best part about this dessert is that you can prepare all of the components of the dish ahead of time, so it makes for a great dinner party dish. I let the semifreddo sit in the freezer overnight to set before serving. To serve the dessert, I spooned some of the rhubarb compote onto a plate, set a slice of the vanilla bean semifreddo over it and then spooned a little bit of the rhubarb compote on top.

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo with Rhubarb Compote (Suzanne Goin)
1 tsp canola oil for greasing the pan
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Rhubarb compote (recipe follows)

Lightly oil a 9" round cake pan and line it with plastic wrap. Tuck the plastic wrap into the edges and smooth it out completely, allowing the extra plastic wrap to drape over the sides of the pan.

In a stand mixer, whip the cream at medium speed, until it forms stiff peaks. Transfer the whipped cream to another bowl and refrigerate. Wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment.

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a pairing knife to scrape the seeds and pulp into the mixing bowl. Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and half of sugar, mixing at high speed about 3 minutes until thick and doubled in volume. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment.

Whip egg whites at medium speed about 1 minute, until frothy. Increase the speed to high and pour in remaining sugar, about 3 minutes until stiff peaks have formed.

Fold the refrigerated whipped cream into the yolk mixture, fold in the egg white a third at a time. Transfer to the plastic lined pan and tap the pan three times on the counter to settle. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface and smooth with your hands, draping the extra wrap over the edges. Refrigerate at least 4 hours (I refrigerated it overnight).

Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.  Spoon some of the rhubarb compote onto a plate, set a slice of the vanilla bean semifreddo over it and then spooned a little bit of the rhubarb compote on top of the slice. Pass remaining compote at the table.

Rhubarb compote (Suzanne Goin)
1lb rhubarb
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup white wine
3/4 tsp cornstarch

Slice rhubarb stalks in half lengthwise and slice into 1/2" pieces crosswise. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a pairing knife to scrape the seeds and pulp into a medium pan. Add the vanilla pod, sugar, and 2 tbsp water. Bring to a boil over medium heat without stirring. Cook for about 8 more minutes, swirling the pan once in a while until a deep brown caramel. Immediately toss in half of the rhubarb and all of the wine. Turn the heat down to medium and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, breaking up the rhubarb. Add the remaining rhubarb and 1/2 cup water. Cook until tender but not mushy, about 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and strain over a bowl. Pour liquid to the pan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.

In a small bowl, stir 1 tbsp water into the cornstarch. Whisk into the liquid and return to a boil, stirring continuously, until shiny and thickened. Pour liquid back into the bowl and stir in the rhubarb. Refrigerate before serving.


  1. AnonymousJuly 05, 2011

    Amazing dessert to enjoy on a hot summer night, wish I could have it right now!!

  2. What a delightful meal all around, and I bet your guests were very happy with everything including this lovely dessert...the rhubarb compote sounds amazing :)

  3. Mmm, frozen desserts are always so good during the summer months. I have a sweet treat linky party going on at my blog till Monday and I'd love it if you'd come by and link your semifreddo up. http://sweet-as-sugar-cookies.blogspot.com/2011/07/sweets-for-saturday-25.html

  4. Hi! Your semifreddo recipe was nominated as one of the "Best 300 Semifreddo Recipes on the Net". To vote for it, please visit http://easyitalianrecipes.org/dessert-recipes/best-300-italian-semifreddo-recipes-on-the-net-vote-for-your-favorite/ - your recipe is positioned at #119 (random order).


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