A surprising working partnership of traditional British pudding and archetypal Italian Xmas cake make this delicious semifreddo dessert for the festive season. Rice pudding is tucked away in this feel-good dessert along with crumbled panettone. The star though is the very ‘in vogue’, wicked, homemade caramel sauce in which the salt offsets the sweet.
Panettone is a low-key Christmas cake compared to the stiff-upper-crust of a right royally-iced British one. I am not a fan of slabs of royal icing and marzipan; from my childhood, I remember the sound they make hitting the china plates when served up on Boxing Day. No one could manage a slice on Christmas Day itself.
Soft mounded Italian panettone however doesn’t stand on ceremony and has been on our menu for a good couple of weeks already, having made its usual early appearance in our supermarkets here in Malta. It doubles up as a quick breakfast bite, an accompaniment to mid-morning coffee and as an (allowed) lunchbox treat for my son. As the plain, dried-fruit only varieties are so cheap and widely available, I decided to repurpose the plain ol’ panettone into a dessert worthy of the Xmas day table or festive season dinner parties.
Panettone gives a nice bulk to another Italian favourite, the semifreddo, that cross between an ice cream and a trifle. The beauty of semifreddo is that it rests a while in the fridge to defrost while you finish off mains, and can be then served and eaten with ease – no buckling the serving scoop or waiting impatiently for it to soften enough. It’s quite happy for 20 minutes in semi-freddo defrost mode.
Salted caramel has been cropping up a lot in the past year online on food porn sites and celeb chef’s outputs, but til now, I’d never really given it a try. Making caramel is easy (in theory) but can be fraught with moments of angst; there’s a knack to getting the sugar to turn and reach caramel point, but not letting it burn. You don’t want burnt sugar smell in your home! If you’re not up to giving the homemade a try, then fear not. Equally as tasty and for ease and speed, you can substitute it with a ready-made toffee or caramel ice cream sauce that you’ll find in most supermarkets. Add a pinch of salt and you’re good to go. On the other hand, this semifreddo is perfectly happy without extras, and not too sweet – a plus if you’re keen to start your ‘no sugar’ New Year’s resolution a month early.
- Salted Caramel Sauce
- 250ml golden granulated sugar
- 65ml water
- 1 tsp golden syrup or agave syrup (optional)
- 2 tsps vanilla essence
- 125ml double cream
- 1 level tsp sea salt
- 200g creamed rice pudding (canned)
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 50g caster sugar
- 250ml single cream
- 100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 100g mixed nuts (pecan & hazelnuts), chopped roughly + some to top
- Panettone – mixed, dried fruit type (6 chunky slices is enough)
- Line dariole moulds with cling film and freeze for half an hour before making the dessert. No need to line if using silicon muffin moulds.
- Salted Caramel Sauce: Mix the cream, vanilla essence and salt in a bowl and set aside.
- In a deep, thick-bottom pan, heat the water, sugar and golden syrup gently until the sugar dissolves, then turn up the heat to boil the mixture. Take great care at this point as the liquid may bubble and spit. It will take around 5-10 minutes to turn from light amber colour to a dark brown (caramelizing point). Never leave it alone, nor let it burn (smoke and set). It will turn colour very quickly. When just darkening, remove from the heat and cool for half a minute.
- Then, very carefully pour in the heated cream and salt and whisk vigorously to combine. It will rise up and spit when adding the cream, so take care. Let the caramel sauce cool for 10 minutes then pour into a glass jar, cover and store until required.
- Panettone Semifreddo: Take 3 scrupulously clean bowls and place the egg yolks and sugar in one; the cream in another; and the egg whites in the third.
- Using electric beaters, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks; the cream to soft peaks; and the egg yolks and sugar until they’re pale.
- Gently fold the cream, then the egg whites into the yolk-sugar mix. Then, fold in the rice pudding and 3 tbsps of caramel sauce.
- Add the chopped nuts and chocolate along with three 1cm slices of panettone diced finely.
- Spoon the semifreddo mix into the moulds, then cover loosely with cling film or foil and freeze for a minimum of 4 hours or until required.
- Serving: Remove the semifreddo 15 minutes before serving and place in the fridge to defrost slightly.
- Turn out the semifreddo from the moulds. Serve on lightly toasted panettone slices with the salted caramel pouring sauce and a sprinkle of chopped nuts.
All images © Liz Ayling 2014