Saffron Semifreddo with Cherry-Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey-Hazelnuts

March 19, 2010
4 Ratings
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 20 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

This recipe was inspired by my final project in culinary school, placing saffron in dessert and letting it shine by sweet deliverance. We made ice cream sandwiches and put saffron in the cookie; I fell in love with the way the threads ran like ribbons through the dessert, making it a beautiful last dance. This semifreddo is the definition of decadence, made with Italian sweet vermouth and accompanied by a lush cherry-cardamom syrup and finished with a salty-sweet crunch. My favorite part about making this is you can make the semifreddo (the diligent part), and simply finish the other two components while the custard freezes. I prefer to serve mine scooped straight from the bowl for a rustic presentation. A bonus to this recipe is you can use the leftover egg whites for macaroons or for making an omelet for lunch. —Brenna

Test Kitchen Notes

Brenna knows her way around a pastry kitchen. While this isn't the quickest recipe, no part is difficult and every little step contributes exponentially to its flavor. You'll love the semifreddo alone but the cardamom-infused cherries toss in bursts of acidity and the salted nuts add woodsiness and crunch. Don't change a thing about the recipe, but you might want to double it. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Saffron Semifreddo
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 tablespoon sweet vermouth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Cherry-Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey-Hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup dried, unsweetened cherries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, toasted
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  1. Saffron Semifreddo
  2. Prepare a small sauce pot of boiling water or a double boiler and bring water to a gentle simmer. Also have an ice water bath big enough for the base of the double boiler or mixing bowl ready.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl or pan of a double boiler, combine egg yolks, sugar, and saffron threads. Place the bowl or pan over the gently simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and doubled, about 5 - 6 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and submerge in the ice water bath, continuing to stir to bring down the temperature. *If the mixture gets too cold and is sticking to the bottom of the pan, it will release easily if you run hot water on the outside of the bowl.
  5. In the bowl of an electric mixer and using the paddle attachment, whip the egg yolk mixture with the sweet vermouth until it becomes thick and pale in color, 4 - 5 minutes.
  6. As the mixer is going, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form (this can also be done ahead of time).
  7. With a spatula, add a third of the whipped cream to the egg mixture and stir together gently to lift the base. Fold the remaining whipped cream into the egg mixture. When this is done, you can spoon the mixture into 6 individual ramekins, or leave it in the mixing bowl. Cover the ramekins or bowl with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 6 hours. To serve, run a butter knife under hot water and cut around the edge of the ramekin to invert the semifreddo onto individual plates. Or, if you prefer, use a hot spoon to scoop the semifreddo from the mixing bowl. Serve with cherry-cardamom syrup and salted honey-hazelnuts (recipes to follow).
  1. Cherry-Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey-Hazelnuts
  2. Combine cherries, sugar, cardamom, wine, lemon juice, and water into a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the syrup has reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside to cool.
  3. For the hazelnuts: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Place hazelnuts in a small mixing bowl and toss with olive oil and sea salt. Add honey and toss once more to coat.
  5. Transfer nuts to a lined baking sheet and bake, stirring at least once, until the nuts are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
  6. Once the hazelnuts have cooled, roughly chop the nuts and serve alongside the semifreddo.
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39 Reviews

FoodWineEtc December 17, 2018
This looks fantastic! Any reason you couldn't freeze this in a loaf/casserole pan (which is the only way I've made semifreddo), and then slice and top with the sauce & nuts? (i.e is the texture conducive to slicing?) Also, curious about your thoughts re: using / leaving out whipped egg whites? Is your version richer & the other (more traditional?) version lighter? Thanks for any input!!
Amanda H. December 29, 2018
You could definitely freeze this in a loaf pan. And if you wanted to add whipped egg whites, you definitely could and it would lighten the mixture. This is a denser (and lovely!) semifreddo.
FoodWineEtc December 29, 2018
Thanks, Amanda. I ended up making it as-is for Christmas Eve. I doubled the recipe yet was only able to fill 7 ramekins (same kind/shape pictured in the photo). So I made a 3rd batch. All in all that made enough for 11 ramekins, vs 18. I wouldn't have wanted smaller desserts so I was wondering if I wasn't getting the egg volume high enough, but I don't think so. The flavor combo was awesome - loved the vermouth & saffron - but as you said it's a much dense/richer version of semi-freddo. I prefer a lighter, more traditional version so next time I will incorporate egg whites. (FYI, a trick a chef showed me for semi-freddo if you want to put it into a loaf pan is to oil the pan lightly and then line it with parchment paper. Helps to release it)
Amanda H. December 29, 2018
Glad it worked out and now I want to try it with egg whites, too! Thanks for the loaf pan tip!
FoodWineEtc December 29, 2018
What did you find re: quantities? I just noticed the photos attached to this (damn - wish I'd seen that before! :-). Were you able to make 6, or just 4? Thanks...just want to know if I did something 'wrong', or if we just eat more! Thx.
Amanda H. December 29, 2018
Looks like we did just 4 but a few of the ramekins were larger than usual -- we took this photo 8 years ago! Still, though I think 6 would be too skimpy. I'll change the recipe to say it yields 4.
FoodWineEtc December 29, 2018
Thanks - love this site!!
MM April 16, 2018
Great recipe, relatively easy to put together, and always a hit! I prefer to use pistachios, since the combo with saffron embraces a middle eastern / turkish vibe, which I love.
Douglas B. June 2, 2014
I once served this with a ginger snap recipe from this magnificent website and it was a lovely match.
Douglas B. June 2, 2014
As the recipe says perfect as is and fun to prepare. it is a pleaser of the most discriminating and plebeian of taste buds.
Douglas March 10, 2014
P E R F E C T I O N !!!!!!!
MBobinski September 4, 2013
This is profoundly delicious. Together, the chew from the fruit, smooth ice cream, and crackly hazelnut bits are perfect.
LeBec F. April 4, 2012
what a sophisticated and elegant palate this reveals! can't wait to try it!
Lisainthevillage January 30, 2012
This was amazing and spectacular - maybe my favorite dessert ever! One question about the cardamom - I got green cardamom and toasted that, then pulled out the seeds [tedious], then briefly toasted those. Is there an easier way to go with this part of the recipe?
Brenna February 5, 2012
Hi Lisa! I am so happy you loved the dessert. About your question, the recipe calls for ground cardamom, so the work is already done for you! But-- if whole pods are all you have, you can toss the whole pod right into the syrup and remove them (without fussing with the seeds) once the syrup is reduced. I'd say about 2 or 3 pods should do the trick.
J. A. December 28, 2010
I like the salty with the sweet, the crunch with the creamy semifreddo.
Amanda H. April 12, 2010
Another great thing about this semifreddo is that if you leave it out to soften a little bit before serving, and then forget about it until it's almost room temperature, like I did tonight, it's still terrific. It becomes mousse-like and very delicate. I'd happily serve it either way.
Brenna May 11, 2010
Mmm, saffron mousse! I also took to making lots of extra salted honey-hazelnuts on their own, and I'm dreaming of ricotta pancakes doused in cherry-cardamom syrup. The trio I save for show stopping moments; the ones where the flavor combination is ultra impressive. I'm thinking warm summer nights on the deck--dessert and wine for a meal. I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe again; I haven't made it since I devised it back on the East Coast. I'm just so happy! I'm just now getting back to cooking since all of my moving and traveling. Where to start? Thank goodness food52 is here to solve any food need.
cheese1227 April 6, 2010
I made this for Easter dinner dessert. It was fabulous for me because I could make all of the different bits of this recipe on Saturday and just assemble it once we'd digested our lamb a bit on Sunday afternoon. Rave reviews from everyone at the table (it was an 18-0 vote, with one abstention for health reasons), even the three-year-old who passed up the sugar cookies in favor of the the "yellow ice cream"! The flavors in this combination are exceptional.
Brenna April 9, 2010
What a lovely tale! I definitely appreciate anything that can be made ahead and enjoyed just as heavenly the next day. I'm very happy everyone raved. Did you triple the recipe?
cheese1227 April 9, 2010
I made the 18 serviings in three batches. I don't think my Kitchenaid mixer bowl would have held three pints of whipped cream.
Food B. March 31, 2010
Congratulations, Brenna!
Brenna March 31, 2010
Thank you so much. It was an honor competing alongside your family tradition; I am making Italian Rice pie for my good friends for Easter in Washington DC and hope I can adopt it as my own Spring tradition.
theicp March 31, 2010
Congrats! I'm actually having two friends from India over for dinner on Friday night who both have a penchant for saffron. They will love this! (And I'm going to love looking super impressive whipping this thing up - so thank you.)
Brenna March 31, 2010
Take photos! I hope they adore it; I do like that this recipe seems a little fancy, but the sneaky thing about it is that it's all fairly simple (and it's nice to be able to put it in the freezer and then not worry about pulling it out again until dinner is done--phew). Thank you very much, I can't wait to hear how it turns out.
shayma March 31, 2010
congrats, a gorgeous dish!
Brenna March 31, 2010
Thank you, Shayma.
Lizthechef March 31, 2010
Congratulations on a well-deserved win!
Brenna March 31, 2010
Thank you, Liz! You were with this recipe from the beginning.
SaySchwartzAndBeSure March 25, 2010
Wow! What a combination of flavors. I have never made anything like this but I will certainly try now! Thanks.
EmilyNunn March 25, 2010
Wow-wow-wow. This seriously gives me goosebumps. A & M need to add a button that makes this magically appear at my workspace.
Amanda H. March 25, 2010
We're working on that feature.
Lizthechef March 25, 2010
Congrats indeed - you already have my thumbs up -
shayma March 25, 2010
i love saffron in desserts. and cardamom is my favourite spice in the whole wide world! a beautiful one, congrats on being short-listed!
Brenna March 25, 2010
Thank you very much, Shayma! I hope you try it and love it as your tastes suggest you will. I am extremely excited.
Food B. March 19, 2010
Sweet vermouth and saffron? What an intriguing combination. This must be wonderful.
Brenna March 25, 2010
Thank you, Food Blogga! And congratulations to you. It looks like there will be no shortage of custard at my house this week.