The Most Indulgent Hazelnut Semi-freddo

There is a farm nearby that sells the most incredible unpasteurised Jersey cream. Whilst recovering from a Christmas flu, I developed a strange yearning for cream and hazelnuts - like my body knew that something needed soothing and this was how. I just wanted cream and hazelnut praline and Italian meringue, having existed almost entirely on clementines and painkillers for a week. 

A semifreddo is a creamy dessert, just frozen enough to be soft scoop - with no need to churn, or use an ice-cream maker because the meringue and whipped cream hold their shape even once frozen. With a mixture this rich, there is virtually no chance of ice crystals forming anyway!

So I tied my hair back, rolled up my sleeves and got out the bain-marie. The meringue keeps this cloud of sweet, toasty, creaminess, soft for at least 24 hours; but beyond that I can't vouch, because it was hoovered up by Finley for holiday breakfast, jealously guarding his bowl like a big cat with a kill.

Just in case it is unclear; this desert is super sugary and is not a health food in any sense - other than the wonderful benefits of raw cream. I will also not be held responsible for any arguments over the last slice.

Hazelnut Semi-freddo serves 4 greedy / 6 modest souls

There are three parts to this desert, praline, Italian meringue and sweet cream. Once made they are simply folded together, piled casually into a lined loaf tin and frozen.

150g hazelnuts
110g fair-trade palm sugar (or raw honey - see below for instructions)

Roast the hazelnuts in a 200c oven for about 6 minutes. Rub them in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, pour back onto the tray, go to the front door and blow the skins gently into the neighbours’ garden. If they don't seem quite roasted enough, give them another few minutes in the oven. Oil the tray and leave the nuts on it whole while you get on with the caramel.

Dissolve the sugar in 75ml of water over a medium heat and bring to the boil once dissolved. Boil steadily, stirring only occasionally, until the liquid turns a deep golden colour. Not too dark or it will taste burnt. Pour over the hazelnuts in the oiled tin and leave to cool before breaking up and grinding to a rough powder in a food processor. Set aside.

Alternatively, use honey in place of water and palm sugar and heat it very, very gently until a little dropped on a cold plate forms a ball when rolled between your finger and thumb. The honey will darken, but do not allow it to darken too much as it will taste burnt. Cool and grind as before.

Italian Meringue
3 medium free range egg whites
110g fair-trade palm sugar (or raw honey)

Place the egg whites and sugar or honey in a scrupulously clean bowl over gently simmering water (or in a bain-marie) and stir constantly until piping hot and almost steaming. When you dip your finger in it should feel hotter than blood temp, but not burn your finger. This takes about 10-15 minutes and it pays to take it slowly so you don't overcook the egg and end up with Californian omelette. Put the radio on and relax while you stir.

When the whites are piping hot take the bowl off the heat and whisk immediately with a hand held mixer until the meringue is cool, shiny and stands in stiff peaks. Set aside.

Sweet Cream
250ml the best double (heavy) cream you can find
75-100ml Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur or brandy, or Pedro Ximinez sherry

Decide how much booze you want to add and whip the cream and liqueur until softly floppy. Don't over whip or the semi-freddo will be stiff and buttery. Fold this mixture gently into the meringue until just combined. Sprinkle in the praline and fold in with a couple of strokes, leaving it streaked through the mixture.

Line a small loaf tin or similar sized vessel with Clingfilm and spoon in the mixture, levelling it gently before putting it in the freezer for at least 4 hours, but preferably a few more to give it a chance to firm up properly. When you are ready to eat it, invert the loaf tin over a serving plate and peel off the cling film before slicing. Serve with little cups of espresso or a drizzle of Kaluha. If you really want to play up the hazelnut theme, some hazelnut sable biscuits would provide a lovely contrast to the richness of the semi-freddo.