Sunday, May 08, 2011

Roasted Rhubarb with Creme Fraiche Semifreddo

Rhubarb! Rhubarb! Rhubarb! After singing the praises of seasonal produce and asparagus last week, talking about rhubarb seems a natural next step. Rhubarb's ruby stalks stick around a bit longer than asparagus, but when they first break through the sad, fruit-free depths of winter, it's no less a spring awakening. In my first-fruits rapture, I bake it into a custard tart, simmer it down into a syrup, or wait patiently (well, somewhat patiently) as it infuses into liqueur. But last week I had a rare extra carton of creme fraiche, which made me think how lovely rhubarb's tartness complements a sweet and creamy dessert. Thus the semifreddo.

For those who haven't been so lucky as to taste their creamy deliciousness, semifreddos are Italian desserts, sort of like a frozen mousse. Most recipes start with a saboyan, whipping (and sometimes heating) together a shockingly large number of egg yolks and some sugar, then lightening the whole mixture with some whipped cream and freezing it in a mold (a loaf pan is fine, which lets you cut dramatic slices). The beaten-in air lightens the mixture, giving you all of the luscious creamy lightness of ice cream without an ice cream-maker. Win!

This recipe is inspired by Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which pairs a rhubarb compote with a vanilla semifreddo. Goin's version is a little less yolky than most, featuring only three eggs, and folds in beaten egg whites as well for an even more light-as-air result. It's ridiculously simple for such a sophisticated dessert, doing away with the stovetop custard bases and fancy machinery, and requiring no more than a bunch of beating and folding. I cut down the cream a bit in Goin's recipe, replacing it with a small amount of cultured creme fraiche instead. It's a small enough amount that it doesn't overwhelm, adding just the merest hint of tang to offset the creamy vanilla. And then there's the rhubarb.

In Goin's original recipe, she pairs the semifreddo with a rhubarb compote, cooked down to a deliciously tangy slump. I've made compotes (both hers and others') and loved them. But since I'm still in the Holy Crap It's Spring! mindset, I wanted to show rhubarb off a little more. Instead of the jammy compote, I went with Canal House's recommendation of roasting the stalks. This recipe still features the rhubarb+sugar+vanilla+wine combination Goin favors (Canal House called for red, but I replaced it with the lighter white that Goin used -- it is Spring, after all), but bakes everything in the oven instead of stewing it on the stovetop. If you're careful enough with your gentle turning, the chunks of rhubarb soften but hold their shape, yielding a tart accompaniment to the creamy semifreddo that's beautiful as well as delicious. And if you serve it promptly (instead of waiting for it to melt, as I did in my picture below), it makes for an elegant plate. Spring dinner party, anyone?

And speaking of Spring, here's a gift for Mother's Day I wrote up for The Oregonian, on how to show love to the new moms in your life (with food, of course).

Roasted Rhubarb with Creme Fraiche Semifreddo

semifreddo adapted from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, roasted rhubarb adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 3

serves ~6

3 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar, separated
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 cup creme fraiche (can be omitted if you don't have, or increased for a more pronounced flavor, but this small amount works quite well)

Roasted Rhubarb:
1 lb rhubarb, cut in 2" lengths
1/4 cup white wine
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (from making semifreddo)

Line a 9" loaf pan with plastic wrap or parchment (if using plastic wrap, you can try to smooth out any wrinkles that will imprint themselves on the finished semifreddo, but I usually fail at that task). Set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a large mixer, and beat, gradually increasing the speed to high and sprinkling in 1/3 cup of the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form, then transfer to another bowl (it can be a small one) and set aside.

Add the cream to the mixing bowl, and beat on medium until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Place the reserved egg yolks in the mixing bowl, and add the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean (reserve the pod for the roasted rhubarb), vanilla extract, and reserved sugar. Beat until the mixture has lightened in color and thickened and doubled in volume, ~3 minutes. Whisk in the creme fraiche until it is just combined.

Take the yolk mixture, and gently fold it into the bowl of whipped cream. Add the beaten egg whites, and fold in in a few additions, until there are no streaks left, taking care not to deflate the mixture. Pour it into the prepared loaf pan, and place in the freezer. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours.

When the semifreddo is ready, prepare the roasted rhubarb.

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the rhubarb, wine, sugar, and left-over half of the vanilla bean in an oven-proof pan (I used an 8" square casserole dish, which worked perfectly). Stir to evenly distribute ingredients. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about half an hour, turning the rhubarb once (gently!), until the rhubarb is totally tender but hasn't lost its shape. Remove from the oven, and let cool slightly (or fully, depending upon your taste). Discard the vanilla bean.

To serve, cut thick slices of the semifreddo, and serve topped with the roasted rhubarb and its syrupy juices.


  1. This sounds truly wonderful. My rhubarb will be ready for picking by the end of the month and I now have all kinds of new recipes to try. I also recently made homemade crème fraîche, so I am now really anxious to try this.


  2. I get my rhubarb from my parents' place, so I have to wait until I visit next. (At Easter, it was just starting to pop up.) But, I am making this when I get some in hand, since your track record with rhubarb resonates well with me! I also have a homemade creme fraiche of sorts - made from culturing half and half (or cream) with the viili yogurt culture... in fact I started some today, and may not even wait until I have rhubarb in hand to make the semifreddo.

  3. I need to explore homemade creme fraiche -- the store-bought stuff is ridiculously overpriced, and everyone seems to sing the praises of the homemade article.