The other day I found a really cool shop in Shanghai that calls itself the Spice Shop. They have beautiful teas and incense, and they also stock little packages of spices that you don’t typically see in grocery stores here. I picked up juniper berries, galangal, poppy seeds and saffron, each pack about the size of a third of a dollar bill, chock full of beautiful purple juniper berries, gnarly roots of galangal, shiny black poppy seeds and vibrant orange strands of saffron.
Oh that saffron. I’ve loved it since I went to Spain with my grandparents one year. My mom had told me that saffron was expensive in the States, but inexpensive in Spain so we would buy several packs of saffron to bring home. I remember seeing it the first time, in a little clear box on the supermercado’s shelves, and wondering aloud what sort of plant this orange string came from, and why anyone would want to eat orange string in the first place?
I think my mom explained that saffron comes from crocuses. When we got home from Spain, I begged her for some crocus bulbs, which I planted underneath the kitchen window, and at the first sign of spring I started going out every morning to see if my saffron crop had come in. Well… It didn’t work that way – probably because I got bored when I didn’t immediately see orange threads of saffron as soon as the flowers bloomed – but we did have beautiful purple crocuses for years to come.
I still have one of those boxes of saffron sitting in my spice collection, not necessarily because I’m sure it will still be good (I’m not), but it’s of rather sentimental value. I keep it because it’s small, and it reminds me of a trip through Spain and looking out over miles and miles of hilly olive groves. I have never opened that little box.
The same can not be said of the little bag I picked up at the Spice Shop the other day.
I love a good Sunday afternoon spent in the kitchen, experimenting with new flavors and textures, and this recipe combines all of those loves. The original called for unsweetened cherries instead of cranberries, but I couldn’t find any, and these cranberries I used were so flavorful and slightly sweet. If you have cherries, I’m sure those would be delicious, but my sweet cranberries added a little tartness that we really appreciated against the custard. Very flavorful, very fun to make.
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon sweet vermouth
1 cup heavy cream
1. 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.
As the mixer is going, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Scrape cream into a separate bowl and set aside.
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. 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. Serve with cherry-cardamom syrup and salted honey-hazelnuts (recipes to follow).
Cranberry-Cardamom Syrup and Salted Honey-Hazelnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
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 water
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons honey
1. 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.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small mixing bowl, toss hazelnuts with olive oil and sea salt. Add honey and toss once more to coat.
3. 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.
4. Once the hazelnuts have cooled, roughly chop the nuts and serve alongside the semifreddo.