Do-ahead desserts are a perfect holiday gift for the cook |

Do-ahead desserts are a perfect holiday gift for the cook

Caption 01: Photo by Lynda Balslev for TasteFood
Photo by Lynda Balslev for Tastefood

Are you still unsure of what to make for a party dessert this season? Try this light and luscious semifreddo, topped with a compote of port-wine poached figs. Fragrant with orange and spice, it’s reminiscent of English Christmas puddings and mulled wine.

A semifreddo is an elegant frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, which, in this preparation, is flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, melting on the tongue in a light and airy poof. For a little extra sweetness (it’s Christmas after all), a shard of caramelized almond praline crowns the dessert.

The beauty of this recipe is that each component may be prepared at least a day in advance, so all that you need to do is assemble it when you are ready to serve, which is a perfect gift to the cook when entertaining.

Orange Almond Semifreddo With Port-Wine Poached Figs

Active Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, plus cooling and freezing time

Yield: Serves 8


3/4 cup whole almonds

2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Pinch of salt

3 large egg whites, room temperature

1 cup heavy cream, chilled

1 teaspoon orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs Compote:

16 dried figs, stems removed, halved if large

3/4 cup port wine

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau

Zest and juice of 1/2 orange


3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:

Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang.

Place the almonds and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add the orange zest and salt and pulse once or twice to blend.

Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat the cream, orange liqueur and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover tightly with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:

Combine all of the compote ingredients in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the figs are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid; discard the cinnamon stick. (Figs may be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Refrigerate until use. Bring to room temperature to serve.)

Prepare the praline:

Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat until it melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

Serve: When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates or shallow bowls. Spoon figs and a little juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.

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