Frugal Foodie: Bibiana’s Douglas Hernandez

Satisfying your sweet tooth this summer doesn’t have to melt your budget. Douglas Hernandez from Bibiana shows us how to put together an ice-cream social for ten for less than $30.

By: Kelly DiNardo

>>For more pictures of Hernandez putting together his semifreddo, click here. 

Ronald Reagan declared July National Ice Cream Month, and celebrating with an ice-cream social seems like the perfect way to cool off. Lacking an ice-cream maker but still wanting to make something from scratch, we asked Douglas Hernandez, pastry chef at the downtown DC Italian dining room Bibiana, to teach us how to make semifreddo.

Semifreddo, which means “half cold” in Italian, is a partially frozen custard. The result has a mousse-like, airy texture similar to ice cream.

Hernandez accepted our Frugal Foodie challenge—to make semifreddo for ten for less than $30, not including pantry items—with a Neapolitan-inspired dish that can be served in almost endless variations.

At my apartment, he methodically preps all the ingredients. He separates the eggs by hand, washes and slices strawberries, and whips heavy cream. In no time, my counter is covered with tiny bowls.

Hernandez starts off with strawberry semifreddo. He makes a sabayon, a mixture of whipped egg yolks and sugar, then combines it with whipped cream and folds in a strawberry purée (he says almost any fruit purée will work, and he recommends mango, banana, and blackberry—just blend fresh fruit in a blender).

Hernandez follows similar steps for vanilla and chocolate semifreddos. He offers ways to tweak the basic recipe for alternate flavors—for coffee semifreddo, use instant espresso instead of vanilla extract—and gives tips on the best way to whip cream (stick it in the freezer and start with it very cold). As he finishes each flavor, he fills his mold, layering the vanilla on top of the strawberry, then adding the chocolate and topping the whole thing with a pistachio praline.

After filling two molds, there’s still plenty of semifreddo left. Hernandez shows me a variety of serving options, including filling a martini glass with one flavor or layering three flavors into a beer stein.

We shuffle things around in my freezer and carefully fill it with pans of semifreddo. Hernandez warns me that it’ll melt faster than ice cream. Not a problem—I couldn’t imagine that once it was served, it’d last that long anyway.

All recipes serve 10.  

Strawberry Semifreddo

2 1⁄3 cups cream
2 16-ounce containers of strawberries
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1½ teaspoons gelatin (follow package directions to dissolve).

Pour the cream into a large mixing bowl, and chill it in the freezer so it’ll whip better. Whip the cream until it’s thick, but there are no peaks. Refrigerate.

Reserve about 12 of the best looking strawberries and set aside. Clean and quarter the remainder. Fill the blender with the cut strawberries and purée them.

In a stand mixer, mix the egg yolks on high speed until they triple in volume and form a thick ribbon. Set aside and keep in the mixer bowl.

Set up an ice bath. In a pan set over medium heat, add the sugar, then a little water (2 to 3 tablespoons). Cook until it reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Dip the pan into the ice bath, then stir in the dissolved gelatin. Add the sugar/gelatin mixture to the bowl of egg yolks and mix quickly with a spoon so the eggs don’t overcook. Return the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on medium-high until the temperature of the mixing bowl comes down to room temperature and the volume increases. Fold in the strawberry purée.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, and fold it into the strawberry mixture.

Spoon into a bread pan or mold lined with plastic wrap, or use martini glasses, beer steins, or another container, and freeze. If layering the three flavors, only fill the mold 1⁄3 way up. Fill with the remaining flavors and set overnight.

Vanilla Semifreddo

2 cups cream
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, plus a pinch for whipping the egg whites
¾ teaspoon gelatin (dissolved according to package instructions)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chill the cream so it’ll whip better. In a large bowl, whip the cream until it’s thick, but there are no peaks. Refrigerate.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg yolks on high speed until they triple in volume and form a thick ribbon. Keep in the mixing bowl and set aside.

Set up an ice bath. Place the sugar in a sauce pan and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water to it. Cook over medium heat until it reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Dip the pan into the ice bath, then add the dissolved gelatin to the sugar. Add the sugar/gelatin to the bowl of egg yolks and mix quickly with a spoon so the eggs don’t overcook. Return the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on medium-high until the mixing bowl comes to room temperature and the volume increases. Add the vanilla extract.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold into the egg-yolk mixture. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of sugar on medium until soft peaks form. Carefully fold the egg whites into the semifreddo mixture.

Spoon into a bread pan or mold lined with plastic wrap, or use martini glasses, beer steins, or another container, and freeze. If layering the three flavors, pour the vanilla over the strawberry, leaving equal room for the chocolate. Let set overnight when all the flavors have been added.


Chocolate Semifreddo

1 1⁄3 cup cream
1½ bars chocolate (18 ounces total; Hernandez used Hershey’s milk chocolate)
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar

Chill the cream so it’ll whip better. Whip the cream until it’s thick, but there are no peaks. Refrigerate. Melt the chocolate and set aside. In a stand mixer, whip the eggs until they’re light and fluffy. Set aside, keeping in the mixing bowl.

Set up an ice bath. Place the sugar in a sauce pan and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water to it. Cook over medium heat until it reaches 235 degrees on a candy thermometer. Dip the pan into the ice bath, then add the dissolved gelatin to the sugar.

Add the sugar/gelatin mixture to the bowl of eggs and mix quickly with a spoon so the eggs don’t overcook. Return the bowl to the stand mixer and beat on medium-high until the mixing bowl comes to room temperature and the volume increases.

Fold in the melted chocolate. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold into the egg/chocolate mixture.

Spoon into a bread pan or mold lined with plastic wrap, or use martini glasses, beer steins, or another container, and freeze. If layering, fill the remaining space in the mold with the chocolate. Let set overnight.


Pistachio Praline

1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
2 cups pistachios

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir over high heat until it comes to a boil. Stir in the pistachios. Cook until the water has dissolved out of the sugar (it will look sandy). Lower the heat slightly and let the sugar melt and caramelize. Remove from the heat and add a layer of the crumbles to the semifreddo before it sets.

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