Hazelnut Semifreddo with Caramel Sauce

serves 12

(you will need three mixing bowls for this recipe, one large)

16 oz hazelnuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated

2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar

Easy Caramel Sauce:

1 cup of sugar
6 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Make the hazelnut praline:

You want to remove as much of the skins off the hazelnuts as you can.  Do this by placing them on a baking sheet and toasting them at 425 F. for about 4-5 minutes. Immediately wrap them in a clean towel and roll them around in the towel vigorously - this will remove most of the skins.  Remove about 4 ounces of the hazelnuts and chop these roughly and set aside (these will go into the bottoms of your loaf pans later).  Leave the rest of the hazelnuts whole.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (Reynolds Wrap makes a nonstick foil that works great for this).

Put the sugar and water in a heavy pan and place on medium-high heat.  When the sugar is dissolved, it will gradually start to color and turn golden.  You can mix this a little with a spatula dipped in water.  When it turns a nice golden brown, add the whole hazelnuts, turn the heat down and stir to coat the nuts with the caramel. When the caramel is a dark golden brown, turn it out onto the foil and with the spatula, spread it out.  It will cool to a solid sheet. 

When the praline is completely cool (it doesn't take long) break it up and put it in your food processor and pulse it just until the pieces are still quite chunky. Remove about half the praline, then pulse the remainder finely. Set these aside. They will both be added at once to the semifreddo mixture.

Make the semifreddo:

Prepare two small loaf pans (8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2)* by cutting rectangles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms.  Line the bottoms of the pans with the paper and spray with a little nonstick cooking spray.  Sprinkle half of the roughly chopped hazelnuts in the bottom of each pan.

Remove the seeds from the vanilla bean by slitting the bean with a very sharp small knife down the length and carefully scraping out the seeds.  With an electric mixer, whisk the seeds and sugar with the egg yolks in a bowl until pale.  In a second bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream and 2 tablespoons of sugar until soft peaks form.  In a third bowl,  beat the egg whites with a mixer in a large bowl along with a pinch of salt until they form very firm peaks (if you lift the beater up the mixture forms a peak that goes straight up).  Add all of the hazelnut praline, the cream to the egg yolk mixture.  Gently fold this into the egg whites.  Place the contents into your loaf pans.  Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until serving. 

When it's time to serve, run a sharp knife around the sides of the loaf pan and invert pan onto serving platter. The semifreddo should pop out.  Remove parchment paper and slice.  Drizzle caramel sauce over slices.  You can garnish with chopped hazelnuts, if you like.

Make the caramel sauce:

Place sugar in a heavy 3 quart pan over medium-high heat. As the sugar begins to melt, whisk vigorously. As soon as the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want, from this point on. As soon as the sugar has melted and is a deep amber color,  add the butter to the pan. Whisk until the butter has melted.

Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat. Add the cream to the pan and continue to whisk. It is normal for the cream to foam up when it's added - just keep whisking.  Whisk until the caramel is smooth and has no lumps.  Pour into a heat proof container and let it cool to room temperature.  Store in the refrigerator and warm it up a little before serving. 

Makes about a cup of caramel sauce.

* You can also make the  semifreddo and freeze it just in a plastic container.  Serve it just like you would ice cream, in scoops.

The Italian Dish