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Hazelnut Semifreddo with Caramel Sauce


When Brian and I were on our great food and wine adventure to Oregon last summer, we saw lots of orchards that we could not identify.  As it turns out they were hazelnut trees.  I love hazelnuts.  Some people call them filberts.  They are the nutty goodness in Nutella.  Turns out Oregon is the major producer of hazelnuts here in the United States.  It was nice to see them used on so many of the restaurant menus in that area, especially in their wine country.  I wanted to cook more with them when I got home.

Semifreddo is an Italian dessert which literally means "half cold".  It is frozen, but because it has whipped egg whites and whipped cream folded into it, it does not freeze up quite as hard as ice cream.  You can make it in any flavor, just like ice cream.  In this version, I've made a hazelnut praline first, crushed it up and added it to the semifreddo batter.  I wanted just a little something special on top and almost went with a chocolate sauce but I decided a caramel sauce would match the praline in the semifreddo just perfectly.  

Hazelnut Semifreddo with Caramel Sauce 


for a printable recipe, click here

serves 12

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


for the praline:

  • 16 oz hazelnuts
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water 

for the semifreddo: 

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • salt

for the 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 - in fact, it's the only foil I buy).

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 large bowl until pale.  In a second bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form.  In a third bowl,  beat the egg whites with a mixer 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 the hazelnut praline, the cream and the egg whites to the egg yolk mixture.  Gently fold in.  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.

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Reader Comments (20)

love your food photography! this looks sinfully good!

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjude

Another amazing post! Cannot believe how beautiful and easy you make these wonderful dishes look. Have you ever considered opening a restaurant?

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarla

This is one of the most delicious "Would it be rude to lick the plate?" desserts I have ever tasted. Bravo! Elaine.

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Looks really delicious. Lovely photography too.

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClive

This has to be just about the best combination of flavors around. I wish I had some at this moment. Thanks for sharing. The photography is excellent.

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

I have a soft spot for Oregon and hazelnuts I lived there for 2 years many moons ago. What you created here is beyond words! I want a slice of this dripping with caramel right now!

March 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermarie

Hi... lovely semifreddo and hazelnuts are my favorite in desserts. Great photographs

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCooking Foodie

This semifreddo looks fantastic and your descriptive pictures capture what a great culinar you are! Beautiful blog!

March 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie

That looks really delicious. I love all things Italian and that looks great. Here is another great Italian recipe your readers should try - This is the best lasagna recipe I know of. Try it and see for yourself.


March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Wow that looks amazingly delicious! Your photography is beautiful too, keep up the good work!

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPatty

My father's side of the family is Italian, but surprisingly, I've never had this dessert. Thank you for reminding me of yet another Italian dish I want to try. It looks delicious - I can just imagine the cold, airy texture. And your photos! Gorgeous.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDawn (KitchenTravels)

Yum. Can't wait to make it! I had homemade Semifreddo last night, was so good.

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBodybuilding

This looks delicious. Could I use paterized eggs instead of raw?

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

From The Italian Dish:

Marie: Gee, I don't know. I have never tried that. If you make it that way, would you let me know how it turns out?

January 27, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

Hi! Your semifreddo recipe was nominated as one of the "Best 300 Semifreddo Recipes on the Net". To vote for it, please visit - your recipe is positioned at #19 (random order).

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEasy Italian Recipes

I was wondering if you could freeze the caramel and if yes up until how long?

January 20, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie

From The Italian Dish:

Carrie: NO idea! I've never tried it. I guess I would have to google that. Sorry I can't help you!

January 21, 2016 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

In all of the recipes for semifreddo Ive seen, they cook the egg yolk mixture over a double boiler but you didn't do this. Was that an omission in the recipe or deliberate and if deliberate, why is it unnecessary to cook in your recipe (which looks fantastic and Im in the process of making)

thank you

May 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjeff

From The Italian Dish:

Jeff: some semifreddo recipes use raw eggs and some cook them. This version uses raw eggs, so the recipe is correct! Hope you enjoy it. It's still one of my favorites!

May 21, 2016 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

While this is the way they do it in Italy I would cook the eggs if using eggs in the USA (because most commercial eggs are treated and the natural bloom removed). Just make sure to temper the yolks and whites to 145F to kill any Salmonella.

August 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFidelio

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