Foreword: I have tossed and turned words for the past couple of days writing this post. I know this is a food blog, but over the past few years that I have written here, I have also shared with you the joys and sorrows of life. It has become more than just desserts since I come every week with stories out the wazoo, so I hope you will allow me to make this post about one person whom I lost and love and celebrate his memory. One person whose passing changed me radically in every thing I do and every way I see things. This is an open letter to my belated brother, one that I start and rewrite every year around the same time, one that will never end being re-written. I also thought about not posting at all, but one of our best memories shared was around dessert and it made sense to me to write it today. If this is not your cup of tea, skip to the recipe part.
There are many dates forever engraved in my mind. The day you gave me a tiny white watch and a bright fuchsia scarf for my 10th birthday. The day I was looking at my parents' wedding pictures and saw you in one of them, standing right there with them and I turned to my mom and asked "if babies are made after you get married, how come Thierry is already there?" and found out that how we came to share only one parent. Dad was our common denominator. The same father who called me one August 18th, 8 years ago to tell me you were gone, forever. That date, I hate with every fiber of my being. I hated you even more for the wrenching pain you were causing him, how I wanted to punch you and hurt you the same. I know now that your circle of life was not ending, we keep it alive in everything we do. You and I have the same sensibility and a sensitivity that makes people uncomfortable when not prepared and sometimes makes some like us a little bit more, or at least that's why B. says when I ask why he loves me.
Here is another date for you, that day in July when you met B. for the first time when he flew to visit for a couple of weeks. We had been dating just a couple of months and we met you at a cafe in Montmartre and shared a big plate of spaghetti. He spoke virtually no French and your English was just as bad and yet both of you started chatting away in your own made up language, hands and sounds included and I watched beaming. You told me that day that I was going to marry him and I added that I knew already but getting that same vibe from you reassured me that in spite of everything that separated us it would happen. You had never met this man and yet your generosity in showing him the kind of work you did was a big thing to do. Your work was your lifestyle and for a lot of people it was a rather bohemian one. Labeled as unreliable and different, I know it took a lot for you to just open up like that but you knew within a few hours spent with B. over lunch that he would never judge you or label you.
I remember B. getting antsy in his seat as if we were about to take him to some sort of secret society meeting, while we were trying to show him the beauty of the moment. "How many times are you going to share lunch with friends in a cafe in Montmartre if you live in SC, USA and work as a college professor?" Yep, my point. When the waiter came and asked us if we wanted dessert, B. said "I think I'll pass, I am full" and we both looked at him like he was from another planet and exclaimed in the same voice "There is always room for dessert!!" and as soon as the waiter said the words "raspberry semifreddo" we replied "three please!" I had almost forgotten about that dessert until the other day when B. and I were talking about you and he said "didn't we have creme brulee that day?". I was about to pop a few raspberries in my mouth and it all came back to me, not to mention that only dessert seem to stop us from talking!! So I stopped eating the raspberries that were in front of me and made semifreddo instead!!
So, and you will understand this, dear brother...I am stopping my letter here, adding it to the pile I have already written. As you often said it "why be sad when there is dessert?" and I know you were referring to the fact that I would always have to wrestle you and Arnaud for a piece of cake. Thank you for filling my days with sweet tears of the wonderdul times we've had, and hope you won't get mad that I eat your semifreddo because really that would be waste to just stare at it and you hate waste (logic has never been our strong point)....right?!
There are as many semifreddo recipes are there cooks in this world, and the word itself refers more to a class of desserts more than just a particular one. Semi freddos are just that, semi frozen desserts not requiring an ice cream maker. The air comes and fluffly mouth feel comes from the amount of air you incorporate in your recipes, either with whipped cream, a "pate a bombe", an Italian or Swiss meringue. Here the dessert start with a pate a bombe base in which egg yolks are beaten with a sugar syrup and then whipped until airy and cooled. Whipped cream is also added here as a final touch of air before freezing. The honey gives more depth to the raspberry flavor and I advise you use a floral one such as wildflower, a stronger honey will be the dominant flavor, which is not what I was shooting for. For the decoration cookies, I made some tulip paste, filled a pastry bag with a small tip and piped squiggles on a silpat.
Honey And Raspberry Semifreddo
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons honey (I like wildflower the best)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 Tb water
3 large egg yolks
2 cups fresh raspberries
In the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with the whisk attachment or hand held one with ballon whisks, beat the cream until it just holds soft peaks. Chill while you prepare the base of the ice cream. Wash your bowl and whisk attachment.
In a heavy saucepan, stir together the honey, sugar, and the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Since you are not making caramel, it is ok to stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Let it boil and bring the mixture to 238°F on thermometer (soft-ball stage).
This second part is easier to do with a hand held mixer than a KA for example since the quantity of egg yolks is small and the bowl tends to be deep in some models. It works, have no fear...it's just easier with a hand held one.
In the clean bowl of your mixer, still using the whisk attachment, beat the yolks until they are thick and pale. Reduce speed to medium and pour hot honey mixture in a steady stream into yolks. Go fast enough to prevent the eggs from scrambling but not so fast that you end up with most of the syrup on the wall of the bowl or the whisk. Continue to whip until the mass is completely cold and airy.
Fold about one third of the chilled whipped cream into the semifreddo base to loosen it up and make it easier to incorporate homogeneously. Fold in the remaining whipped cream. Add the raspberries and give the batter one last quick fold.
Divide mixture evenly among dishes or silicone molds, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until frozen.
Cookie Decorations: (base recipe which makes a lot but you can freeze it or refrigerate the dough and use as needed)
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature
4 ounces all purpose flour, sifted
Cream the butter and powdered sugar together in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg whites and beat until just coming together. Add the flour to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated. Do not overmix. Use right away or store in the refrigerator, taking it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it. Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a small plain tip. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pipe away! Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.
So what did my brother do for a living that was this strange? I could simplify by telling you that he had a stall at the Clignancourt flea market in Paris but that would be so unfair to him. He was an artist, he made jewelry, earring, bracelets, brooches, necklaces, hair pieces, rings. He used all that was available, beads, metal, wood... He loved to work with miniatures anything and tiny everything (see a DNA trait here?!!). He had gifted hands and a never ending creativity, one I can only aspire to. He was also a gifted photographer. The best picture of B. and I is one he took that very same day we had lunch and I see it every morning I turn the alarm clock off. He liked odd places and odd angles to be, live and photograph. He truly lived to the beat of his own drum and he inspires me. Below are three of my favorite pictures he took ( sorry for the quality, they were scanned).