Gianduja Semifreddo

From all the remarkable things Italy has to offer with its most distinguishing aspects running neck and neck in the sightseeing marathon, it’s difficult to pick a favourite. But if I had to pick one, I would say that Italy’s historical pride deserves the gold medal. Everywhere I go there are tributes to the country’s history and except for what was damaged during WWII, most of the of this country’s past life still remain to be seen, literally. And while one might assume that its merely the artwork, cathedrals and historical buildings that fall into the category of commemorated must-sees, I humbly beg to differ. Italy’s fascinating primeval past is so much more than the greatness of Da Vinci or the wonder of Leaning Tower of Pisa or the  power of St. Peter’s underground church, or the allurement of Pompei or the magic of Paganini’s first violin. Italy’s charm is so much more than only the  celebrated attractions that many of us have learned somewhere along the way if not in a history lesson. A quintessential example is Columbus, the world gives much importance to the man who was born and raised in a village a few kilometres from where I’m writing this, although I’m still not convinced of his greatness. While on the other hand I am especially intrigued by the other great Italians who few of us have ever heard of but who have impacted our lives quite considerably. Once such man is the fascinating Pier Paul Caffarel.

If you walk around the streets of Italy you are bound to come by a drogheria which by my own definition is a shop of wonders. Drogherias here have left me glued to the sidewalk many a time, looking through the window at the prettiest sweet boxes I have ever seen, filled with the most unique sweets I have ever tasted. There’s one such shop below the building where I live and when I pass it nowadays I turn my head away from the conviction that I’ll be standing in front of the glass window memorised by the beautiful boxes like “a child in a candy shop”  oblivious that I’ve already missed my bus.



If you look carefully you will see the name Caffarel proudly displayed on many of the boxes and this is a part of his story. Pier Paul Caffarel was born in 1783 and one day he bought a fur laboratory and turned it into a chocolate factory. Genius! In 1802 another genius named Bozelli who lived right here in the city of Genova invented a machine that was able to refine cocoa paste and mix it with sugar and vanilla. In other words he created a chocolate making machine! Bozelli worked hard on the machine for 18 years and no sooner than in 1820 was he satisfied that the machine was perfect. Six years later Caffarel who lived 150km away from Genova heard about Bozelli’s magnificent invention and decided to buy the machine from its creator. This machine as antiquated as we can imagine it to be, was able to produce over 320 kg’s of chocolate per day – not bad Mr. Bozelli, not bad at all!

In 1845 the son of Cafferel met another chocolatier who went by the name of Prochet Gay and together they merged companies and shared ideas. In 1852 Prochet created a new mixture of chocolate with hazelnut paste but it wasn’t until 1865 that the company ran the production of hazelnut chocolates to introduce it into the market. At that point the newly developed chocolates had a particular shape and was aptly named Givo which references the stump of a cigar. Amazingly the shape did not change and they can be found even today at chocolate counters world-wide but the name however did, taking us up to another fascinating story. During these very years the Carnival in Turin was gaining huge popularity, it was then that Caffarel’s son had the brilliant idea to market the chocolates for free to carnival-goers. He employed a man dressed in a particular costume to hand out these unique chocolates that nobody had ever tasted before and of course it was a huge success. Everyone wanted to know what was the name of these delightful little presents, and so the decision was made to name the chocolates after the significant costume they used in their marketing strategy. The name of that costume was Gianduja and held some significant history for Italians of that era. If you’re ever in these parts, you are bound to see this word at most gelato bars, commercial ice cream boxes, biscuits, cakes, easter eggs and of course, chocolate! What it refers to is the mix of chocolate and hazelnuts together. From this wonderful creation came about confections like Nutella, Ferrero Roche and all other hazelnut inspired chocolates we know and love today. Bravo Caffarel bravo!!!

I love Gianduja and what better way to celebrate the Legend responsible for such a masterpiece than with a dessert. Maybe I’m too much of a food enthusiast, but I hope chocolate lovers will agree with me that this chocolatier should be revered as an artist just like many other artists Italy has known or other “great” men. (I certainly think Caffarel deserves more recognition than Columbus) but you’re not here for politics so now back to my commemoration piece. It’s a semifreddo and by Italian definition that means semi frozen, aptly so because that is exactly how this dessert sets. It doesn’t get rock solid in the freezer so when it’s sliced it has a velvety texture to it. For me, the best way to describe semifreddo is to say it’s somewhat of a frozen mousse. Traditionally it’s set in a loaf pan and then cut into slices but you can put it into individual ring moulds or any other mould you fancy. Semifreddo is impressive not to mention delish so its perfect if you’re having guests over and want to prepare a dessert a day before or even a few days in advance and yet still have them talking about your dessert days later. I could say that the hardest part about this dessert is remembering to let it sit out for about ten minutes before serving. While the best part is that it most certainly makes a grand entrance, it all depends on just how far you want to go to decorate it. I suppose there are no limits to how extravagant you want to be when decorating depending on the flavour you choose to make. I didn’t go all out for this because the truth is, this mix is so decadent that it needed very little embellishment. I splashed the top and sides with a Giandiutto Liquore that I had from New Years Eve along with a handful of fine dark chocolate shavings, but you can do chocolate curls, or crushed hazelnuts or even a caramel sauce would be quite a amazing. It cuts beautifully into slices so you could decorate each individual serving plate with dustings of cocoa or melted chocolate designs, as for me, there were no guests arriving so I just dug in with a spoon 🙂


historical artifacts

  • 250ml fresh cream
  • 2  large egg yolks
  • 50g sugar
  • 200g hazelnut chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbs dark rum (optional)
Preparation (Serves 6)
  1. Place a bowl big enough to whip the cream into the freezer.
  2. Cut chocolate into pieces.
  3. Make a double boiler by placing a pot on low heat filled 1/3 of the way with water and allow it to simmer gently then place the chocolate in a bowl and sit the bowl over the top and allow the chocolate to melt.
  4. In a separate bowl whisk together the yolks, sugar, vanilla and rum for a minute.
  5. Remove the melted chocolate and leave to cool.
  6. At this point have a whisk or electric beater ready. Place the bowl of yolks over the simmering pot and quickly beat until the *sabayon has tripled in volume. Set aside.
  7. Remove bowl from the freezer and whip the cream until you reach a consistency somewhere between soft and stiff peak stage.
  8. Take about 1/3 of the cream and add it to the sabayon and mix it together.
  9. Then take the sabayon and fold it all into the cream until fully incorporated.
  10. Fold in the chocolate.
  11. Line a 1 litre loaf pan with cling film leaving enough excess on both sides to be able to fold it over mixture to form a cover.
  12. Transfer the mixture into the loaf pan, smooth the top, cover the top with the excess cling film and place into the freezer for 8 hours or overnight.
  13. When ready to serve remove from the freezer, lift the semifreddo out of the loaf pan, remove the cling film and decorate to your preference. Leave to stand out ten minutes before slicing.
Maestros Need to Know
*Too add extra crunch to the semifreddo ensure that you do not cut the chocolate too finely to preserve crunch of the nuts.
*When double boiling always ensure that the water is only simmering and not boiling to prevent your mixture from being over cooked.
* When double boiling chocolate always keep the chocolate shiny to determine that it is not going beyond its melting point. If you make a mistake and overcook chocolate you can redeem it by removing if from the heat and mixing in butter until it is glossy again although it is not advisable to make this mistake. You must remember to help the chocolate along by moving it around the hot bowl so it melts quickly without cooking.
*A rule to double boiling is to ensure that the bottom of the bowl sitting over the pot must never touch the simmering water. 
*Beating egg yolks over a double boiler is a method used to cook the eggs before adding it to a dish to prevent food poisoning.
*Sabayon or zabaione in Italian is traditionally a mixture of yolks, sugar an marsala wine or Vin Santo, beaten and cooked over a double boiler. It is used to add volume to creams and a velvety texture to frozen desserts.
* The best way to determine that a sabayon is ready is to look for the ribbon stage unless the recipe states otherwise. Ribbon stage is determined when the beater is removed from the mixture and the consistency forms ribbons. This indicates that the eggs are cooked. Usually recipes call for the sabyon to triple in volume which is also a good indication to stop eggs overcooking.
*When making a sabayon never leave the bowl over the boiler unattended, this causes the yolks to scramble instead of foam. Always have the beater ready.
* Folding is absolutely essential when working with mixtures that have air incorporated into them. By folding you are retaining those air bubbles which will break if you mixed instead of folded. Folding is simply attained by using a spatula, bringing up the mixture around and over while rotating the bowl.
*To get the best result when folding a lighter mixture with a heavier base it is always advisable to add 1/3 of the lighter mixture into the heavier base and mix together. This makes the folding process in the next step much easier because you have now lightened the heavier base making incorporation of the two easier.