“I screamed, sprinted to the sea, flung off shoes and socks, ran towards imagined heaving waves.” I remember the first time I read those opening four lines of Hollie McNish’s When We Got to the Beach, how satisfying they felt, as if they had almost been written for me. Especially last year, when, after three months of lockdown in a small apartment, we could finally move within the region and caught a train from Ostiense to Santa Marinella, where we flung off everything and ourselves into the sea. We really screamed, electric and ecstatic that we were free from our domestic cells, then made headrests out of stones and ate ice-creams on the beach. And now I am thinking of the scene in Down by Law when Jack, Zack and Roberto walk around the cell chanting, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice-cream”, again and again. We scream for sea, ice-cream, lollies, sandals, Bic razors, factor 30, mosquito coils, a sun-bleached T-shirt and the beach bag with last year’s sand still in the bottom.
Summer has started, as has my freezing. Having pulled icebergs from the back of the fridge and all sides of the freezer in order to make space, I have set to work on my annual freeze-liquid season, which is greatly helped by a nine-year-old who thinks it is even more exciting than I do. So little effort, such large, iced rewards. So far this year, we have made cherry scratch granita, lemon and melon slush, orange squash and mint syrup lollies. Also, coffee semifreddo, loosely based on a picture I saw years ago of something called la fetta moca, a log of milky, coffee-coloured iced cream with a slim, sponge cake base and a thin and delicate carapace of chocolate. I have dreamed of making this pudding: how satisfying and beautiful it would be, how I would make a short film of Vincenzo pouring the chocolate over the top, and another of him cutting a slice.
More than coffee, I would describe this as a cappuccino semifreddo, the shots of espresso softened by the cream and egg, then brought to life again by the icy shards. Three tablespoons of caster sugar and one of icing sugar in with the cream makes for a not-too-sweet final result, but add another of caster if you have a sweet tooth.
Now the idea is to pour the melted chocolate over the set semifreddo, ease it down with a knife, so it covers the loaf like a satin cloak, then put it back in the freezer for another 30 minutes to set. I am not going to lie: three attempts and the imagined satin coat was – and remains (as you can see from my photograph) – a badly plastered wall; a Wall’s Feast rather than a Magnum. I may have screamed inside, but then I flicked off my worries like a pesky fly and flung myself into an imperfect and joyful summer pudding: cappuccino meets vanilla ice-cream, meets Viennetta, meets dark chocolate, meets Feast and Magnum magic shell topping I once begged for, meets summer.
Chocolate-coated coffee semifreddo
Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
Freeze 10 hr+
120ml strong coffee (ie, 4 shots of espresso)
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
400ml single or double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
250g dark chocolate, broken
50ml vegetable oil
Line a loaf tin with clingfilm, then make the coffee and leave to cool.
Using a balloon or electric whisk, beat the yolks and caster sugar until pale, fluffy and doubled in size. Add the coffee bit by bit, stirring between each addition (this will thin the egg mixture).
In another bowl, whisk the cream and icing sugar until it stands in stiff peaks. Carefully and gently fold the cream into the egg/coffee mixture; again, it will thin out and not mix completely, but don’t worry.
Tip the mixture into the tin and freeze for at least 10 hours, and, better still, overnight, because it needs to be completely frozen to withstand the optional chocolate layer.
Invert the semifreddo on to a plate and pull away the clingfilm. Melt the broken chocolate and vegetable oil in a small bowl suspended over simmering water, then leave to cool a little. Pour over the melted chocolate, so it completely covers the loaf, then put it back in the freezer for another 30 minutes to set. Serve.