Recipes, like people, don’t always arrive fully formed.

I once thought that I would like to be a lawyer. My best friend was studying law. One of my grandfathers had been a lawyer. It sounded like a valiant thing to pursue. So I worked hard. I put a post it note of the mark my best friend got for her end of school exams above my desk. It was there to prod me along while I made reams of notes in pens the colour of sherbert.

I made it through nearly a year of law.

It wasn’t for me. I learned my brain doesn’t like to step in neat sequences, following a direct line of reasoning. It’s better at cross stitch, pulling an idea from the left and throwing it together with a  memory from behind.  I was miserable.

The most satisfaction I had in those classes when I surreptitiously wrote an treatise in the back of a lecture on why the members of The Babysitters Club were a perfect analogy for the UN Security Council (if anyone’s wondering, Kristy represents the US, Claudia – China, Dawn – France, Mary Anne the UK and Stacy is Russia).

Fast forward one bachelors degree, a masters and eleven years and I’m on the other side of the world testing recipes and tinkering about on a laptop. I’m not sure this is where I’ll stay, but as I said- we don’t come out fully formed.

It was a similar story for this dessert.

It arrived in my head- as most do- as an attractive combination of flavours and textures. There was also an element of thrift.  Figs were on sale down at the markets. I wanted to put them to use while they were cheap.

I thought about the aggressive sweetness of maple syrup against the quiet fructose of figs. Cross that with the spicy note of ginger and the bitter sour twang of coffee.

Then to the textures; figs would be squishy. The maple syrup- it could become a  cloud like mousse. Then the plate just needs some grit and crunch. I turn to a cheating crutch- crumbled ginger nut cookies.  Toasted hazelnuts could then add a bit more crunch.

And so the recipe testing began.

The mousse started with a sabayon of egg yolks, sugar and syrup, thickened by whisking it over a water bath. It then had some gelatine mixed in to help hold firm. Then whipped egg whites and peakish cream went in. Finally it went into the fridge to set.

It was served with roasted figs and the other accompaniments to a boisterous crew of discerning palates.

We chewed over its merits.

We decided that a touch of sea salt was needed to pull back the sweetness. And then there were some mysteries in its texture. Two thirds of the bowl of mousse was suitably cloud like, but confusingly ambiguous in form. It splayed across the plate, like a young person without direction. And then at the bottom some of the syrup had pooled and puddled, like an abandoned ice cream.

It was at that point that The Hungry One made a suggestion. “What if we turned it into a semi freddo?”

I’d love it if I’d instantly smiled and said- “that’s a good idea darling”. Except I’d had at least two glasses of red wine. So instead I went on a minor rant which may have included the phrase “semi freddos are bullshit”. I may have also included an analogy about how they didn’t really know what they were- a dessert that’s trapped somewhere between a mousse and an ice cream.

Yet, on his urging I poured the remaining mousse into a disposable plastic cup and put it in the freezer. Off it went to kitchen purgatory, where leftovers go to be forgotten.

Today, I pulled the cup out. I took a little scrape off the top with a tea spoon. And I smiled.

The semi freddo melted slowly on the tongue. The cold had turned down its sweetness. Now there could be a contrast of temperatures as well as textures. And the mousse held its shape.

It was exactly right.

Recipes, like people, don’t always arrive fully formed.

Sometimes it takes trial and error,  and the guidance of great people in your life before they find their rightful place.

I’m still not quite sure where my rightful place is. But I know that for the maple mousse; it’s here.

Maple semi freddo, with figs, ginger crumbs and coffee dust

Serves 6-8

Equipment

2 large mixing bowls (1 that can be set over a pot of boiling water). 1 whisk. 1 electric whisk. 6-8 plastic cups, or dariole moulds.

Shopping/ foraging

4 eggs, separated 
1/4 cup brown sugar 
1 1/4 cups maple syrup (not maple flavoured syrup)
2 leaves platinum sheet gelatine (2 grams)
300 ml heavy cream

Accompaniments 
1/4 cup of hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
4-6 ginger nut cookies, crumbled (you can do this with a knife, or by putting them in a plastic bag and bashing with rolling pin)
1 tablespoon of ground espresso

1 ripe fresh fig per person
1 small pinch of sea salt flakes per person

Here’s how we roll
1. Beat the  egg yolks and brown sugar bowl that can be set over hot water. Add the maple syrup, place it over the water bath, and cook, whisking, until the mixture coats a spoon. It should take around 15 minutes and be quite thick. 
2. Soften the sheet gelatine in cold water. Squeeze all the water out. Stir into the maple custard. Set aside to cool. NB, it has to cool completely before you add the egg whites- otherwise the heat will make them subside.
3. When cool, beat the whites to peaks. In a different bowl beat the cream to peaks. Fold both into the custard. Whip the cream to peaks and fold it in. 
4. Transfer the mixture gently into plastic cups. Freeze for six hours. 
5. To turn out run the outside of the plastic cups under hot water for two seconds. Invert on a plate and squeeze the edges and tap the top until the semi freddos fall out. 
6. Add  to each semi freddo a diced fresh fig, a handful of ginger nut crumbs, some chopped hazelnuts, a small sprinkle of sea salt and a pinch of espresso. Alternatively, add the elements to a tray on the middle of the table and let people adorn their own.