Lemon semifreddo is one of the lightest, most refreshing desserts out there. Its delicate texture and robust flavor is one that cannot be matched!
While it may seem like making such a perfect dessert would be challenging, it is in fact, quite simple as long as you follow the directions carefully.
This recipe will enable you to make a perfect lemon semifreddo that tastes as if it came straight from an Italian restaurant.
Before you get out your mixer and juice your lemons, read a little bit about this Italian treat so you can fully understand the history, the recipe, the process and, therefore, the dessert!
What is Semifreddo?
The word semifreddo translates to mean “half cold”. This is the perfect word to describe this Italian treat as it is, in fact, half-frozen.
While the dessert can have an ice cream-like flavor, it is the texture and also the cooking process that sets them apart. Semifreddo is essentially a frozen mousse that is made with a meringue or zabaglione base.
Air is whipped into the semifreddo base and then set in the freezer. This varies from other frozen desserts, like gelato or ice cream, which are lightened using an ice cream machine that freezes and aerates the mix after it has been cooked.
Semifreddo is aerated and then frozen- the opposite of ice cream!
This method of making the dessert, adding the air before freezing, is what makes the semifreddo seem warmer than a typical ice cream. While it is definitely frozen, it seems “half cold”!
The frozen mousse of a semifreddo sits atop a cake or nougat and the dessert can be made as a large cake and cut into slices or as an individual dessert.
So, how did this delicious treat come to be? Take a look at the history of semifreddo which will make you enjoy it even more!
History of Semifreddo
Unlike many other classic Italian dishes, semifreddo is a relatively newer dessert. It was first created around the end of the 19th century and was based around the French parfait and Italian gelato.
While gelato was always trendy and popular, it took a while for semifreddo to gain its reputation.
The whipped and frozen dessert started to appear more in the early 20th century and was considered to be an easier way to make a frozen dessert when compared to ice cream and gelato.
While there is no exact restaurant or recipe that made semifreddo famous, it is still quite prevalent today in Italian cuisine. It is merely a delicious dessert that slowly crept it’s way into Italian dessert fame- and aren’t we happy it did!
How to Make Semifreddo
While you may have a general idea of how to make semifreddo, here are a few more specific as well as some tips and tricks to help you make the perfect dessert.
To begin, you should decide if you would like to make one large semifreddo or several smaller, individually sized portions.
To make a larger semifreddo, you will need to line a cake pan with parchment, going around the edge of the pan with a parchment strip as well.
The same is done with smaller molds if you are making individual desserts. The parchment will help you remove the semifreddo from the pan after it is frozen and ensure that the sides are smooth and straight.
Next, a fruit curd, pudding or jelly is made. Essentially, you want to have a thick, gelatinous flavored base for the dessert.
In the case of this lemon semifreddo, you will make a simple lemon curd, whisking fresh lemon juice with egg yolks and sugar until they are tempered. The curd, jelly or pudding is then chilled until nice and cold.
Heavy cream is whipped until stiff, fluffy and full of air, and then, the chilled curd is folded into the whipped cream.
As you incorporate the whipped cream into the curd, be very careful to keep as much air in the whipped cream as possible.
Fold slowly, yet thoroughly, and the mixture should be fluffy and flavorful when you are done.
You can choose to fold in whole pieces of fruit, nuts or chocolate if desired at this point.
The whipped cream mix is then poured into the prepared pan and smoothed.
For our recipe, we top the semifreddo with sliced, toasted almonds, which will act as the base of the dessert later on.
You can choose to put a thin piece of cake on the top of the dessert or even crumbled nougat.
Some people prefer semifreddo with no base, which makes it more like gelato in style rather than a cake or parfait- the choice if yours!
Simple leave off the nuts if you would rather have an ice cream-esque dessert.
The semifreddo is now wrapped and placed in the freezer for several hours. If possible, let the dessert freeze overnight, so it has time to freeze thoroughly.
Semifreddo can stay in the freezer for about two weeks without having any effect on the texture or flavor of the dessert. If you plan on keeping the semifreddo in the freezer this long, be sure to wrap it properly to prevent freezer burn!
Once frozen, run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake pan, between the parchment and the side of the pan to help release the dessert.
Flip the pan upside down (if you have topped the semifreddo with a crust, it will now become the base, sitting directly on the plate) and slowly lift the pan to remove it from the semifreddo.
If the semifreddo is sticking inside the pan and not sliding out onto your plate, place your hands on the outside of the pan and let your body heat help soften the edges of the dessert, making it more likely to slip out.
Once removed from the pan, the semifreddo is ready to enjoy! Slice, garnish and serve it however you’d like! Wrap and freeze any leftovers and enjoy within two weeks. Enjoy!
Lemon Semifreddo Recipe
- 7 egg yolks
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp lemon zest fresh
- 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 ¾ cup heavy cream chilled
- ¾ cup sliced toasted almonds
- Prepare a nine-inch cake pan by placing a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan and a strip of parchment paper around the edges of the pan. Set aside
- Add the egg yolks, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt to a small saucepan. Heat over medium low heat, whisking constantly until the mix begins to thicken. If you have a candy thermometer, place it in the mix as it cooks and stop when it reached 170 degrees F (this should take about 4 minutes).
- Remove the curd from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and then add the curd to the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat the curd until cooled and very fluffy.
- In a separate bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.
- Fold the cooled curd into the whipped cream gently.
- Pour the lemon cream into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top.
- Sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds, pressing them gently onto the surface (this will be the semifreddo “crust”).
- Wrap the pan completely and freeze for at least 8 hours, overnight if possible.
- Once frozen, remove from the freezer and run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake pan between the parchment and the pan. Flip the dessert onto a serving tray or plate.
- Slice and serve while cold!
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