What is Semifreddo?
Semifreddo is Italian for half-cold, and the name refers to desserts made from whipped cream mixed in equal amounts with ice cream or frozen custard. In Italy, gelato, a frozen dessert much like ice cream, but with a lower butterfat content, is the dairy ingredient in semifreddo. The desserts can be made at home without using an ice cream maker by chilling homemade custard in the freezer or using commercially prepared ice cream.
When the whipped cream is added to the frozen dessert, air is incorporated as well, which keeps the semifreddo from freezing solid again. The same effect has also traditionally been achieved by mixing in a meringue made from egg whites, but it is not generally advised to eat raw eggs now. The taste and texture of semifreddo has been compared to mousse, and it melts in the mouth quicker than ice cream.
Most dessert makers who create semifreddo with homemade frozen custard start by creating a custard base called creme anglaise in French and zabaglione in Italian. It's a heated mixture of milk, egg yolks and sugar to which flavorings like almond extract or vanilla can be added. The dessert base is then chilled in an ice bath and mixed with the whipped cream. The dessert is then placed in the freezer until it is cold, firm and ready to be served.
The semifreddo can be served in any mold for a decorative dessert or in individual servings like custards. Another way to serve it is to line a loaf pan with wax paper and freeze the semifreddo until just firm. Then, individuals should lift the dessert out of the pan, peel off the paper and slice crosswise. This can make for a pleasing presentation if there are several flavors added in layers or fruit or nut pieces incorporated into the mix.
Semifreddo can be served with fresh fruit or dessert sauces like caramel or hazelnut syrup. It is also traditionally served with small almond cookies called amaretti or cookies topped with pine nuts called pignoli. In Spain, where the dessert is known as semifrio, it is served with turon, a type of nougat, incorporated into the mix before freezing or served on the side. Marscapone, a rich, sweet cheese, is also a common ingredient used to make the dessert's texture thicker than the Italian version. Dulce de leche, a Spanish caramel sauce, is a traditional semifrio topping as well.
When I was in Italy I think I saw restaurants advertising desserts like this. I did not try any though, I was more interested in trying different gelati everywhere I went. Semifreddo sounds really delicious, though, especially if you can find a good gelato substitute, which can be hard in the US.
Many Italian desserts like this are actually pretty easy to make if you have the space to prepare and then chill the ingredients. I have a friend who has made types of semifreddi several times. It can especially be delicious on hot days in summer.
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