It might sound fancy, but it’s also unbelievably simple to make.
Semifreddo means “half frozen” in Italian. The texture, a bit lighter than ice cream, is much like a frozen mousse.
There are boundless ways to serve semifreddo, and it’s a surefire way to impress even the classiest of guests. It can be formed into molds, into a sliceable loaf, or scooped just like regular ice cream.
I worked for a time at a restaurant without any type of ice cream maker on the premises. While at first this was disappointing, it forced me to stretch my creativity in building frozen components for desserts.
Semifreddo quickly become my go-to choice for something cool. From rosehip scooped onto pistachio baklava, to a dome of lime alongside sweet rhubarb soup, it never failed to impress.
The process of churning ice cream, like with our recipe for cinnamon honey ice cream, incorporates air into the custard while bringing the temperature down. When making a semifreddo, whipped cream is folded in with additional ingredients, and then frozen.
Because air is already incorporated into the mixture via the whipped cream, it can go straight into the freezer without any concern that it might turn into a solid chunk of ice – no ice cream maker required!
Sweet Simplicity: A How-To Guide
There are two basic ways to make a simple semifreddo – using sweetened condensed milk, or a fruit curd. How many steps you do at home depends on your own comfort in the kitchen.
If you are up for the challenge of making your own condensed milk or curd, your flavor options are endless! But if the extent of your kitchen comfort involves tossing takeout into the microwave, any curd or condensed milk that you purchase at the grocery store will work just fine as well.
For the condensed milk version, you will want to use one can of sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup of juice, and 1/2 cup of cream. You can experiment with all sorts of juice flavors, or perhaps a thicker fresh fruit puree.
You can also make your own sweetened condensed milk at home. Once you’ve tried our recipe, you won’t want to go back to the canned stuff! It’s also super delicious in Vietnamese iced coffee, made with cold brewed java.
When you’ve assembled your sweetened milk and juice, mix them together in a bowl. Whip the cream until soft peaks form, and fold into the condensed milk and juice mixture.
Pour this mixture into molds, a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, or lidded freezer-safe container. Freeze for five hours, and it’s ready to eat!
Some great flavor combinations include:
- Lime juice and dried cranberries (read on for the recipe!)
- Passion fruit puree and pistachios
- Peanut butter and chocolate chips (Warm 1/4 cup peanut butter with 1/4 cup milk over low heat until thin enough to fold into the condensed milk. Let cool, and use in place of juice.)
For the fruit curd version, you will want to use two cups of curd, one egg white, and 1/4 cup of cream. Whip the egg white until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form.
Fold the whipped egg whites into the curd gradually, followed by the whipped cream. Transfer into molds, a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap, or a lidded freezer-safe container. Freeze for 5 hours, and enjoy!
While a store bought lemon curd works nicely for this recipe, experimenting with homemade curd opens the door to a variety of flavor possibilities, like this lemon and earl grey version.
If you don’t have sweetened condensed milk available, or you do not want to consume raw eggs, you can also choose to use a simple mixture of whipped cream with sugar and flavorings, as we do in our recipe for no-churn pomegranate orange ice cream.
Read the recipes below so you can learn all of my preferred methods!
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Zest and Juice
Start by zesting one of your limes. I prefer using the Microplane 40020 – it is without a doubt one of my favorite kitchen tools.
When wedding season rolls around, it is my go-to gift, no matter if it’s not on the registry. Everyone should own a microplane. You can read our review of this model, and learn more about zesters and microplanes here.
Juice the zested lime along with all of the remaining limes. If you roll the lime firmly between your palms a few times before slicing it in half, this will help to break up the pulp and makes juicing much simpler.
Step 2 – Combine Cranberries and Juice
Sometimes dried fruit can be a bit tough to chew. Now imagine that already tough fruit when it’s frozen. My teeth hurt just thinking about it.
Softening the cranberries in lime juice first will help to rehydrate them, which significantly improves the final texture of your dessert.
Step 3 – Fold Ingredients Together
Mix your sweetened condensed milk, lime zest and juice, and cranberries together well. Make sure the juice is fully incorporated into the condensed milk – you don’t want any streaks of juice running through the mixture.
Step 4 – Whip Cream
You can do this with an electric mixer, or by hand. Make sure your cream is cold – it will whip much faster this way.
I enjoy whisking by hand – it incorporates a nice little workout into my cooking routine. Plus, there is something so satisfying about feeling the cream turn from liquid to airy solid.
Our guide to whisks can help you choose which model is best for you. For whipping cream, I recommend a large, loose balloon style.
If you choose to forego the upper arm exhaustion and leave the work to a mixer, be sure to watch the cream closely. The transition from soft peaks to butter and whey can happen in the blink of an eye.
Step 5 – Fold Cream into Condensed Milk Mixture
Fold your freshly whipped cream into the condensed milk and juice mixture. Be sure to do this gently, so as not to deflate the air you so carefully incorporated.
For the folding process, you want to pull the mixture from the outside of the bowl into the center with a large rubber spatula. Try to do this in just a few large and gentle movements.
Be sure that the cream is fully incorporated before moving on to the next step. Again, you don’t want any streaks running through it!
Step 6 – Transfer and Freeze
One of the best parts about semifreddo is that you can mold it, slice it, or scoop it just like ice cream. Silicone molds are a fancy way to serve semifreddo for guests.
You can also line a loaf pan with plastic wrap. Once frozen, flip the semifreddo out of the pan and peel off the plastic for a beautiful, sliceable loaf.
Finally, if you like you can just freeze your semifreddo in a lidded container and scoop it out like ice cream.
Don’t let the heat keep you out of the kitchen this summer. With these two semifreddo techniques, you can whip up frozen desserts all season long.
For another tasty alternative frozen dessert that can be made without an ice cream maker, check out our review of the Yonanas soft-serve dessert machine.
After you’ve polished off the last scoop, try even more ice cream recipes:
Let us know what fun flavor combinations you try out in the comments below!
Photos by Kendall Vanderslice, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
About Kendall Vanderslice
Kendall’s love of food has taken her around the world. From baking muffins on a ship in West Africa and milking cows with Tanzanian Maasai, to hunting down the finest apfelstrudel in Austria, she continually seeks to understand the global impact of food. Kendall holds a BA in Anthropology from Wheaton College and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, and has worked in the pastry departments of many of Boston’s top kitchens. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Kendall helps to run a small community supported bread bakery and writes about the intersection of food, faith, and culture on her personal blog, A Vanderslice of the Sweet Life.