Lemon Semifreddo with Strawberry Sauce

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The first time I ate a Semifreddo was at Vivoli Gelateria in Florence Italy many years ago.  While the gelato was wonderful, the Semifreddo had a unique texture that was silky, light and completely captivating.   Semifreddo means ” half cold ” and it feels less cold than ice cream or gelato.  Personally I feel that I taste the flavors more intensely because there’s no numbing effect of your tastebuds as there is with colder confections.

Semifreddo consists of a flavored base folded together with Italian Meringue and whipped cream.  The base can consist of a  Crème Anglaise (yolks cooked with milk and sugar), Pâte à Bombe (a base of  yolks beaten with cooked sugar syrup) or a base of puréed fruit.  However, the key component which needs to be included for the best texture is Italian Meringue.

So, as I often do, I tried to find Semifreddo in my hometown to no avail.  Then I began to collect recipes and try them, still without success.  Finally I stumbed upon the answer to my failures in an article authored by Marino Marini titled ” More Perfect than a Parfait”.  According to the article a semifreddo derives its origin from a French Parfait which is a Pâte à Bombe (egg yolks and sugar syrup beaten to a creamy consistency) into which whipped cream is folded. The Semifreddo can be differentiated from a Parfait because it includes Italian Meringue, the missing ingredient in all the recipes that I had tried.  Italian Meringue doesn’t freeze at zero temperature and has a silky mouth feel. Without it, you never get the correct texture.  This history feeds nicely into my narrative that the Italians (me and my ancestors) taught the French (my husband and his ancestors) how to cook, which began when Catarina d’ Medici brought her pastry chefs to France when she married Henri II of France. Clearly the Italians continued to school the French into the early 20th century  when the Italians transformed a very nice desert, the Parfait, into a spectacular dessert, the Semifreddo. Ha!

This is a dessert that you can definitely play with. An easy modification would be to do a raspberry coulis or a blueberry sauce.  Other flavor combinations come to mind: lime Semifreddo with blackberry coulis, passion fruit Semifreddo with mango coulis, orange/Cointreau Semifreddo with candied walnuts or pine nuts and caramel sauce; grapefruit Semifreddo with, well, I leave that up to you.  You can also forgo the daquoise and place the semifreddo directly on the plate or use a thin shortbread cookie, a ginger snap or cookie crumbs.  Try different combinations and make this recipe  yours.

A special thanks to blogger and author Grace Massa Langlois of gracessweetlife.com for inspiring the design of this dessert.  Check out her book and her blog.  Her recipes are well written and trustworthy.

Lemon/Limoncello Semifreddo Dessert Componants

  • Whipped Cream
  • Italian Meringue
  • Pâte à Bombe
  • Strawberry sauce
  • Limoncello bubble sugar

Whipped Cream

  • 238 grams (1 cup) heavy cream
  1. The cream, beaters and bowl should be pre chilled
  2. Whip cream to soft peaks and place in the refrigerator until needed.

Pâte à Bombe 

  • 108 grams (6 large) egg yolks, room temperature
  • 80 grams (1/4 cup) subtle flavored honey (I like Acacia)
  • 80 grams (1/4 cup) glucose
  • 81 grams (1/3 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) Limoncello {Italian Lemon Liqueur}
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (use microplane)
  1. Beat honey, glucose, lemon juice, egg yolks and rind in a heat proof bowl.  This forms the top of your Bagno Maria aka Bain Marie.
  2. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water (this the bottom of your Bagno Maria) and wisk mixture with a balloon wisk until the mixture is 138 degrees Fahrenheit at which point the yolks will be pasteurized and the base will be thick and fluffy.  For my Bagno Maria, I use a large glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water. The bowl should be round and fit snugly in the pot.  The walls of the pot should come roughly half way up the sides of the bowl.  Make sure the water does not touch the bowl.  You should be able to simmer about 4″ of water in the pot.
  3. Once off the heat, wisk in Limoncello and strain out the lemon rind.  Let cool in an ice bath (a bowl of ice and cold water in which you put your bowl of flavored base) stirring occasionally.  Cooling it quickly in an ice bath discourages bacteria from developing.

Italian Meringue (use only half of yield)

  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) superfine sugar
  • 100 grams (1/3 cup) glucose
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup) water
  • 90 grams egg whites ( 3 large), room temperature

I suggest you read my page on Italian Meringue and also take a look at Martha Stewarts video (although I don’t like her instruction to pour the syrup down the side of the bowl). Cooks Illustrated has a good article as does Serious Eats.com. The goal is to pour 240 degree syrup onto egg whites which have been beaten to soft peaks and then to beat the mixture until it is cool.

  1. Clean out the bowl of your stand mixer with vinegar to make sure there’s not a trace of fat in it.  The fat can inhibit development of your egg whites. You can turn the bowl upside down to dry or dry it with a lint free towel. Place egg whites in the bowl.
  2.  Place sugar in a small, long handled pot and pour water on top.  Place pot on a low flame and swirl the liquid in the pot until the sugar is dissolved.  Stirring can develop the formation of sugar crystals which is why the liquids should be swirled, not stirred. Once the sugar has dissolved (liquid should be clear) add the glucose and stir until dissolved.  I dissolve the sugar first because I find that when I add the glucose and sugar at the same time it takes the sugar longer to dissolve. Raise heat to high and cook until 230 degrees fahrenheit washing down the sides of the pan with a heat proof rubber basting, brush dipped in cold water, to remove any sugar crystals. You don’t have a lot of syrup so it won’t take that long to come to temperature.
  3. While the sugar syrup is cooking turn on your stand mixer to low and whip whites until frothy.
  4.  When the syrup heats 230 F degrees crank up the mixer and beat the egg whites to soft peaks.
  5. When the syrup is at 240 F quickly detach the bowl from the stand mixer and switch to a wisk or a hand beater with wisk attachment.
  6. Turn the wisk to medium speed and slowly pour the syrup over the whites while beating them.  Beat a few minutes and then switch back to the stand mixture and beat until cool.

Make Semifreddo

Using a balloon wisk, fold together the Pâte à Bombe and 1/2 of the Italian meringue that you made (save the other half for something else) Then, fold in whipped cream. Pour in loaf pan or twelve 1/2 cup flex molds.  Chill at least 8 hours before unmolding.

Daquoise

  • 5 egg whites
  • 100 grams superfine sugar (in addition to the tant for tant)
  • 200 grams tant for tant made with blanched, grated almonds.

Tant for tant is 50 per cent nuts and 50 percent granulated sugar. If you can’t find almond flour you can grate your own blanched almonds. I use the medium grating disc on my food processor and then I finish chopping the nuts with the sugar.  This helps keep your mixture from getting oily.  So 200 grams of tant for tant is composed of 100 grams of sugar and 100 grams of almond.

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Line two cookie sheets with Silpat or parchment paper.
  3. Beat egg whites until soft peaks and gradually add the sugar.  Beat until stiff peaks.
  4. Fold in tant pour tant with a large balloon wisk.
  5. With a number 7 tip pipe out 12 circles of Meringue to fit the size of the bottom of your molds.  Alternatively, spread the meringue in a sheet pan to a thickness of about 1/4″.
  6. Bake for about 40 minutes, changing the position of the trays once.  The dacquoise should be an appealing tan color.
  7. Remove from the oven and immediately cut out your shapes if you used a sheet pan.  Let cool until you can easily pull the dacquoise off the parchment paper.

Strawberry Coulis

  • 2 pints fresh strawberries or unsweetened frozen if fresh are not good.
  • 56 g (1/4 cup) superfine sugar
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste
  1. Puree strawberries, sugar and juice in a cuisinart  and purée.
  2. Then push through a fine mesh sieve or tami (flat sieve).
  3. Chill.

Limoncello bubble sugar

  • 183 g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon) superfine sugar
  • 95 ml (1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon) water
  • 2 tablespoons liquid glucose or light corn syrup
  • 30 ml (2 tablespoons) Limoncello {Italian lemon liqueur}
  • 2 drops yellow liquid food colouring
  1. Heat sugar and water until sugar dissolves then add glucose.
  2. Take parchment paper and crumple. Smooth it out on a sheet pan leaving some wrinkles.
  3. Cook sugar to 310 degrees farenheit.
  4. Sprinkle or mist limoncello on to parchment.
  5. Tip sheet pan and pour sugar syrup across the top, letting it run down the pan.
  6.  Let cool and break into shards

Assembling and Plating

  1. Place some sauce on a plate.
  2. Pop the semifreddo out of the molds, place on the daquoise
  3. Place on the plate with an offset spatula.
  4. Garnish with a slice of strawberries and a shard of bubblesugar.

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