Semifreddo is a sweet dessert that originated in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region and is a specialty for the New Year's Holiday.

The word “semifreddo” means “half cold” in Italian, and refers to a category of frozen desserts that aren’t truly gelato or sorbetto - ice cream or sorbet - comes from the fact that semifreddi (the plural) are usually eaten softer than true ice cream. The Harper Collins Italian-English dictionary defines the word as “Chilled dessert made with ice cream,” which is not entirely accurate. Semifreddi are a type of ice cream you might say, but not dessert made with ice cream, although one might refer to a Neapolitan spumone, a molded frozen dessert composed of layers of several types of frozen dessert - what we and the French would call a “bomb” – a semifreddo.

John Mariani’s definition in The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink is more like it but not the entire story: “a custard or a mousse with a slightly softened texture that is eaten with a spoon.” He doesn’t mention that semifreddi are always frozen, and I disagree that crema caramela, tiramisu, and “desserts containing ricotta” are considered semifreddi. At least I have never seen the word applied to them, unless, of course, they were frozen.

There are several ways to make semifreddi. The dessert can be based on a classic custard, which is to say milk or cream and eggs cooked together until the eggs thicken the liquid, then lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream and frozen. Or it can be based on a cooked zabaione (also spelled zabaglione), which is technically a type of custard, except that the liquid is wine or a liqueur instead of milk or cream. A zabaione can be made with either whole eggs or egg yolks alone. In either case, it needs to be lightened with beaten egg whites and/or whipped cream. Or semifreddo can be based on a raw egg yolk and sugar base, as in [some of the] following recipe[s]. There are also semifreddi based on what is called Italian meringue, which is egg whites beaten with hot sugar syrup. That, too, would be enriched with whipped cream or a cooked custard and whipped cream. The one thing that is not done in any semifreddo recipe I have ever read or made is churning the custard base and cream together as in true gelato or American ice cream.


Related dessert: Zabaglione

  •  Excerpt from Arthur Schwartz, The Food Maven -

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