I’ve always thought of semifreddo as a mysterious dessert and one that I did not need in my repertoire. It’s just a fancy word for ice-cream, right? And I don’t love ice-cream. But after I tasted Chef Stuart Lane’s Meyer Lemon Semifreddo (Spinasse Ristorante) I knew semifreddo was a dessert I had to make and share with the “Mama, how do you make….” readers! I did not have Chef Stu’s recipe, but I think my recipe tastes very similar.
Semifreddo is an Italian word that means “half-cold”. Even though it’s technically frozen, semifreddo stays soft and creamy. Unlike ice cream, it isn’t churned and there is not (and should not be) any trace of iciness. Whereas ice cream is frozen then aerated, semifreddo is aerated then frozen. I like to describe it as frozen mousse – airy, soft, creamy, and rich – scrumptious! Dazzle your friends and family with this glorious make-ahead dessert. It is delicious served plain, but I have served it with fresh raspberries, blueberry compote, lemon cookies, and Lemon Polenta Cake. A perfect light and refreshing dessert for a party or celebration!
Read a fun story and learn about Meyer lemons following the recipe.
Meyer Lemon Semifreddo
- 1 ¾ cups chilled heavy whipping cream
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 7 large egg yolks
- ½ cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
- 1-2 tablespoons Meyer lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Line a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving generous overhang on all sides.
- Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip cream until soft peaks form. Do not beat to stiff peaks or you will have difficulty folding it into the custard. Refrigerate whipped cream while making custard.
- Whisk 1¼ cups sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon peel and salt in a large metal bowl to blend. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk constantly until yolk mixture is thick and fluffy and mixture registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer custard to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until cool, thick, and doubled in volume, about 6 minutes.
- Fold in chilled whipped cream.
- Transfer to prepared loaf pan and smooth top. If you have a little extra filling, just put it in a ramekin and freeze it separately. Tap loaf pan lightly on work surface to remove air pockets.
- Fold plastic wrap overhang (step 1) over top to cover. Then cover the top with another piece of plastic wrap. Freeze until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. Keep frozen.
- To serve, unfold plastic wrap from top of semifreddo and invert onto a platter; remove the plastic wrap. You can also lift the semifreddo out of the pan using the plastic wrap and place on a work surface to slice.
- Dip a large, sharp knife into hot water and cut semifreddo crosswise into serving size slices. Delicious with fresh berries, berry compote, Lemon Shortbread Cookies, or Lemon Polenta Cake!
- Store remaining semifreddo in the freezer in a sealed container with a lid (I use a Ziplock container).
We were having dinner at the counter of one of our favorite restaurants talking about a Meyer Lemon Tart with a pine nut crust I had made recently and how much everyone had enjoyed it. The woman sitting next to me overheard and said, “that sounds delicious!” They were from Santa Barbara and had recently bought a condo in Seattle as a second home. I told her it was difficult to find Meyer lemons in the local grocery stores to which she responded that she had Meyer lemon trees in her yard and she would send me some. And….SHE DID! A whole box full arrived by UPS the following week. I juiced them and froze the juice and we were able to enjoy Meyer lemon treats for several months.
Why Meyer lemons? How are they different from ordinary lemons? The Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. They have a smooth golden skin, a thin, edible rind, lots of juice, and less acidity and bitterness. The flavor can be a little like a sour lemon mixed with orange juice which adds brightness and punchy citrus flavor to any recipe. The use of Meyer lemon juice and zest elevates the taste of desserts, savory dishes, cocktails and vinaigrettes.
They are seasonal and available in our area mid-November through January. I like to buy them when they are in season and freeze the juice. And, yes, you can use regular lemons in this recipe with good results, but the flavor will not be the same. A good substitute is Yuzu juice. This Japanese citrus fruit is not readily available but bottled Yuzu juice is. It tastes like a combination of lemon and tangerine and is available in Asian markets and Amazon. You can also substitute a combination of lemon and orange juice for a similar flavor.