An idea for a cherry semifreddo

Ever since losing my ice cream maker (I lent it to a friend who put it in the dishwasher — never do that!), homemade semifreddi and granita have taken over as my go-to summer desserts when it is truly unthinkable to turn on the oven. The beauty of making semifreddo, which usually has a base of pure whipped cream, whipped egg whites (an Italian meringue) or both is that you can flavour it with whatever you like — I’ve used it with some abundant seasonal fruit that we had too much of, but you could also add (or replace with) liqueurs, coffee, chocolate in any form, nuts, or even nougat.

Here you can find my gianduia semifreddo with chocolate and hazelnuts for Food52, and here there is a version I wrote about for Marcella Hazan’s stracciatella semifreddo (like a chocolate chip) for Corriere della Sera and there is also this simple semifreddo with honey and berries for Good Food Australia. I also have an easy chocolate semifreddo in my dessert cookbook, Torta della Nonna.

Italian semifreddo is often compared to French parfait. But true Italian semifreddo is made by folding whipped cream into Italian meringue (which is where the egg whites are whipped with boiling hot sugar syrup, which cooks them and stabilises them). The whipping is vital as it creates air, making a creamy semifreddo that you don’t need to churn. It’s almost like a frozen mousse.

Some semifreddi are made with even simpler methods, like whipping melted chocolate and cream until fluffy and then freezing it and this really appealed to me because, well to be perfectly honest, in the heat we are having here I just felt like doing as little possible!

So this is a bit of an experiment because unlike the semifreddi I usually make with meringue, this one is just barely sweetened whipped cream, a little yogurt for acidity and cherries.

I always quote Marcella when talking about semifreddi because when she said in an interview in 1987 with the New York Times, “Everyone can invent one,” she was perfectly right.

My best tips for making semifreddo: Use very cold cream — some even like to put the bowl and the beaters for whipping the cream in the fridge to chill too. And if you are using a meringue, use room temperature egg whites for the best whipping. Equally important is to be careful to not over-whip – both the cream and (if using) meringue for semifreddo should be whipped to soft and fluffy peaks, but not stiff, firm peaks otherwise the resulting semifreddo can have a crumbly texture rather than a creamy one.

On the right container to freeze it in: A loaf pan or something rectangular and long is ideal. Rectangular is traditional only because it makes it easy to cut into slices to serve. But for a different look, you could use a round mould and cut into slices like cake – pudding moulds and bundt pans make pretty semifreddi. You can even make individual semifreddi in small teacups or ramekins. I used my daughter’s lunch box as it already has a handy lid!

Cherry semifreddo

This makes enough for 8 slices, and you could halve this if you wanted but the question would be finding the right sized container to freeze it in so they are nice thick slices. Remember that the good thing about semifreddo is it keeps very well in the freezer.

400 grams of cherries
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) chilled cream
4 tablespoons of fine sugar
60 ml or so (1/4 cup) of thick natural yogurt

Pit the cherries (if you don’t have a cherry pitter, just cut them in half, and remove the pips after they are cooked and cooled, it’s a bit messy but easy) and place them in a saucepan with half of the sugar and a splash of water. Heat gently until they begin releasing juice and simmering, and stir occasionally, adding water as needed so that the fruit cooks in its own juices. It should take about 15 minutes. Let cool completely.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl. When it starts to thicken, add the rest of the sugar until incorporated. Stop whipping when the cream begins to hold peaks. Stir in the yogurt.

Pour half of the cherries in to the bottom of the pan and then cover with the cream mixture. Let it freeze 4-5 hours or overnight. Turn the semifreddo over onto a serving plate and cut into thick slices. Spoon over the rest of the cherries. Semifreddo is really at its best when you let it sit for about 10 minutes or so (well in this heat 5 was enough) for the semifreddo to soften — it should be “half” frozen, as its name suggests, which is a lovely spot between frozen and melting when it is still chilled but very creamy.

I discovered that this happens to be absolutely delightful when served over the top of a brownie or flourless chocolate cake like torta caprese!

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