As I write this, in early July, my sour cherry tree is finally doing the thing that sour cherry trees are supposed to do: It’s bursting with fruit. It does so, though, in dribs and drabs, ripening not all at once but in the passage of a week. I’ve been pitting my cherries as I pick them and storing them in the freezer in an airtight zip-top bag. What I have planned for them is a fate even better than pie.
Why not pie? I do love a sour cherry pie, but I’m tired; tired of baking, tired of butter, tired of the heat. This year, while my fruit is still good — and this is applicable not only to my sour cherries, but also to my withering sugarplums that came with my CSA share weeks ago, and to the overripe raspberries on my stoop — I’ve been making semifreddo. What is a semifreddo, a word tossed around the Italian dessert menu so casually? It’s not quite an ice cream, not nearly a granita. You can decorate it with a dollop of whip, though you don’t need to. It’s creamy enough, even though it requires no tedious custard base.
Translated directly, semifreddo means partially frozen, and this dessert, unearthed on a plate like a pastel loaf of slowly melting fruit and cream, is something like the lazy person’s ice cream. It’s not that I can’t make ice cream. It’s not even that I don’t have the right equipment. It’s actually just that, sigh, I have young kids and a lovely pool that screams at me from out the window: What are you doing inside that house when you could be out here with me?
At the beginning of the pandemic, like so many others, I dug into recipes I hadn’t tackled in years. I picked up yeast, I baked bread, I scoured my pantry. But these days, I want the lightest lift possible. Eighteen months of deep-bone exhaustion will do that to you. Is semifreddo a remedy? Well, it isn’t not. When sour cherries expire (already, as I commit words to page, my tree has shaken its final fruit, I’m sad to say), then onto the peaches, the apricots, the nectarines, the blueberries, the blackberries, the Italian plums.
You can find incarnations of this smooth-sailing dessert that call for a custard base: egg yolks whipped into submission over heat until they form what is often tossed into an ice cream cylinder. You can also find versions made with Swiss meringue, a technique that doubles the volume of egg whites and sugar by having you whisk them over a double-boiler.
I say skip both. The custard that spares ice cream’s iciness — and that adds lusciousness that distinguishes a French style from a Philadelphia one — isn’t necessary, and it will also spare you from the occasional fate of finding a curdled egg in the Anglaise. Whipped egg whites, brought rapidly to glossy peak with the help of just enough cream of tartar, are a useful stand-in for Swiss meringue (itself a stand-in for custard, which tends to make ice cream more of a hassle than some of us may care to admit). Use pasteurized eggs or pasteurized liquid egg whites to bypass the threat of food-borne illness.
The other thing about custard is that it’s ruthlessly hot. I think about this every time I make it. Custard requires your most acute attention, else it’s sure to turn on you, and that means standing over a stove, no doubt wishing, as I often am, that you were out at the pool, at the beach or anywhere else. During a recent heat wave, as I tested this semifreddo, I felt freed from custard, freed from the stove top and from its wretched sweat-producing flame.
In fact, I’d opt for a fire-free experience altogether if I didn’t believe that cooking the overripe fruit for this recipe yields a better end result. (Ice crystals tend to form in frozen desserts in the presence of water, and roasting in the oven for a bit helps with evaporation — but there’s no need to babysit your fruit over a hot stove.) The idea is to get where you need to go quickly, efficiently and without much worry. Ten minutes in the oven won’t heat the kitchen too much. This entire recipe can be assembled in well under an hour — and, if you’re fast on your feet, in under 40 minutes, but the final result can hang out in the freezer until you’re ready for it.
The fruits that work best are broad and brilliant: tart cherries, yes, but also fleshy nectarines, inky blackberries and late-August plums. Herbs are nice in an ice cream, where you can infuse them within the hot custard base, but think of a semifreddo as a simpler, less fussy cousin to all that. The messiness of ripe fruit, the decadence of something toothsome and cold, combined into a single pan and delivered in one slice as an antidote to whatever ails. It has been a long, hard year. Two of them, actually. Dessert can be easy. Sometimes, it should be.
Summer Fruit Semifreddo
The semifreddo pictured was made with fresh apricots, but try it with other stone fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, plums or cherries; or even berries, such as blackberries or raspberries.
Make ahead: The semifreddo needs to be made at least 8 hours before you plan to serve it.
Storage: Leftovers can be re-wrapped tightly and returned to the freezer. The semifreddo will taste best if eaten within 3 days.
Want to save this recipe? Click the bookmark icon below the serving size at the top of this page, then go to My Reading List in your washingtonpost.com user profile.
- 6 cups (about 2 pounds/900 grams) fruit, such as whole berries or quartered and pitted stone fruit (apricots, cherries, plums, peaches or nectarines), see NOTES
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar, divided (see NOTES)
- 5 large egg whites or 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) pasteurized liquid egg whites (see NOTES)
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 pinch of fine sea or table salt
- 1 cup (240 milliliters) cold heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Position a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Spray the inside of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray. Line the inside of the loaf pan with two large pieces of plastic wrap, crisscrossing and allowing for enough overhang to cover the top of the pan once the semifreddo is poured into it. (If you want your finished semifreddo to be wrinkle-free, smooth out the plastic wrap as much as possible.)
On a large, rimmed baking sheet, combine the fruit with 1/3 cup (66 grams) sugar (or, if using sour cherries, 1 cup or 200 grams sugar, see NOTES), toss to coat the fruit and spread out the mixture in an even layer. Roast for about 10 minutes, or until the juices run and the fruit is soft.
Transfer the cooked fruit to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve fitted over a bowl or large measuring cup, pressing on the solids with a flexible spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Cover the bowl and transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely, about 30 minutes.
When the fruit puree is cool, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or using a large bowl and a handheld mixer) combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt and the remaining 2/3 cup (134 grams) sugar and beat on medium-high speed until medium-stiff peaks form and the mixture is glossy, about 2 minutes. Transfer it to a bowl.
In the same bowl you used to whip the egg whites (you don’t need to clean it), combine the heavy cream and vanilla, and beat the mixture on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly fold the whipped egg whites, one-third at a time, into the whipped cream until fully integrated.
Measure 1 cup (172 grams) of the puree, cover and refrigerate. Scoop a little, approximately 1/4 cup, of the egg white-cream mixture into the puree and stir it to combine. Gently fold the remaining puree into the egg white-cream mixture until mostly combined but some streaks remain. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and smooth out the top with a spoon or offset spatula. Cover with the plastic wrap overhang and transfer to the freezer until firm and frozen, at least 8 hours.
Invert the semifreddo onto a serving platter, peel off the plastic wrap and cut into 1 1/2-inch slabs. Remove the remaining fruit puree from the refrigerator and drizzle it over the slices; wait 3 to 5 minutes before serving, or until the semifreddo is soft enough to eat with a spoon.
- This recipe calls for raw egg whites; if you are concerned about the risk of salmonella, buy pasteurized eggs, such as Organic Valley, Bob Evans or Davidson’s brand. If using these, bring them to room temperature and note they can take as long as 13 minutes to reach medium-stiff peaks.
- If using sour cherries, you will need to pit the cherries as well as use an additional 2/3 cup (134 grams) granulated sugar, for a total of 1 2/3 cups (334 grams) granulated sugar.
- If your semifreddo has too many wrinkles, run a spoon or offset spatula under warm water and run it over the exterior of the loaf to smooth it.
Per serving (one 1 1/2-inch thick slice, using apricots)
Calories: 267; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 41 mg; Sodium: 84 mg; Carbohydrates: 39 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 36 g; Protein: 5 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From food writer Hannah Selinger.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to email@example.com.
Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.