Vanilla Bean Semifreddo

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo
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Semifreddo: like homemade ice cream, only easy!

For about a year now, we’ve thought of picking up an ice cream maker attachment for our mixer. We haven’t done it yet, mainly because we aren’t sure how often we’d use it. Would it just end up in the cupboard taking up space? Possibly. But, we do like ice cream, and the idea of scratchin’ up our own sounds like a really good one. Can you say fresh and rich?

Even though we don’t have an ice cream maker, it turns out that we can still make up a rich, creamy, cold dessert treat: semifreddo. And, it’s pretty easy!

No, it doesn’t have anything to do with half of Fred Flintstone; apparently, it’s Italian for half-frozen. Which, to our minds, sounds a lot like soft serve ice cream. But, since we’re making it ourselves, it won’t be full of weird ingredients. Just cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. It took looking at Pure Vanilla, by Shauna Sever, to remind us that we can make ice-creamy desserts without churning. The following recipe is modified a bit from the one she presents so that it’ll be less sweet.

Makes about a quart

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo

Vanilla Bean Semifreddo


  • 1 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • pinch of cream of tartar

Abbreviated Instructions

Line a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with two pieces of plastic wrap, allowing about 3 inches of overhang all around.

Slice vanilla bean in half and scrape out the moist and fragrant vanilla.

Whip cream, vanilla extract, vanilla scrapings, and 4 tablespoons of sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Wash bowl and whisk attachment thoroughly.

Whip egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy, add 2 tablespoons sugar and whip until the stiff peak stage. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and reaming 2 tablespoons of sugar until pale and smooth, about 2 minutes.

In three additions, fold whipped cream into egg yolk mixture.

In three additions, fold egg whites into the yolk and cream mixture.

Scrape into prepared pan, wrap excess plastic wrap over the top, and freeze for at least 8 hours.

To serve, unwrap and slice.

Ingredient discussion:

This recipe uses raw eggs. It you’re concerned about that, you could try pasteurized eggs if you can find them. Fortunately, we know where our eggs come from and how the chickens are raised, so we have no qualms about using raw eggs in our recipes. For the vanilla, only use the real deal. Period. For all your cooking. Period. Since we wanted this semifreddo to be as natural as possible, we used organic heavy cream; it was the only one that didn’t have ingredients like carrageenan. After all, cream should be cream, right?

Procedure in detail:

lined pan
We found it easier to place the plastic wrap on the counter in a big plus sign, then put it in the pan.

Line pan. When you line your loaf pan you’ll need two pieces of plastic wrap, long enough so that there will be about 3 inches of overhang when you press the wrap into the pan. We found that it was easiest to make a big ‘plus’ sign out of the plastic wrap, then set that in the pan and press it down.

scraping a vanilla pod
Scrape out the nice meaty part of the vanilla bean, but don’t discard the pod, as there is still plenty of flavor in there. Find another recipe and use it.

Scrape vanilla bean. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the moist fragrant vanilla. Save the pod for a recipe that calls for either steeping a pod or making vanilla sugar.

whipping cream
Always freeze (or at least chill) your bowl and whisk attachment when making whipped cream. It whips better and is less likely to turn to butter. Really!
whipped cream
Look at those flecks of vanilla! Far more than in commercial products.

Whip cream. It sounds simple, but there is a trick to help you succeed. Freeze the bowl and whisk attachment for an hour before you try whipping the cream. Once it’s frozen, pour in the cream, add the 4 tablespoons of sugar and the vanillas, and whip it on medium-high until it will hold stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

Wash bowl and whisk attachment. If you skip this step, your egg whites will not whip because of the fats that are in the residual cream. We’re so concerned about this that we wash the bowl twice, thinking it’s better to use a bit more water and soap than waste food.

adding sugar to egg whites
Keep the mixer running when you add the sugar to the egg whites. We think it helps keep the whites from collapsing.
egg whites
Stiff peaks are pretty self-evident. When you pull the whisk out, the peaks should stay standing.

Whip egg whites. Once your bowl is clean, start whipping the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium. The cream of tartar is not strictly necessary, but it will help the egg whites whip up. When the whites are frothy, start adding 2 tablespoons of sugar by sprinkling it in as the mixer is running. As the whites start to stiffen, increase the mixer speed to medium-high. When the whites will hold stiff peaks, stop.

whisk egg yolks
A pale yellow color will indicate that you have whisked the sugar and yolks enough, so stop before your arm falls off.

Whisk yolks. In a (2- to 3-quart) large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. This is the most tiring, since you’re whisking by hand (you could use the mixer if you transfer the whites out — no need to wash in between), but you should have a difficult part of the recipe or you’ll be making (and eating) this every night. So whisk until you arm is tired, then whisk some more, until the yolk mixture is pale in color and has thickened, about 2 minutes total.

folding in whipped cream
We fold the whipped cream in first, basically working from the heaviest ingredient to the lightest. Always take the extra minute to fold in ingredients in multiple additions.

Fold in whipped cream. In three additions, fold the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture with a large rubber spatula. You want to work decisively, so that the mixture becomes uniform, but without crushing the whipped cream. It takes practice.

folding in egg whites
Folding in the whipped cream first makes it easier to fold in the egg whites.

Fold in egg whites. Just like the cream, fold in the egg whites in three additions, taking care not to deflate the whites, but trying to end up with a uniform mixture. If it looks like you are having trouble getting those last bits of egg white mixed in, stop. It’s better to have a few small streaks of whites than to have it collapse.

Semifreddo ready for the freezer. Yay! Now we have to wait 8 hours. Boo!

Scrape into pan. Gently scrape the semifreddo batter into the pan, smooth the top with the spatula, and fold the excess plastic wrap over the top. Feel free to lick the spatula and bowl. We did.

Freeze. Place in the freezer for at least 8 hours to ensure that it is frozen through.

slicing semifreddo
We just unwrapped, sliced, and ate. Delicious!

Serve. Remove from freezer, unwrap and either scoop out, or slice to serve, and enjoy your nice, light, summer-friendly dessert!

When we tasted this we both said: “Five stars. Oh, yeah!” The taste and texture of this even surprised us, given just how easy it was. When you eat a spoonful, there’s just the slightest hint of tiny, tiny crystals — which is what you might expect without churning — then it melts just a bit and you’re hit with an overwhelming creaminess. Far, far creamier than commercial ice cream. Now, if it isn’t enough that this is easy, and super creamy, there’s also the lightness factor. With all the whipping and folding, semifreddo is super light, which in our case meant that we went back for a second slice immediately after finishing the first.

Since this slices so well, we’re now on the lookout for a chocolate ice cream sandwich cookie recipe so we can make our own sandwhiches. Yum!

Worth the trouble?

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