Each Thanksgiving, Sara Ayyash’s mother mashed ripe bananas and mixed them with canned cranberry sauce, diced apples and sugar. Then, she would fold it all into Cool Whip and set the concoction in the freezer.
“We ate those frozen cubes after our turkey dinner,” says Ayyash, pastry chef of Lemaire, at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. “This is a semifreddo in its simplest form.”
If you’ve never had it, semifreddo is like a fluffier, creamier version of ice cream. And the sweet stuff is starting to top some of the best dessert menus around the country, as diners discover its rich, soft character often goes well with after-dinner wines.
Ayyash now incorporates peanut butter semifreddo into her decidedly more sophisticated (despite the name) Snickers Bar, a mélange of flourless cake, nougat and caramel peanuts dipped in dark chocolate ganache (pictured).
“For me, semifreddo is just a deconstructed ice cream, where all the ingredients are whipped as much as possible, flavored and carefully folded back together so they don’t deflate,” she says. “The mixture is then set in the freezer to harden. When made correctly, it should be fluffy.”
Despite its easy-melting nature, cool, creamy semifreddo flaunts an alluring texture. Chefs love making it for guests, especially since it’s easy to prep and serve fresh.
Cliff Crooks, executive chef at The Wayfarer in New York City, finds semifreddo’s ice cream-meets-pudding appeal, “a double treat. It leads to ease in recipes.” He’s experimenting with a yogurt version that’s charged with verbena and strawberry.
At Moroccan eatery Aziza in San Francisco, diners recently ended the night with Pastry Chef Melissa Chou’s burnt vanilla semifreddo, served with grapefruit sorbet, cassis and pickled roses.
“The contrast is a bit surprising because the sorbet ends up being the denser part, but it’s also a bit of a cleanser to the fattiness of the cream and egg,” she says. “When we think of frozen dessert, we always go to ice cream. And while it isn’t as cold feeling, it’s mousse-ier, so you get the same richness in something that is just so amazingly light.”